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Northeastern Beats Back BDS

18 Mar

Given that the topic I and two top-notch StandWithUs activists will be covering at next week’s anti-BDS conference in LA is called “Organizing the Community to Fight BDS” (or something along those lines); I wanted to highlight an example from my neighborhood that shows just what an effective ground game looks like.

Last night, the Student Government Association (SGA) at Northeastern University in Boston voted down a divestment resolution proposed by the local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, with the final tally including 9 for and 25 against (with fourteen abstentions).

This scale of this victory didn’t come from nothing, but was rather a case study of pro-Israel students doing everything right – especially with regard to following the rules that have led to virtually every success I’ve seen in the fight against BDS over the last 14 years.

To set the stage, SJP actually has a substantial presence at Northeastern which allows them to engage in numerous agitprop campaigns as well as muster the organizational oomph needed to put a divestment resolution in front of student government.  At the same time, their scale has given them the people power needed to make flesh some pretty nasty stuff, including their move last year to stuff eviction notices under fellow student’s doors in a particularly Jewish dorm (a stunt which got their organization temporarily suspended).

When that suspension was reversed (in no small part due to legal threats made by attorneys from the Lawyer’s Guild – a group that primary exists today to serve as consiglieres to the BDS movement), the organization may have deluded itself into thinking the student body was now on their side when they chose to bring a divestment referendum petition to last-night’s SGA meeting.  But while lawyers might be able to make conflict-adverse administrators stand down, they can’t eliminate the (accurate) impression on campus that SJP is a bunch of fanatical jerks.

Set against this mixed bag of SJP strengths and weaknesses were students making up Northeastern’s school’s pro-Israel community, including the campus’ Huskies for Israel organization which helped pull together a Students for a United Northeastern campaign to counter SJP’s divestment push.

Now on this particular campus, the Hillel director is top notch – both in her support for Israel, her political talents, and – most importantly – her trust in students doing the ground-level work of pro-Israel activism on campus.  And given the list of thank you’s in Hillel’s post-victory announcement linked above, those students clearly pulled in expertise as they needed it, while never losing sight of the fact that it was their responsibility to determine what would work and what wouldn’t in their unique campus environment.

I bring this up not just to congratulate everyone involved with this successful struggle (although they deserve all the congratulations you can send them), but to highlight the elements of what constitutes a successful ground game, with some thoughts about the choices we have when one or more of those elements is missing.

For example, I’m familiar with many instances where people wrestling with a BDS-related issue have turned to local Jewish community organizations or (in the case of college campuses) the school’s Hillel, only to find limited support for their efforts.

There are many reasons why this might be so. Most obviously, in many parts of the country Jewish human capital is pretty thin on the ground.  And even when there are community or campus groups, their resources or their skill and appetite for confrontational politics might be limited (as I discovered in Somerville a decade ago when the only synagogue in town decided to sit out the first issue in a hundred years that required Jewish solidarity).

In some instances, there exists bad blood between local activists and mainstream Jewish organizations  (fights over J Street seem to be a source for many of these conflicts – a fight I want to note, but not dwell on in a piece dedicated to “how-to”).  Especially since the point I’m trying to illustrate is what to do when you are not as fortunate as were the kids at Northeastern who had both strong student leadership and a wider Jewish community that had their back.

One choice (the least effective, in my opinion) would be for local activists to try to shame a mainstream Jewish organization into supporting their cause.  The reason this rarely works is that (1) an organization choosing to sit out a conflict probably doesn’t have the resources or wherewithal to make that big a difference anyway; (2) any ally who would prefer not to be by your side is going to sap energy from your efforts; and (3) such shaming tends to create more bad blood, increasing vs. decreasing community tension (especially in the case of a loss, which often leads to finger-pointing).

The second best option when others you hoped would take the lead can’t or won’t do so is for local activists to step into the leadership role themselves.  Time and time again: on campuses, at food-coops, within churches and cities (including Somerville) it was local people, many of whom had never participated in pro-Israel activism in their lives, who rose to the occasion, organized the community, and handed the BDSers their latest humiliating defeat.

The third (and my favorite) alternative, however, is when local activists and mainstream organizations that might be bitterly divided over political issues (J Street, or even the Middle East conflict generally) put aside those differences to work together towards a common goal (the defeat of BDS) with an understanding that such solidarity did not require them to agree on all things, or even continue to work together in coalition after the battle was done.

