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Does War Make All Things Clear? – The Savior Generals

31 Jul

Victor Davis Hanson, one of the most insightful military historians writing today, had an interesting piece the other day analyzing the current Gaza campaign and its fallout.

While his piece is primarily political (Hanson is also a commentator for National Review), words that readers of his military histories will find familiar are contained in what might seem like a throwaway line on page 2: “human nature remains constant,” a sentiment that sums up the beliefs of those ancient Greeks whose stories serve as the foundation for his understanding of military (and human) history.

In this case, the part of human nature he sees on display among Western critics of Israel’s recent actions – those parts that are “opportunistic, fearful and fickle” – are likely to lead those critics to give a final tut-tut and move on if Israel successfully deals Hamas a crippling blow.  But if Israel retreats in the face of international “anti-war” pressure those critics are working so hard to generate, that is likely to push anti-Israel hysteria into new and unprecedented heights.

In a way, this is the “strong horse/weak horse” argument that we have heard since Osama bin Laden used that line to describe why the Arab masses would flock to his banner if he could demonstrate strength and power by, for example, flying planes into skyscrapers in New York City.  Which they did until this strong horse ended up demonstrating his own weakness by going to ground for close to a decade before being taken out by an allegedly weak horse who turned out to have some fight in him still.

But as the post “Arab Spring” world detonated, we have returned to the unchanging human condition understood by the ancients – not a world where the “law of the jungle” rules, but one where actors make decisions regarding war and peace based on a careful calculation of who is strong (and should be avoided) and who is weak (and should be conquered).

But the Greeks had more than opportunism and fear in mind when they talked about the constancy of human nature.  For while technology and tactics might have changed astonishingly over the centuries, the nature of those who start wars and those who fight them has remained remarkably consistent.

Those with the power to trigger a conflict, whether they are named Xerxes, Caesar, Napoleon or Hitler, make rational calculations regarding whether they have the forces, resources, morale and leadership to gain more than they lose by letting slip the dogs of war.  But these same leaders tend to make the same errors of overreach when they are winning and panic when they are losing that makes them vulnerable to those who defend against them.

By coincidence, I was reading Hanson’s latest book, The Savior Generals, when the Gaza war broke out.  This book is a follow up to another book he wrote called The Soul of Battle which highlighted three generals (Epaminondas of Thebes who defeated Sparta, Sherman who broke the Confederacy, and Patton who smashed the allegedly invincible Nazis) who demonstrated the stupendous power of democratic armies led by the right type of general.

Sherman also appears in Savior Generals alongside Themistocles (who routed the Persians at Holy Salamis), Matthew Ridgeway (who ended the Korean War), David Petraeus (who figured out how to win against an insurgency in Iraq), and my personal favorite general of all time: Flavius Belisarius (who nearly re-conquered the Roman Empire in real life as well as defeating aliens allied with Indians in a series of bad but delicious sci-fi novels).

What makes these four military leaders saviors is the fact that they were able to win wars that everyone but they knew were lost.  And whether you’re talking about Themistocles determining that the Persians were vulnerable at sea or Ridgeway who understood that a million-man Chinese army relied on vulnerable supply lines when the front extended well down the Korean peninsula, all the Savior Generals had a grasp of on-the-ground reality that many of their superiors (military and political) lacked.

Most of them were also soldier’s generals who lead from the front (rather than issuing orders from luxury hotels), exposed themselves to the same hardships their men faced, and routinely made decisions that would minimize casualties on their own side.

This grasp of reality and concern for the troops lead to a type of informed conservativism on the battlefield.  So while other generals desperately sought pitched battles where the clash of thousands might lead to a decisive victory (or a glory-filled defeat), the Savior Generals focused on strategies and tactics that maximized their own advantages, refusing to be goaded into battle where and when territory and timing was not to their liking.  And they had a keen understanding of war as an extension of politics, best exemplified by Sherman’s thrust into Georgia timed in a way to ensure the re-election of Abraham Lincoln.

Since human nature is unchanging, the nihilism of Hamas is no more undefeatable than the fanatical Communist zeal that motivated North Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War or the Bushido cult that supposedly made the WWII Japanese warrior unstoppable.  Such fanaticism can certainly be a factor in maintaining morale among the troops, but it also tends to put into power leaders who can be counted on to make predictable errors (notably fighting beyond their resources).

