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Denormalization vs. Normality

14 Dec

A brief mention of “denormalization” in a recent piece got me thinking about the whole notion of “normalcy” in more detail.

For those unaware of what “denormalization” is all about, this is the name for that element of the anti-Israel propaganda toolkit designed to make everything about being an Israeli (or an Israeli supporter) seem strange, even risky.

At its grossest, denormalization involves jumping up and shouting during orchestra concerts or blowing air-horns during ballet performances where Israeli performers are on the stage.  The idea here, I suppose, is to inform those performers, the audience and the world at large that while any other nationals can entertain the public uninterrupted, Israelis engaging in such “normal” activities will never know what awaits them.

While we’ve seen increasing use of disruptive tactics at colleges and universities (primarily targeting political vs. artistic events), for the most part campus “denormalization” consists of a refusal by anti-Israel activists to do anything with Jewish or Israel-related counterparts (including engaging in dialog with them) lest such interaction create the appearance that the Arab-Israeli conflict is just another issue to be discussed and solved normally.

I’ve talked before about how those embracing this tactic have only succeeded in denormalizing themselves.  But a better word for this phenomenon might be “ab-normalizing” (as in abnormal psychology).  For what else are we to make of individuals who have decided to shut their eyes and ears to evidence that contradicts their beliefs (and shut their mind to critical thought) joining together with the like-minded to prevent anyone else from seeing, hearing or thinking in ways different than the boycotters?

But given that you can read about the sociopathologic nature of the BDS “movement” in previous diagnosis, today I’d like to focus on a different but related question, namely: might denormalization campaigns conducted by the abnormal be doomed by the fact that Israel remains today the only normal country left on earth?

Perhaps some explanation is in order.

A few years ago, I was on a panel at my temple presenting with fellow parents on how to talk to your kids about Israel.  And during that talk, a fellow panelist who had recently visited Israel with her family described how unusual it seemed to be in a country where armed soldiers (not to mention armed civilians) were so omnipresent.

Some further reflection on how strange it felt to visit a nation where everyone seemed to be not just a soldier but a veteran of combat got us thinking about how the difference between Israeli society and our own might reflect our unusualness, rather than theirs.

After all, mine was the first generation of Americans that took it for granted that our civic duty did not require a stint in the military.  And my parents are just old enough to remember a time when those slightly older than they (who had fought in World War II) were universally familiar with making sacrifices for victory, up to and including seeing friends die or killing others in combat.

Now presuming there was nothing unique about the gene pool when this Greatest Generation was born, it was historical circumstance that forged them into a force that would save the world and then rebuild it before passing onto their children a peace they hoped would ensure that such a level of sacrifice need never be required again.

But, again echoing my favorite political thinker, it is a very small step from being relieved of the burden to defend yourself to taking as a given that the law of the jungle can be kept at bay by people (i.e., a professional soldiery) that you rarely, if ever, need to interact with.  And, given one more generation, it becomes easy to forget that the law of the jungle ever existed.

It’s a cliché to say that Europe chose to spend its resources on a cradle-to-grave welfare state while the US covered the costs of defending the continent.  Like most great simplifications, this one is far from fair or accurate.  But I think it is fair to say that a continent devastated by two world wars (and in the cross-hairs of nuclear annihilation for 50 years after that) would welcome the chance to believe that mankind was evolving beyond the need to fight for survival (a fight that would necessitate both dying and killing).

Yet even as we retreat ever further into our comforts and security, one nation continues to live as if history had not reached its end.  To be a citizen of Israel means fighting and sacrificing for that privilege, and raising children to understand that they too need to do more than be born in order to ensure the survival of their nation.  It means living with the understanding that everything you have (including the lives of you and your family) can be taken away in an instant by ruthless men who also understand that the law of the jungle has not been chucked into history’s dust bin.  In short, it means living in a way that was considered “normal” throughout most of human history. And, far from generating pessimism, living in the real world seems to have made Israelis some of the happiest, most successful people on earth.

