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The Blood Bucket Challenge

8 Sep

Both of my kids took time over the summer to be filmed while a friend dumped cold water over their heads from a great height. Nothing terribly unusual about that, I thought, except that their soaking was apparently part of a widespread charitable project that went viral earlier this year called the Ice Bucket Challenge.

As far as I can tell, the challenge part of the program involves naming others (friends, neighbors, celebrities) who should also post videos of themselves being soaked via the Interwebs.  Alternatively, those challengees can skip the soaking part and just make a donation to charities involved with fighting against the degenerative illness ALS.

Some people have complained that the Ice Bucket Challenge involves more water dumping and web chortling than actual giving, although such criticisms seem easily countered by the millions in new dollars that have apparently flowed to ALS-related charities in 2014.  And while I am sympathetic to criticisms offered by fellow old fogeys that the goofiness of soaking yourself with H20 kind of collides with the seriousness of the cause, I’m also old enough to remember the era of the Jerry Lewis Telethon, an annual event that involved jugglers, acrobats and stale stand-up comics putting on a Vaudeville every Labor Day in support of the equally serious illness Muscular Dystrophy.

Given how much the Web tends to award dopey things like frowning cats and expletive-spewing oranges with that sacred gift of virality, I am left offering two-and-a-half cheers to an Ice Bucket Challenge that seems to have combined fun and generosity in the right combination (that half cheer withheld in slight sympathy with my curmudgeony cohort who grew up before the age of the Net).

Those limited kvetches aside, leave it to the BDSers to figure out a way to turn an act of fun and kindness into something horrifying.

I’m speaking, of course, of the “Blood Bucket Challenge” that took place on the Ohio University campus where Megan Marzec, president of the student senate, decided to film herself doing a Carrie impersonation by dousing herself with fake blood (rather than ice water) while announcing her own challenge: that the school should divest from and boycott the Jewish state (rather than make a donation to a worthy cause).

No word yet if this warped mutation of someone else’s idea is going to catch on in the land of BDS over the coming months.  The fact that Marzec’s bizarre behavior appalled her fellow senators (who issued an apology) and triggered condemnation across the campus might mitigate against her stunt being replicated elsewhere.  But given the BDSers track record of trying to subvert other people’s virtuous ideas in order to drive their own virality, I wouldn’t put it past them.

We’ve seen this before with flash mobs, those unexpected bursts of music, dance and merriment that surprise people with never-anticipated joy, shaking them from their daily stupor with the brief gift of happiness.  For the boycotters, however, flash mobs were just one more popular concept they could plagiarize and vulgarize, replacing gleeful performances given as a present to the public with shrewish warbling in department stores in support of pulling Israeli cosmetics off the shelf.

The “Blood Bucket Challenge” takes this process one step further, replacing an act of silliness and generosity with one chosen specifically to generate horror and disgust.  Fortunately, that disgust has only been directed so far at the person who performed this bit of blood-drenched grandstanding.  But given the BDSers crazed desire to never have their cause off the front pages for even a minute, it would not surprise me in the least if more SJP types across the country started filming themselves doing something similar in the weeks and months to come.

Last week, I talked about some of the tactics we can use this year to counter the surge in BDS activity that inevitably follows violence breaking out in the region.  But one I left out was the technique of defining and “freezing” an opponent (a la Alinsky).

In this case, it is SJP and the like whose out-of-control behavior earlier this year coupled with recent choices to start throwing punches and dousing themselves with gore that should be frozen in place – by highlighting their excesses at every opportunity and ignoring their insistence that we talk about anything else.

And if we add these recent spasms of violence and ugliness to the BDSers multi-year track record of lying about victories and sneaking around in the dark to achieve their ends, we are in a position to define Israel opponents (accurately) as a bunch of dishonest, manipulative, nasty, brutish and short-tempered losers.

Surviving the Upcoming BDS Onslaught – 2

5 Sep

I actually misspoke slightly when I said yesterday that a different set of rules apply when dealing with dyed-in-the-wool anti-Israel propagandists vs. those who have not de-normalized themselves through an embrace of BDS catechism and modes of behavior.