And, at least for now, Israel’s political and military leaders seem to be making decisions designed to not allow the enemy to define the battlefield.  This includes not retaking territory that Israelis have no desire to control.  But it also involves finally taking the propaganda component of the century old “War against the Jews” seriously.

As I’ve noted before, those marching in the streets insisting that everyone treat them as part of a peace movement are no less instrumental in someone else’s war plans than munitions and troops.  The reason they stay home when Hamas fires rockets (or Syria butchers thousands) but roar to life once Israel shoots back is not simply hypocrisy (although they are loaded to the gills with that).  Rather, their role is to minimize Israel’s military options (by demanding an immediate ceasefire only when shooting is two-way) while maximizing the options (or ensuring the survival and continued military potential) of her opponents.

So condemning a BDSer for his or her hypocrisy makes about as much sense as screaming at a tank for only shooting at the enemy.  But accepting their self-characterization as fighters for peace is even more ludicrous.  Which is why our job is to keep up the battle on this front by continually exposing their lies and pretensions, while those who fight make decisions (hopefully informed by the history of the savior generals) in order to win on the ground.

500 and Farewell

9 Mar

Having written close to half a million words on the subject of BDS over the last four years, it was nice to discover a graphic (actually the Google mashup Barbara pointed us towards) that so nicely sums up one of the key messages of Divest This: the utter failure of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement” to achieve anything even closely resembling its goals.

It was a treat to learn over a year ago that BDSFail had morphed into an Internet meme (first in the form of a Twitter hashtag, then as a common term of reference).  But this wonderful #BDSFail map really highlights the triviality of the BDSers achievements over the last decade and a half.

To site just one example, the state of Ohio’s purchase of $42,000,000 in Israeli bonds immediately swamps whatever negative impact the boycotters have managed to afflict on the Israeli economy by several orders of magnitude.

And even in an era when the Israel haters have been reduced to trying to ram their laundry list of condemnations through student councils they have spent the last five years packing in their favor, it’s good to know that (1) everyone recognizes that such votes do not represent the opinion of the student body and can thus be ignored; and (2) they still lose these votes whenever they’re not able to get them passed behind the backs of the students these elected bodies are supposed to represent.

A couple of years back, I published this piece designed to put the whole BDS project into perspective.  In it, I mapped the trajectory of the Israeli economy and exports during the decade when the Israel haters were working feverishly to get the former reduced and the latter banned.  Yet it was during this same decade that both metrics doubled.  And given that the boycotters equate economic activity with political approval (or disapproval), I asked the obvious question (never answered, of course) of whether or not this proved Israeli to be one of the most popular countries in the world.

And speaking of popularity, the common wisdom is that BDS and similar de-legitimziation campaigns really don’t care about what they achieve practically, as long as they are introducing a steady drip of propaganda into the bloodstream of the body politic (especially among the young).  Yet as this recent story shows, Israel’s popularity continues to hang in that 60-70% approval rating amongst Americans, a figure that doesn’t seem to have moved despite decades of propaganda aimed at smearing the Jewish state.

Just as significantly, as Israel competes for the 6th vs. the 7th slot of popular American allies, the Palestinians have dropped to the bottom 5 (ending up only slightly more beloved than Syria, Pakistan and North Korea) with an approval rating of just 15% (vs. a stunning disapproval rating of 77%).

And remember that they have achieved this position without anyone running decades-long campaigns against them trying to get colleges, churches, cities, unions, et al to condemn the Palestinians for crimes against humanity.  Which makes one wonder if the thoughtless, boorish and bullying behavior of the BDSers has actually contributed to this low opinion of the people they claim to represent (vs. the high opinion Americans have of the state the BDSers would like to see become a figure of loathing).

Keep these figures in mind as the battle against the Israel haters continues, even as it does so without regular postings here at Divest This since, as I mentioned last month, this will be my final piece at this site.

For that battle must continue as long as the BDS cru continues their squalid little campaigns, just as the war against Israel will continue as long as those who wage it make it their top priority (regardless of how much it drags their societies into savage politics fueled by ruthlessness and one-upmanship regarding who can demonstrate more fervent Jew hatred – whoops I mean “Zionist hatred”).

Since we are not responsible for the beginning and continuation of this war, we have no ability to make it stop.  But we can do our part to ensure such aggression continues to fail in hope that the aggressors finally come to their senses and begin to work for the betterment of their people, rather than enforce their continued suffering.