Perhaps an unconscious understanding that only Israelis manifest the strength and civic values that once formed and sustained other nations fuels resentment of the Jewish state (alongside more traditional reasons to resent its inhabitants).  Or perhaps societies where one segment of the population outsources its defense to another no longer understands that an Israeli citizen under arms is neither frightening nor heroic but normal, reflecting a now-forgotten way of life that was once taken for granted.

Which means that “denormalization” can only highlight the abnormal nature of the denormalizers and the un-normal situation of those they are trying to turn against normal Israelis.  Got that?

I suppose such a tactic might work, at least with those most stubborn in their determination to forget what the world is really like.  But on a less-meta level, I’m not sure a nation where every citizen understands what is required for survival, where even violinists and ballet dancers have heard the sound of artillery, is going to be cowed because some BDShole blows an airhorn at a concert or one group of 18-year-olds on a college campus refuses to talk to anyone who has their number.


11 Dec

Since returning to the anti-BDS fold earlier this year, I find myself doing more analysis of recent BDS-related stories, rather than covering breaking news as it happens (although I can’t resist pointing readers to the latest BDS hoax story, something we’ve not seen in a while).

But moving right along, today, I’d like to talk about the brouhaha over the recent defection of Holly Bicerano, the former Campus Out-Reach Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel, an organization you have met on this site previously.

It will come as no surprise that many on this side of the aisle understood Open Hillel to be just another attempt by BDS activists to infiltrate the mainstream Jewish community under the guise of “openness” and other words with positive connotations.  And I don’t think I’m the only person to have noticed that the groups that form the backbone of Open Hillel (notably Jewish Voice for Peace) or the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization which Open Hillel warmly welcomed to their recent national conference have always erected high barriers around their own institutions and events to limit those of differing opinions from participating.

But Ms. Bicerano’s decision to publically break with the group and expose how much BDS and anti-normalization advocates are driving Open Hillel’s agenda is obviously newsworthy, given the former Open Hillel leader’s position in the organization she left, and her general attitudes towards BDS (which she supports, at least with regard to the Presbyterians) and Israel (which she blames for last summer’s Gaza war and for thwarting Palestinian democracy).

It is always interesting to see if this kind of “defection” represents the start of a journey by someone like Bicerano, or simply represents a red line over which even someone active in anti-Israel political activities and programming will not cross.  If it’s the former, I wish her well.  But even if it’s the latter, the activities that turned her off from Open Hillel provide an interesting window into why anti-Israel organizations tend towards instability.

Unlike Jewish organizations like Hillel (and the alphabet soup of community institutions – some of which have been in business for a century), anti-Israel organizations tend to form, rise, fall, break apart and either disappear or reform into new organizations with a cycle that seems to repeat every 5-7 years.

For example, when I first moved back to the Boston area, a group called the Middle East Justice Network (MEJN) got up my nose, but I was too busy to do anything about it.  Yet when I finally did get around to putting time into pro-Israel activism and tried to find out what the group was up to, no trace of it could be found.  But within a few years a new group (the Somerville Divestment Project, or SDP) was in the driver’s seat, pushing the first municipal divestment program in my then home city of Somerville MA.  And lo and behold, this group seemed to include the very same people I remember from MEJN days.

Today, SDP consists of a cobweb and new groups with names like The New England Committee to Defend Palestine and Ads Against Apartheid have come and gone (or formed for the soul purpose of engaging in a single activity – like running anti-Israel bus ads).  Similarly, while pro-Israel organizations are rightly concerned over the aggressive behavior of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on campuses, almost no one remembers the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSM) that drove divestment back in the early 2000s.

The rise and fall of PSM provides an interesting window into why anti-Israel groups tend to be so unstable.  For once that group gained momentum (especially on college campuses where their petition-driven divestment activity was centered), everyone from every side of the anti-Israel continuum (Left to Right, Secular-Marxist to Islamist) vied to seize control of the organization – to the point where its leaders had to spend more time fending off infiltrators than tending to their own mission, leading to the group’s demise.

