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Ground Game

14 Mar

Years ago, I remember hearing a radio talk-show host chastise someone who had called to complain about a local political issue.

The advice the host gave him was that if the caller wanted to see things go his way, all he had to do was run for office and dedicate the time and patience needed to visit and shake hands with as many people in the constituency as possible.

For in an age when few people even bother running for office (as any of us who filled out a ballot consisting mostly of people running unopposed can testify), such retail politics is unstoppable.  In fact, even in national politics (at least at the Congressional level) those ready to wear out shoes and shake hands routinely beat opponents with more money, name recognition and support from the political establishment.

In the context of the fight against BDS, this phenomenon works itself out in the context of victory frequently going to those with the best “ground game,” (i.e., those who have the highest number of competent people working locally).

Since student-government votes on college campuses seem to be the BDS flavor of the year, we can look at this ground-game phenomenon in the context of what is going on at colleges and universities in the 2014-15 academic year.  For if you look at the schools where SJP has won a student-council vote or has been able to pursue its aggressive propaganda strategy with limited opposition, these are mostly at places where the opposition’s ground-game is better than our side’s.

Gauging the relative political strength of each side is often distorted by the fact that our victories tend to be quiet ones (student government votes that don’t take place or anti-Israel events that don’t happen because anti-Israel groups are weak, pro-Israel groups are strong, or both).  But even if our side doesn’t fire off press releases announcing some BDS plan or event that was thwarted or never happened, political power tends to accrue to those with the best soldiers deployed in the field.

This observation needs to be filtered through an understanding that both sides have strengths (and weaknesses) derived from their political stances and ideology.  The BDSers power, for example, derives from their ruthlessness, their readiness to say and do anything (including lie, infiltrate and co-opt other people’s organizations and agendas) to achieve their ends, and their indifference to the suffering they cause others.  But while that behavior can pack a political punch, the fanaticism needed to behave in such a way also contributes to the excesses and organizational fragility that has contributed to many a BDS defeat.

Similarly, our side benefits from the need to only tell the truth about Israel and the Middle East (which frees us from the psychological and cognitive burden of having to remember what we just told someone else), as well as from the fact that we tap into general American support for the Jewish state that has remains high, despite decades of anti-Israel propaganda.  At the same time, our inability to match the ruthlessness of our foes (which would involve spending decades smearing those with whom we ultimately want to live in peace while trashing our own communities in the process) limits our ability to “turn the tables” on our opponents.

But putting aside the obvious ethical divide between each side’s sources of strength, I think it’s safe to say that power-wise, ideology is a wash. Which means that success and failure derives from who is able to recruit skilled people and put them to work getting their program implemented in a particular setting (whether that’s a college campus, a church, a food coop or some other BDS target).  In fact, having covered (and been involved with) BDS activity since 2004, I can make the empirical observation that our victories (and defeats) have always been the result of the talent and passion of those on the ground.

Getting back to college campuses, what this means in practical terms is that we have been playing (and will continue to play) a numbers game.  For students come and go on any given campus, which means that the level of pro- or anti-Israel activity is often determined by whether one talented leader (on either side) just graduated, is on exchange for a year, or is overwhelmed with schoolwork when Israel Apartheid Week/Month rolls around.

So for all those parents calling a school or Jewish community organization to complain when they read in the paper about what’s been going on at UCLA (for example), here’s some advice: teach your kids while they’re in high school (or even before) what the Middle East is really like, and either train them yourself or tap into other people who can train them how to organize, write and speak politically so it won’t take them until Junior Year to understand what is going on and contribute (or even lead) the good fight.

And for activists (including machers) incensed about the latest BDS campus outrage and want to do something about it, here’s something you can do: support those organizations that are making an effort to train and support students at ground level.

This last suggestion is often a difficult one to implement.  For just as many political partisans prefer to organize protests rather than run for office (which would require dealing with the details and compromises of representational government), and many educational reformers would prefer to come up with tools to support and evaluate teachers and students (rather than deal with either group directly), many a pro-Israel adult prefers to tell students what they are doing wrong (or provide their own resources such as web sites, curricula and fliers) versus getting involved with the messiness of having to deal with real students in real-world and diverse campus environments.