For when dealing with such people, the rules we should embrace (with some key modifications that I outline below) are the very ones the BDSers have spent years teaching us – the three tactics (The Pointing Finger, Ignore-ance and Pathos) – which define the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement.”

For instance, in a normal conversation (or even a heated but honest argument), one can expect (and should provide) normal give and take: genuinely listening to what someone is saying, answering their actual points (rather than pretending they said something else), and so on.  But when faced with a faux-interlocutor only interested in making their own accusations and ignoring everything you have to say in response, we are allowed (indeed obliged) to return the favor.

In short, if SJP types insist we talk about nothing but Palestinian “casualties” (and also insist they be given full control over that term), we shouldn’t respond by highlighting male-to-female casualty ratios or explanation of IDF knocking strategies that will just be sneered at and ignored. Rather, the only topic on our agenda should be Hamas’ unquestionable war criminality, its viciousness towards both Israelis and Palestinians, and the cowardice of its leaders who hid in spider holes under hospitals and schools (or in luxury hotels in Qatar) while others suffered and died for those leader’s aggrandizement.

Rhetorically speaking, numbers (particularly specific ones) tied to evocative images tend to stick in people’s minds.  So when they talk about 1,891 or 2,127 “civilian” deaths in Gaza, best to ask them whether that includes the 160 Gazan children Hamas worked to death building their terror tunnels or the 21 people Hamas shot in the head towards the end of the conflict (ideally accompanied by this photo or this one) with a hint that this only represents a glimpse of the number of direct Hamas murders buried in their “casualty” figures.  And if (or should I say when) they ignore you and repeat their death counts, we should simply add their chosen number to the 4,517 rocket attacks directed towards Israeli civilians and thank them for helping us calculate the minimum number of Hamas war crimes.

While Hamas did their utmost to prevent photos of their own soldiers (living or dead) from reaching the world, enough evocative images exist (including the ones linked above) to give our side ammunition in the emotional image war that tends to define many a debate on this subject.  Again, bloody images of the killed or wounded (not to mention child abuse shots like this one) are not something you want to throw in the face of those who might be open to reasoned debate.  But when confronted by those trying to prevent reasoned debate at all cost, different tactics apply (or, should I say, both sides are allowed to use the same tactics, stupid and unpleasant through they may be).

While we are on the subject of rhetoric, keep in mind how much the BDSers are trying to claim the mantle of progressive politics, which is why we should keep asking them (over and over and over again) how they can support racist, sexist, homophobic, reactionary movements like Hamas.  In fact, when things get heated, I like attaching that “racist-sexist-homophobic-reactionary” prefix to Hamas with the same frequency the boycotters love to attach the term “Apartheid” to Israel.  Yes, this will cause them to howl and spit and hurl their own counter-accusations of Pinkwashing and God-knows-what else.  But that should just be your signal to keep ignoring what comes out of their mouths (or, better yet, respond that this just one would expect from apologists for a racist, sexist, homophobic, reactionary movements like Hamas).

During this period of Middle East implosion, I’ve noticed how prickly Israel haters get when you point out that Hamas is all but indistinguishable from other militant groups racking up huge death tolls across the region.  Which should be our signal to dial up the Hamas = ISIS = Boko Harem accusations up to eleven and never let up.  Their inevitable shouts of “Racist!!!!!” for continuing to make such (accurate) comparisons should not deter us from continuing this approach (especially since that’s just the type of projection we would expect from someone embracing a racist, sexist, homophobic, reactionary organization like Hamas).  Get the picture?

Now I mentioned that there are a few caveats to this type of approach, the first one being that we (unlike our opponents) cannot resort to lies – even when implementing an aggressive form of rhetoric.  This isn’t such a big deal, given how much the truth is on our side.  But we must avoid the peril of even inadvertent story-telling, especially in the heat of confrontation.

We must also forgo any strategy or tactic that would involve using “civilians” as mere means to our ends.  I talked about this issue at length in a previous discussion of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, but simply put: we cannot drag innocents into our battles just so they can be used to harm our political foes.  This does give our opponents an advantage in that they remain free to do things like drag anti-Israel bills before student councils while we eschew trying to get those groups to officially condemn Israel’s enemies.  But in the long run, avoiding manipulating others will accrue to our political advantage while simultaneously leaving our souls untarnished.

