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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.”

Complexity

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.

The Brain on BDS

17 Jul

The sheer amount of reality that must be ignored to maintain a BDS mindset can sometimes seem staggering.

Middle East commentator Max Boot lists the number of obvious truths that must be denied in order to portray Israel as the sole or primary aggressor in the most recent clash between the IDF and Hamas in Gaza, including:

  • That Israel gave up “land for peace” with its 2005 Gaza withdrawal and received nearly a decade of war as a consequence
  • Thousands of missiles fired indiscriminately by Hamas to maximize civilian casualties vs. highly targeted attacks by Israel designed to minimize them
  • That Israel accepted a cease fire which Hamas rejected (and continued firing missiles)
  • That Hamas deliberately locates its weapons among civilians in hope of protecting their arms or, even better, causing casualties among their own population which they can exploit in a propaganda war

But this list only covers the most recent outbreak of violence.  To the list of unquestionable facts that must be ignored to maintain the BDS mindset one could easily add:

  • The numerous land deals Israel offered both Arafat and Abbas which were rejected since they carried the price tag of genuine peace
  • The role played by powerful state actors (such as Iran) in arming and financing those Palestinian factions most ready and willing to pull the trigger, not to mention the various propaganda campaigns (including BDS) carried on by powerful nation states who continue to be at war with the Jewish state
  • The terror campaigns (euphemistically called Intifadas) which required the security measures (such as a separation barrier) those with the BDS mindset protest so loudly

For some reason, however, pulling the usual levers does not seem to be as effective this time around.

Perhaps BDS-style propagandists have gotten lazy, anticipating that a gullible media and public will swallow their propaganda whole, regardless of its transparency.

In the past, #GazaUnderAttack imagery tried to slip in a few faux images into a stream of otherwise genuine (although context-free) photos of Palestinian suffering.  But this time around, the trend seems to be to just grab any photo of an explosion or dead Arab (whether they come from previous conflicts with Israel, from conflicts that don’t involve Israel – such as Syria, or from Photoshop).  When even the BBC has gotten tired of being played for saps, it’s clear that even those with no love for the Jewish state will eventually react to being treated with this level of contempt.

As Western nations and the media have shown less inclination to do the bidding of the BDSers and their allies, whatever remains of the old “anti-Israel not anti-Jewish” mask has quickly dropped to the ground.  Thus the physical attacks that were the exception (at least outside the Middle East itself) are now the rule at anti-Israel protests.  And with the rise of hashtags along the lines of #HitlerWarRight dominating “anti-war” discourse, the notion that protests are just “criticizing Israel policy” has moved from questionable to ludicrous.

At the center of all this pathology is the sociopathic BDS mindset I’ve described on this site several times over the last five years.  It’s one thing to have biases (which are common to all mankind), and the phenomenon of shielding yourself from information that contradicts pre-conceptions is a sad but common malady in the era of customized news (i.e., reality) feeds.  But to cut yourself off from so much obvious truth and shout down or beat up anyone insisting you face it represents more than an extreme version of the common desire to avoid confronting things that contradict existing beliefs.

No, these behaviors only make sense once you realize that the boycotters and their fellow travelers have, in effect, created their own fantasy world filled with brave knights (themselves), damsels in distress (Palestinians) and wicked sorcerers and dragons (Israel and its supporters).

Within this fantasy world, any action is justified to vanquish evil (as defined within the BDSers own universe) and anyone who does not fall into the category of knight, damsel or monster has no purpose other than as a prop or extra in the drama going on in the boycotters own heads.

I’ve often highlighted how the majority of true evil in the world was carried out by those absolutely convinced in their own unshakable virtue.  And as rockets fire from Gaza, “human rights” activists fight for a “cease fire” (to give their allies the chance to rearm), and Molotov Cocktails are thrown in Paris, we are all witness to this sad phenomenon bracing to blanket the entire globe.

Confusion in the Land of BDS

12 Jun

Some remaining BDS-related flotsam and jetsam demonstrates more confusion than momentum for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement.”

Starting in the region, what are we to make of the Palestinian Authority’s arrest of four BDS activists who are about to be put on trial as trouble-makers for acting against the policy of a political entity whose President, Mahmoud Abbas, has declared to be anti-BDS?

In nearly every article the BDSers write, every pamphlet they hand out, and every sign they wave, assertions that they are simply carrying out the wishes of “Palestinian Civil Society” anchor the “movement’s” claims to legitimacy.  Yet these recent arrests coupled with statements from the supposed leader of that society (not to mention the refusal of Palestinians on the ground to follow the boycotter’s demands absent coercion) seem to indicate that that Palestinians (whether as individuals, as part of civic organizations, or as citizens of a proto-state with a government) are not terribly united with regard to whether Omar Barghouti gets to speak in their name.