To a certain degree, it’s easy to feel powerless as individuals facing the challenges presented by the Arab war against the Jews.  After all, we are in no position to prevent Hamas or Hezbollah from pulling the trigger, any more than we can prevent competitors for power in Egypt or Syria from reaching for the Israel card to prop up their own corrupt and/or flailing regimes.  Nor can we prevent the coalition of 50+ Arab and Muslim states that dominate global institutions from using their numbers, wealth and power to rain non-stop condemnations against the Jewish state (while simultaneously blocking discussion of their own endless crimes).

But this is where the fight against BDS becomes so crucial.  For while we as individuals have little ability to affect the decisions of state actors or global organizations, we do have influence over the civil society in which we live (i.e., the schools, churches, cities, unions, et al that the BDSers work tirelessly to corrupt).

In fact, it’s been the activity of many of you reading this blog that has turned the tide against BDS, ensuring that terms like “failure,” “fraud,” “bullying” and “hypocrisy” become synonymous with the BDS “movement” as a whole.

For BDS is not just a link in the chain of the wider de-legitimization propaganda war directed against Israel.  It is the weakest link in that chain.  And its weakness derives from the fact that (1) it requires independent people and organizations to do their bidding to have any impact; and (2) those independent people and organizations are open to other opinions – including ours.

So while we cannot prevent Syria from leveling more charges of human rights abuses against Israel at the  UN (presuming it can find the time to do so between murdering more of its own people), we can ensure that BDS the loser, BDS the liar, BDS the hypocrite characterizes the entire de-legitimization effort from top to bottom.  And in so doing, we can de-legitimize the de-legitimizers and thus ensure the propaganda war against the Jewish state fails just as miserably as all of the other forms of warfare these same people use, excuse or cheer on.

And so the fight continues.  And even if I won’t be making weekly postings on the subject, I will be continuing my work just as all of you continue yours.  And together, we cannot just ensure a second decade of defeat for Israel’s would-be tormenters, but ensure the numbers that began this piece continue to go in the right direction.

I’d like to give a hearty thank you to everyone who has read this blog over the years, especially those who have contributed to the discussion via comments and personal communication.

Someone once described political blogging (especially that which involves specialized subjects like this one) as the equivalent of dropping pebbles in the water where you never know where the ripples might ultimately reach.  And while I’m thrilled to know the ideas presented here have reached some of the most thoughtful, courageous, creative activists in the country, I’ll be most excited when the themes I’ve written about become common wisdom among people who have never heard of Divest This.

And with that, it’s time to sign off.  And as you carry on the fight, keep an eye out for me standing right beside you.

Shalom,

Jon

BDS Lessons Learned – Paradoxes

6 Mar

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Lessons Learned

The final major lesson I learned from this four-year research and writing exercise related to BDS is easily the most paradoxical one.

It starts with an understanding of just how massively the deck has been stacked against the Jewish state in its struggle for survival.

As Ruth Wisse has pointed out, the current war against the Jews has got to be the most lopsided conflict in human history with one Jewish state (in which twelve million people are jammed into one nation controlling 8000 square miles of territory) facing off against 400 million Arabs controlling 22 nations whose title to millions of square miles in land is not open to the slightest questioning.

Add to the mix the trillions of dollars in oil wealth controlled by many of those Arab nations, the alliance between Middle East states belligerent to Israel and an additional 30+ countries making up the Islamic Conference, and the fact that Israel’s enemies are more than willing to marshal their wealth and power to ruthlessly bully other nations to their cause (as well as corrupt international institutions to serve their partisan needs) and you can begin to see the vastness of the challenge facing tiny Israel and its friends.

As Wisse has also pointed out, using the fact that Israel has been able to defeat those who have waged war against her as proof of the balance in power between the two sides (never mind claiming that Israel is a superpower in comparison to a poor and weak Arab and Muslim world) is ludicrous.  For the only reason we can have any conversation at all about an existing Israel is that the Jewish state has been forced to marshal its resources to survive for six and a half decades against a foe that refuses to end their war, no matter how many battles they lose.  Had Israel not developed this power to defend itself, we would have been talking about it in the past tense years ago.

The paradox comes in when you compare the vast resources Israel’s enemies bring to the table with the ultimate feebleness of those in charge of the propaganda arm of that war: the organized Israel-defamation community currently travelling under the banner of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement” (probably the nakedest in a long line of naked emperors).

Just think of the advantages BDS and other propaganda groups have on their side before they begin a single campaign.