That last criticism comes from someone who is probably guiltier than anyone else of preferring to write long-winded articles (like this one) that few will read vs. jumping into the nitty-gritty of understanding the specific needs of specific communities unless forced to (by being invited to help a group fighting a divestment or boycott vote, for example).  But while I can justify that choice based on a perceived need to come up with a vocabulary and intellectual framework to deal with the BDS threat, I would never mistake the effort put into writing blog entries with the much harder work of organizing and supporting real live people who are doing most of the work of keeping BDS at bay.

As a final thought, we also need to keep in mind that (1) we are involved with a war in which BDS is simply the propaganda arm of the much wider War Against the Jews that has gone on for nearly a century; and that (2) this is a long war in which there will be battlefield wins and losses.  And the worst thing you can do in such a situation is to treat any particular loss (such as this or that student council vote that doesn’t go our way) as the beginning of the end, rather than just one battle among thousands we all have to fight until such time that Israel’s enemies decide there’s something better to live and die for than the demise of the Jewish state.

 

BDS, the Trade Protection Act, and Israel

6 Mar

Given the amount of ink that’s been spilled over toothless student council votes taken place in less than 1% of US college campuses, it’s surprising that the biggest BDS story of the year (if not the last several years) has gotten virtually no coverage.

I’m talking about the Trade Protection Act, a bi-partisan piece of legislation currently working its way through the US House of Representatives, that would make a free trade agreement between the US and Europe contingent on the latter taking no part in anti-free trade activities (i.e., BDS) directed against Israel.

This is the first major expansion of America’s anti-boycott legal regime since legislation punishing US companies participating in the Arab boycott of the Jewish state was signed into law by that Zionist stooge Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.

As noted by William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection (one of the few pro-Israel media outlets to cover the story in detail), there may be fewer teeth in this particular proposal than in earlier anti-boycott laws, given that a trade agreement between nations is harder to enforce than a legal regime within a nation.  And since any alleged violation of the new rules would have to travel through complex bureaucracies in the US, Europe and whichever international group would adjudicate between them, I don’t expect this bill – if passed – would lead to many violators facing consequences for participating in BDS activities in a timely fashion.

But, like anti-boycott legislation passed in the 1970s, the Trade Protection Act would be most significant with regard to symbolic and indirect consequences.

Starting with symbolism, remember that for your average BDSer “Sanctions” (states inflicting economic punishment on Israel) is the Holy Grail.  It’s one thing for student governments to pretend that their stacked votes represent campus opinion, or that boycotting hummus made in New Jersey demonstrates the impending triumph of their movement.  But if a national government decides to cross the line from criticism to punishment of the Jewish state, suddenly we’re talking about an event with genuine political significance.

Yet after decades of propaganda designed to convince the US public (and through them, their representatives in government) that Israel is the new Apartheid South Africa, we finally have US sanctions legislation speeding through Congress – legislation which sanctions not Israel but those participating in BDS.

In a country where 3:1 support for Israel over her enemies has been a constant for decades, I don’t expect the boycotters will be able to rally a citizenry hostile to their cause against the new trade rules.  And even during a period when relations between the Executive branch and Israeli leaders are so strained, I can’t imagine a scenario where the President would pull out his rarely used veto pen for this particular issue.  In fact – as we have seen in many previous situations (J Street’s official anti-BDS position comes to mind) – BDS is so loathed across so much of the political spectrum that taking a stand against it is a cheap and easy way to establish one’s pro-Israel bona fides.

On the non-symbolic front, the real power of this legislation is that it gives European governments and companies behind hounded by BDS activists telling them to “do something” (i.e., do what they say) an excuse to say no.