If this tactic of infiltration sounds familiar, it is exactly what BDS activists do all the time to third parties (student government, academic associations, Mainline churches, etc.) in order to drag those groups under the boycott or divestment umbrella (regardless of how much damage such moves cause to the organizations they have infiltrated).  So it should come as no surprise that the infiltration skills they use on outsiders also come in handy when it comes time to drag the latest ascendant anti-Israel organization under this or that partisan umbrella.

Reading Bicerano’s piece over with this history in mind, it is clear that what she calls anti-normalization activity within Open Hillel (“anti-normalization” refers to a policy which says all pro-Palestinian organizations should reject dialog with any Jewish group that does not accept their pro-BDS stance and opinions on the Middle East in advance) is really just another example of the infiltration of a group formed with one agenda (Open Hillel – which allegedly wants to up dialog on campus) by another group (anti-normalization activists who want to shut such dialog down).  And as the former Campus Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel discovered, when such infiltrators want in, they are ready to do whatever is necessary to get their way.

As I mentioned earlier, it will be interesting to see if her experience with Open Hillel opens Bicerano’s mind to what others suffer when BDS infects this or that civic society group.  But for the rest of us, the lesson to learn is that, left on their own, anti-Israel groups (including Students for Justice in Palestine) contain the seeds of their own destruction in the form of their allies rather than their adversaries.

In a way, this situation is analogous to what we see in the Middle East where an Israel which focuses on staying strong and tending to the needs of its own people (including the need to protect them from harm) can grow and prosper, even as more numerous, wealthy and politically powerful adversaries fall to pieces as they contend with the contradictions built into their own societies and historical choices.

As much as BDS has been in the news this year (and as important as it is to continue to fight it), Israel’s supporters abroad also need to be ready to play a long game which will never involve total victory but will hopefully involve more wins than losses stretched over enough time to let Open Hillel and SJP join their predecessors in the cemetery of anti-Israel organizations whose names have long been forgotten.

The Left and Anti-Zionism (or my “dinner” with Mike)

12 Nov

A few weeks ago, Mike Lumish (of Israel Thrives and Times of Israel fame) and I began a dialog over that perennial issue that comes up here and at all sites (or any other locations) where debate over the Middle East takes place: the role of the global Left in supporting an anti-Zionist (and, sometimes, anti-Semitic) agenda on the world stage.

The question that kicked off this debate (whether the Left abandons its principles when it embraces anti-Zionism) turned out to be a simple one to answer.  For the double-standards, ignoring of context (historical and geopolitical), and abuse of the language of human rights that are the sin qua non  of the BDS agenda (and the wider anti-Israel ideology from which BDS springs) is an affront not just to what the Left would consider to be its cornerstone principles (fairness and justice), but antithetical to any moral view embraced by people located anywhere on the spectrum (political, that is).

My response to his question (which asked whether we should consider the Left not as friend or enemy but the battlefield upon which the Arab-Israel conflict is currently being fought) brought forth an important (and potentially fruitful) response from Mike, namely: if the soul of the Left is an important plain upon which this battle is continuing, are supporters of Israel in the process of losing that battle?

One obvious way to try to answer this question is through the use of statistical evidence.  In fact, Mike provides a link to such evidence in the form of a survey demonstrating that while US support for Israel is still high in general, it is much higher among Republicans (68-77%) vs. Democrats (39-46%).

While I respect the use of survey studies (which have successfully supported a century of social-science research, after all), those ranges illustrate a couple of problems I have with the use of statistical information to answer important questions regarding political belief.

The first is the nature of the sample.  Taking just the Democratic side of the spectrum, this number would include everyone from the late Robert Byrd to the nastiest Che-Guevara-t-shirt-wearing BDSer who also happens to be registered Democrat.

But then you also have the issue of what kind of question is being translated into “support for Israel.”  Were respondents asked their support for Israel over Hamas in the latest Gaza conflict (which seems be part of the Post story linked above)?  And is data from this poll being conflated with previous polls asking different questions?  If so, what was the subject of those polls?  Was “support for Israel” framed around favoring its continued existence (to which more people Left or Right would probably say “Yes”) vs. splitting levels of responsibility the peace-process stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians (which would probably give you different results)?