First, all that wealth, power and ruthlessness noted above provides the Israel haters with a massive megaphone that ensures that their pet peeves will receive all of the attention in the battle for “justice,” leaving Kurds, Tibetans and other victims lucky to get a few bumper stickers in support of their causes.

And because Israel’s foes have been willing to corrupt every institution dedicated to universal values like human rights and international law for their own purposes, anti-Israel propagandists have been handed a manufactured list of charges with the imprimatur of once-noble names like the United Nations and World Court (institutions that scrupulously ignore genuine human rights catastrophes in favor of doing their master’s bidding of endlessly denouncing the Jewish state).

And yet even with their alliance to wealth and power, even with their willingness to replicate the ruthlessness of the nations they have aligned themselves with, what do the BDSers have to show for themselves after close to a decade and a half of unceasing effort trying to isolate and stigmatize their sworn enemy (beyond Elvis Costello blowing off his Israeli fans, an unknown food coop refusing to sell Israeli bouillon cubes, and a handful of student councils passing impotent divestment resolutions in the dead of night behind the backs of their constituents)?

During a week when all of America’s leaders are lining up to show their support for the US-Israel alliance, BDS “triumphs” (like another secret vote at the University of Toronto in Mississauga– where?), not to mention the increasingly tattered cardboard walls and stale slogans of Israel-Apartheid Week start to fall into perspective.

I’ve long struggled to figure out what could explain the weakness of a “movement” that has been handed so many enormous advantages.  And I’ve managed to come up with a few working theories that have been pretty useful in guiding my decision-making.

First, because the “movement” is powered by fanaticism, it attracts and promotes people based not on intelligence and skill, but on intensity of feeling and willingness to act in the most ruthless, uncompromising manner.  And BDS in particular seems to have a penchant for selecting ludicrous conmen as their standard bearers and selecting tactics that alienate not just the public but, ultimately, their own less-fanatical members

Second, the anti-Israel community’s choice of BDS as a tactic ultimately requires support by third parties (schools, churches, unions, and other civic-society groups.) who do not automatically subscribe to an anti-Israel agenda (which explains why they must be tricked or morally blackmailed into signing onto this or that BDS project).

But unlike nations (or transnational organizations like the UN) which have demonstrated over and over again their willingness to embrace cynicism in support of their own interests, civic society groups seems to be resistant to similar corruption (possibly because they recognize that their own interests do not require them to hand their reputation over to a third party that has no concern for them beyond their usefulness).

Third, because BDS (like all anti-Israel propaganda) is based on so many lies, its practitioners need to dedicate a fair amount of effort to remembering what they said last (lest they get caught spreading falsehoods – again) or finding new groups of people who are not yet onto them.

And finally (and most importantly), BDS proponents find themselves up against people who do not have to lie, people within or connected to the civic organizations the boycotters are trying to hoodwink or corrupt, people ready to stand up to the bullies and say NO.

It’s been these people who have been so successfully shining sunlight into the dank and dusty cellars that are the Israel haters’ real dwelling places.  It’s been these men and women who have held the line and kept BDS from polluting our discourse and controlling the debate.

I know many of the wonderful people falling into this category are reading these words right now.  And in my final (500th) posting to Divest This, I would like to thank you all for your truly stunning accomplishments, the true scope of which you may not yet fully appreciate.

BDS Lessons Learned – Responding to Setbacks

3 Mar

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Lessons Learned

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from covering and writing about the BDS “movement” over the years is how to deal with setbacks.  And, ironically, this is a lesson that’s been taught to me by the BDSers themselves.

For example, when students in Oxford overwhelmingly voted down BDS by a margin of 7:1 last week, did the BDS Movement’s official web site fly into outrage and despair over this setback for their academic boycott project (in that decidedly non-Zionist environment of British academia no less)?  Did Mondoweiss express deep disappointment at this resounding defeat (never mind use the vote as a moment of reflection on the current state of BDS “momentum”).

No, they simply ignored the fact that the vote ever took place.

But if later this week the University of California at San Diego Student Senate joins a handful of other student governments who have passed toothless and largely ignored divestment measures over the years (remember that big vote at Wayne State in 2003?  I thought not), as sure as night follows day this story will break across the BDS ether with pronouncements that this is just the beginning and that students across the country should join their comrades in San Diego in denouncing “Apartheid Israel.”

