Fantasyland

I’ve been thinking a bit more about the notion of “fantasy” that I began to discuss in the last posting.

As some friends know, I’m a big fan of the writer Lee Harris whose masterpiece, Al Queda’s Fantasy Ideology, is considered to be one of the most insightful things ever written about 9/11. In it, he talks about fantasy as political motivator, beginning with observations from his youth when he broke with fellow protestors over the Vietnam War over their insistence that their tactics include highly disruptive street protests.

Why choose this tactic, Harris protested, when it is sure to alienate the very people anti-war activists wanted to reach (the broad undecided middle), standing the chance that they would turn not against the war but against the war protestors? The simple explanation was that the street protests were not designed to win over anyone. Rather, they were a combination of street theatre and therapy designed to benefit the protestors themselves. So what seemed to be a political act was really a Kabuki drama in which the protestors got to fantasize about being part of an elite vanguard “on the right side of history.” Under such a construct, the citizens whose lives would be disrupted by the protestors, indeed the American and Vietnamese people as a whole, were simply props for the protestors own political fantasy performance.

Harris points out that fantasy tied to political ideology is not always completely innocent or simply annoying. Rather, it is responsible for many of the tragedies that have befallen mankind over the last centuries. While Mussolini fantasizing that he was bringing back the Roman Empire, or Hitler “recreating” a fictitious Reich, or Osama bin Laden trying to restore an imagined millennium-old Caliphate, political fantasists have shown a remarkable ability to both sweep others along in their fantasies and to exterminate those who choose not to take part.

Needless to say, the fabulists who make up the divestment campaign of deception at Hampshire College or the single-minded hosers who show their street cred by incoherently protesting against Motorola retail shops in Harvard Square do not represent this level of threat. But they do share with other political fantasists an absolute inability to see the world as it really is, much less see that there may be two sides to the Israel-Palestinian conflict (or any other issue) to which they commit so much energy, and so little thought.

It’s fascinating to watch the response when confronting a picketer in Harvard Square bemoaning “Israel Apartheid” when you ask simple questions about the treatment of women, homosexuals and religious minorities in the land controlled by the Palestinians whose cause they champion (all of which would meet the protestor’s own standards for “Apartheid” be it gender Apartheid, sexual Apartheid or religious Apartheid).

Their response is not to argue, not to even acknowledge the existence of these points, but to simply push them away with a turn of the head or a scoffing laugh. This represents more than a simple debate tactic of ignoring your opponent’s points in favor of your own. Rather, it demonstrates an imperviousness to reason as it applies to situations where Israel’s loudest critics have chosen to absent themselves from the real world.

Simply put, the divestment/Israel=Apartheid/Free Gaza crew have crafted a world for themselves where they are members of an enlightened elite, the only people on the planet who see the world as it really is. If that “reality” includes paranoid fantasies about “Jewish Power” repressing very the arguments that they make loudly and daily, or a willingness to justify the most horrific brutalities (be they suicide bombings, missile attacks against civilians, or inter-Arab murder sprees among the very Palestinians whose lives they claim to hold so dear), that makes no difference to the fantasist. For he or she lives in a world where they and they alone know “the truth.”

Working from such a world view, it makes no difference that their excesses and dishonest tactics (as in Hampshire College) might make it less likely that their programs (like divestment) will succeed elsewhere. For the primary goal of these projects is not to help the people of the Middle East. Nor is it to have an impact on the civil political debate that takes place all around us.

Rather, the goal is to do something “good for their own soul,” i.e., something that contributes to their political fantasy identity as the righteous few battling against the ignorant or nefarious many, regardless of whether or not this is effective, and certainly regardless of whether or not anything they are saying is true.

Street Theater

A buddy took some video of the Boston chapter of “Israel is Wrong About Everything Always Forever” brigade as they “took to the streets” to picket a Motorola retail store in Harvard Square (an action somehow related to the fact that Motorola is one of the companies that commonly comes up as targets for Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS).

