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Medea Benjamin Hearts Caterpillar

17 Apr

It’s been a week since those die-hard sleuths a Pro Israel Bay Bloggers broke the story of how Medea Benjamin, chief heckler of Code Pink and militant support of divestment programs everywhere, finances her radical-chic lifestyle through a twelve-million dollar trust fund stuffed with investments in companies that top the BDS blacklist (not to mention shares in progressive industries such as tobacco and Big Oil).

Unsurprisingly, the recipients of those funds have gone to ground, hoping the whole story will blow over if they don’t respond (good luck with that), with  just a few die-hard Twitterers left to throw up lame excuses for the Code Pink Dear Leader’s inexcusable hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is an obvious lens to view this latest chapter in the ongoing “Do as I say, not as I do” BDS “movement,” a movement headed (it should be repeatedly noted) by a poseur who travels the planet (no doubt with funds donated by One-Percenters like Medea Benjamin) hectoring academics to shun Israeli universities – including the one he continues to be enrolled in.  But in an age when the BDSers have quadrupled their efforts to slander the Jewish state while remaining silent about the killing fields of Syria, the stench of hypocrisy emanating from such groups has become so foul that even someone whose nose has been amputated should be able to smell them from a distance of a hundred miles.

Beyond the obvious hypocrisy angle, the Benjamin investment scandal ties in nicely to that WIX controversy that broke last year at Cornell (a school that just voted down a divestment bill the WIX-using Students for Justice in Palestine group tried to sneak under the door during the Jewish holidays).  If you recall, this is the same Cornell SJP that became embarrassed in 2013 when the social media world went all a-Twitter over the fact that the organization was using an Israeli software product – WIX – to create their pro-BDS, anti-Israel web sites.

Rather than go down the usual route of pretending other people’s arguments don’t exist and continuing to shout their own self-serving accusations, the Cornell SJPers instead chose to answer critics by insisting that their political stance did not require them to become “beautiful souls” who actually had to live by the philosophy they demand of others.

Now one could make the case that WIX has never been a BDS target so that BDSers using that particular product are not necessarily acting in direct contradiction to their alleged principles.  But given that Benjamin’s 2011 stock portfolio includes shares in the very companies anchoring divestment campaigns since 2009, this same excuse can’t be used to dismiss the behavior of the High Priestess of Code Pink.

Why are student governments voting on divestment measures across North America?  Because BDS campaigners on those campuses (supported by outside organizations that receive Benjamin Foundation funding) insist that a school endowment or retirement portfolio that contains a single share of GE or Intel or Caterpillar stock means that the school is “taking sides” in the Arab-Israeli conflict and must divest in order to “even the playing field.”

But as the Benjamin story highlights, the BDSers themselves cannot even be bothered to check out where their own money is coming from before accusing others of the “sin” of owning the same stocks they hold and profit from.

Ultimately, this story highlights just how irrelevant companies like Caterpillar are to the overall BDS project, beyond providing anti-Israel activists the excuse they need to force their agenda onto any organization of their choosing. For just as the student body of Cornell or the membership of the Presbyterian Church serve as a mere means to the boycotters ends, so too Caterpillar is simply a useful tool that allows Club BDS to create mayhem at any institution that owns even a single share of this widely-held stock.

If you look at the “Israel is guilty of everything” boilerplate that has become standardized in the various resolutions being voted up or down (mostly down) across the land, it contains the words the boycotters desperately want to stuff into the mouth of someone else so that the can claim their narrow partisan agenda is actually embraced by the masses. But as Medea Benjamin and Cornell SJP have demonstrated to us all, owning Caterpillar stock or using Israeli tech is perfectly acceptable – as long as you’re them and not the people in whose name they demand to speak.

Holiday Celebrations

11 Apr

Well the holidays are upon us, so time to take a look at some inspiring events from the various war zones the BDSers chose to open up over the last few weeks.

Starting off with an event that put all the boycotter’s loathsome tactics and abhorrent behavior on display, a divestment resolution suddenly appeared on the agenda of the Student Assembly at Cornell last Tuesday, which meant a vote on the matter would take place over the coming week.  Actually, the original agenda made no mention of the measure – consisting of standard SJP boilerplate – but a re-send later in the day added it to the bottom of a long list of items.

Coincidentally (NOT!), discussion and voting on this measure would have taken place over a period when (quelle coincidence!) many Jews would be heading home (or would already at home) for Passover.