More importantly, supporters of Israel are not likely to follow the course the BDSers generally take of simply pretending that any setback never occurred.  Rather, we are likely to condemn the decision, fight to have it reversed, and argue about it for weeks on end (at least in the Jewish mainstream and online press).

But is it incumbent upon us to always rise to the boycotter’s bait?

This is not a simple question since, unlike members of the BDS “movement,” supporters of Israel are not wired to throw their latest wins in the faces of our opponent day after day, week after week, month after month, all the time demanding that they respond to our taunts.

Even in a situation like Oxford (where it was the boycotters -  not us – who demanded a vote on this issue), beyond a few news stories celebrating a rare moment of sanity within British academia, our side’s coverage of this event all but died out within a few days.

And if you look at the real stories that provide insight into how well BDS is faring, stories of Israel’s massive economic expansion, the success of Israeli brands like Ahava and SodaStream in global retail markets, the stampede of colleges and universities to build ties with their Israeli counterparts (all of which took place during the period when the boycotters were working tirelessly to bring the Israeli economy to its knees and isolate its academic institutions globally), you find a similar reticence on our part to portray these as political victories for pro-Israel forces.

This is because few (if any) of the thousands of decisions leading to Israeli economic and academic success have anything to do with politics.  Rather, they represent the benefits that accrue to an inventive, energetic, academically minded people who have managed to overcome adversity and win in some of the toughest competitive arenas in the world: academia and the high-tech marketplace.

And while it would be easy to play the BDSers game and portray each and every investment decision (by companies such as Intel, Apple and Google) in the Jewish state as a slap in the face of the Israel haters, there is an understandable reluctance to drag business partners and colleagues into a political debate against their will.  And thus we find ourselves in a situation where the boycotters can still kvell about  some dopey food co-op in the top left corner of the country no longer selling Israeli ice cream cones while we keep the fact that the world’s most important companies have made Israel their second home out of the political arena.

Now we are faced with that ongoing dilemma of whether to respond to BDS taunts (and thus get caught up in an argument that the boycotters control) or ignore them completely (and thus allow the boycotters to define the story to their advantage).  But this is just another variation on the current Jewish dilemma of whether to strike out against Israel’s defamers (which could give them the publicity they crave) or not mention them at all (and leave them free to do whatever they like at our expense).

Which is why I have chosen, after years of dealing with this issue, to engage directly with the boycotters, but to do it on my terms rather than theirs.

They, after all, want the discussion to begin and end with their accusations (whether based on context-free facts or invention) that they claim prove Israel to be “Apartheid state” (after having assigned themselves the role of prosecutor, judge and jury).  Or they demand we respond to their latest trivial accomplishment, while all the time ignoring any facts making up the counter-narrative described above.

But just because they have assigned the rest of us the role of the accused, does not mean we have to play it.  For there are other subjects that need to be brought into the discussion, such as the BDSers long history of failure, fraud and manipulation, their cageyness with regard to their ultimate goals, and their hypocrisy with regard to assigning themselves the mantle of human rights champion while they ignore the human rights of everyone on the planet that does not serve their immediately political needs.

In fact, as far as I’m concerned these should be the first and only topics that come up in any debate about BDS.  And only when our questions have been answered (rather than shouted down or ignored) should we be ready to listen to whatever they have to say.

BDS Lessons Learned – Who are We?

1 Mar

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Lessons Learned

Some current goings on in the world of academic divestment (at Oxford University as well as the University of California system) provide insight into the next lesson I learned while studying the BDS “movement,” a lesson regarding the nature of the organizations supporting and opposing BDS propaganda programs.

I’ve already talked about the sociopathic and fantasy-laden nature of individuals pushing boycott and divestment projects.  But those individuals make up groups, including the alphabet soup of BDS champions (JVP, SJP, PACBI, et al), and these groups also have a nature.

The key power of such groups is their willingness to continue pushing their agenda ruthlessly and relentlessly, regardless of the cost to themselves and others (best exemplified by their demand for an umpteenth student council divestment vote at the University of California at San Diego next week).

Over the years, many people have asked me where BDS groups get their money.  And while anti-Israel activists obviously need a source of funds to fly Omar Barghouti and other BDS/Israel Hate Week speakers around the country (never mind leasing flotilla ships to sail across the Mediterranean), most of the anti-Israel campaigns we have to deal with at schools, churches, etc. are led by smaller, networked groups whose most important resource is not money but their own fanaticism.