Keep in mind that in the few instances when Europeans took steps in the BDS direction, those steps were chosen to cause minimal local damage (by boycotting goods that meant little to the local economy, for instance, or divesting assets that could be easily replaced by ones not on the BDS blacklist).  In all cases, people making genuine economic decisions (vs. the BDSers who just demand other people do so and deal with the consequences), are looking for risk- and cost-free ways to proceed.  So the power of the new Trade Protection legislation is that it actually adds a cost to boycott and divestment decisions, meaning those who take them will now have to make genuine sacrifices for the privilege of becoming a bullet point Omar Barghouti’s next slide presentation.

Keep in mind that the most important impact of the original Carter-era anti-boycott legislation was also indirect.  Sure, some companies got hit with fines for signing onto the Arab boycott of Israel (a boycott that required companies to literally sign on – creating a paper trail for US prosecutors).  But these fines cost them a lot less than the difference between their income from Arab League customers and the Israel market they were foregoing.

What really hurt these companies was the PR hit they took when it became public that they were caving into demands to not do business with one Jewish state in order to line their pockets with revenue from many Arab ones.  And once the cost of participating in the boycott included making financial and reputational sacrifices in the huge US (vs. small Israeli) market, US corporations suddenly had an excuse to say “No” to the boycott office in Damascus.

The fact that this legislation would extend the dynamic we have had in place in the US since the ‘70s into Europe has caused some consternation in BDS circles. BDS loudmouth sites like Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, for instance, have complained that the new rules could become a “devastating weapon” to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions project.  And while they might not be thinking in the same terms outlined above of how these new rules would impact them (by giving weak-willed Europeans an excuse to turn them away), limited discussion of the Trade Protection Act within BDS circles seems to recognize the threat of such a move to their ever-flailing program.

Again, one has to contrast today’s BDS effort with the fight against South African Apartheid in the 1980s when governments, colleges and universities, churches and other civic institutions understood and agreed about the nature of the Apartheid system, proudly (and publicly) made economic choices (including sacrifices) that punished that racist nation, and were celebrated for doing so.

In contrast, today’s BDS “movement,” after more than a decade and a half of untold efforts, has only managed to unite the powers they have endlessly lobbied (the US government, the nation’s largest academic associations, college Presidents, etc.) against them, while their dream of replicating in the US the situation we saw in France last summer becomes more distant than ever.

Academic Boycott – A Case Study

28 Feb

Over the last two years, whenever critics have condemned anti-Israel academic boycotts as an attack on academic freedom that would, by necessity, harm individual scholars, we were told by academic boycott proponents that their actions were targeted solely at institutions and would thus have no impact on professors, students or scholarship.

It’s been hard to put that theory to the test with regard to programs like the American Studies Association (ASA) boycott since, as far as I know, not one American Studies Department in the country has implemented a boycott program that was voted in by an ASA leadership claiming to represent the scholars making up those departments.

And even when ASA leaders themselves had the opportunity to put the boycott they forced onto the organization into action at their December national conference, they chickened out – allowing Israeli scholars to proudly march around the conference brandishing their institutional affiliation (in defiance of ASA’s new policy) while ASA leaders avoided questions from whatever press they had not managed to ban from their event.

There has been talk that a furtive boycott might be in place, one where US American Studies professors are shunning their Israeli colleagues (by refusing to attend their conferences, referee their papers or participate in hiring and tenure projects).  But even if this is the case, such secretive boycotts cannot be described as a form of political action since genuine political acts (vs. secret acts of bigotry) require the world know that such shunning is being done in the name of a stated political goal.

Since un-implemented (or secret) anti-Israel academic boycotts that have not been translated into action provide no information on the whole institution vs. individual punishment issue, we need to look elsewhere to see how the matter might play out if a boycott of an academic institution was actually put in place.  Fortunately for this discussion (but unfortunately if you happen to work there), we have an example of an implemented institutional boycott to draw upon: the one currently underway targeting the University of Illinois.

While this boycott is not specifically about Israel, it certainly derives from the mainstreaming of academic boycotts that have resulted from recent BDS campaigns within academia, involving as it does the now famous (or infamous, depending on your attitude) English professor and anti-Israel polemicist Steven Salaita.