Thankfully, students at Cornell were able to organize a response rapidly enough to get the whole sordid thing tabled indefinitely yesterday afternoon (effectively killing the measure).

I’ll let this video from the vote (which ended with the usual BDSer tantrum) tell the tale:

Yes, once again, screaming at everyone who doesn’t do what you say is standard operating procedure for the current generation of Israel haters.

Actually, it’s also the tactic of choice for the last generation, as displayed by this articulate British fellow peeved over the fact that his group’s ongoing picketing of an Ecostream store in the UK (which sells evil Sodastream dispensers) has been met by effective, good-humored and hugely successful counter-protests by Sussex Friends of Israel:

And moving back one generation further, 85-year-old Saul Zabar dealt with the you-know-what-holes asking him why he wasn’t taking their phone calls by telling them point-blank “I didn’t think you were worth it.”  (Truer words were never spoken.)

But for better or worse, it is still worth it for some of us to continue working towards the continued defeat of BDS, the weakest link in the entire chain of anti-Israel propaganda that goes under the label of “de-legitimization.”

And in that spirit (as well as the spirit of adding bitter herbs to an otherwise sweet upcoming holiday), it’s also worth noting some not-so-good news coming from a place I haven’t revisited yet this year: Olympia Washington where local activists who lost a lawsuit against the local food coop for their anti-Israel boycott recently had their appeal of that original court decision rejected.

Now if I were a BDSer, I would simply ignore that story (as they have ignored the fact that every other food coop in the country have used Olympia as an example of what NOT to do) or come up with some cockamamie way to translate that defeat into a disguised victory.  But one of the reasons the boycotters lose so often is the fact that they spend far too much time in their own virtual reality vs. the real one.

Personally, I prefer learning from experiences (good or ill).  And, in the case of Olympia (vs. stories coming out of Dartmouth, Sussex and Zabars) the lesson seems to reinforce what I’ve said in the past regarding the preferability of political vs. legal responses to BDS.  For, more often than not, whenever we engage with Israel’s opponents at the political level we tend to win.  But whenever a BDS-related case has gone to court, the people bringing the suit (usually the BDSers, BTW) have always lost.

This may sound like odd commentary, given that I provided expert testimony in the Olympia case.  But that contribution was motivated by the fact that I never say no to anyone asking for help in their BDS fights.  And for those who aren’t asking for such help right this moment, I’m going to give you some advice anyway:  put your energy into coming up with imaginative tactics based on a sound strategy articulated in skillful language and you too will probably have the pleasure of seeing the boycotters bellowing and blubbering in impotent rage, rather than celebrating and gloating at your expense.

BDS and Thuggery

3 Apr

I don’t think I’m alone in being appalled by the degree to which nasty behavior – up to and including intimidation and violence – has gone mainstream within the BDS “movement.”

Now anti-Israel activism has always had its ugly side that included vandalism, threats, and shouting down those with whom the boycotters disagree. I can recall the divestniks storming the podium when they lost the divestment vote they forced on the City of Somerville as far back as 2004, the same type of public tantrums we saw when the Methodist Church or Carleton College told them “No” more recently.

But in most of the cases just mentioned, BDS supporters were able to keep the Mr. Hyde portion of their personality in check, at least during what I call the “all smiles” period when they were trying to convince an uninformed audience that both they (and what they were requesting) were all perfectly reasonable.

But recent behavior in schools like Michigan, Vassar,  Northeastern and elsewhere seem to indicate that the boycotters no longer feel the need to be bound by civilized norms even during a period when it would be to their benefit to pretend to be something other than a bunch of single issue fanatics ready to do anything to get their way.

On the surface, this slide to uncouthness up through violence seems counter-productive.  Why resort to tactics that (1) make it less likely to convince anyone of anything; and (2) give your “movement” the reputation of being made up of mindless thugs (making it that much more difficult to win your next campaign)?

Some theories I’ve been toying with to explain this degeneration of behavior include:

1. Despite all its bombast, BDS is no closer to achieving a single one of its goals now than it was when it was birthed in sin at the 2001 Durban I conference. In fact, by any conceivable measure: growth in Israeli GDP and exports, partnerships between Israeli and international businesses and universities, numbers of tourists and celebrities visiting the Jewish state, (i.e., anything other than the boycotters own ability to make noise), BDS has been a flop.