This is the situation I wrote about at the end of the three-year Somerville divestment saga, a series of campaigns that involved people who usually spend all their waking hours bad-mouthing one another to put aside mutual hostility in order to staple signs onto pieces of wood, stand in front of polling places, hand out literature, and perform other concrete, vital tasks that left no time for political bickering.

Such a project-oriented approach lets people who ultimately care about Israel (even if they have different ways of expressing that care) to do some practical good (kick the BDSers’ butts) by fighting side-by-side.  And you’d be surprised how hard it is to trash someone on your blog a week after you’ve just fought (and won) the good fight alongside them.

Now we are involved with a long war and do not have the people or resources to enter every fight with the army we want, or even to win every battle.  But given that BDS is getting to the middle of its second decade with little more than a handful of meaningless student council resolutions under its belt, I’m guessing that the chemistry described above exists in enough places to be making the difference.

Arguing with Mike – Is that all you got? ;-)

20 Dec

Continuing on with my back-and-forth with Mike Lumish of Israel Thrives/Times of Israel/Elder of Ziyon fame, in my last contribution I hedged a bit in my challenge to Mike’s critique of Left-wing anti-Zionism, given that his original critique was more implicit than direct.  But now that he has made that critique explicit in his most recent reply, I shall make my challenge to it more explicit as well.

His argument rests on three linked observations/premises, the first being what Mike (and many others) consider to be one of the most prominent of President Obama’s foreign policy failures: his choice to support the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt coupled with the President’s choice to wrap his hopes for a democratic Arab spring in Egypt and elsewhere in the language of America’s two most sacred struggles (the War of Independence and the Civil Rights Movement).

With this charge in place, an accusation can then be directed at “The Left” (or least the US Left) based on an objective fact: that it voted overwhelmingly for someone (twice!) who pretended the Muslim Brotherhood (which all of us know as the Ur-Jihad, out of which so much of today’s Islamist mayhem sprung) was the inheritor of Thomas Jefferson and Rosa Parks.

With those two facts in place, the indictment which follows simply points out that a US Left which chose to vote for this President two times cannot possibly be considered friendly to Jewish peoplehood, especially given the role Israel plays in Jewish identity in the 21st century.

And given the overlap between left-leaning Americans and American Jews (78% of whom voted for Obama in 2008 and 69% in 2012), Mike’s third observation is that these huge numbers were clearly voting against their most important interests – a choice which I suspect fuels his frequent condemnation that many Progressive Jews (and those who do not condemn them) suffer from having their heads “buried in the sand” (probably the nicest way of putting a sentiment that lends itself to a more scatological version).

I will agree that each of these observations has merit and the logic linking them together is likely to be convincing – even compelling – to some.  But I would like to challenge each observation/premise and the logic linking them, not to fly to the defense of the Obama administration, but to highlight how this argument actually weakens the case Mike is trying to make against Left-leaning opponents of the Jewish state.

To begin with, as much as I agree that each of us is entitled to focus on aspects of an issue (like Mike’s choice to focus on Obama’s behavior when the Brotherhood was in power in Egypt), genuine understanding can only come from focusing on more than one fact – no matter how revealing  that single fact might seem.

For even in the case of Egypt, the Obama administration provided aid to the Mubarak government before it fell, the Morsi Muslim Brotherhood government that replaced it, and the el-Sisi government that overthrew Morsi.  So in terms of action, Obama has simply been part of a continuity that goes back to the 1970s in which both Republican and Democratic administrations made the wise choice to pay Egypt to keep it out of direct military participation in the Arab war against Israel.

Now while I can split hairs regarding whether Obama was directly praising the Brotherhood when he used civil rights language to express his hopes for the Arab Spring, I think it’s safer to say that Obama’s Middle East policies in general (which included supporting Muslim Brothers Egypt wing while dropping bombs on its ISIS wing) reflect a complex reaction to a complex world.  And while one can praise those decisions, or condemn them as naïve or dangerous (I’d tend to fall between those last two), resting one’s case on just one aspect of administration policy (as Mike does) actually makes your case vulnerable to a wide variety of counter-examples (like the ones you just read).

Regarding “The Left” voting overwhelmingly for Obama in two elections, putting aside what we mean by “The Left,” there is a perfectly valid reason why such a group would vote for the Democratic candidate in 2008 and 2012: because that’s what left-leaning voters do.

