I recently encountered the term titling this piece in the comments section of an article about how an organization become politicized when leaders of the group started taking stands on controversial matters. When some members protested, these same leaders recruited enough like-minded new members to confirm their authority over the organization.
The term “entryism,” which describes such institutional takeovers, originated in the early 20th century to describe Communist partisans trying to get a foothold, and eventually take control of, labor organizations or political parties that were left leaning but did not subscribe to this or that flavor of Marxism.
While past labor groups and left-but-not-Marxist parties historically found the means and backbone to kick out those who had join with ulterior motives (the most notable example being the expulsion of the Trotskyite Militant Tendency from the UK’s Labour Party in the 1980s), the end of global Communism did not spell an end to entryism. In fact, the democratic spirit reignited with the fall of the Soviet Union had the ironic effect of bringing a tactic once embraced by only a small conspiratorial fringe into the mainstream.
One could actually look at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) “movement,” if not the entire anti-Israel project, as entryism turned up to eleven, dwarfing any version that has come before in both its scale and success.
When student governments rejected divestment measures earlier this decade, proponents of those measures simply ran for office with the sole purpose of turning those “No’s” into “Yes’s”. On the surface, this might seem like a democratically elected majority doing what it was elected to do, but in many of these elections pro-BDS candidates deliberately hid their divestment priorities during their campaigns for office, meaning their real goal for obtaining student council seats was hidden from voters. In other words, they successfully took advantage of a political situation (in this case, student council elections with very low voter turnout) to practice a bit of entryism.
The way BDS has played out in other communities, such as churches and academic associations, has followed a similar entryist pattern, with members who are anti-Israel activists first, Presbyterians or American Studies professors second, taking leadership positions and forcing the organization to take stands that reflect their preferred views, the spiritual or professional needs of the organization be damned. And when internal protests against those decisions erupted, steps were taken to limit the number of voices who could participate in discussions of those choices, or new members were found to shore up the power base of anti-Israel voices in charge.
Entities not bound by democratic politics have been even more ripe for entriest-style infiltration. For example, the descent of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) ostensibly dedicated to human rights into Israel-hating madness reflects a pattern in which every organization from Human Rights Watch to the United Nations, has been targeted for successful takeover by anti-Israel forces, dramatically limiting their ability to engage in genuine human rights practice anywhere in the world.
With regard to NGOs, problems of entrism can be seen in the category as a whole as hundreds of freshly minted anti-Israel “human rights” groups have formed (or been created, with financial support from the world’s great human rights abusers) creating a “community” in which horrific displays of anti-Jewish animus (like the 2001 Durban conference where BDS was born) became the sea in which once noble and effective groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International must swim.
Unfortunately, our side lacks the ability to meet fire with fire. There are not, after all, 50 Jewish states able to exert control over bodies like the UN or finance the creation of hundreds of NGOs dedicated to smearing our enemies. We also lack what is needed to turn the entire human rights project into a weapon to be pointed exclusively as our enemies. But this might be a source of strength for our side, rather than weakness.
This is because the tendency of entryism to cripple an organization can impact even the organizations practicing entryism against others. The most illustrative example of this is the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM), a group that led divestment efforts in the early 2010s. Because their efforts earned them such a high profile, they became a target for takeover by every political and religious faction involved with left-leaning and Middle East politics. After years of fending off such hostile takeovers, they eventually shut their doors, unable to both do their work and keep entriest forces at bay.
It would represent justice if other groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) met a similar fate. But it would be even more preferable if today’s progressive organizations found the spine their progenitors exhibited when they kept infiltration by yesterday’s enemies of freedom and democracy at bay.