Given that they have been reduced to trying to get school governments to pass toothless divestment resolutions that everyone knows will be ignored by school administrators, the student body and the media, why not use these campaigns primarily as a way to force others to watch your political id come to the surface?

2. The gravitational field surrounding radical politics generally tends to pull in the direction of further radicalization. I saw this in Somerville when the local divestment group that originally showed enough pragmatism to get their measure passed eventually drove away moderate members, leaving a fanatical core that was never able to accomplish anything again. And when faced with the kind of losses we’ve seen over the BDS decade and a half, it’s only natural that louder and more ruthless actors will be more effective at pinning failures onto lesser radicals (and drive them from the ranks) than vice versa.

3. Despite claims that divestment campaigns “foster dialog” about the Middle East, those that push these initiatives are willing to go to almost any length to ensure dialog on this subject cannot take place; from wallowing in pathos-driven arguments designed to make rational discourse impossible, to ignoring facts and opinions they don’t want to hear, to shouting down any speaker trying to bring those alternative facts and opinions to the attention of others.

This tactic has become more and more difficult to sustain as the “Arab Spring” turned to Winter, which meant that some of the facts that needed to be driven from the stage included the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Arabs (including thousands of those Palestinian Arabs the boycotters claim to be fighting for) in places like the killing fields of Syria. While the boycotters have been able to marginalize issues like gay rights in the Middle East (at least in their own minds) by invoking fake phenomena like “Pinkwashing,” erasing scores of dead Palestinians from the record (while simultaneously claiming to care about them deeply) has required them to shout ever louder and, most recently, resort to tactics that go beyond just verbal violence.

4. Sadly, those tasked with keeping the peace on college campuses (i.e., administrators) have shown far more patience for the excess of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) than they have or would ever show towards a group directing this same level of hostility towards any minority group other than Jews.

In many ways, this choice reflects the double standard directed at Israel which gets punished for the intransigence of its alleged Palestinian negotiating partners. But this also reflects the fact that college administrators are primarily concerned with keeping their own headaches to a minimum. And given that groups like SJP have made it clear that they stand ready to create living hell for anyone who makes them play by the rules, the easiest route for many college leaders is to carve out an exception that lets one group of students (Israel haters) say and do things they would never tolerate from anyone else.

5. On the plus side, the escalation of BDSer’s atrocious behavior reflects their genuine frustration with the countermeasures Israel’s supporters have been deploying more and more effectively in the last couple of years. No longer are Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish friends willing to stand idly by as the defamers have their say, and the fact that anti-divestment forces have been able to win the day even when outnumbered by SJPers 10:1 demonstrates (1) the strength of our arguments and (2) the readiness of fair-minded decision-makers to listen to them (which makes it all the more important for the furious boycotters to prevent those arguments from being presented or heard – by any means necessary).

As a final (and ironic) bright spot to all the BDS thuggery we’ve seen escalating over the last year, it comes from the way such behavior demonstrates to all the true face of a “movement” pretending to be the inheritor of Martin Luther King and Gandhi.  For having already shown that the boycotters are ready to say anything (up to and including manipulating others and lying over and over again) to get their way, every act of BDS misbehavior provides ammunition for those of us who want to show how the BDSers are now ready to do anything to get everyone else to bend to their will.  

PCUSA BDS: What to do?

7 Mar

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The Presbyterians will be meeting in Detroit (Henry Ford’s city as it turns out), in June and – as I’ve been discussing all this week – divestment will be on the agenda because it is always on the agenda.

A hearty group of fanatics are determined to take a trip down memory lane, back to the days when divestment was briefly the policy of the institution, with the leadership of PCUSA firmly in the fanatics’ corner.   And while those leaders will make nice noises when talking to their alleged interfaith partners in the Jewish community as well as try to distance themselves from the excesses of those they have enabled, it’s clear that the people whose agenda can be distilled down to “Israel Must Go” are once again in the driver’s seat when it comes to how this issue will play out for the sixth General Assembly in a decade.

A commenter asked when I started this series the obvious question of what he and others can do.  And short of converting to Presbyterianism and moving up the ranks of the organization, there are few ways to directly impact denominational politics, other than throwing support behind groups like Presbyterians for Middle East Peace or local church leaders who have made it a point to take a stand against BDS when they attend the upcoming General Assembly.