In response to those arrests, Barghouti has condemned the PA in ways which imply that it is he and his followers (rather than Abbas and the PA) that represent the will of the people (i.e., civil society).  But keep in mind that this claim to representation of civil society is not an abstract one but is rather based on a specific document: the PACBI statement that I dissected in detail a number of years ago.

As that analysis pointed out, one of the organizations anchoring this “civil society call” is The Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, a group that likely has more sway over other members on that list than does the Palestinian Dentist’s Association, especially given that this Council includes the territory-controlling Islamic Resistance Movement, otherwise known as Hamas.

But now that Hamas has joined with the PA in a single government, this seems to indicate one of the most important organizations anchoring the BDSers’ claims of representativeness is also part of the government prosecuting BDS activists as troublemakers.  Perhaps Barghouti can sort out this confusion by marching into Gaza City and demanding Hamas embrace his cause and people or be kicked off the civil society rolls he maintains.  Unless, of course, the BDS “movement’s” claim to represent anyone but themselves is as hollow as claims of democratic legitimacy emanating from Ramallah and Gaza City.

Onto confusion #2.  With the breakdown of the latest chapter of the Middle East peace process, confused writer Larry Derfner (writing for the highly confused Jewish newspaper The Forward) is wondering out loud how J Street – the controversial Jewish organization that has made headlines over the last eight years – can possibly maintain its anti-BDS stance now that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have broken down for the umpteenth time.

Now there are interesting questions to be asked regarding J Street’s anti-BDS position, such as how far it extends to parts of the organization (such as their student arm) that can sometimes seem too chummy with pro-BDS organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, or whether their resistance to divestment campaigns is deeply held or tactical.

Having worked alongside J-Streeters in previous BDS fights (and acknowledging the important role they are playing in the upcoming Presbyterian debate) I can only highlight that they have invested real political capital in their anti-boycott stance, not just made hollow statements.  And while this should not be seen as an absolution regarding other serious concerns about the organization, I think it’s fair to say that J Street’s position on this particular issue demonstrates how far disgust over BDS campaigns extends to the left end of the political spectrum.

Unfortunately, Derfner doesn’t ask these questions since his world view is too tiny to contain anything beyond the formula of: Negotiation breakdown = Netenyahu’s to blame = Anyone considering themselves left of center has no choice but to embrace BDS (best summed up in his forced-choice alternative of “it’s either BDS or occupation forever”).

Really?  Those are the only choices in God’s creation for J Street and anyone else who believes in a negotiated settlement?  Might the fact that there were two parties to those failed negotiations mean that appeal to the party that has rejected a state a half dozen times in the last half century stands as a reasonable alternative?  And even if you put more blame for failed talks on Israel than the Palestinians, is participating in a propaganda campaign masquerading as a peace movement the only possible option other than “occupation forever?” It’s understandable why TeamBDS insists that progressivism and adherence to their agenda are synonymous, given their goal of turning half the political spectrum into their prison bitch.  But Derfner’s embrace of a similar conclusion directed at J Street seems to only reflect the smallness and inflexibility of the writer’s mind.

While wading through all these confusions and contradictions, I through of the French political iconoclast Jean Francois Revel whose tell-tale sign of European anti-Americanism consisted of belief that any phenomenon and its opposite demonstrated the immanent decline of the US (or the near-term emergence of American fascism).  Thus a rise in US stock markets meant an impending bubble was about to burst while a decline in those same markets demonstrated capitalism to be a sham.  Similarly, the overall continuity of Cold War foreign policy through both Republican and Democratic administrations “proved” that US party politics was just window dressing to emerging totalitarianism (a form of politics which Revel pointed out to be perpetually looming in the US, but somehow always emerging in Europe).

But one doesn’t need to turn to a geopolitical philosopher to get your hands around the head-spinning confusion at the heart of BDS, you simply have to dredge up some time in your life when you told a lie and recall the sheer amount of thought, time and energy required to keep track of what you said and who you said it to.  Now multiply that by the hundreds of lies told by the thousands of people involved in the BDS “movement,” the millions of people they have lied to (and let’s not even talk about the the number of people in “the movement” who are either dim or delusional) and you have a recipe for confusion on a cosmic scale, mitigated only by the fact that those telling these lies couldn’t care less about the truth or falsehood of whatever comes out of their mouths.

