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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.

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.