The organized Jewish community has relied on dialog for most of the last decade in the hope that honest discussion might tamp down the endless Israel bashing that has become liturgy at Presbyterian GAs.  And while I’m all in favor of dialog (especially in the form of honest and frank conversations with those with whom we disagree), there comes a point where the number of broken promises turns such dialog sessions into the equivalent of Lucy’s annual pulling away of the football with the Jewish community continually asked to return to the role of Charlie Brown.

So though I’m not in a position to know how much or how little lobbying might be taking place behind the scenes, I think it’s time – if only for our own self esteem – to make it clear to everyone involved that passage of divestment at this year’s General Assembly will be met with an immediate termination of all official ties between PCUSA and the Jewish interfaith partners they have been slapping in the face over and over for decades.

Keep in mind that an end to this particular official interfaith relationship does not mean a downgrading of relations between Jews and Christians generally (which are remarkably solid, even given the behavior of outliers like PCUSA).  Nor does it even mean an end to our relationship with the Presbyterians Church since PCUSA, while currently the largest Presbyterian denomination, is still just one of many branches of the Presbyterian Church with whom Jews can build relationships.  In fact, as PCUSA continues to shrink and age, a partnership with other churches might represent a wise bet on the future.

And such a break does not mean that synagogues friendly with local Presbyterian Churches need to end those relations, especially since members of many of those churches stand against the excesses of the larger organization.  But it must be made clear that those continuing local partnerships do not constitute a continued interfaith partnership between PCUSA and the Jewish community beyond the local level.  For it needs to be crystal clear that PCUSA as an institution can have a relationship with BDS or a relationship with the Jewish community, but not both.

Beyond such preparations, it might be getting time to do a little naming and shaming of the individuals and organizations that have brought PCUSA and Jewish-Presbyterian relations to the brink.  And that is a project I plan to get to next week.

PCUSA – Zionism Unsettled

6 Mar

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Alongside the centralization problem I mentioned yesterday, the Presbyterian Church also faces a problem of bureaucratization as leaders of the organization try to establish policy through various committees with different levels of accountability to the church and its members.

This growing corporatization tends to run head-on into the historic governing structures of PCUSA where decisions are supposed to be made by local churches (i.e., Presbyteries) voting at bi-annual General Assemblies (GAs).

The fact that any Presbytery can make a motion (called an Overture) that can get brought up at a GA is one of the reasons why divestment continually makes it onto the agenda.  But with many Presbyteries often submitting overlapping or contradictory Overtures on the same topic, it’s left up to committees to prioritize, combine and prune so that votes can be taken on measures that allegedly take into account the needs of as many people as possible.

The trouble (as you might guess) is that these committees are vulnerable to stacking, especially when the leadership of the organization is ready to overlook excess if the result is them getting their way.

We saw this in 2010 when a committee charged with trying to bring balance to the church’s lopsided approach to the conflict quickly became infiltrated by BDS activists, to the point where the token anti-divestment member left in disgust.  And when a group of boycotters find themselves in control of a decision-making body, they tend to lose control over their own worst impulses.  Which is why the unbalanced, anti-Israel, tirade-laden documents these groups tend to produce often become one of the reasons why divestment ends up being defeated.

So have the boycotters learned their lesson?

Exhibit A (through Z) is Zionism Unsettled (ZU), a “study guide” created and distributed to churches through PCUSA’s Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN).

One would have to work long and hard to come up with a way to offend every Jew (outside of a JVP square dance) and Jew-friendly Christian that would outdo this odious document (which is accompanied with a helpful CD-ROM!).  While other PCUSA statements have ignored Jewish and Israeli concerns in support of a “Palestinian Narrative” that assumes Israel to be guilty of all charges (including ones they haven’t come up with yet), ZU finally goes for broke by establishing Zionism as the source of ultimate wickedness, an evil (and racist) movement that by its nature kills and wounds “The Other” while militantly suppresses dissent (apparently of a “Silent Majority” ready to embrace ZU’s anti-Zionist agenda, if only given the opportunity to do so).

Not content with dragging together every anti-Israel cliché and using that material to attack the national movement of one and only one people (guess who) while declaring the nationalist movement of another people (again, guess who) sacrosanct, ZU also wants to “expand” how we think about the Holocaust in order to include other human rights catastrophes (including the Palestinian Nakbah) under that rubric.  The notion that such an arrangement puts today’s Jews on par with those that sent their parents and grandparents to the gas chambers does not seem to have occurred to the many people whose fingerprints are on Zionism Unsettled.