I suspect everyone reading this knows the tale, but just in case: Salaita, who taught at Virginia Tech, was offered a teaching position within the American Indian Studies department at University of Illinois, pending approval by the school’s Board of Trustees.  And, assuming that such approval was just a formality, he resigned his current tenured position in Virginia and prepared to relocate to Illinois.

But during the period before final approval, a series of vulgar, infantile, over-the-top tweets Professor Salaita sent during the recent Gaza war hit the media, making him a controversial figure which contributed to the Board not approving the hiring decision, and leaving Professor Salaita without an academic home.

I’ll leave it to the legal courts to determine whether the original unapproved offer made to Salaita represents a binding contract U of Illinois breached, just as I’ll leave it to the court of public opinion the question of whether Salaita’s hiring was nixed because of a conspiracy of Likudnik donors threatening university leaders, or because Salaita’s tweets woke those leaders up to the fact that they were about to reward life employment to someone with little scholarly experience in the field in which he’d be teaching and – at least with regard to his politics – no maturity or self-control.

Others, however, were not willing to wait for these various courts to declare their verdicts and a boycott of University of Illinois was put in place by Salaita supporters who demanded that the decision not to hire him be reversed.

So has this clear-cut example of a boycott of an institution impacted individual scholars after all?

Well according to Professor Susan Koshy, a Professor of English, Asian-American Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at Illinois (a supporter of Salaita as well as someone who signed on to a petition calling for boycotts of Israeli academic institutions) the answer is unquestionably yes since it includes:

“Planning and then canceling or redefining searches. Deferring program reviews. Canceling talks, conferences, and speaker series. Dealing with the irrecoverable costs of airfares and room bookings from last-minute cancellations. Taking “no” for an answer time and time again when searching for reviewers for manuscript workshops. Documenting all the rejections and cancellations.”

You will notice that her list of problems resulting from the boycott of her institution all directly impact individual people (including Koshy herself and many of her colleagues).  And given universities are in the people business, how could it possibly be otherwise?  Higher ed institutions, after all, do not grow grapes or manufacture garments that can be shunned in the grocery or department store.  They “produce” interaction between teachers and students and between professional colleagues (all protected under the umbrella of “academic freedom”).  So boycotting the institutions where interaction is the primary activity requires boycotting the people participating in those interactions.

I’ll leave it to William Jacobson to wrangle statement from Professor Koshy regarding how she feels about her support for an academic boycott of Israelis now that she is on the receiving end of such an effort.  But I should note one other ongoing BDS-related issue that the whole sorry U Illinois story illustrates.

For here we have one more element of civic society (University of Illinois directly, but I would say academics more generally) where BDS supporters dragging the Middle East conflict into an institution ends up harming not Israel but the organization that caved in to BDS blandishments, moral blackmail and demands that they “do something” (that “something” consisting of participating in the boycotters’ squalid little propaganda program).

We’ve saw it in places like Somerville MA and the Olympic Food Coop (although, fortunately, those instances helped immunize municipalities and food coops almost entirely from the BDS infection).  We see it at places like the Presbyterian Church which will soon enter the grave grasping onto its anti-Israel animus as the few members under the age of 70 look elsewhere for spiritual salvation.

And we’ve seen it on college campuses where anti-Israel propaganda campaigns have been woven into the fabric of student life, making it impossible to participate in student government or even walk across campus without having this issue – alone among international conflicts – shoved in your face again and again and again.

In other words, the University of Illinois story simply proves what many of us have known for years: that BDS turns everything it touches into shit.

BDS and Student Government – What Next?

23 Feb

As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, one BDS “win” that was a bit of a disappointment this academic year was the string of pro-divestment votes that successfully passed in student governments at various schools (notably some of the University of California campuses where divestment had been voted down previously).

One reason it’s been easy to not take these votes as seriously representing the voice of student opinion is the fact that the BDSers themselves never took the votes of previous student councils the least bit seriously when they were handed rejection year after year.  And while I’m not sure if attempts to prosecute Jewish and pro-Israel voices are as big a factor as is general student apathy towards student politics, clearly these pro-BDS votes were the result of the boycotters getting themselves elected to Student Senates for the soul purpose of pushing ahead their anti-Israel agenda, the needs of the students they are supposed to represent be damned.

