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Rules of the Rude

28 Apr

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the wonderful term “Workocracy” which described a situation in which leadership was established not by rank or popularity, but by the level of effort contributed by people working together on a project.

As with everything else they touch, those involved with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement” seem to have created an ugly doppelganger for the beneficent Workocracy construct, which I choose to call “Rudeocracy.”

Example #1: At a nearby food coop, the debate over a hummus boycott was brought to a standstill when the boycotters (who were both outnumbered and out-argued) burst into tears, decrying the fact that their voices (no matter how shrill and demanding for weeks and months beforehand) were being stifled.  And the kindhearted people in the room, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings further, decided to demur to the weepers and give them “equal” (i.e., extra) time to state their case.

Example #2: Close to a decade ago, the same anti-Israel activist who had created three years of mayhem in Somerville Massachusetts through multiple (failed) efforts to get the city to divest from Israel decided to bring the rolling propaganda wagon Wheels of Justice into the public school system where he taught in order to “educate” his captive charges.  Chaos ensued as parents (legitimately) protested, the school (appropriately) cancelled the event, the Israel-hater/teacher (inevitably) called in the lawyers and the program went on (albeit with a counter-program provided by The David Project).

Example #3: On dozens of campuses across the country, student governments consisting of 18-22 year olds (most of them sincerely interested in making the campus a better place, even if some of them might also be looking to strike a pose or pad their resumes) have been forced to sit through all-nighters as partisans for one and only one international issue (guess which one) demand that toothless divestment resolutions be passed immediately.  And when those student governments said no, the BDSers refused to take that as a final answer, demanding re-votes year after year (sometimes more than once a year).  And, when all else failed, they packed the Senate with people whose first and only agenda item was BDS – not the aforementioned making the campus a better place.

What these three examples have in common is that they were all instigated by people lacking even a scintilla of manners, empathy and propriety – people willing to bend (or break) every rule, manipulate people’s emotions, browbeat others to submit to moral blackmail, all so the boycotters can pretend to punch above their limited political weight.

While this might come off as simple criticism of people I disagree with, the concept of a Rudeocracy highlights and important reason why the Israel-Palestinian conflict is on the agenda of so many civil society organizations that have not taken (or been asked to take) stances on other political matters, like those that have left hundreds of thousands killed or homeless in every country in the Middle East, save Israel.

Often, this double-standard is chalked up to hypocrisy, and certainly that compliment vice pays to virtue is part of the story.  But without individuals and organizations (which I won’t dignify to call a “movement”) ready to push the boundaries of civilized behavior to the breaking point in order to get their way, BDS would not have gotten shoved up the agenda of so many organizations.

After all (and as I’ve noted previously), it’s child’s play to do what the BDSers do.

For if I shared their fanaticism and value system, I could blanket the communities I belong to with photos of tortured and murdered women and homosexuals and demand that anyone who claims to support women’s and gay rights must immediately and officially condemn my political adversaries or be exposed as traitors to the causes they claim to champion.

I could drag “experts” touting my beliefs into inappropriate situations (like my kids’ school or Scout troop) and insist everyone be exposed to a manipulative presentation of “facts” that are really my opinions.  And if anyone complained, I could burst into tears or start shouting so loudly that those around me would do anything to bring the temperature down, including (ideally) doing what I say.

The only trouble is that I would never cause harm to others, just so that I could use their names and reputations to further my political agenda.  I would never expose children (even my own) to one-sided arguments or highly contentious/truncated explanations of events and claim these to be important educational experiences.  And I’ve long outgrown crying and screaming to get others to do my bidding.

Apparently, though, those who live by the creed of Rudeocracy have no problems doing any of these things.  And while I suspect that in the long run such behavior brings more negative than positive consequences to those who practice it, dealing with individuals and organizations that mistake misbehavior for boldness and manipulation for argument is no fun (beyond the occasional schadenfreude that often happens when their ugly tactics leads to yet another defeat).

Reconsiderations I – Is BDS Still a Loser?

10 Apr

While Israel, it’s friends and allies can be stubborn – even bullheaded – about issues (even when we’re wrong), I still give us the edge over our fantasy-laden opponents who don’t just ignore things they don’t want to hear but have constructed their own version of reality in which to dwell.

This is not to say that fanatical verve doesn’t pack a political punch.  But so does stopping to look – and relook – at reality as it is.  To draw from my most frequently used rhetorical quiver, the IDF’s ability to defeat much larger armies over and over is due less to sophisticated weaponry than to their ability to learn from past errors (strategic and tactical) when faced with an enemy that continues to make the same mistakes again and again.

I bring this up because my recent participation in the StandWithUs anti-BDS conference got me thinking about a couple of issues I’ve spent a good deal of time talking about here at Divest This over the years, and questioning whether my stance on those issues is still accurate or relevant.

