I recently read some back-of-envelope calculations that said 20 student government divestment resolutions have been have been presented at 16 campuses this year (I’m presuming the four repeats are at places where the boycotters decided to not take “No” for an answer) out of which 6 student bills have passed. (Whoops! Make that 21 campuses where 15 #BDSFails took place – University of New Mexico just shot divestment down by a margin of more than 3:1.)
While that was going on, the Israeli economy apparently grew by 7% – a rate of expansion that seems to demonstrate that even three months of war last summer (never mind 15 years of unrelenting boycott and divestment activity) isn’t having much of an impact on an actual country called Israel that exists in the real world (as opposed to in the fantasy dystopia of the Israel-haters).
Oh, and at a recent chance meeting with an old family friend, I learned that the Chinese Ministry of Education decided to prioritize building official links between Israel’s top eight research universities and equivalent prestigious schools in China. Which will likely have more of an impact on the role and status of Israel academia in the world than will the ASA’s continuing to pretend that they have a boycott in place against the Jewish state.
I bring this up not to renew the debate over my “BDS is a loser” meme since I fully recognize that the point of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns is to introduce a steady drip of hostility towards the Jewish state into public consciousness, rather than cause actual harm to the economy of that state. And the data needed to prove whether or not the real purpose of the “movement” has been successful will come not from economic but social statistics (stats that could demonstrate whether or not graduates from SJP-stronghold colleges harbor animosity towards Israel a decade after graduating).
But until such data emerges, I think it is worth asking why – in an era of unprecedented economic and academic success – Israel and its friends have chosen other factors (like the prevalence of BDS campaigns on college campuses) as our measure of progress and security (or lack thereof).
No doubt ugly propagandizing on the very campuses many of us attended in our youth is disquieting. But should we really be so troubled over six toothless divestment Student Senate divestment resolutions passing when Israelis are enjoying prosperity known nowhere else in the world? Does a debate over a hummus boycott at a food coop in Ithaca really matter when the nearby Cornell University is investing millions in an ongoing relationship with Technion?
Having spent a large chunk of my life writing about and fighting the boycotters, I don’t think I can be accused of not taking the BDS propaganda campaign seriously. But I suspect that my concern is of a different type than that of others who fear BDS being “on the march.”
For belief in BDS ascendant requires conflating a number of things going on in the world that I believe need to be kept separate, at least when thinking through what our strategy should be to keep the forces of darkness at bay.
For example, it’s easy to look at SJP running amok at the University of California as the early onset of the full-blown violent Jew-hatred currently spilling out across Europe. But what’s happening in places like Paris is ultimately about immigration patterns (including increasing Islamification within immigrant communities), demographic change (the so-called European death-spiral) and economic stagnation which creates the foot soldiers and environment where “The New Anti-Semitism” thrives. And such circumstances would prevail even if the BDS “movement” had never come into existence.
Similarly, Israel’s current precariousness is being caused by factors few people (including few of us) can influence, much less control. Violent Islamist armies are conquering territory, slaughtering their opponents (and one another), and visiting untold misery on much of the Middle East for reasons having nothing to do with Israel (or America for that matter). Branches of those armies sitting at Israel’s borders (notably Hamas in the South and Hezbollah in the North) draw sustenance from their Islamist patrons and benefit from a wealthy and powerful Arab and Islamic world ready to supply them money and arms, overlook their excesses (as long as their guns are aimed solely at Jews), and erect a diplomatic blast shield around them the moment Israel starts to shoot back.
And here in the US, we have an administration that seems more than ready to let the whole situation go from bad to worse, while furtively downgrading relations with Israel and not-so-furtively denigrating its leaders (and, by extension, its voters) in an attempt to implement “peace in our time.”
Given how much of the world is heading in directions both troubling and horrifying, is it any wonder that many are detaching themselves from that world, either by retreating into our latest App or narrowing our political vision to where we can’t see beyond the latest partisan food fight? As we navigate an era more dangerous than any time since World War II, how much easier is it to inflate the importance of local enemies we can fight (such as the BDSers, who are only too happy to have their importance inflated) versus coming to grips with all the forces of history over which we have no power?
Which may explain why I diverge from some of my allies in a seemingly slight, but actually significant way. For BDS to me is not the local manifestation of a global Green-Red front directed against Israel and the Jews but the weak link in that alliance. For BDS only wins when others of good will are dragged or tricked into embracing its agenda. And despite over a decade and a half of effort, we still see very few people or organizations embracing that agenda, which is why the boycotter’s “victory list” today consists of the irrelevant (student governments), the lame and cowardly (ASA) and the aged and dying (PCUSA, Hawking).
And since BDS requires the support of people of good will to succeed, the excesses it wallows in – especially in “victory” – makes it that much harder for them to win elsewhere (as the recent string of student government defeats demonstrates). In other words, rather than embrace the BDSers narrative that says “Even when we lose, we win!,” perhaps a better (and more accurate) narrative we should be promulgating is that “Even when they win, they lose!!!”