But even if we reject the boycotters’ claims that such “success” makes them an unstoppable juggernaut, the notion that student government has become the latest victim of infiltration with numerous progressive and minority groups allowing themselves to be coopted by anti-Israel partisans who care nothing for them beyond their usefulness, does pose a problem to Jewish and pro-Israel voices on campus.

Fortunately, those representing such voices have already started to take matters into their own hands in ways that do not require them to play at the BDSers’ game.

For instance, once it became clear that a stacked student government at UCLA only wanted to feign debate, pro-Israel students defiantly walked out of the meeting, leaving the boycotters with nothing but their own political ids as company.

And speaking of ids, what could possibly motivate the boycotters to start screaming “Allah Akbar” and announcing that Hamas now rules the UC system after a vote finally went their way beyond the need to wallow in their own fantasies of political potency?  And, to their credit, pro-Israel student groups have done all they can to broadcast the BDSer’s misbehavior far and wide, demonstrating to all the true fanatical face of “the movement.”

I’ve written before about why it’s next to impossible to turn the tables on Israel’s political adversaries (by forcing votes condemning Hamas, the PLO/PA or Arab regimes for war crimes or murderous homophobia, for example) since (1) the Jewish community is not ready to launch and sustain a propaganda campaign against those we hope to eventually live in peace with; and (2) we are not ready to wreak havoc on civil society for our own political gain.

But nothing prevents us from engaging in the most aggressive campaigning possible that exposes groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (and their Jewish Voice for Peace allies) as a bunch of fanatical and hypocritical thugs, ready to shout down their opponents while simultaneously insisting that their own unending bellowing voices are the ones being silenced.

Is it fair to use the excesses of some SJP/JVP groups to besmirch those organizations as a whole?  You bet it is, especially since the sole purpose of those groups is to smear the Jewish state with restricted “fact sampling” if not outright lies.

I was also pleased to learn that those opposed to the pro-BDS vote at UC Davis were able to successfully have that vote overturned by the judiciary branch of student government.

While this might seem at odds with my general uneasiness with the use of courts to settle BDS-related disputes, keep in mind that we’re talking student government here.  And just as I was amazed that the University of California student government includes political parties that have been battling each other for decades, it boggles my limited imagination to know that some schools need a judiciary to put a brake on the excesses of student legislators run amok.

In this particular case, appealing to the UC Davis Student Judicial Panel also represents pro-Israel students making our opponents play by their own rulebook, a la Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.  So if SJP thinks it can take over a Student Senate and twist it to their own purposes, why not force them to live by the rules of the student government they thought they had taken over?

All that said, there is much more than our side can do that does not require giving the Israel haters the role they crave of prosecutor, judge and jury over Israeli “war crimes.”

For instance, I’ve always wondered why Tamid investment clubs (or something similar) have not taken root on every campus where BDS is active.  Such programs require no approval by outside authorities (as far as I know), provide a campus platform for cultivating interest in investment in Israel on campus, and – most importantly – can appeal to students involved with business, technology and entrepreneurship, three of the most popular majors on US campuses.

Engineering and environmental science are also way up there in terms of preferred majors of US undergraduates.  And while inviting students to hear a talk about Israeli drip irrigation doesn’t do much to counter Israel Apartheid Week shrieking, forming and sustaining groups or clubs within Engineering, and Environmental Science departments (especially on campuses like Cornell with its important partnership with Technion) provides a means to bring more students into contact with genuine Israelis vs. the fantasy goblins that inhabit BDS demonology.

And while we are using our voices to expose the boycotters for the liars, hypocrites, bigots, fraudsters and bullies that they are, why not have a little fun at their expense? For even though satire did not play as big a role in bringing down the last centuries tyrannies as did tanks and planes, a show of public contempt for BDS measures on campuses could go a long way towards demonstrating how little anyone is ready to take the boycotter’s “triumphs” seriously.