The first one I’d like to publically consider is my whole shtick regarding BDS being a “loser.”  Long time readers know that this has been a theme of many a piece on this site, and characterizing BDS in such a way is an important part of the strategy I have either used or recommended to those fighting boycott and divestment activities in their communities. But few other positions have generated as many arguments between me and my allies in the anti-BDS project.

Now I could be come up with glib answers to questions regarding how I can call a “loser” a movement that is generating so much controversy on college campuses, and has even managed to knock off organizations like PCUSA after hammering on them for a decade.  Sure, it’s fun to mock the boycotters when they break into a riot or bust into tears when they lose a battle, but given that their strategy involves relentlessly refighting the same battle over and over again until they win, is “loser” still an appropriate term for the BDS “movement?”

But rather than dismiss such questions as examples of panic or falling for the boycotter’s own propaganda, it is worth giving consideration to the overarching question of whether the situation has changed since the fight against BDS began.

Keep in mind that my choice to use and reuse the “loser” term was not just an attempt to attach a label to our opponents that is very difficult for them to take off (since declaring yourself not to be a loser is only something a loser would do).  Rather, it was based on a set of facts – many of which are still highly relevant.

For example, a successful boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (like the ones that targeted South Africa, Sudan and – until recently – Iran) should involve significant numbers of people actually boycotting, divesting or sanctioning the target of that campaign and should at least be able to demonstrate the ability to deliver an increment of financial pain.

But after close to a decade-and-a-half of effort, the “successes” the boycotters keep pointing to – added all together – would barely sum to a rounding error on one month of Israel’s balance-of-trade figures.  In fact, just as Israel’s alleged “genocide” has resulted in a Palestinian population explosion, a fifteen-year program to make the Israeli economy suffer has been accompanied by an explosion in economic growth, exports from and investment in the Jewish state.

Similarly, even if you just presume BDS is a convenient tactic to get respected institutions to lend their reputation to the defamation of Israel and its supporters, consider whose reputation has been more tarnished over the last year: the American Studies Association and PCUSA that embraced the BDS agenda or the nation they formally chose to condemn?

And winning movements with serious momentum don’t continue to pass off pretend victories as real ones, or dress up their true agenda in fake outfits in order to trick people into voting for them by claiming the vote is really about something else.  In other words, the very deception that makes up so much of the BDS playbook is another sign of the “movement’s” weakness rather than strength.

All that said, I would be remiss to ignore the power BDS campaigns have to insinuate themselves into a community and generate headlines at the expense of Israel and its friends (not to mention at the expense of the insinuated organization).  And successful tactics (such as taking over student governments you failed to convince) are both clever and troubling since they are easy to replicate and generate headlines (and thus perceptions of momentum).

Still, I’ve never been convinced that the most recent incarnation of BDS which began in 2009 has ever truly generated its own momentum vs. attaching itself parasitically to the momentum of other events.  For example, BDS efforts always seem to get redoubled after a Gaza war breaks out, which is no accident since they are the propaganda adjunct of those who insist on starting and restarting those wars.  And the Red-Green alliance that has the Greens conquer territory while the Reds explain why the rest of the world has no right to stop them has become the greatest threat facing humanity since the fall of the last century’s dictatorships, with BDS such a small player in that alliance to hardly merit notice.

And let’s not forgot that claims regarding Israel’s imminent threat of isolation and official sanction only seem less the stuff of fantasy due to the appalling behavior of the current US administration which has decided to make Israel their preferred villain as the entire Middle East (and beyond) bursts into flames.  After all, a less unpredictable (and genuine, simple) “critic of Israeli policies” would have made sure the boycotters of the world understood that the US remained a bulwark against their efforts, even as they dinged Israel and its leaders over this or that disagreement.

I guess this is a long way of saying that, even though we find ourselves fighting against BDS on more fronts that before, that this still does not change my mind over the program falling into the category of “loser.”  A winning boycott or divestment program, after all, would have generated genuine results by now.  It would be able to leverage the gifts they enjoy (such as support of some of the world’s wealthiest dictatorships) to even slightly move the needle on the public’s support for the Jewish state. And it would lead, rather than follow, the rest of the well-funded, well-organized and well-staffed anti-Israel delegitimization campaign.

But BDS has done none of that.  Which means that rather than confusing mayhem with momentum, we should still consider it the weakest link in the de-legitimization chain, one we can continue to pull on by handing the BDSers their next defeat, and ignoring or dismissing their latest claimed victory as decisively as they ignore all of their massive failures.

The StandWithUs BDS Conference

3 Apr

So a bear walks into a Dunkin Donuts and says: “I’d like a cup of coffee…” and 45 seconds later… “and a chocolate cruller.”

The guy behind the register looks at him for a moment and then asks: “Why the long paws?”

That opener (which, like most gags is better spoken than written) is meant to distract you from a two-week pause in writing, one that’s especially egregious since between my last posting and today, I was able to attend one of the most important events in the last several years dealing with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement.”