The most common company on this target list is Caterpillar Tractor, and my friend inquired why the protestors had seemed to move from this familiar target to a cell phone manufacturer. He suspected that it was because Palestinians had recently made use of tractors as murder weapons, which limited the BDSers interest in minimizing the number of pieces of Caterpillar equipment in Israel (and thus deprive Palestinians of the vehicles they have recently been driving into bus stops). But I would like to suggest a few alternatives.

First off, as has been stated here frequently, the job of BDS is to get an institution that is more well known and respected that the organizations pushing divestment (which pretty much includes everyone) to attach their name (willingly or unwillingly) to the protestor’s real agenda (i.e., to stuff their message that Israel is an Apartheid state into the mouth of a university, church or cub scout troop). With this in mind, both Caterpillar and Motorola are useful since these stocks are so widely held in nearly everyone’s portfolio that protesting these companies gives BDSers the right (at least in their own minds) to target any civic organization with any type of endowment (from universities to cities to unions to churches) for their nasty and dishonest little program.

The other reason can be gleaned from looking at the people who take part in these protests close up. Simply put, they haven’t looked well for years and every year I see them out on the streets, their decline (physical, intellectual and spiritual) seems to have accelerated. Unlike the “happy warriors” who tend to be on our side of the ramparts, the BDS crew seems to consist of oldsters whose eternally burning rage and hatred has taken its toll, and new recruits who are either struck dumb when their lies are confronted, or raging political or religious fanatics who are destined to appear as wretched as their older “comrades” as they approach their twenties.

For folks in such decline, who have seen Israel’s popularity among the American public soar (in direct proportion to the plummeting popularity of Israel’s Arab foes), it is critical to nurture a robust fantasy life to provide meaning to otherwise meaningless lives. After all, neither Caterpillar (which has voted down shareholder nuisance complaints over the Israel by margins of 98-2 for years) or Motorola are ever going to pull out of Israel because of complainers like the ones who appeared in Harvard Square. In addition to knowing where investment dollars are best spent in the region, these companies also have legal staffs that are fully aware of US anti-boycott regulations, which makes it even less likely they will ever take action against the Jewish state for political reasons, even if they wanted to (which, they have stated over and over again they don’t).

So why protest against a company that will never do what you want (worse, protest against a retail store where customers and employees won’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about)? Well if you live in the real world, you would realize that your political efforts (no matter how misguided) would best be put elsewhere. But if you live in a fantasy world where you are part of a righteous vanguard informing the ignorant masses of the wickedness of your political enemies (no matter how much those masses consider you a strange bunch of cranks), then these protests make all the sense in the world!

An aging gaggle of middle-class radicals consumed with hatred of the only state in the Middle East that honors the progressive values (tolerance of women, gays and religious minorities, for example) the BDS-niks claim to represent is a peculiar thing to watch. One can’t really accuse them of hypocrisy since that implies that they live in the same universe as those of us who actually embody the virtues (tolerance, dedication to truth, honesty) they merely pose at.

By Way of Deception

Some readers may recognize the title of this piece from the 1990 book of the same name by Victor Ostrovsky (someone with whom I had one of my first online debates on UseNet lo those many years ago – a story for another time).

Ostrovsky’s book purported to be about the nefarious activities of the Israeli Mossad, but the title could equally apply to the 2009 strategic plan for the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaign currently being waged against Israel.

Hampshire’s faux divestment “triumph” is Exhibit A for this deception stratagem, and from the “other side of the pond” comes Exhibit B. The story will be pretty convoluted and meaningless for anyone who has not followed academic boycott politics in the UK, so let me provide a quick recap.