Our deep and abiding faith in numbers tends to prejudice statistical information (which supposedly reflects the view of the many) over anecdotal data.  But hang in with me for a minute while I make the case for a specific set of anecdotal information that I think provides a valuable context which might propel this debate forward.

Clearly raw anecdote is not that valuable (since for every left-leaning supporter if Israel one can name, a critic could provide as many counter-examples as they like).  But I’d like to assign importance to the fact that in every BDS battle I’ve been involved over the last decade, the majority of allies I’ve worked would characterize themselves as progressive or Left-leaning.

This fact should not be used to support an assertion that liberals are more likely than conservatives to participate on the right side of a BDS fight.  Rather, it demonstrates that because BDS only tends to try to insert itself into liberal communities (colleges and universities, liberal Mainline churches, municipalities with big Democratic majorities, food coops – including the ultimate example of Park Slope), those trying to stop them are likely to spring from those communities and thus be more liberal than the population as a whole.

Under these circumstances, what we’re talking about is one group of self-identified progressives (those who fight against BDS) resisting another group of self-identified progressives (those pushing BDS), with this latter group insisting that anyone who considers themselves liberal/progressive/left-leaning must fully support the boycotters’ agenda.

And here, this anecdotal information supports not a statistical or anthropological argument, but an historic one.  For where have we seen fights that involve ideological extremists insisting that everyone who believes in a certain wide-ranging set of political principles must submit themselves to the extremists or be considered traitors to their own beliefs?

We saw this in the last century where one branch of the Left (call it Marxist, Marxist-Leninist, “Hard-Left” of whatever you like), made it very clear that any support for progressive causes required you to embrace their revolutionary agenda (and leadership) or be condemned as wishy-washy and hypocritical at best, treacherous and reactionary at worst.  And, in a dynamic that will sound familiar, while these revolutionaries demanded that everyone else submit to judgment, they were impervious to any critique of their own hermetically sealed world view (up to and even after Europe threw off the yoke of Communism).

Today, it is this same attitude (practiced by many of the same organizations and even individuals) that propels debates over whether someone is a PEP (i.e., “Progressive in Everything but Palestine”) implying that a “true” progressive can only have one attitude towards the Arab-Israeli conflict – the Palestinian one.  And just as last-centuries Marxists were impervious to criticism of their own beliefs (while busily condemning everyone else’s), so today’s BDSers cannot be swayed by argument over things like the state of human rights outside the Jewish state since their fanaticism can only see such arguments as “distractions” from the only topic they want to discuss (Israel’s guilt).

But let’s not forget that last-century’s Marxists lost the Cold War (better termed World War III).  And, as much as I admire those conservatives who stood fast against Marxism for a century (which does not include opportunists like Joseph McCarthy who, among other crimes, provided Communists with ideological ammunition they have still not depleted), part of the front against Marxism included progressives, liberals, Leftists (whatever you want to call them) who stood fast against the bullying and blackmail that played such a large part in the revolutionists’ agenda of subversion.

So if this is the nature of the battle being fought, are we doing ourselves a disservice for condemning a Left that might include the inheritors of an anti-Communist tradition that is trying to find a way to apply lessons learned in the 20th century fight against Marxism to our current conflict (best thought of as World War IV)?

Back over to you, Michael…

Open Hillel

6 Oct

This coming long weekend, a group calling itself Open Hillel will be holding a conference at Harvard University.  And high on the list of issues they will be dealing with has got to be Hillel’s recent decision to institute a loyalty oath, demanding that anyone who joins their organization adhere to Hillel’s “Missions and Policy” statement which includes taking a stand against BDS.

Whoops!  My mistake.