This was the StandWithUs anti-BDS conference that was held in Los Angles weekend before last.  And now that two harrowing un-political work weeks have come and gone, I’d like to post-mortem on one of the liveliest and most enjoyable pro-Israel events I’ve ever attended.

To start with, nearly all the people I’ve been reading, corresponding with, and working alongside in BDS battle after BDS battle were either on the stage or in the audience at the SWU confab.  Contributors to this terrific book on academic boycotts, including Sam Edelman, Tammi Rossman-Bejamin, Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, Dr. Roberta Seid, and Dr. Richard Cravatts were on a panel talking about academic boycotts.  Professor Gerald Steinberg from NGO Monitor and the unstoppable investigative journalist Edwin Black followed the BDS money trail.  My old pal Dexter Van Zile headed a panel on church divestment.  And I was honored to share the stage with my friends and allies Mike Harris and Rob Jacobs from SWU to talk about community organizing against BDS.

In addition to this (partial) list of people on the stage, the audience was filled with folks I’ve known, known of, or worked with for years, including the Hillel Director who played such an important role in the recent Northeastern BDS defeat, someone I had corresponded with during a recent academic union boycott brouhaha, and fellow bloggers and activists – including students who have been successfully fighting the good fight on campus after campus.

While I’ve not gone to that many big Jewish events, impressive and articulate students telling their stories always seem to be a staple at conferences and fundraisers hosted by major Jewish organizations.  But the kids who participated at the SWU event were not just there to impress us, but to teach us how on-the-ground organization mixed with verve has beaten BDS bullying time and time again.

The student who got divestment overturned in the Davis student judiciary?  He was there, telling us his tale over breakfast.  And that girl who was arrested by the BDSer/Student Senate President behind the now infamous “Blood Bucket Challenge?”  She was there too, and spoiling to continue to take the fight to the enemy once she graduates from college.

The celebrity headlining the three day program was – surprise, surprise – Alan Dershowitz.  But having watched the famous attorney give his standard Israel talk many times over the years, it was a total treat to see him in action over the course of several days spent conversing with others who already knew the basics, allowing Alan to talk more informally and expansively about a topic we had all gathered to not just discuss but do something about.

It was in the realm of action that SWU CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein and her team created a real breakthrough event.  For while much of the conference was given over to listening to experts talking from the stage, an even larger portion of time was set aside to allow people to gather in smaller groups and discuss areas of interest (BDS on campus, BDS and the Law, etc.).

In the community-organizing panel facilitated by Mike, Rob and myself, we hunkered down with folks who had been working at ground level for years who in aggregate had much more to teach us (and each other) than did the facilitators.  Which meant that successful strategies and tactics were unearthed, articulated, and spread across a community of activists ready to be put into action.

At programs that spill out over several days, some of the most important interactions take place in the off hours.  And my favorite surprise involved post-event beers with two folks from Calgary who I had never met before, but whom I will never forget.

One was a young woman whose family had gotten beaten up during an anti-Israel rally last summer when the streets of Calgary resembled those of Paris.  Apparently, a huge Muslim immigrant community meant that when the crap hit the fan in Gaza, pro-Israel Jews were outnumbered in the streets by a factor of more than a hundred to one.  But rather than let those odds cow her, my fellow conference attendee and her kin have only become more bold, more brazen and more determined to let the world know that Jews can fight (and win).

She had traveled to the event with another remarkable fellow, a native Calgarian Métis who has not only been fighting with the BDSholes for decades (having single-handedly dismantled an Apartheid Wall placed in his way while an undergraduate), but has also used the Jewish and Israel experience to bring comfort and confidence to fellow members of his (first) nation.

I’ll confess to knowing very little about the suffering of this particular tribe at the hands of Europeans who made it a point to strip them of their heritage during the process of “civilizing” the West.  But stories of abuse and a culture and language denied certainly jibe with what I know of how natives suffered over the centuries down here in the lower 48.

But for my new-found-friend, the Jewish tale of cultural survival in the face of all odds was an inspiration he was bringing to young Cree still suffering the wounds of the past.  And the Jewish people’s resurrection of their own nation (with the associated rebirth of an ancient tongue) also meant that even those who had endured unimaginable suffering did not need to see themselves as victims of history.

Of course, others are trying to teach these same kids to embrace their victimhood and make that the centerpiece of their lives.  And while everyone has a choice on what to make of their own suffering, the contrast between Israel and the victim cultures that surround it should give pause to anyone thinking that an embrace of victimhood brings either happiness or triumph.

More than anything else, this chance meeting with my new found Canadian friends taught me how much the Jewish story – especially its most recent chapter of near death and redemption from rebirth – has to offer.

And so the fight must continue against those who are trying to not just snuff out the Jewish state, but to silence a story which contains within it the power to redeem the world (if only enough people would listen).

BDS, the Trade Protection Act, and Israel

6 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Argument(s)

18 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UC BDS Mayhem

10 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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