If anyone is looking for an idea, I suspect most of the recently passed divestment resolutions could easily be worked into this printed format.

Fight on!

Closing Argument(s)

18 Feb

It might be getting time to wrap up the debate/discussion I’ve been having with Mike Lumish over at Israel Thrives regarding Israel and the Left.  Not that there isn’t a lot more to say about this subject, but I suspect that our attempts to find major disagreements could devolve into a Narcissism of Small Difference destined to deliver a diminishing return on investment.

But to keep things going for just one more column, I continue to take issue with the core assertion that drives much of Mike’s argument (one he claims I agree with in his last piece) that the current President supports (or “supported”) the Muslim Brotherhood, if by “support” he means (1) agrees with the goals of that organization and (2) wishes it to succeed.

This might seem like a small linguistic point, but within it lies the reason I suspect Mike is having such a hard time getting his messages accepted.  For, simply put, the argument at the heart of his critique is not strong enough.

But fear not.  For the somewhat technical analysis you are about to read is designed to strengthen, rather than weaken, the argument of my friendly opponent.  So if you can stand a few paragraphs of logical dweebiness, read on.

For the few of you remaining, there are a number of techniques that allow you to determine the strengths and weakness of arguments delivered in normal human language (vs. machine code which is much easier to check for flaws).

If you want to go back 2500 years, Aristotle’s syllogisms still pack a punch, although I’ve developed a growing preference for so-called Toulmin Diagrams in recent years.  But since those would take too long to explain, I think we can get what we need through use of the simplest structure for an argument: a set of premises leading to a conclusion.

With this in mind, Mike’s key points can be boiled down into an argument that looks something like this:

Premise 1: The Muslim Brotherhood is a totalitarian organization with goals at odds with the US and the West, which is also the wellspring of Jihadi violence in the Middle East.

Premise 2: President Obama and his administration have made decisions and statements (especially when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power in Egypt) that involved helping and praising that Brotherhood regime.

Premise 3: Only someone who supports the Muslim Brotherhood would help and praise the Muslim Brotherhood regime when it ruled Egypt.

===================================================

Conclusion: President Obama supports a totalitarian organization with goals at odds with the US and the West, which is also the wellspring of Jihadi violence in the Middle East.

Now there are two primary tests for determining the strength of an argument structured in this way.

First, the argument can be checked for validity and such a check is fairly simple.  For if accepting the premises of the argument requires you to accept the conclusion, then the argument can be said to be valid.

An iconic example of a valid argument would be “Toby is cat.  All cats are animals.  Therefore Toby is an animal.” which includes two premises (the first two sentences) that, if you accept them as true, requires you to accept the conclusion as also being true.  And if you look at Mike’s argument (as I’ve articulated it above) you will see that it is perfectly valid.

Now the way Mike’s argument has been formally structured was my work, not his, which means someone else might perform a translation that ended in a non-valid argument.  But as I’ll demonstrate, it is usually good practice to do your best to turn an opponent’s statements into a valid argument which can then be checked for soundness – the second test of an argument’s strength.

For an argument to be sound, not only must it be valid, but its premises must be true in the real world.  For many daft arguments are perfectly valid.  For example: “My wife is a mermaid.  All mermaids are leprechauns.  Therefore, my wife is a leprechaun.” is a valid argument, but the fact that my wife is the only thing in that argument which actually exists makes it unsound.

Now in the case of Mike’s argument, in the context of this discussion his first premise is totally acceptable.  In a scholarly context, someone might want to point out the complex interplay between the Brotherhood, Wahabism, Shiite fundamentalism and other religious and historic trends that have led to our current Jihad problem.  But for purposes of this conversation Premise 1 is perfectly acceptable in its present form.  And I think anyone who has followed US foreign policy over the last 5-6 years would agree that Premise 2 is on safe historic ground.

But a reasonable person can come up with a variety of alternatives to Premise 3.  For example, someone might make crappy decisions (like the ones we’ve seen the Obama administration make) because they suck at diplomacy/realpolitique due to incompetence, arrogance or a combination of both.  Or perhaps the President’s ideology blinds him to seeing forces (even Muslim Fundamentalist forces) fighting against an oppressive regime as new totalitarians in waiting (vs. successors to the civil rights heroes of old).