Finally, always keep in mind that the ultimate audience for our arguments is going to be those who have not yet chosen a side in the battle.  Which means that our rhetoric – even when aggressive – should be spoken and not shouted, with our endlessly repeated Pointed Finger presented more in sorrow than in anger.

Let the other side show their true colors as they howl and spew and punch and douse themselves with blood, demonstrating to the public that they represent little more than the propaganda equivalent of random Hamas missile fire targeting anyone and everyone (including themselves).  We, in contrast, should take on the role of Iron Dome, meeting the other side’s weaponry (in this case, propaganda weaponry) with a counter-measure that is directed, accurate and unstoppable.

Surviving the Upcoming BDS Onslaught – 1

4 Sep

A day late (but hopefully not a shekel short) vis-à-vis next steps as the BDSers ready to drag this summer’s Gaza conflict into a college campus, church, co-op and heaven-only- knows what other civic organization near you.

In theory, we could just stand back and let an anti-Israel community already showing signs of being out of control last Spring provide us ammunition by punching out their critics or dousing themselves with blood (embarrassing behaviors that have required apologies with the school year barely begun).

But I suspect we will need a broader set of options to deal with the upcoming propaganda onslaught.  And before we get into our choice of tactics, it’s important that we re-familiarize ourselves with theirs.

For if the goal of BDS is the elimination of the Jewish state, their strategies are to put that state beyond the moral pale by having it declared the successor to Apartheid South Africa (or, more recently, Nazi Germany) and de-legitimizing its right of self-defense in order to justify and limit the consequences for those who get to actually get to do the kidnapping, shooting and missile firing.

Because the message that Israel is a vile state that deserves whatever violence is directed at it is embraced by so few, practitioners of BDS work tirelessly to try to get their message to come out of the mouth of someone else, primarily progressive organizations such as student groups, liberal churches or unions in the hope that they can make their cause synonymous with liberal thought.   And even if they lose, the ability to force such organizations to hold endless meetings on boycott or divestment motions gives the Israel haters the chance to do what they love more than anything else: rail against Israel for hour upon hour before captive audiences.

With their goals and strategies mapped out, we now get to their tactics that have really never changed – regardless of how hot or cold things get in the Middle East.  These tactics include:

  • The Pointing Finger – That is, an endless string of accusations hurled against the Jewish state for every conceivable crime (real or imagined).  This blame-based tactic is chosen to ensure that the BDSers retain the role of prosecutor and place their opponents perpetually on the defensive.
  • Ignore-ance – This tactic goes hand-in-hand with The Pointing Finger since the best way to avoid being put on the defensive yourself is to refuse to acknowledge any point other than your own accusations.
  • Pathos – Since facts that make the BDSers uncomfortable, such as the unsavory and illiberal nature of those they defend or the violence roiling the Middle East, support logical arguments against their positions, BDS must rely on raw emotion in the hope that they can short-circuit reason altogether.   This explains why their case consists almost entirely of grisly stories and heart-rending images shorn of any and all context which they hope will shock an audience into relying on their gut instinct vs. their brains (and thus do what the BDSers tell them to).

As anyone who reads this blog knows, my preference is towards reasoned argument backed up by accurate facts.  And the good news is that if you are a student on a campus where the Middle East conflict is a live issue, you will likely find many people (possibly a majority) who are open to reasonable (if heated) discussion.  But you are also likely to have to deal with an aggressive and noisy SJP (or the equivalent) minority who will fight to prevent reasoned debate from occurring at any cost.

If you are dealing with someone of good will whose opinions may be based on misunderstanding or lack of knowledge, the normal human practice of education and reasoned argumentation should take priority.   But if you find yourself confronting the SJP tactics noted above, then a different set of rules apply.

What those rules are and how to apply them will be the subject for tomorrow’s entry (promise).

Battle Stations!

2 Sep

While life required taking a break from new writing in August, it’s time now to get ready for what is likely to be an ugly year with regard to BDS battles brewing on campuses and elsewhere.