Joy

29 May

I received a note recently from someone I greatly respect which reminded me of that all-critical, all-human facility that provides hope and meaning when things look dark (as it does for Jews in “enlightened” Europe these days).  This same facility provides guidance (and occasional needed respite) when struggling to answer questions that seem unanswerable.  It makes victories all the brighter and provides comfort when dealing with defeat.  And yes, when needed, it can serve as both shield and sword.  I’m speaking (as you might have guessed from the title of this piece) of joy.

I’m probably one of the few people who hasn’t previously pointed out the poignancy of the Israeli holiday schedule that places Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom Hazikaron (which commemorates the nation’s fallen soldiers) before Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (which celebrating the unification of Jerusalem), a sequence that traces the joyful story arc of disaster followed by redemption.

In the world of pro-Israel activism, there is great debate whether celebrations of Israel’s technological prowess or contributions to life-saving medicine, scientific discovery and culture represents an effective response to negative programs like BDS or Israel Apartheid Week.  And while I completely agree that events focusing on the good Israel does in the world are not effective in each and every situation, it says something about those who put them on that they choose programming which takes joyful pride in Israel’s achievements.

As I just mentioned, joy can serve as a sword as well as a shield, best exemplified by the efforts of pro-Israel activists in the UK who have used humor, good spirit, generosity – in a word “joy” – to quiet the shouted accusations and lies of Israel’s detractors.  And here in the US, whenever I’ve seen student governments vote down this or that meaningless divestment resolution, one need only look at the smiles and quiet applause of pro-Israel students in the audience to realize the joy they take in a job well done combined with appreciation that screaming and chest thumping are unnecessary to confirm that victory is theirs.

Contrast this with the mayhem that has broken out whenever the BDSers win or lose a vote they force on an institution.  I suppose that the wailing that took place when UCLA voted down divestment, or the shouting that erupted when Cornell did the same, or the tantrum the BDSers threw when the Methodists didn’t do what they were told was their only choice can be chalked up to the agony of defeat. But the equally hysterical screaming and chanting and banner waving that takes place on those few occasions when the boycotters get their way also has a joyless streak to it, given that it feels less like a celebration and more like a taste of the impending mayhem they plan to unleash on a civic organization they now consider theirs to do with as they please.

I’ll resist making comparisons between Israel’s holiday arc and one that begins and ends with a “Nakbah” and instead focus on a less metaphysical comparison closer to home.

Recently, some people I met found themselves in the crosshairs of the local BDS brigade for daring to sell E-V-I-L SodaStream pop dispensers.  And, unlike many who confront such a situation, the folks I met tried to get at the bottom of what was going on at the SodaStream factory in Ma’ale Adumim (a manufacturing plant located in disputed West Bank territory which serves as the excuse for the BDSers to target the company worldwide).

For anyone familiar with the situation in Ma’ale Adumim, the SodaStream’s factory there employs over 500 Palestinians who work alongside Jews – each earning a fair wage.  Labor conditions are similarly equitable, which is why Palestinians working at the factory have shown no interest in the anti-SodaStream boycott allegedly taking place on their behalf.  In short, if peace were ever to come to the region, Ma’ale Adumim represents the kind of economic cooperation that could ultimately undergird a “New Middle East.”

Now a normal political movement would simply say that, regardless of whatever benefits the factory brings to its Palestinian workers and regardless of whether or not it might serve as model for peaceful economic development and co-existence, the political need to establish the location of the factory as illegal (vs. simply disputed, and thus subject to negotiations) must take precedent over the happiness and livelihood of the people working there.

But rather than go down a route that would require acknowledging reality and taking responsibility for the good and the bad associated with a real-world situation involving living, breathing Palestinians, the boycotters have instead projected their own dystopian fantasy onto the factory, painting an utterly bizarre picture of a Palestinian slave camp controlled by Jewish overlords which represents nothing but more of the Apartheid-y fictional narrative they project on all things Israeli.

Only a movement utterly lacking in anything resembling joy could so effortlessly manufacture such a joyless picture and one so utterly at odds with the truth. And within this fantasy landscape, one can begin to see the contours of the world the BDSers inhabit and/or secretly desire to live in (albeit one where it is their hands that gets to hold the whips).

Perhaps over the next decade we will discover that the aggression and hostility we see breaking out from Gaza to Vassar and the embrace of death boasted of by Hamas and Hezbollah are indeed more powerful than the joy of a redeemed people who have found the will to fight back from the brink to not only survive but thrive in an area of the world that is descending ever further into murderous mayhem.  But if the last six decades of history is any guide, I’ll place my bets on the joyful over those who worship at the alters of deception, hatred, and death.

SodaStream Boycott – Losing on Two Sides of the Atlantic

29 Apr

Over the years, I’ve highlighted one of the advantages the BDSers have over their opponent in terms of selecting the field of battle.