This fanaticism comes at a cost, however.  For just as BDS-proponents will use underhanded tactics to subvert third parties (such as student councils or food co-op boards) they also use these same tactics to try to grab power within their own organizations.  This tale from someone once involved with the now-defunct Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) is extremely telling with regard to how a once-successful political organization dedicated to anti-Israel divestment fell apart in the process of repelling non-stop attempts at internal subversion that leveraged the same tactics BDS uses to subvert others.

This is why anti-Israel organizations tend to be unstable, breaking apart and reforming under new names every 8-10 years (with Students for Justice in Palestine being the current flavor of the month).

In contrast, the pro-Israel community suffers not from instability, but from too much stability.  Specifically, we need to deal with a political landscape made up of: (1) grassroots activists working at ground level; (2) entrepreneurial pro-Israel groups (such as StandWithUs, CAMERA and The David Project) who focus on specific types of activism, and; (3) very large organizations (JCRC, Hillel, AIPAC, AJC, etc.) with multiple missions who have taken an understandable interest in fighting against BDS.

A network of small to large institutions provides grassroots activists expertise and resources to fall back on when needed.  But as anyone who has ever worked within an institution understands, getting big (or even medium-sized) organizations to move or change course can require a lot of effort, especially since these institutions have their own long-term goals that will generally take priority over responding to the crisis of the day.

Despite the complex nature of the pro-Israel community, over the last 5-6 years a consensus has emerged regarding how to deal with the issue of BDS.  First, there is now a common understanding that regardless of how open the “Big Tent” is going to be for Jews with different opinions about Israel and the Middle East, support BDS remains a bright red line separating those inside the tent vs. those outside of it.

Just as importantly, an informal consensus has emerged which says that the best people to deal with a particular BDS problem are those on the ground (student groups on college campuses, anti-divestment organizations within churches, etc.).  So rather than descending on a campus and telling students what they should and shouldn’t do, the network of pro-Israel organizations have contented themselves to let the locals call the shots, providing support and resources only when they are asked for.

This approach comes at a cost, especially in situations when a well-organized and/or well-informed set of activists are not available at a particular institution.  This is common on college campuses where high student turnover means pro-Israel (like anti-Israel) organizations may be strong or weak during any particular year.  But it’s also common in places like food co-ops where I’ve only seen local members organize themselves to repel a boycott project about half the time.

But as we saw with the recent Brooklyn College blow up (where, absent a locally organized response, politicians jumped in on their own), letting anyone run their own anti-BDS effort without a local focal point can cause more harm than good.

And so activists up and down the pro-Israel food chain (from the leaders of 100-year-old Jewish organizations down to individual activists like myself) have had to learn to keep our peace, even in situations where we can think of a hundred ways that this or that community could repel a BDS attack, unless and until the people on the ground reach out to ask for our help.

While this hands-off approach can be frustrating, it does provide a healthy dose of perspective.  For example, when BDSers got a divestment resolution through the UC Irvine and UCSA student government organizations last year, this barely made a ripple in the media (outside of hyperventilating BDS web sites for whom any achievement, no matter how irrelevant or trivial, represents impending triumph).

This lack of panic on our side grew out of an understanding that the militancy of the BDSers and their endless search for new categories of institutions to subvert means we are always going to win some (like Oxford) and lose some (like, potentially, UCSD).

More importantly, with three years separating the UC Irvine (and potentially UCSD) votes from a similar vote at Berkeley (which did make international news), most of us now understand that student council BDS resolutions demonstrate nothing more than the ability of BDSers to subvert or morally blackmail student leaders into striking an irrelevant pose that (1) will never be acted upon by the grownups who run the university; and (2) in no way represents the opinion of the students these leaders are supposed to be representing.

Perhaps because BDS has been with us for so long, most people now understand that, regardless of whether they win or lose this or that particular vote, they have yet to demonstrate that their Israel=Apartheid hate message represents the opinion of anyone other than themselves.  And it is to the subject of who gets to speak for whom that we shall turn to next.

BDS Lessons Learned – Strategy and Tactics

27 Feb

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Lessons Learned

The sociopathic nature of the BDS movement, which makes it impossible to work with, and challenging to confront using the normal tools of politics, also explains the nature of the tactics they use in their own political operations.

Strategy and tactics have been such an important concern at this site that I made an effort to aggregate postings on the subject into a single ebook (one which should be supplemented by this series on the rhetoric of BDS debate).