From 2004 until the present day, the main teacher’s union in the UK has been wracked by debate over whether or not British teachers should boycott their Israeli counterparts: refusing to invite them to conferences, denying them access to their publications, or otherwise disallowing them into the community of scholars. At some times, calls came for specific boycotts of teachers at certain universities in Israel. In other cases, it was a blanket boycott against all Israeli academics that refused to swear a “loyalty oath,” by publically renouncing the actions of their country before being allowed back into the academic family.

A series of controversial votes on the matter were always taken within various governing bodies of the union, a union with far more members than voters whose leadership included a small but dominating clique whose top priority has been to get the union to sign onto their political anti-Israel BDS agenda. As those involved with unions or other civic organizations know, the single minded individual or group often has the ability to push through measure that may be noxious, or at least outside the scope of an organization’s mission. In this case, anti-Israel activists (partnered with members of the Socialist Workers Party or SWP) managed to hijack the union’s leadership bodies on several occasions, getting the organizations name attached to a series of boycott proposals.

Remember that the mission of divestment and boycott programs is to get a respected institution (like a school or union) to attach its name and reputation to the boycotters anti-Israel agenda. And in order to achieve this goal, any tactic is considered legitimate, even if it damages the institution in the process.

The problem for BDS leaders in Britain is that the rank and file of the union hated these motions, forcing the boycotters to struggle just as hard to keep the issue from coming to a vote among members (which they knew they would lose) as they did to get boycott motions passed in the first place. After a string of embarrassing defeats, the boycott campaign had to satisfy itself with a generic promise from the union to study the matter.

But, as union leader John Pike describes, this compromise was not good enough for Israel’s detractors who chose – like the SJP at Hampshire College – to mischaracterize the union’s decision (which made no judgment about Israel or the Middle East in general) as another example of the union’s alleged support for their political positions. It was this mischaracterization that John Pike dismantled, partly to ensure honesty, partly to ensure that the union he loved was no longer being manipulated by those who only saw the institution as a way to punch above their own negligible political weight.

After all, the Socialist Worker’s Party calling for a boycott of Israel is what we used to call in the news business a “dog sniffs another dog’s anus story” (i.e., unremarkable and unnewsworthy, if somewhat gross). But the University and College Union (UCU) adding their weight to the subject: well that’s a story BDS activists felt worth pushing, never mind the damage it would cause the organization, and never mind the fact that it’s not true.

In a way, it’s good to know that divestment has gotten so unpopular that those pushing for BDS have to rely on pretend divestment or boycott “successes” to get any traction at all. At the same time, it’s good to know there are people like John Pike (and even old Alan Dershowitz) out there to keep these institutions honest.

Parody

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series More Silliness

Last month’s divestment fiaso at Hampshire College inspired this parody. (It appeared on a few sites in the area. Needless to say, certain members of the “Israel is wrong about everything always” crowd were not amused.):

In a further complication to the divestment controversy that continues to roil Hampshire College, today a new student group: Students of Hampshire United to Save Humanity (SHUSH) has issued its own press release arguing that the college’s recent decision to sell shares in a State Street investment fund was meant to free up cash in order to invest a majority of the college’s endowment in Israel Bonds.

“According to our interpretation of recent events,” says Mehmet Bernardo, spokesman for SHUSH, “the original board vote to sell $4 million in school investments was taken to ‘get those SJP jerks off our back for a few weeks so we can get some work done.’ Once the dust clears, the school plans to take that money and invest it entirely in Caterpillar Tractor and Israel Bonds in order to show the SJP protestors just ‘who’s the man.’”

The school administration neither confirms nor denies the truth or falsehood of this or any other claim related to the current controversy or any matter before the college.

“Case closed, then,” says Bernardo, as he finished posting the SHUSH press release on another 800 blogs. “What further proof do you need that the administration is in 100% agreement with us?”

Representatives from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) were apoplectic at the recent turn in events. “Those SHUSHers are clearly taking advantage of the ambiguity of administration statements to stuff their own words into the mouth of the college for their own narrow political gain,” claimed SJP spokesperson Morty Frampton. “Don’t they know that’s our job! Besides, we have a petition signed by 21 sociology professors who agree with our interpretation of events. So there! (By the way, did I mention I’m Jewish?)”

