It’s often useful to try to pry out premises behind the things we believe, especially in situations where reasons exist for considering those beliefs irrational.
For instance, just this months all 50 US governors denounced the BDS movement, a denunciation that has come at the end of a long string of sanctions votes in state houses against organizations participating in boycott, divestment or sanctions activity directed at Israel.
By any measure, this should be being celebrated far and wide as a great victory for our side, and a great defeat for Israel’s foes. In fact, given that the BDSniks would be celebrating with fireworks and torch-lit parades if even one governor took their phone calls, it’s even more phenomenal that our huge recent wins came from just a couple years of effort, vs. the trivialities BDSers have to show for themselves after nearly two decades of constant campaigning to inflict economic damage on the Jewish state.
Despite this objective reality, our opponents still think of themselves as being on the cusp of tremendous victory, while we still feel vulnerable and besieged – ready to panic whenever some student government passes another toothless divestment resolution (vs. our opponents who let our wins roll right off them). So why might this be the case?
One explanation is that both sides’ beliefs are actually reasonable since the goal of the BDS movement is not to see boycotts, divestment and sanctions actually implemented, but rather to create a climate in which Israel’s alleged “crimes” are taken for granted (with only the appropriate punishment open to discussion).
Given this, the boycotters have made strides in making Israeli villainy an incessant talking point in key communities such as college campuses and Mainline progressive churches. Under this interpretation, the problem is not the imminent success of BDS in achieving its claimed goals (seeing Israel suffer economic punishment a la Apartheid South Africa), but in achieving its real goals of colonizing the Left-end of the political spectrum and turning it permanently against the Jewish state.
I am sympathetic to this argument, although I’d be more comfortable if it rested on data that goes beyond the anecdotal.
For instance, BDS has been infecting campuses for nearly twenty years, and even before it became the preferred tactic for anti-Israel activists, anti-Israel hostility has been cultivated on those same campuses for close to half a century. No doubt any of us can point to a string of outrages that have taken place on numerous campuses during that period. But how much has all that effort shifted public opinion towards Israel vs. her foes during this half century of alleged “indoctrination.”
A second interpretation of why we are so sheepish about our substantial wins while our opponents remain so buoyant about their trivial ones is the level of satisfaction each of us receives based on the nature of the blows we land on our opponents.
For example, when the BDSers “win,” that usually means they just got to spend hours (if not days, weeks and months) raining insults and calumnies down on the object of their hatred; castigating Israel as racist, murderous, bloodthirsty, indeed guilty of every crime every right-thinking person should loath. Yet when we get a dozen state house to promise punishment against companies participating in boycotts of Israel, all we tend to claim is that this implies general public agreement that boycotting Israel is unfair and BDS inappropriate (or, at most, immoral).
But wouldn’t it be more satisfying to see Mondoweiss et al reeling day after day from accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and reactionary politics – especially given that these are crimes Israel’s foes are actually guilty of? Many allies have told me for years that we need to start our own version of BDS with the explicit purpose of giving Israel’s enemies a taste of their own medicine. But (as I’ve talked about ad nauseam) in order to pull this off and genuinely act like our enemies, we would need to become our enemies.
This would involve dedicating not a few nights to postering but years and decades to the non-stop smearing of Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims (take your pick), a smearing that would continue unabated, regardless of how much damaged it causes various communities (including the communities we would have to recruit to condemn our political foes).
But given the current state of the Arab world (vs. the Jewish one) it’s not clear to me that acting more like Israel’s enemies is the greatest choice, even while I share the frustration of those driven to distraction at having to “play defense” against such immoral and hypocritical foes.
Which brings me to a third and final possibility as to why the boycotters are perpetually giddy regardless of the scale or nature of wins and losses, while we go into kanipshins every time a BDS protest takes place, even in locales we previously never knew existed. This has to do with the storylines into which we fit our accomplishments and failures, a subject I’ll dive into next time.