Notice that none of these descriptions is flattering to the current US administration, or dodges the fact that their decisions have made the world much less safe.  In fact, I would say they are stronger critiques than the original Premise 3 above since they do not claim to understand the psychological reasons behind someone’s (Obama’s) choices, and thus are less susceptible to the kind of challenges you are reading now.

If you read through the several exchanges Mike and I have had, you will notice that when this challenge has been presented (by me or others – albeit in a less structured/dweeby way) he has tried to reinforce his argument by providing more examples of Brotherhood ruthlessness and anti-Semitism or Obama administration perfidy.  But, as you can now see, all that does is boost the two premises about which there is already agreement, providing nothing to shore up that argument’s weakest link.

Now Mike could dispute my definition of “support” to mean support of Brotherhood goals and a desire to see that movement succeed.  But if that’s the case, why spend so much time and energy getting upset that others don’t agree with his core claim if the key term in that claim (“support”) is up for grabs?

I’m hoping this analysis highlights the key reason why I’m putting readers through so much tech-talk since my goal is not to smash Mike’s points but to provide him the means to make them stronger.  For I suspect that what he perceives as people being in denial over the important points he is trying to make actually represents a dispute over a problematical premise that Mike might not realize weakens his case, making it that much harder for others to accept what he is saying more broadly.

And given that his critique of the Left (especially the Jewish Left) hinges on a conclusion drawn from a potentially unsound argument (vs. other arguments over the Left and Islam/Israel which do not carry such a flaw), I return to my original promise that this type of analysis can only help to make my opponent’s arguments more powerful, presuming he is ready to adjust his language to strengthen the weak link and not be so hard on those who seem more than ready to agree with him on everything but his most fragile point.

UC BDS Mayhem

10 Feb

Back in high school, I recall a Model United Nations in which the only committee whose members weren’t stoned for the entire week roused up enough energy and creativity to cast a unanimous vote in favor of the UN starting its own Space Fleet.

That memory (which I may have tossed into a previous piece on the subject of BDS) came to mind as I learned that the University of California Student Assembly (UCSA) just passed a series of resolutions calling for the university system to divest from every place on the planet they don’t like, starting with Israel, moving through Russia, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico and Sri Lanka, finally ending with the United States.

So how did we get to the point where a student organization that almost no one has ever heard of (much less voted for), an organization with no mandate to vote on international affairs, whose members have little more than undergraduate-level expertise about any of the countries they’ve just condemned, feels it’s perfectly appropriate to declare nations (including their own) so loathsome that the school system they attend should break all financial ties to them?

When we BDS-watchers last encountered UCSA, they had just passed a pro-BDS resolution masquerading as a pro-free-speech resolution on the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah, a move that earned them praise and warm kissed from Students for Justice in Palestine (which had pretty much dictated to them the wording of their measure) and scorn and ridicule from everyone else, including the students this group claims to represent.

In theory, this experience (as well as the many bruising BDS fights that have roiled student governments within the University of California system for over half a decade) should have taught student representatives to respect the opinions of those who voted them into office.  Unfortunately, the only lesson put into practice over these last 5-6 years was learned by SJP, that lesson being if you want to get your political opinion to come out of someone else’s mouth, make sure that you and your allies are the ones casting most of the (stacked) committee votes.

So after seeing their divestment resolutions voted down again and again in school after school, the Israel-dislikers put time and energy into getting their own people elected to office, making sure to not let voters know that their primary agenda item once elected would be to vote “Yes” for resolutions that were voted down time and time again by previous student Senators.  And given the low voter turnout and limited campus interest in what student government does or says, Students for Justice in Palestine is now claiming that the dominos are falling their way.