SHUSH’s Bernardo was amused by the SJP outcry. “They’re just pissed because our press release got more Diggs than they did. And as for their 21 sociology professors, we have a petition signed by 30 members of the math department! Like the SJP sociologists, the people who signed our petition haven’t the slightest idea how the schools’ investment/divestment decisions get made. But we’ve got 30 of them! And they teach math!”

Muzzlewatch Gets Into the Act

About four years ago, controversial reporting over the creation of a mosque in Boston caused the leadership of the mosque to sue various newspapers and individuals responsible for bringing controversy related to mosque to the public’s attention. Details of that story can be found here.

Jewish groups, and individuals and organizations committed to freedom of speech and freedom of the press deplored this attempt to silence mosque critics through “lawfare” (the use of frivolous legal action to bankrupt and stifle critics). One exception was an obscure group called Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) which signed onto the mosque lawsuit, providing an amicus brief in support of the mosque’s suit against its critics.

At the same time JVP was joining in an attempt to silence those who dared bring up troublesome questions in Boston, the same group started a new Web site called MuzzleWatch, committed to the dubious assumption that critics of Israel are routinely stifled by a Jewish political establishment dedicated to silencing anything negative said about the Jewish state.

Visitors to the site’s lively comment section immediately began asking obvious questions, such as how criticism of Israel, shouted from every street corner in the United States, and enshrined as a holy truth on most college campuses (which maintain competing organizations dedicated to exclaiming Palestinian rights and Israel wrongs in all matters, in contrast to Kurds, Tibetans and other suffering people who get virtually no airtime at universities) is somehow being “repressed.”

Muzzlewatch made it a point to never respond to these questions, simply throwing new accusations after their previous ones was effectively countered time and time again.
In most cases, Muzzlewatch defined as “muzzling” any criticism of people who held identical political views as Jewish Voices for Peace. In other words, criticism of Israel (no matter how outlandish or inaccurate) was protected free speech, but other people using their free speech rights to challenge JVP dogma was somehow a form of censorship.

Eventually, the site owners were forced to respond to questions regarding why an organization supposedly dedicated to freedom of expression was joining in a muzzling lawsuit against mosque critics in Boston. After months of stonewalling, the group eventually produced a convoluted argument that tried to make the case that their suit was actually an attempt to open up debate (huh?). Once the ridiculousness of that explanation was exposed, the sites sole defenders ended up being some of Boston’s most notorious anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. The arguments that inevitably broke out gave Muzzlewatch the chance it needed to shut down its comment section, permanently removing any hint of criticism (or dialog) from its little sheltered corner of cyberspace.

While postings to Muzzlewatch (and, I presume, it’s readership) slowed once it transitioned from dialog to diatribe, they still continue to post now and then. And unsurprisingly, they are none too happy with Alan Dershowitz for speaking out with regard to the Hampshire divestment controversy described in a recent entry here on Divest This!.

For some reason, MW is obsessed with Dershowitz, endlessly accusing him of hypocrisy for making outspoken statements against Israel’s critics while maintaining his reputation as a historic civil libertarian. It does not seem to occur to them that Dershowitz’s (or anyone else’s) free speech rights should be afforded the same protection as the even louder loudmouths of JVP.

The free speech argument has always been a dodge for the Divest-nista crowd on campuses and elsewhere. While redefining “free speech” to mean freedom from criticism, the Muzzlewatchers and their supporters never seem to want to draw attention to the threats of violence used to prevent pro-Israeli speakers from appearing on campuses, or their own muzzling lawsuit – i.e., these real examples of censorship – which they either ignore or full throatily champion.

Is Divestment Legal?

