Over the coming weekend, Students for Justice in Palestine will be holding its annual conference on the campus of George Mason University. The event has already generated coverage, mostly in the Jewish press and blogosphere, where you can read about the controversy the conference is generating and plans for counter-programming.
It’s always tricky to judge an event like this one based solely on its published schedule of events, given how much planning and discussion takes place during informal meetings and get-togethers not on the agenda. But the choice of workshop and event topics does provide clues regarding a sponsoring organization’s priorities, inviting some (admittedly speculative) analysis.
In 2012, a similar conference took place at the University of Pennsylvania, although that one (called simply PennBDS) was not exclusively organized by or focused on SJP. Given the name of the 2012 Penn event, BDS was the focus of all their talks and workshops (which I had the chance to become intimate with through writing rejoinders to every presentation on their schedule). Looking over this year’s SJP conference agenda, it is clear that the organization has different (or, perhaps, additional) priorities.
There is still a BDS 101 workshop, and “divestment” makes an appearance in a couple of other sessions (including one named, tellingly, “Mobilizing Alongside and Beyond Divestment”) with a few other sessions dedicated to familiar (and generic) anti-Israel talking points (“Apartheid!” and “Settler Colonialism!” et al).
Beyond this handful of BDS- or propaganda-specific presentations, however, a large amount of their conference schedule is dedicated to networking and outreach. While this could be seen as a normal step in an organization’s growth and consolidation, remember that anti-Israel activists are not in the normal business. Which is why talks with titles like “Beyond the Bars: Prison Solidarity in Palestine and the USA” are better interpreted as SJP taking advantage of today’s “intersectionality” mania to coopt other progressive agandas and organizations.
The shamelessness the boycotters bring to their own colonial occupation of other people’s political causes is best illustrated by workshops dedicated to gay issues (“Queering Your Resistance”) and the crisis in Syria (“Syrian-Palestinian Liberation”). This continues the trend of the BDSers taking on causes that should embarrass them (such as their alliance with the most homophobic nations and movements on earth, or their indifference to suffering of millions of casualties and refugees from the Syrian civil war) and claiming them as their own in order to forestall criticism of their glaring hypocrisy.
Sessions entitled “What is our Solidarity?” and “Passing the Torch” caught my eye, given rumors that the inevitable splintering and infiltration that characterize radical political organizations is already underway within SJP. Radical politics generally trends towards ruthlessness, and given the BDSers dedication to importing the Middle East conflict into every civil society organization in the land, it’s no accident that the acrimony currently characterizing the entire Middle East outside of Israel is being imported into anti-Israel groups like SJP.
So what might the clues contained in their conference program tell us about what is to come in the coming years?
Again, this is purely speculative, but I would guess that BDS will slowly recede as the raison d’etra for anti-Israel activists on campus, becoming just one of many tools SJPers will pull out when it suits a particular agenda or environment. With the momentum of radical politics on college campuses, coupled with flagging American fortunes overseas, we are also likely to see anti-Israel politics become fused with an agenda that is increasingly anti-Western (and shrill).
Even if the zeitgeist shifts, or radicals simply overreach and alienate the wider society, there is no escaping the likelihood that hubris and a sense of invulnerability will cause SJP to raise the stakes in the coming months and years, ratcheting up of violent protests at pro-Israel events, for example, if only to demonstrate their radical chops to fellow activists.
Such stakes-raising will be difficult for already hard-pressed pro-Israel students who come under more and more aggressive attack, although SJP moves in this direction can be attributed to our success in rallying against SJP and their agenda over the years.
Dealing with this will be tiring for those who don’t comprehend (much less embrace) that we are in a war, one which requires strategic thinking and forms of action that make many young people uncomfortable. But this should not prevent us from taking advantage of the recklessness of our enemies in order to portray the entire BDS enterprise as extremist and hateful, an accurate perception the “movement” is already struggling to smother.