But what do these votes really mean?  After all, the presumption behind the BDS obsession with higher education is that since colleges were hotbeds of anti-Apartheid activism in the 1980s, if the boycotters can turn them into hotbeds of anti-Israel activism in the 2010s then their formula of “Israel = Apartheid” will be proven true.  (This is the same logic behind the argument “All dogs are animals.  All cats are animals.  Therefore, all dogs are cats.”)

If political disputes were settled by logic alone, the fact that the BDS case for their campus activism is founded on a textbook fallacy would end the dispute.  But SJP, like its predecessors and eventual successors, are not in the logic or argument business.  They are in the “do anything necessary to give the illusion that our hatred of Israel reflects the belief system of more than just us” business.  And, as we have seen over the last few months, SJP’s “anything goes” mentality has done more to expose their fanaticism than anything Israel and its allies could achieve (even with the zillion-dollar budgets we receive from Mossad and the Elders of Zion bank on the moon).

One need only look at campuses where the SJP types feel in the ascendant to see political ids running wild.  At UC Davis, a divestment vote was followed by the painting of swastikas on the wall of the school’s Jewish fraternity.  This was after the group winning the vote began chanting “Allah Akbar!”, with one student senator squealing in a now-deleted Facebook post that “Hamas has taken over UC Davis!” (a phrase I suspect never appeared on her campaign literature).

This type of lunacy is just the escalation of what we have seen at other schools where the boycotters think they can get away with anything, including punching students who challenge them, surrounding political opponents in an attempt to intimidate, and that old campus standby of shouting down any speaker their opponents manage to bring onto campus.  Historically, this atrocious behavior was limited to a few small schools located in places where the wider community shared their anti-Israel views (notably Hampshire College in Massachusetts and Evergreen College in Washington).  But with these recent “wins,” the boycotters seem ready to bring their mayhem to much larger communities.

To understand why the BDSers overplay their hand time and time again, making their behavior the story vs. their preferred claims of political momentum, you need to keep in mind that:

  • Attempts to drag student government into their squalid project is actually a boobie prize that is meant to substitute for the fact that college administrators and investment managers no longer take their calls and are ready to announce before a BDS vote is even taken that they have no intention to take such egregiously manufactured “mandates” the least bit seriously.
  • Anti-Israel activism always ratchets up whenever there is a war in the region, like the one Hamas started last summer. And given the total disinterest across the entire BDS multiverse in stopping Hamas from launching the next war they are preparing for as you read this, it’s pretty clear that SJP et al can’t wait for more Palestinians to die so that they can march and scream and shove photos of bloody babies into everyone’s faces (even if some of those photos were taken in Syria).
  • And speaking of Syria, the other reason why divestment advocates have been so shrill in recent years is that their chants have to drown out the screams of hundreds of thousands of people dying across the Middle East at the hands of those who hate Israel just as much as the boycotters do.

As ever, Israel’s defenders are stuck having to do what they can, given that we are not likely to rev up a hate campaign against Muslims/Arabs/Palestinians to counter the one the BDSers have dedicated themselves to targeting Israelis/Jews.  And as much as “turning the tables” might sound good on paper, our side – to its credit – is not ready to wreak havoc in our communities just so we can score points against political enemies.

But we are hardly without options, even during a period when our opponents are feeling especially aggressive.

For we have already seen how that aggression can become the story, turning BDS victory laps into apology sessions where the Israel haters have to answer questions about swastikas and punches and other rude or violent behavior, rather than getting people to pay attention to their manufactured “victories.”  And just as SJP will never, under any circumstances, stop making accusations in order to answer questions posed by critics, so too we must talk only of those swastikas and punches and other appalling acts of rudeness and never mention this or that student vote, other than to put it into the context of SJP manipulativeness and misbehavior.

I was also happy to see Israel’s defenders walk out of recent votes, rather than stick around and pretend that a stacked Student Senate had any interest in what they had to say.  But this refusal to play by someone else’s rules will only be effective if we can figure out ways to get the other side to play by ours.  And while I’ve talked about what this could consist of in the past, I’d like to revisit our options over the next couple of weeks – in anticipation of those events I mentioned recently (as well as to get my mind off the shoveling left to do).