My first commenter (thanks Brandon!) brought up an important point about whether or not divestment activities directed at Israel might be prosecutable under federal anti-boycott law.
Just as background, the Arab League (which boycotted Jewish businesses in what is now Israel starting in the 1920s) created a formal boycott office (created and still located in Damascus) in 1946. This office originally coordinated a primary boycott (the Arab states refusing to do business with Israel). But soon this grew into a secondary boycott (refusing to do business with companies in other countries who do business with Israel) and a tertiary boycott (requiring companies who want business in the Middle East to certify that they do not have clients, suppliers or partners either located in or doing business in the Jewish state).

These secondary and tertiary boycotts (which effectively gave foreign governments veto power over what American businesses could and could not do) eventually made this an issue for the US government which passed anti-boycott legislation in the 1970s. During the Carter administration (believe it or not) the Justice Department hit businesses which formally complied with the Arab boycott office with heavy fines. Threat of further prosecution, associated bad publicity, and the courageous stand of some companies who publically defied and denounced the boycott dramatically diluted it’s effectiveness (as did the Oslo Accords – at least temporarily). While some companies (especially in Europe) still avoid the small Israeli market to assuage the larger Arab one, anti-Israel boycotts has been off the agenda of US companies for many decades.

The question is whether or not divestment constitutes taking part in the illegal Arab League boycott of Israel. Fred Taub at the Web site DivestmentWatch makes a case that it does, but point of fact we don’t know because no one has actually divested, an action required to trigger a lawsuit or US Justice Department investigation. While it’s obviously a good thing that divestment has failed time and time again, if some institution is ever dumb enough to pull the divestment trigger, it would be intriguing to see where a suit or investigation would go. Fred’s research seems to indicate that such a prosecution would require proof that linked divestment proponents to national Middle East boycotters, a relationship divestment groups vehemently deny, but one that has never been thoroughly investigated or researched.

At the very least, this demonstrates one other unsavory aspect of those who are trying to convince, force or trick universities, cities, churches and unions into joining the divestment bandwagon. Because, at the end of the day, it will be those institutions (not divestment activists) that would face prosecution in the event that divestment is judged to fall under American anti-boycott law. At the very least, these groups should alert school and other officials of this risk they might be taking by following the divestment crowd’s advice. But that assumes the divest-niks actually care about the institutions they are trying to manipulate, rather than just using them (and potentially placing them in jeopardy) for their own narrow political ends.

Hampshire

Divestment has always been more about symbolism than economics. After all, boycotting a company or country can have a direct impact on the top (and thus the bottom) line. But you can only divest in a company by selling your shares of its stock, which requires someone to buy them. And unless the world knows WHY you have sold a particular stock, your choice becomes just one more “sell” decision taken by investors millions of times a day for millions of undisclosed reasons.

This is why divestment campaigns are all about getting prominent institutions (such as universities, cities, churches and unions) to make divestment decisions, no matter how minimal in economic terms, tied to public declarations that these actions are specifically about Israel or the Israeli-Arab conflict. After all, a student organization calling for boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) against Israel is just part of ongoing campus political noise. But Harvard University or the Presbyterian Church tying its name to a divestment call packs political power, allowing anti-Israel groups to punch way above their weight by leveraging the reputation of someone else.

But what happens when an institution refuses to play along? You then end up with strange cases like the recent divestment brouhaha at Hampshire College.

Hampshire, a small, progressive liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts, has one of the smallest endowments in the country. But it stands as a symbol having been the first college to publically divest that small endowment from companies doing business in South Africa in the 1980s. Hampshire as a symbolic prize meant that divestment activists, in the form of a student group called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), kept up its divestment crusade years after divestment had moved on at most other schools.