Actually, it is the organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), one of the group’s behind the whole Open Hillel faux-“movement,” that requires anyone joining their organization to:

  • Pay them $60 (fair enough)
  • Agree to lead or partake in at least three JVP-related activities a year (again, perfectly reasonable); and
  • Adhere to the organization’s Missions and Policy statement that includes this paragraph regarding BDS:

Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions:
The boycott/divestment/sanctions movement (BDS) encompasses a variety of tactics and targets. JVP rejects the assertion that BDS is inherently anti-semitic, and we encourage discussion both within our own community and outside of it of the growing BDS movement. JVP defends activists’ right to use the full range of BDS tactics without being persecuted or demonized. We support divestment from and boycotts of companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. This includes companies operating in or from occupied Palestinian territory, exploiting Palestinian labor and scarce environmental resources, providing materials or labor for settlements, or producing military or other equipment or materials used to violate human rights or to profit from the Occupation.

Now it may surprise you that I also find this third principle perfectly reasonable.  The only thing I can’t fathom is why a group that insists anyone joining its ranks adhere to its rules and guidelines seems so hell bent on crashing someone else’s organization (Hillel), to the point of running campaigns and holding conferences demanding Hillel allow them in, even if they have no intention of adhering to the anti-BDS Hillel policy JVP doesn’t agree with.

Oh well.   Moving on, perhaps Open Hillel will directly address the fact that Hillel is insisting that only those who are already Hillel members or those vouched for by an existing member will be allowed to take part in Hillel events.  Such a policy, after all, seems calculated to ensure that no one who disagrees with the organization’s choices and policies will be allowed to contaminate an enforced consensus.

Oops!  I blew it again.  For in my après fast-and-binge holiday stupor I once again mistook for Hillel policy the policy of another group: Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has placed those very restrictions on anyone attending their upcoming conference (which takes place at Tufts University at the end of October).  And, as I recently discovered, those busy bees at SJP will be joining their Jewish Voice for Peace allies at the Open Hillel event next weekend.  Meaning that two organizations that readily exclude anyone who does not share their opinion are demanding another organization (Hillel) let them in without pre-conditions, all in the name of “openness.”

I considered asking about this contradiction in the comments section of one of the many web sites run by Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine.  But, lo and behold, most every one of those sites doesn’t allow comments.  Or, as I keep discovering, pro-BDS sites have a habit of disappearing any comments that contradict official doctrine, ensuring no one can soil their eyes with a dissenting thought.

Come to think of it, doesn’t JVP and SJP already attend all kinds of events put on by the Jewish community (including those organized under the umbrella of the campus organization Open Hillel is trying to “open up”) in order to disrupt them (most recently through the use of threats, intimidation and violence)?  And doesn’t SJP’s “de-normalization” policy (which forbids them from talking to anyone who has not already capitulated to 100% of their demands beforehand) mean that they have already refused in advance to partake in the kind of dialog “Open Hillel” is insisting must take place?

It’s tempting to see all of these contradictions as just one more example of the hypocrisy which underlies the entire BDS “movement,” (as in “shut up about the 168 kids Hamas killed digging terror tunnels or I’ll punch you in the face, now let’s talk about Israeli war crimes in Gaza”).  But I would suggest a military metaphor provides a more pragmatic explanation for the upcoming Open Hillel event, one which does not require us to guess what’s going on in the brain of a BDSer.

For as groups like JVP and SJP gear up for another school year of propaganda carpet bombing, including numerous BDS campaigns, they would understandably like to remove (or neuter) rival pro-Israel organizations, many of whom are likely to be affiliated with the campus Hillel.  And if they can get their nostrils inside that big tent, they can use their usual aggressive infiltration tactics to ensure no consensus can ever emerge on how to deal with the very boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns they will continue to run, regardless of what others at Hillel think about such efforts.  Meanwhile, the aforementioned loyalty oaths and screening processes baked into BDS groups like JVP and SJP allow them to greedily guard their own civic spaces while demanding entrance to everyone else’s.