One of the reasons BDS hasn’t gone into remission (as it did between 2006 and 2009) is that it remains the tactic of choice for Israel haters eager to mobilize supporters into action.  For, despite all its flops and failures, frauds and faux-pas, the “movement” derives certain advantages from its choice of the BDS tactic, namely:

  • BDS campaigns are easy to explain and implement.  Set up a survey monkey account and BANG!, you’ve got a petition-driven divestment campaign up and running at a college or university.  Sign up a few volunteers to march in front of a local hardware store and POP! a SodaStream boycott effort is underway.
  • Because virtually every institution in the world retains some tie to the Jewish state (investments in Israeli companies or US companies doing business with Israel, academic exchange programs, sale of Israeli consumer products and technology), that gives the BDSers license to inflict themselves on any civic organization they please.
  • And because the boycotters could not care less about the damage they might cause to those civic organizations, there are not bound by the limits normal people confine themselves to (such as the need to tell the truth and not use others as mere means to an end).

As always, geopolitics beyond any of our control is what has allowed BDS to chug along since it was resurrected in 2009 (or – to be more accurate – when it was reborn in fraud with the Hampshire College hoax that took place that year).  For whenever Hamas decided to restart hostilities (as it did in 2009, 2012 and this summer), carefully orchestrated outrage brought people into the streets.  And those orchestrators have been ready to give anyone who shows up to their rallies desperate to “Do something” something to do: start a BDS project in their neighborhood.

Traditionally, anti-Israel activity on campus is more of a second-semester phenomenon since it often takes a few months for a chapter of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to get their act together, recruit new members, get funding, and plan and execute programming.  This is why events like Israel Apartheid Week (no matter how tired and loathsome) tend to be scheduled for the Spring.

But with this summer’s carnage still fresh in people’s minds, we have already seen the anti-Israel bandwagon rolling on college campuses and beyond.  And given that physical assault seems to now be on the SJP menu, I think we can expect the out-of-control behavior we saw in places like Northeastern and Vassar last year to spread and escalate.

As depressing as it might be to have to start dealing with the attack on Israel’s legitimacy (including its legitimate right to defend itself against endless rocket attacks) immediately and everywhere, keep in mind that our side brings its own assets to the fight.

First off, years of escalating anti-Israel activity on campus and beyond has created a counter-force in the form of enthused, energetic and informed pro-Israel groups fighting effectively against defamation of the Jewish homeland across the planet.    And both Israel and the diaspora have woken up to the fact that we need to take the battle against the propaganda weapon wielded by faux “peace-activist” war groups just as seriously as the IDF takes the threat of missile and tunnel weapons.

Finally, the sheer volume of lies people are being asked to believe in order to embrace the SJP/BDS/Hamas storyline of pure Israeli villainy and Palestinian pristine innocence is pretty much ready to not just snap the camel’s back but flatten him into a millimeter-thick camel pancake.  And with ISIS running amok in Iraq, Boko Haram kidnapping and raping their way across Nigeria and Syria racking up more Arab casualties per month than Israel has in decades, the notion that we must ignore the rest of the world and talk only about Gaza casualties (based on figures provided by Hamas, of course) becomes an ever-harder sell.

But how should we be framing our message during a period when SJP and the like minded will be doing all they can to manipulate the uniformed and shout down (or beat down) those with opposing views?

Some thoughts on that tomorrow.

Somerville Divestment Revisited – Strategy

1 Sep

This longish piece ends (or really capstones) this month-long summer series on Somerville with a set of strategic and tactical lessons that I’ve tried to implement when possible over the last ten years of fighting against BDS.  As Israel’s supports face one of our most challenging years yet, I hope it provides some useful thoughts for everyone else in this fight.

There is not much to be learned about political dynamics by reading communications put out by divestment advocates after each of their numerous defeats.  For, according to their analysis, time and time again, it turns out that setbacks are always the result of unrelenting pressure from the all-powerful, well-funded (albeit largely ill-defined) “Zionist Lobby.”

According to SDP, this “lobby” (or put more precisely “The Lobby”) strong-armed Somerville’s aldermen to reverse their position on the original divestment resolution in 2004.  In 2005, Somerville’s mayor and city officials (apparently following the dictates of “The Lobby”) thwarted the will of the people by refusing to allow divestment onto the citywide ballot (a decision upheld by a district court judge who one SDP member decried as being “bought off” by the you-know-whos).