College administrators were respectful and polite to SJP, even if they made it clear they had no intention of joining SJP in denouncing the Jewish state as the next South Africa. But during the course of an outside consultant’s review of school investment holdings, Hampshire decided to sell shares in a particular fund identified as invested in companies that did not meet the school’s ethical investment guidelines (policies that included support for unions, and statements on issues such as Sudan/Darfur, but no stance regarding Israel). SJP, which had asked the school to divest in companies doing business with Israel (some of which turned out to be in the fund selected by Hampshire’s outside consultant), quickly declared victory, announcing to the world that Hampshire had become the first US college to openly divest from the Jewish state.

Given the importance of this alleged “victory,” it was curious why SJP made these public pronouncements on its own, rather than standing alongside college administrators and investment managers to announce this supposedly historic decision. The reason for SJP’s independent action quickly became clear when the administration announced that its investment decisions had nothing to do with Israel or the Middle East, and that SJP was deliberately misleading the public for its own political ends.

This confusion continued for several weeks as Hampshire College administrators tried to have it both ways, allowing the student group to declare victory while assuring the press and alumni that the school had not divested. Much is made of Alan Dershowitz’s call for a boycott of donations to Hampshire (where Dershowitz’s son attended), but in fact the prominent Harvard attorney only clarified that the school could not straddle this issue, leading Hampshire President Hexter to declare in no uncertain terms that (1) the school had not divested in Israel; (2) the school maintained investments in the very companies SJP claimed were being boycotted and would continue to invest in them in the future; and (3) that SJP was inappropriately speaking on behalf of the college, unacceptable behavior that could have consequences for the student group.

By then, SJP had already sent out press releases and public statements saying Hampshire had done what it clearly had not, taking advantage of the administration’s initial lack of clarity to encourage similar decisions at other schools. While they eventually modified their statements, moving from unequivocally declaring Hampshire was on their side to saying that SJP simply believed this to be the case (despite administration denials) with all their hearts.

On the one hand, this campaign of deception was successful with Hampshire continuing to be held aloft as an example for other institutions to join Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaigns against Israel. At the same time, the behavior of SJP has put other schools on notice that being polite and respectful to student groups calling for divestment reviews caries a risk since these groups have proven themselves willing to do and say anything (including manipulating institutions and deceiving the public, regardless of the cost to a university) to gain their own political ends.

While the recent Hampshire fiasco offered groups like SJP a temporary perceived victory, it may have also spelled defeat for any other similar divestment project in the future by broadcasting a warning regarding the excesses and dishonesty of divestment’s promoters. Having seen the results of Hampshire falling for divestment’s bait-and-switch, what are the chances that other colleges will fall into the same trap?

Academic Divestment Campaigns

As described in this (admittedly longish) backgrounder, the divest-from-Israel crowd got its first major ink in 2003-2004 when a petition signed by 1400+ students and professors at Harvard and MIT was picked up by the media as the beginning of a major anti-Israel divestment “movement” on college campuses. Given our current interactive-media age (which tends to mix up cause and effect), the publicity the Harvard-MIT petition generated stimulated similar campaigns on other campuses which the media wrapped into a single unstoppable program.

Student groups which coalesced around the divestment tactic were able to take advantage of what we call in the private sector a “low barrier of entry.” With free online petition software and the “new media” era of blogs and social networks emerging, it literally cost them nothing to start a petition-driven divestment campaign on any college campus where – as a friend once stated – you could get 200 signatures on a petition calling for the repeal of the law of gravity.

The trouble was that once these projects got started, the celebratory rhetoric of divestment campaigners (designed to create a sense of momentum which could propel a discussion of divestment to other institutions) needed to produce results. And, unfortunately for divestniks, the people making financial decisions at every university were not undergraduates, or graduate students, or tenured faculty, but grown-ups: college administrators and financial managers who had fiduciary responsibility to their institutions and enough common sense to not make sweeping financial decisions based on the latest political fad.

In truth, by the time then Harvard President Lawrence Summers took the podium at the University to denounce divest-from-Israel campaigns as “anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent,” the air was already coming out of the balloon for divest-from-Israel campaigns. A counter-petition at Harvard generated over 10,000 signatures from people deploring divestment proposals, and to this date not one school has divested from a single stock from a company doing business in the Jewish state.

