During my semi-monthly foray into Twitter, I noticed an activist friend discussing a familiar dilemma that arose (again) in the context of the recent New School outrage where anti-Semites like Linda Sarsour took it upon themselves to publically define anti-Semitism to exclude all of the bigoted things they say and do to make Israelis (but just the Jewish ones) seem like monsters.

The discussion was not over the event itself, but how to react to it since going after the panelists or the New School faculty that decided such an event was a great idea would inevitably trigger accusations against Israel’s supporters of censorship.

This situation is yet another example of the strategy Israel’s defamers use to put their opponents in lose-lose situations where we are faced with either protesting their latest outrages – making us vulnerable to accusations that we are attacking free speech – or doing nothing and letting our foes get away with whatever they want.

There is a simple and a complicated answer to how to respond to provocations knowing that accusations of censorship are inevitable if we use our free speech rights to speak the truth or defend against BDS BS.

Starting with the simple, years ago a grizzled veteran of professional politics taught me that you’re going to get whacked just as hard for “buying the election” if you raise and spend $5 or $500,000 to defeat an opponent.  Given that, why not live with accusations and a half-a-million-dollar war chest vs. the same accusations and a pittance?

Over my decade and a half in the BDS game, I’ve learned that our side will always be characterized as enemies of free speech, whether we organize a massive protest or simply write a subdued letter to the editor.  So there is really nothing to be gained from shying away from trying to bury the other side. In fact, strategies that might seem like overkill (such as passing state and national legislation against a BDS program that has yet to gain any purchase in the US) communicate to opponents that (1) we take their accusations of censorship as seriously as they take our accusations of hypocrisy and bigotry; and (2) we are willing to do what it takes (and then some) to defeat them.

A different issue the New School event brought up has to do with who has the initiative.  Are we destined to have to wait until our opponents commit the next outrage, and then be left with no options other than to respond?

This gets us to the more complex answer to the original question of what to do when the next anti-Israel grotesque shows up in our face, a question that boils down to the whole “offense vs. defense” debate that tends to paralyze the Jewish community when dealing with BDS and similar issues.

As I’ve discussed a number of times, the pro-Israel community is subject to regular fights over whether or how we can “go on the attack” and force our opponents to respond to us, rather than “playing defense” by responding to their provocations and campaigns time and time again.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it presumes our only options are to respond to our enemy’s vicious assaults or become our enemies by launching our own assaults that force Israel’s enemies to respond to our (true) accusations (such as accusations of bigotry, sexism, homophobia and totalitarianism directed at the Arab world), or shaming opponents by pointing out their ties to terrorism or hypocrisy vis-à-vis human rights.

While there is enormous satisfaction in “turning the tables” on your foes, there are a number of reasons why this never tends to work for us, all of which boil down to issues of asymmetry.  Specifically, while Israel’s enemies are at war with the Jewish state and its supporters, we are not at war with them.  We do not, for example, want to see our opponents destroyed, and thus will never be able to build and sustain decades-long campaigns to vilify Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims in the way those groups have sustained their decades-long attack on the nation they want eradicated.

So are we left with no options then to get into a defensive crouch and hope those that hate us will eventually see the error of their ways and leave us alone?

The answer to that question is too long to include in a pair of summarizing paragraphs (although my complete response can be read here).  But to sum these arguments up in a few quick sentences: the whole offense-vs-defense argument demonstrates a lack of historical understanding of the nature of warfare which leaves us unfamiliar with the kind of war – a siege war – we are actually fighting.

For a siege (like the one we find ourselves in) is a form of warfare, regardless of which side of the siege line your find yourself on.  And fighting a siege war involves all the martial values of courage, cleverness, steadfastness and creativity since both the besieger and besieged have strengths and weaknesses that can be capitalized on or exploited.  Understand this and you are well on your way to understanding our options when the next outrage hits.


One Response to Lose-Lose

  1. Michael Harris December 4, 2017 at 10:08 pm #

    One discussion on Twitter prior to the New School event was about the announcement by a major New School funder that he was pulling funding over this event, and whether this was a good development for our side or not. Personally, I’m on the “boycotts and divestment work both ways” side of it, and I agree that if we’re going to get accused of trying to suppress free speech, we may as well get our money’s worth out of that. No donor is under any obligation to fund something they find incompatible with their values. And given that the New School did not try to portray this event as a mere rental of the facility over which they had no control, it did accept responsibility for it.

    (on a tangential note: nothing in the First Amendment requires any institution to provide a platform for any speaker, or prevents them from withdrawing an invitation. So much of the rhetoric around free speech is in the framework of “you HAVE to let me speak here because, First Amendment”).

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