This advantage grows out of the fact that, as the propaganda arm of a war movement masquerading as a peace movement, the boycott brigade faces an opponent (us) that does not have equivalent militant goals.  So while they are free to try to push their squalid little boycott and divestment programs anywhere they like and try to stuff their propaganda message (that Israel is an “apartheid state” alone in the world requiring economic punishment) into the mouth of any civic organization they wish, Israel’s friends are neither interested in demonizing Israel’s enemies, nor using innocent third parties as tools to achieve our ends.

One of the fronts they chose this year was a SodaStream boycott (or, more specifically, a boycott of stores selling products made by that Israeli company), and while those of us fighting against boycott and divestment efforts had to wait until the BDSers selected their target, this year’s SodaStream boycott battles demonstrate the variety of tactics available to us as we work to ensure the boycotter’s now decade-plus-long record of failure.

By now, I suspect most Divest This readers have heard of Sussex Friends of Israel (SFI), a UK group that has used a variety of imaginative and creative tactics to rock the boat of Israel haters who had targeted an eccostream store in Brighton (eccostream being a subsiderary of SodaStream) for ongoing protests.

As this article points out, Brighton (a Southern English Coastal town where active BDS groups have routinely staged protests) might seem a strange place for Israel’s defenders to so successfully take a stand.  The area has a reasonably sized Jewish community, but one mostly made up of retirees.  And, as in much of Europe, British Jews have tended to avoid confrontational politics which gives the more militant BDS groups the ability to act as they please.

But as in so many cases (including my own), over-reach by the Israel haters created an enemy willing to put the time and effort into transforming the field of battle.

In this case, local Jews and non-Jews appalled by what they saw in Brighton created founded SFI which managed to turn the situation around in Brighton by meeting the BDSers vulgarity and ugliness with warmth, humor and baked goods.  At weekly demonstrations where the Israel dis-likers used to gather to spout lies and vent their rage, they have been met with crowds of Israel supporters playing music, serving food, and spouting the truth wrapped in a blanket of good cheer.

While I routinely hear complaints that Israel’s supporters rely too heavily on “feel good” programming that does not sufficiently attack the nation’s foes, SFI’s tactics represent a new type of tactic that I would call “militant cheerfulness.”  For whether it’s serving up pastry under the banner of “They Tell Lies, We Serve Pies” (a slogan that, while not Chaucer, does the rhetorical job of characterizing the two sides), or meeting the tired BDS chants with blues music and duck calls, there is no question which side is winning the battle, a victory that is demonstrating not just to Brightonians but to people around the world the emptiness behind BDS slogans and posing.

Did I say duck calls?  Actually, that’s one of my favorite aspects of their campaign.  For, under the rubric of “If it quacks like a duck” (i.e., behaves like an anti-Semite), the SFI group has armed its members with little quackers that they break out whenever the boycotters try to spout their nonsense.  And to get a sense of how much this barrage of caustic mischief rankles their opponents, one need only look at this video where duck calling reduced one member of the BDS group to impotent rage (followed by his arrest).

While I’d love to see SFI’s duck strategy adopted more on this side of the Atlantic, there are also times when a quieter approach is the right choice.  Earlier this year, for example, some of us learned that a local store was being targeted by BDS activists for a SodaStream boycott protest.  But, rather than organize our own counter-protest (which many local activists have done successfully in the past), some of us instead reached out to the store to see what their concerns were.  And one of the things they made clear was that they did not want to see an ugly confrontation break out in front of their shop.

Out of respect for their wishes (which extends to respecting that desire enough to not mention who I’m talking about in this piece), the Jewish community instead organized a Buy Israeli Goods (BIG)/Buycott-style counter-offensive which continues well after the boycotters folded their bloody banners and went home.  And given that the only people who can decide what to shelve or de-shelve are those running the store, it’s likely that people who respect their wishes vs. harassing their customers will leave a better impression of whom to trust.

Now if you define victory as accomplishing your goals, these quiet tactics were selected as the ones most likely to achieve the goal of handing the BDSers another defeat.  But, as this SodaStream boycott -related piece points out, these definition of victory and defeat only apply to people living in the actual world, not the fantasy world in which the boycotters dwell.

For such fantasists, the very fact that they all got together in front of someone else’s store to stage a noisy protest for a couple of hours represents all they were ever after.  Like the SJPers who force all-nighters onto student councils so they can spew their propaganda for hours on end, participation in such hate rallies is the goal and the only thing the BDS cru truly care about – damn the lies they have to tell to get what they want, damn the people that might get hurt as they subvert this or that civic group, and damn the people they claim to be fighting for including (or should I say “especially”) the Palestinians they are ready to see continue to suffer and die just so they can feel good about themselves.