Given this poor track record, why are divestment projects heating up again on college campuses? Partly, it’s that “low barrier of entry” issue noted above, and partly it’s because these are tactics that have succeeded in generating publicity (albeit with no associated political impact) in the past. The fact that these campaigns are based on fantasy (as in Hampshire College, to topic of my next entry) or threats and intimidation (as in Europe) only points out that even acts of political impotence can be highly annoying, especially for those institutions who find themselves caught in the divestment cross-hairs.

Academic Divestment Campaigns

As described in this (admittedly longish) backgrounder, the divest-from-Israel crowd got its first major ink in 2003-2004 when a petition signed by 1400+ students and professors at Harvard and MIT was picked up by the media as the beginning of a major anti-Israel divestment “movement” on college campuses. Given our current interactive-media age (which tends to mix up cause and effect), the publicity the Harvard-MIT petition generated stimulated similar campaigns on other campuses which the media wrapped into a single unstoppable program.

Student groups which coalesced around the divestment tactic were able to take advantage of what we call in the private sector a “low barrier of entry.” With free online petition software and the “new media” era of blogs and social networks emerging, it literally cost them nothing to start a petition-driven divestment campaign on any college campus where – as a friend once stated – you could get 200 signatures on a petition calling for the repeal of the law of gravity.

The trouble was that once these projects got started, the celebratory rhetoric of divestment campaigners (designed to create a sense of momentum which could propel a discussion of divestment to other institutions) needed to produce results. And, unfortunately for divestniks, the people making financial decisions at every university were not undergraduates, or graduate students, or tenured faculty, but grown-ups: college administrators and financial managers who had fiduciary responsibility to their institutions and enough common sense to not make sweeping financial decisions based on the latest political fad.

In truth, by the time then Harvard President Lawrence Summers took the podium at the University to denounce divest-from-Israel campaigns as “anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent,” the air was already coming out of the balloon for divest-from-Israel campaigns. A counter-petition at Harvard generated over 10,000 signatures from people deploring divestment proposals, and to this date not one school has divested from a single stock from a company doing business in the Jewish state.

Given this poor track record, why are divestment projects heating up again on college campuses? Partly, it’s that “low barrier of entry” issue noted above, and partly it’s because these are tactics that have succeeded in generating publicity (albeit with no associated political impact) in the past. The fact that these campaigns are based on fantasy (as in Hampshire College, to topic of my next entry) or threats and intimidation (as in Europe) only points out that even acts of political impotence can be highly annoying, especially for those institutions who find themselves caught in the divestment cross-hairs.

Getting Started

Word has it that the odd crowd of Israel-dislikers who tend to perpetually form groups that contain the words “Peace” and “Justice” in their titles has decided to strap electrodes onto the neck bolts of divestment one more time, not realizing that even Frankenstein’s Monster has a shelf life.

To date, these efforts have amounted to students holding press conferences at Hampshire College to announce that the school has divested from Israel when it hasn’t, and other students barricading themselves into the cafeteria at NYU until forced out by school security (and personal hygiene).

As these examples attest, divestment advocates have had a pretty tough time of it since 2004 when divestment was riding high in the Presbyterian, Methodist and other Mainline Protestant churches, and divest-from-Israel campaigns were cropping up in universities, municipalities and unions across the country. Today, the “movement” is pretty much in ruins. Again and again, the churches have voted down divestment by overwhelming majorities, and not one school or city has sold a single share of stock related to the Jewish state.

Still, it is clear that the guys and gals intent on beating this dead horse have no intention of giving up, and the tactics they are choosing (such as building take-overs, which follow similar activities on UK college campuses last year) are getting aggressive and louder. What better time, then, to bring some background, perspective and (I hope) insight and humor into what might unfold on campuses this year with regard to the divestment issue.