Continuing from last time, why is it that the twentieth state government officially denouncing the BDS movement last week created so little stir among BDS opponents and proponents, even as stories about the occasional student government passing a meaningless divestment resolution continues to cause loud public cheers from the Israel haters, and equally loud teeth-gnashing from our side?
While I mentioned a couple of political explanations for this phenomenon previously, the fact that both side’s responses to BDS news are inversely proportional to the significance of that news might boil down to the storylines into which each side fits events.
Most people cast themselves as protagonist in their own dramas. In the case of the boycotters, their self-created story casts them as members of an all-seeing, all-knowing vanguard, an elite that – alone – understands the world as it truly is. The fact that others do not share their vision of unquestioned Israeli wickedness and pristine Palestinian innocence is due to the villains in their tale (evil Zionists) duping the masses, creating in them a “false consciousness” which anti-Israel forces must remedy – by any means necessary.
Vanguards ready to act on behalf of “The People’s Will” (as understood by those vanguards) were behind all of the totalitarian movements that tried to overthrow democracy in the 20th century. This places BDS squarely in the tradition of movements ready to trash democracy in the name of a self-perceived and self-declared higher good.
Understanding this storyline helps explain the BDSers readiness to go to undemocratic extremes, from stacking elected bodies with single-issue partisans, to holding secret votes late at night or on religious holidays, to pushing votes year after year after year no matter how many times BDS is rejected. From the outside, such behavior might seem cynical and corrupt. But for the true believer, this is the way to express “the people’s will” without the pesky intervention of actual people.
If you understand the boycotter’s storyline, their reaction to victory and defeat becomes more explicable. A win for them, such as an unknown food coop boycotting Israel goods, demonstrates that the masses are shaking off their blinders and moving in the direction of history (even if no other coop in the nation chose to participate in similar boycotts). At the same time a loss (like BDS being condemned by state governments across the country) are just examples of powerful elites manipulated by Zionist foes hopelessly trying to hold back the inevitable success of the BDS project.
This heads-I-win-tails-you-lose formula the boycotters trot out to turn every BDS-related event into a victory for them makes perfect sense once you realize that within their narrative everything – including successful efforts to defeat them – are part of a consistent (if fantasy-driven) world view.
Moving on to us, our storyline also has us cast in role – that of the besieged victim. Given Jewish history, this is not an absurd lens to view ourselves through, especially since the Jews’ return to history simply turned Israel into the Jew among the nations targeted militarily, diplomatically and economically for eradication since birth.
Unlike religious or ideological vanguards that see their mission to convert the entire world to their belief system, Jews – a small people without an evangelical tradition – must always take into account the needs and opinions of others. This is what makes us so sensitive to slights and setbacks, causing us to fly into a rage (and occasionally over-react) when the boycotters get their way. At the same time, our suspicion that friendships might be fleeting cause us to describe our wins judiciously, rather than engage in the kind of bombast our enemies indulge in every time they score a point.
Our history also leaves us without a militant or military mindset, which makes us often equate being besieged with being powerless. But, as described here (and in more detail in this extended essay), siege warfare has its own rules of engagement which we would do well to understand if we want to stop reacting to the provocation of our enemies and instead take effective strategic initiative against them that reflects the realities of the battlefield.
The comment section in the first part of this story included an apt metaphor for the phenomenon I’m describing: that of predator and prey. The predator, after all, might fail to capture or kills his quarry, but does not feel under existential threat from the prey he is trying to kill. In contrast, prey – even if able to dodge disaster again and again – understands that he only needs to lose once to lose everything.
So if the Israel-haters preying on Israelis and Jews feel invulnerable, impervious to criticism and to any fact that interferes with fantasies of ultimate victory, it is because they know the likelihood of their own destruction at the hands of those they are trying to destroy is minimal.