To a certain extent, Open Hillel demonstrates how much cynical organizations like JVP and SJP understand that Hillel actually represents the kind of openness the BDSers only feign.  And rather than use this understanding to explore whether they should continue to maintain high fortress walls around their own groups, they instead see Hillel’s genuine open mindedness as a weakness to be exploited, rather than a model to be emulated.

So until JVP eliminates its loyalty oaths and SJP ends its “I’m not talking with you unless you agree with me in advance” anti-dialog policies, I think it’s fair to tell Open Hillel to spend the weekend talking to the folks they see in the mirror every morning, rather than wagging their collective finger at the rest of us.

Somerville Divestment Revisited – Charity

27 Aug

At one point during our 2005 campaign against a divestment ballot initiative in Somerville, I discovered where the local BDS group was receiving some of its funds.  Here is what I had to say about the matter at the time.

For those of you fretting that the So-Called Somerville Divestment Project (SC-SDP) may not have the money required to fund their campaign; fear not!  In addition to whatever other sources of income the group has, the organization has also been making use of at least $8000 from the Boston-based charity foundation The Haymarket People’s Fund.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Here is where he starts slamming the divestment crew for raising and spending dollars on lawyers, paid signature gatherers and other expenses related to getting their anti-Israel measure onto the November ballot.”  Well surprise!  In today’s era of politics, I fully recognize that it’s people, organization AND money that are required to run a modern campaign, and I would never condemn Israel’s critics for trying to raise needed money for their activity, just as the SDP would – I’m sure – never criticize it’s opponents for any fundraising we do to stop their efforts.

While it’s no mystery why the SC-SDP would try to solicit funds from wherever it can, the more interesting question is why the Haymarket People’s Fund would give $8000 – it’s largest grant of the year – to an organization like the Somerville Divestment Project.

As background, Haymarket People’s Fund (hereafter “Haymarket”) was founded in 1974 with a generous contribution from the heir of the Pillsbury Flour fortune, as a reaction to the irresponsible way other rich individuals made use of inherited wealth.  The mission of Haymarket was to fund groups working on projects related to community activism.  Established organizations trying to start a newsletter or produce a video, while worthy, are asked to look elsewhere for funding.  Haymarket exists to help underwrite action, especially political action, on the ground.

One of Haymarket’s major innovations was the way it chose to make decisions regarding who gets funded.  In contrast to larger and more bureaucratic charitable institutions, where decisions are often made by an elite executive group, Haymarket would make its funding decisions through local committees in each New England state, committees made up of activists working in their own communities.  As they state proudly on their Web site: “Haymarket is an activist-controlled foundation committed to radical social change.”

Haymarket’s techniques in democratic decision-making have been emulated by other organizations, and are growing in popularity thanks to resources like the Internet (see, for example, the Funding Exchange). [Note: Global Exchange went out of business in 2013.]

Yet despite these worthy methods and goals (or, perhaps, because of them), groups like Haymarket are particularly vulnerable to appeals by organizations like the Somerville Divestment Project.  Because for a program like Haymarket’s to work, it requires that all participants – granters and grantees – be acting in good faith, looking out for what’s best in their communities.

But what if someone is not acting in good faith?  What if a person or organization is, in fact, motivated not by charity but by ruthlessness, masquerading (as always) in limitless self-righteousness?  What if, for example, an organization is ready to make an appeal based on the most highly truncated, highly politicized version of events (such as events in the Middle East) and eradicate any trace of fact that might counter their arguments?  What if a group like SDP was willing to challenge the progressive credentials of groups like Haymarket, just as they have challenged the worthiness of progressive cities like Somerville, by demanding such institutions wholeheartedly accept their view of the world?  How can an institution built on consensus, one that assumes the language of human rights will be used as a tool for social activism, not a political weapon, withstand the lures of the ruthless?