And one of the first things to keep in mind whenever talking about tactics (theirs and ours) is that tactics exist at the end of chain of political decisions that begins with having specific goals (an endpoint that you want to reach), followed by a strategy to achieve those goals.  Only after goals and strategy have been articulated can tactics be chosen to further that strategy with ultimate goals always providing guidance as to where you want to end up.

And if you ignore all of the fluffy, progressive, humanitarian rhetoric the boycotters use to obscure their true nature, the goal of the BDS “movement” is the same as the goal of all militant Israel-hating movements (since BDS is simply the tactic these broader movements are using right now): the elimination of the state of Israel (or, at least, weakening of that state in order to make it easier for men with guns to do the actual deed of “rectifying the mistake” of a Jewish state having come into being).

Since Israel is one small state surrounded by many large ones (states which contain the aforementioned men with guns), its survival depends on support from outside the Jewish state itself.  And support from Diaspora Jewry and the United States have been correctly identified by the BDSers as lynchpins to Israel’s survival.  Which is why the Israel haters settled on their so-called “Apartheid Strategy” in the late 1990s/early 2000s; a strategy which tries to make the Jewish state the new incarnation of Apartheid South Africa in hopes that the global revulsion turned against that embodiment of racism in the 1970s and 80s can be replicated with Israel as the target this time around.

The trouble is that Israel is NOT an Apartheid state, regardless of how many times this accusation is hurled (usually by people indifferent, if not fully supportive of Israel’s enemies who far more resemble successors to Apartheid South Africa).  But getting this accusation to stick requires more than just using the phrase “Apartheid Israel” over and over again within the BDSers’ own discourse.

For Apartheid South Africa was doomed only when mainstream institutions (colleges, churches, unions, governments) made the decision that the bigotry of that regime was so odious that they needed to sever all ties (financial, cultural and political) with Pretoria in order to turn it into a global pariah.  So it is imperative for those who want to turn Israel into the new South Africa that they too recruit these same institutions to their cause.

The trouble is that the vast majority of the institutions that willingly lent their names to the fight against South Africa DO NOT agree with the BDSers assertion that Israel is the inheritor of the Apartheid tradition (which is why, after close to a decade-and-a-half of effort, no college, church or other institution has divested a single dollar from the Jewish state – quite the opposite in fact).

But BDS tactics (or, I should say tactic since – at the end of the day – they have only one) provides them the means of continuing to push their message at the expense of not only reality but of the health and well being of the institutions they continually push to join the BDS cause.

This tactic involves finding some institution that identifies itself with progressive, internationalist, political causes (such as the global fight for human rights).  Ideally, such an institution should also be (1) made up of people who have replaced a genuine understanding of complex global affairs with Manichean categories powerful victimizers and their pristine virtuous victims; and/or (2) easy to manipulate due to weak internal governance or a leadership willing to make political decisions at the expense of the people they lead.

Once such an institution is identified, the BDS tactic involves confronting members and/or leaders of that institution with selective pictures and a truncated information that casts Jews as victimizers and Palestinians as innocent victims in a storyline where all other facts and history have been flushed down the memory hole.  Armed with photos of bloody babies and accusations, the boycotters then demand that an institution’s self-characterization as progressive, caring and worldly requires them to embrace the BDS cause.

The BDSers sociopathic nature becomes particularly useful if the school, church or other organization they have targeted does not agree with the boycotters’ characterization of the world, or is not willing to immediately give in to their moral blackmail.  For rather than reconsidering their own views, or backing off when rejected, the boycotters are ready to demand again and again and again that an institution must do what they say (which is why BDS has become a permanent agenda item at places like the University of California system or the Presbyterian Church).

But the same pathologies which give the BDS “movement” its staying power are also the source of its key vulnerabilities.  For, in many categories of institutions (food coops, for instances) the boycotters excesses have made it all but impossible for them to make progress with groups who now understand just who they are dealing with.

The worship of militancy and rejection of compromise that characterize the entire anti-Israel community also makes them vulnerable to demagogues and con men, which explains their willingness to accept the leadership of hucksters like Omar Barghouti and forgive the antics of George Galloway (who, despite alleged differences, pretty much represent the Bialystock and Bloom of the BDS world).

So now that we know who the BDSers are, how their tactics (or tactic) works and what their key vulnerabilities are, the question remains how to deal with them.  And those decisions derive not from who they are, but who we are – a subject I will turn to next.