But figuring out who owns those fingerprints turns out to be a challenge.  For once Jews and non-Jews (including many Presbyterians who continually have to deal with the excesses of groups like IPMN) expressed their outrage over the publication of such a “guide,” suddenly IPMN became some distant third party, despite the fact that the Presbyterian Church charters the organization, runs donations to the group through their books, and clearly incorporates their world view into virtually all their Middle East political work.

If nothing else, Zionism Unsettled (which at least garnered support from David Duke) demonstrates to the world the true face of those driving BDS within the church, just as church leader’s unwillingness to come clean about IPMN’s role in their Middle East decision making exposes the underlying corruption and dishonesty infecting the highest reaches of the PCUSA org chart.

I’ve often wondered if the constant demonstration of excess that boycotters provide (including the public temper tantrums they throw whenever they don’t get their way) will ever seep so deep that voting church members will understand what they’re truly dealing with before they arrive for the next BDS circus, formerly known as the Presbyterian General Assembly.

I suppose we’ll find out later this year when a group of people who should now be aware of what the church did (yet again) in their name gets together to decide on whether such behavior should be shunned or rewarded.

BDS – The Glass Remains Mostly Full

27 Feb

Like many readers of this blog, I ended last year pissed off that BDS seemed to have gotten a shot of adrenalin after a few high-profile stories (Hawking, Berkeley, ASA) gave them the media ink they so desperately crave, PR which ensured they’d be back in full force in 2014 roaring about their impending triumph and demanding every progressive organization in the land bow down to their one-dimensional agenda.

A decade’s experience told me that the chances Israel, a nation which had successful fought off tanks, planes, missiles and dynamite belts for seventy years, was about to feel imperiled by some toothless student council resolution or an unheard of academic organization’s posing was zero.  But the chances that other civic organizations were about to go through what I had to endure when BDS knocked on my door (or, more accurately, tried to sneak in through the window) in Somerville was looking to be pretty high.

And so I decided to get back into the game.  And much to my delight, during this attempted resurrection of the BDS “movement,” I had to get into line behind all kinds of others eager to give the boycotters the quick kick in the butt they deserved.

Apparently (and despite BDS boasts of invincibility), others were learning what I discovered years ago: that BDS is easy to defeat, as long as you make the effort to do something, rather than just kvetch.  For example, the superlative Aussie blog Israellycool not only got a local music company to reverse its policy of discrimination against the you-know-whos, but actually managed to educate them on the true nature of the movement they thought they were supporting in good faith.

I’ve already mentioned how bloggers like Elder of Ziyyon succeeded in raising the profile of an embarrassing program the incoming head of ASA wanted to keep secret.  And speaking of ASA, where would any of us be without Legal Insurrection’s leadership and readiness to ask tough questions and publish the answers (or lack thereof)?

Even the mainstream Jewish community, which is often criticized by more direct-action activists for a refusal to draw red lines, has not broken ranks on a decision that – no matter how much they scream and shout – the BDSers will have to do so outside of the “Big Tent.”

In addition to clarifying that boycotts and divestment represent an attack on the Jewish community as a whole, this consensus supports those energetic and entrepreneurial pro-Israel groups who have been doing so much of the ground-game: supporting students fighting divestment resolutions on college campuses (including UC Riverside and UCLA – two more BDS losses), providing prophylactic arguments to prevent the BDS virus from spreading beyond fast-marginalizing organizations like ASA, and generally treating BDS as a problem to be solved (and ass to be kicked), rather than some kind of existentialist crisis.

And speaking of entrepreneurial groups, I just got word that StandWithUs (one of my favorites) is running a series of March conference calls on the topic moderated by Dr. Mike, a frequent Divest This visitor (and recent dinner companion – along with the rest of the Pro Israel Bay Bloggers).  I’ll let Barbara from StopBDS at Park Slope provide you the details (giving her something to do, now that she actually did Stop BDS at Park Slope).

Bottom line: While we’re likely to see more ups and downs over the coming months, the number of both is directly proportional to the number of people who join the fight.  So if you want to see more of this, and less of this, get ready to make your own contribution towards turning 2014 into the biggest #BDSFail year yet.