Haymarket’s official flirtation with Middle East issues started with funding of the Boston Committee for Palestinian Rights (BCPR), yet another ad hoc coalition of the same anti-Israel activists and organizations that form, break apart and reform based on the latest news from the Middle East (like the violence of the last five years) or the latest tactics (like divestment).  According to Haymarket: “The BCPR was formed shortly after the Al-Azsa Intifada arose in September 2000, when women of Arab and Jewish descent from Boston, distraught about the turn of events, gathered to begin planning a response.”  Yet those of us familiar with the people and groups that make up this “spontaneous” new “grassroots organization” recognize all of the familiar names and faces that have been at the forefront of anti-Israel activism for at least two decades.

When the decision was made to provide the SDP with $8000, Haymarket crossed into new and particularly dangerous territory.  For, as the SDP has made clear on its Web site and communication (particularly to other divestment activists), the goal of the group is to get the city of Somerville to add it’s name, it’s “brand,” it’s reputation behind the SDP message that Israel is a racist, apartheid state, alone in the world at deserving economic punishment.  While Haymarket has made pains to say their funding of BCRP and SDP do not represent “taking sides” in the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have chosen to underwrite an effort to tie the city of Somerville to a message that Haymarket understands is too dangerous to officially state itself.

Haymarket’s commitment to the eradication of racism adds new ironic twists to their funding of SDP.  On page after page of the Haymarket Web site, the organization states unequivocally its opposition to bigotry and racism in any form.  Even their response to criticism of their funding of anti-Israel organizations (“Haymarket’s mission is to work for a world where these kinds of oppressions are obliterated and where we can finally live in a society free from the ravages of all forms of racism”) was couched in the language of the battle against bigotry.

And yet, as has been pointed out time and time again on this site, no organization has spent more time introducing the vile language of bigotry into Somerville’s political dialog than the SDP.  Whether it’s the open homophobia of Karin Friedemann, the ravings about “Ashkenazi primoridalism” of Joachim Martillo, or the rantings of America and Europe’s most discredited Jew baiters, from Pat Buchannan to Israel Shamir, SDP has not missed a single opportunity to introduce the views of some of the world’s most notorious spewers of hatred to the city.  Indeed, if the target of this endless onslaught was any minority group other than Jews, Haymarket would likely consider itself duty bound to fund any activity to counter such views.

This language, designed to set one ethnic and religious group against another, also demonstrates the hugely destructive influence of the tactics divestment has used on an ethnically diverse city like Somerville.  Again, groups like Haymarket pride themselves on building bridges and bringing communities together.  Yet their funding and support is going to an organization dedicated to having its way, even if that means tearing Somerville apart in the process.

The same tired refrain rings out whenever criticism like this comes up: of course community action, particularly political community action, will be controversial.  Yet who is most responsible for distinguishing between a charity with political ramifications and a political organization masquerading as a charity?  The decision makers at organizations like the Haymarket People’s Fund.

As noted in a previous essay, divestment asks of it’s supporters that they sacrifice everything they hold most dear at the alter of the divestment agenda.  In Haymarket’s case, it’s the battle against racism, the lofty goal to build and strengthen communities and the cause for human rights that have been jettisoned in order to show support for an organization that has shown no problem spewing bigotry, wrecking communities and cynically manipulating the language of human rights to achieve their narrow political ends.

Sadly, rather than face up to mistakes, groups that have supported (like the mainline churches) or underwritten (like Haymarket) the divestment agenda are more likely to embrace hostility to the Jewish state ever more tightly in order to avoid looking at the consequences of their actions.  For, after all, Israel’s crimes must be particularly heinous, indeed uniquely evil in the world, to justify everything divestment’s supporters have sacrificed in order to sign onto the movement.

As millions of moms would say in their simple, yet profound judgment: “Shame on them.”


24 Jul

One of the arguments often made at BDS-related debates is that the Middle East conflict is too complex for student senators or food coop members or church delegates to understand well enough to take a meaningful stance on the matter.

“Nonsense,” the BDSers sneer.  For, according to them, the issues are unbelievably simple.  Here is a photo of a dead Palestinian baby (with a grieving mother wailing over the body), and here is another picture of a fully armed Israeli soldier standing next to a frightening bulldozer or some piece of heavy military equipment. And with these simple premises in place, their conclusion is equally simple: “Do what we say!”