In 2006, the year in which SDP finally got the ballot fight it craved, rejection by the voters was yet another example of co-opted “mainstream politicians” confusing the masses from voting in the way SDP claims was their only moral choice.  Outside of the amusing addition of a certain sinister Jewish millionaire to their storyline [Note: A story for another time], the tale remains the same: an all-powerful, well-organized, fully coordinated Jewish community/lobby united to defeat the heroic efforts of the SDP.

Would that this were remotely accurate.  But, in truth, each of the three Somerville campaigns represented different political dynamics, dynamics based on differing amounts of time, resources and organizational will.

In 2004, divestment advocates succeeded in catching the citizens of Somerville and the wider Boston-area Jewish community completely by surprise.  By the time their activities became public, they had nearly gotten the city’s aldermen to pass a resolution urging divestment from the Jewish state.  And once word got out, there was little more than a month to do anything about it.

Within this very tight timeframe, individuals and groups did what they could.  I started this Web site, Somerville citizens met with their own aldermen and communicated with others via mail (both snail and e-).   Jewish organizations in the area put out calls to members to attend aldermen’s hearings (which they did, although never in larger numbers than divestment supporters).  While it would be nice to think that our efforts were the determining factor in the city’s ultimate rejection of divestment, in truth the jig was up for SDP the minute officials realized that City Hall had become the latest front in the Arab-Israel conflict.  Once the aldermen understood that they had been misled on the nature of this conflict and the significance of their vote, these leaders rejected divestment and have been the sharpest critics of SDP ever since.

In 2005, the year SDP (for all intents and purposes) had become a wholly-owned subsidiary of a group called One Palestine, their plans to get divestment onto the citywide ballot were known well in advance.  To meet this challenge, Somerville veterans from the 2004 battle joined with members from a variety of community groups to launch an organized “decline-to-sign” campaign to educate Somerville citizens in hope that they would not sign the petition required to give SDP access to the November 2005 ballot.

Was that campaign successful?  We will never know for sure.  SDP claimed to have gotten more than the 4200 signatures required to get onto the ballot (which, if true, means we failed), yet no one has ever seen these documents or verified that they are legitimate (which means we might have succeeded).   For the sake of argument, and putting aside the dubiousness of their claims (see 4400), if our campaign was not successful, that means SDP was denied access to the ballot purely because of the political incompetence of its leadership which from the start of their 2005 campaign refused to play by the rules (and, as the courts verified, to obey the law).

This latest election [Note: In 2006] was the first time that either side in this debate faced the voters, requiring each of us to field a formal political campaign.  Unlike 2004, we were not taken by surprise.  But unlike 2005, we did not have six months to organize a counter-effort.  In fact, there was a serious debate as to whether we should engage divestment/right of return advocates this year, or simply ignore them.  It was only after a last-minute successful push to get volunteers to the polling places on Primary Day that we decided to use the next six weeks to organize a proper campaign urging a No vote on questions #5 and #6.

This relatively tight timeframe actually worked to our advantage.  For within the confines of six weeks, there was only time to get a specific set of tasks accomplished, with little time left over to create an organizational infrastructure or define a hierarchy of decision-makers.  Finite time and resources required us to prioritize: create strategies that involved doing some things and not others.  Most notably, the task-based nature of the campaign meant that everyone involved with the project performed tasks that they were uniquely qualified to accomplish.  My writing ability was put to the task of developing campaign materials.  People who lived in the area (and were comfortable with public politicking) took care of visibility before Election Day.  Organizations with political contacts got our message out to candidates and to critical audiences inside Somerville.  Political and religious groups (as well as individuals) put out the call for Election Day volunteers, a call which gave us over 100 people to send to polling places throughout the day.

In short, the campaign was not run by an organization but rather functioned as a team.  This is an important distinction that I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks since this strategy proved to be so effective on Election Day.

If you will indulge an analogy: in my work life, I run a small IT business, part of a larger organization providing services to institutions such as corporations and schools.  Historically, large institutions looking for major IT solutions would turn to a “white knight” company or consulting group such as IBM or Accenture to solve a major business problem or implement a complex technology system.