To a certain extent, our argument for complexity is actually a reaction to the other side’s specific over-simplified narrative.  But it also represents an effort to avoid over-simplifying narratives of our own, such as one that points out that the Middle East consists of dozens of Arab nations – all corrupt dictatorships of one stripe or another – that have built their politics around eternal enmity towards the Jewish state.

According to this narrative, the Middle East not only consists of more than Israelis and Palestinians but the very Israeli-Palestinian conflict the BDSers decry is the result of the actual cause of suffering in the region: what Ruth Wisse calls “The Arab War Against the Jews.” (something the boycotters faithfully ignore).

The thing is, this less-than-complex story that Israel’s supporters tend to avoid is far closer to the truth than anything that comes out of the mouth of those advocating for boycott, divestment and sanctions.  And never more has such stark simplicity been clear than in the recent and unfolding conflict in Gaza.

Perhaps an errant rocket or two per year could be blamed on forces outside the control of governing Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip.  But when Hamas itself boasts of firing thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets over weeks and months and years, then the subjecting of a sovereign nation to a modern version of the London Blitz cannot be seen as anything other than an act of war, requiring a military response.

The FACT that Hamas hides within and fires its missiles from civilian areas is also not open to debate, which is why those who challenge a reality backed up by countless photos, videos and live testimony choose to either ignore or deny this fact without actually providing evidence or arguments against its unquestionable veracity.

And then you’ve got those miles and miles of tunnels built with cement and other building supplies that countless people insisted Gaza desperately needed to rebuild an above-ground infrastructure devastated by the last wars Hamas started.  The fact that Hamas instead used that material (as well as aid money) to construct a different underground infrastructure for their fighters (leaving civilians to fend for themselves above) can only be denied by those born without eyes or those who have chosen to shield themselves from the truth at the cost of their humanity.

I can understand why simple narratives of good vs. evil tend to rub those of us with modern sensibilities the wrong way.  After all, even Israel’s most ardent supports can (and do) provide a long list of errors the Jewish state has made over the course of seven decades of siege.  And when the Jewish people produce a Baruch Goldstein or those responsible for the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir (killed in last month’s revenge attack for the kidnapping/murder of three Israeli youths) we are both shocked and called to question whether the cause we fight for might have contributed to the creation of such monsters.

But this kind of self-questioning, appropriate for anyone who values facing up to moral complexity (the mortal equivalent of wrestling with God), carries the risk of becoming a variant on the common error of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.  For if one side in a conflict is ready to face (and fess up to) its own shortcomings while the other side will never admit responsibility for any error, crime or violation of moral norms under any circumstance, then we are actually abdicating moral responsibility when we respond to the other side’s perpetually pointing finger with confessions of our own flaws.

It’s been interesting to note that Israel and its supporters, usually all over the map with regard to messaging whenever a conflict such as this summer’s Gaza war arises, has been remarkably on-point this time around.  To a certain extent, this is because the points to be made are so glaringly obvious that little else needs to be said.

Hamas has chosen to shoot at Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian ones.  Hamas leaders have enriched themselves and now sit comfortably in five star hotels in Qatar while others do the fighting and dying.  The organization’s genocidal designs are available for all to see in their charter and countless pronouncements made before, during and after their takeover of Gaza (and transformation of the area to an armed camp).  And the lies (including absurdly transparent use of fake images) demonstrate not just their cynicism but their contempt for everyone they hope will carry out the propaganda component of their current campaign.  Given all this, what else is there for Israel and its supporters to talk about?

Perhaps this is why PlanetBDS must suffice with their ghoulish count of the dead (which follows the Hamas talking point that anyone killed in Gaza is an “innocent civilian”) coupled with throwing Molotov cocktails at synagogues and screaming and tweeting a wish that Hitler had finished the job.  For without any actual facts or arguments to fall back on, shrieking ever louder (and accompanying those screams with violence) is all they have left.

Which means that those of us dedicated to fighting this scourge needs to brace for one hell of an ugly year to come.