In recent years, however, these same clients are asking vendors (such as us) to work in partnership with other companies (sometimes even competitors) to create a solution that incorporates the best features or capabilities of each company’s product or service.  This project-based teaming has been discussed in industry literature for over a decade, but in the last few years it has become part of everyday life, particularly for those in the technology biz.  Where once market dominance was a sign of business health, today the ability to partner and integrate is defining industry leadership.

So what the hell does that have to do with the price of Guinness Stout in Somerville?

Within this business analogy, the central unit is not the organization (or company), but the project-based team.  Never mind that I might be slitting my competitors throat in the proposal going out on Tuesday.  On Monday, this same competitor is my partner and we are both contributing our best work for the sake of a successful project for a common client.

If you look at the world of Jewish political and social activism, there is an alphabet soup of major organizations: CJP, JCRC, ADL, JCPA, AIPAC and many others who have historically represented the institutional leadership of the Jewish community, supporting the diverse needs of the Jewish people in the US and beyond.  At the same time, a large number of new organizations have sprung up over the last decade (CAMERA, David Project, StandWithUs, JCUI, etc.).  These smaller groups are often focused on specific issues (such as pro-Israel activism) and have been a reaction to (1) the world situation vis-à-vis Israel hatred, terrorism and anti-Semitism and (2) a perception that the mainstream “alphabet soup” Jewish organizations have missions too broad to allow them to focus on key issues of concern.

To a certain extent, the emergence of smaller organizations with highly focused missions parallels changes in the last century’s economy when the number of small businesses exploded, providing innovation and energy to industries and ultimately changing the dynamics of much large business entities as well as the economy generally.  Naturally, there is a rivalry (often even antagonism) between bigger, well-funded institutions with broad missions (including the mission to sustain themselves) and more flexible, action-oriented organizations that can devote a majority of energy to activism on what they consider to be the most important issues of the day.

While many (possibly most) people see this rivalry as unchanging and unchangeable, a different way of approaching this challenge was recently demonstrated in Somerville.   Rather than asking any one institution to take the reigns of the campaign, instead the aforementioned team emerged consisting of local veterans from previous divestment campaigns and activisms from a variety of groups.  Never mind that in other contexts these individuals or groups might be bitterly divided politically and even religiously.  Never mind that some of the institutions involved with the campaign may compete for the same donor dollars.  For the purposes of winning the election in Somerville, each of us focused on what our particular skill set allows us to contribute to the team effort.  There was no need for us to agree on this aspect of the Middle East peace process or that aspect of American partisan politics.  We were not creating a permanent organization that would eventually have bylaws and positions on critical issues that would have to be carefully worded and agreed to.  Rather, we had a goal (victory in a local election), a timeframe (six weeks), specific (and limited) human and financial resources and a willingness to focus exclusively on the tasks at hand, not on the political identity of the person standing next to us at the polling place.

Now it may be that Somerville was a unique situation: a political campaign with a specific beginning, middle and end whose dynamic does not lend itself to replication in other political circumstances.  That said, even issues that seem daunting (like the international divestment movement), challenges that seem so large that they can only be assigned to a major institution can frequently be broken into smaller pieces, each manageable by a team.

Using divestment as a case in point, a team (populated both individuals and members of small and large organizations) proved very effective in derailing divest-from-Israel campaigns in US municipalities.  Within the mainline Protestant churches, major Jewish institutions played an important role in communicating to the Presbyterians and others the displeasure of the Jewish community with divestment decisions they had taken in recent years.  However, the actual work of overturning these measures was the effort of small teams, most notably groups of Presbyterians united to take back their church from divestment forces.  The accumulated, uncoordinated work of these many teams has led to the effective death of divestment, at least in the US, to the point where even the Somerville Divestment Project seemed afraid to use the “d-word” during their campaign for fear of being tainted by a loser issue.

I wish I could say how this team dynamic can be packaged and utilized in this or that political situation.  In truth, it probably can’t be used in everywhere and all the time.  There will be occasions when the influence of a major institution is called for, just as there will be times when a nimble, activist group needs to take to the streets to get something accomplished.  But in those situations where it one longs for the resources and reach of “the majors” combined with the flexibility and speed of smaller more focused organizations (or individuals), it would be wonderful to see the dynamic of the goal-oriented team replace rivalry and conflict as a central dynamic in Jewish politics.

Despite what our detractors think and say, the Jewish community has too few resources to waste any part of them: human, financial and otherwise, in intramural conflicts that could at least be temporarily put aside to accomplish a focused goal.  The team does not require us to agree.  It does not require us to love each other or even like each other (although members of successful goal-oriented teams often show better social dynamics than people organized around specific political beliefs or principles).  It just requires us to temporarily put what each of us does best into a common pot, and put aside any other matters just long enough to win.

Somerville Divestment Revisited – Apartheid

5 Aug

Over the course of August, I’m republishing a series of posts from a now-defunct site that covered the first major municipal divestment fight that took place in Somerville MA between 2004-2006.  A description of how that issue played out can be found here and I hope these essays will continue to be useful for those battling against the BDS propaganda arm of the anti-Israel war movement (as well as demonstrating how divestment was and can continue to be soundly defeated by people of good will ready to take up the fight).  

One suspects that if the word “apartheid” were eliminated from the vocabulary of Israel’s critics, they would be rendered nearly speechless.

The history of linkage between the Arab-Israel conflict and the struggle against Apartheid is an excellent illustration of the level of hypocrisy Israel’s friends must tolerate from its foes.

The “apartheid” slur began in the 1970s when the movement against racial discrimination in South Africa began at the same time the oil boom gave Israel’s Arab foes the resources to link their struggle against the Jewish state with battle for human rights in South Africa.  Those same resources allowed Israel’s Arab critics to buy themselves a “Get Out of Jail Free” card with regard to any serious scrutiny of their own human rights abuses.

The Zionism = Apartheid mantra fixed on Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority, while avoiding the obvious fact that those who shouted “racism” the loudest were the rulers of some of the most racist states in existence, Middle East regimes whose treatment of minorities (from the expulsion of Jews, to the persecution of religious groups, to the enslavement of Black Africans) made even the crimes of South African apartheid pale in comparison.  (Saudi Arabia has the distinction of having only legally banned human slavery in 1962, a practice that still continues today in the Arab League member state of Sudan.)

A second charge had to do with Israel’s trade ties with Apartheid leaders in Pretoria, trade that while real, paled in comparison to South Africa’s senior trading partners in Europe, the US, Japan and the Arab Middle East.

Carefully avoided during the anti-Israel/anti-Apartheid rallies of the 1980s was the never-discussed fact that while South Africa had no oil of its own, it managed to run an industrial, oil-based, first-world economy.  Simultaneously, the oil-rich Middle East somehow managed to fill its vaults and shopping malls with ton after ton of South African gold.  This particular alchemy points to one and only one conclusion: the Arab oil trade with South Africa, while carried on secretly, helped keep the machinery of Apartheid fueled for decades.

The half-tracks that swept soldiers through the streets of Sharpsville ran on oil, as did the generators that powered Nelson Mandela’s prison.  And yet even now that Apartheid has been left in the ash heap of history, even as South Africa itself has undergone the truth and reconciliation process, even as the US and Europe have re-evaluated their historical mistake of “constructive engagement” with the Apartheid regime, the Arab oil-for-gold trade with Apartheid continues to be beyond the bounds of discussion, especially by those most eager to brand Israel an “Apartheid” state.

The language of the world-wide Israel boycott movement, including it’s Somerville branch, is the inheritor of the investments Israel’s Arab foes made over the decades to brand Israel a racist society, while ignoring both the rampant bigotry within their own borders, and the robust, hidden and hypocritical oil-for-gold trade with Apartheid.  One would hope that this history would cause the Zionism = Apartheid crowd a small bit of reflection before continuing a tradition started by those who provided Apartheid the fuel it needed to continue year after year after year.

Sadly, reflection is not the strong suit of Israel’s critics whose self-righteous fury allows anything to be justified, no matter how unfair, hypocritical or false, in their single-minded quest that Israel must go.