In fact, most of those who voted for (or against) Obama were destined to do so even before the current President was born based entirely on partisan preferences (either inherited or chosen) that tend to overwhelm any particular issue.  And given that this same “Left” is just as likely to vote for a Democratic candidate who is not hostile to Israel over any Republican in the next election, focusing a critique on the Left for supporting a Democratic presidential candidate seems like condemning the tide for coming in and getting your beach towel wet.

I’m more sympathetic to the argument regarding Jewish voters (and Jewish organizations) that ran interference for the current President, rather than pressuring or lobbying him to stop his needless fight-picking with Israel’s government and appeasement of Middle East dictators.  But even here I make a distinction between Jewish Voice for Peace (which is the enemy of the Jewish state and its supporters) and Jewish community and defense organizations that have lost their way.

The former must be fought at all cost, but the latter have the potential of doing the right thing or, in the case of defense groups like ADL, of coming back to their roots.  And even if this is an uphill (and potentially fruitless) battle, I prefer it be waged in the context of trying to convince friends to get their priorities straight, rather than treating potential allies in the same way I treat enemies (like JVP).

Getting back to more general voting patterns, this 70-80% of Jewish voters was part of more than half the electorate that voted for the current President in two separate elections.  Which leaves us with the choice of treating the majority of Americans as foes of the Jewish state vs. treating them as what they are: a complex group with differing preferences and priorities, most of whom didn’t give Israel a second of thought when they made their choice for President.

Now keep in mind that I have picked at Mike’s argument not because we disagree that the Left is a vital battlefield over which the Middle East conflict will be fought, but because I feel that his major indictment – anchored as it is in a partisan moment that is going to change one way or another over the next few years – is both fragile and time-bound.

This is the reason I gravitate towards historic arguments (like Wistrich’s) or prophetic philosophical ones (like Wisse’s) since they are much too strong to challenge without serious engagement (which is why Israel’s foes ignore them) and are as relevant today as when these authors first started making them decades ago.

Yes, they take a little more work than does a contemporary partisan fight.  But if we are to make the right choices in the war over (not against) the Left – especially given the power and ruthlessness of our foes – we need to be armed with ideas that are as powerful as they are timeless.


11 Dec

Since returning to the anti-BDS fold earlier this year, I find myself doing more analysis of recent BDS-related stories, rather than covering breaking news as it happens (although I can’t resist pointing readers to the latest BDS hoax story, something we’ve not seen in a while).

But moving right along, today, I’d like to talk about the brouhaha over the recent defection of Holly Bicerano, the former Campus Out-Reach Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel, an organization you have met on this site previously.

It will come as no surprise that many on this side of the aisle understood Open Hillel to be just another attempt by BDS activists to infiltrate the mainstream Jewish community under the guise of “openness” and other words with positive connotations.  And I don’t think I’m the only person to have noticed that the groups that form the backbone of Open Hillel (notably Jewish Voice for Peace) or the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization which Open Hillel warmly welcomed to their recent national conference have always erected high barriers around their own institutions and events to limit those of differing opinions from participating.

But Ms. Bicerano’s decision to publically break with the group and expose how much BDS and anti-normalization advocates are driving Open Hillel’s agenda is obviously newsworthy, given the former Open Hillel leader’s position in the organization she left, and her general attitudes towards BDS (which she supports, at least with regard to the Presbyterians) and Israel (which she blames for last summer’s Gaza war and for thwarting Palestinian democracy).

It is always interesting to see if this kind of “defection” represents the start of a journey by someone like Bicerano, or simply represents a red line over which even someone active in anti-Israel political activities and programming will not cross.  If it’s the former, I wish her well.  But even if it’s the latter, the activities that turned her off from Open Hillel provide an interesting window into why anti-Israel organizations tend towards instability.

Unlike Jewish organizations like Hillel (and the alphabet soup of community institutions – some of which have been in business for a century), anti-Israel organizations tend to form, rise, fall, break apart and either disappear or reform into new organizations with a cycle that seems to repeat every 5-7 years.

For example, when I first moved back to the Boston area, a group called the Middle East Justice Network (MEJN) got up my nose, but I was too busy to do anything about it.  Yet when I finally did get around to putting time into pro-Israel activism and tried to find out what the group was up to, no trace of it could be found.  But within a few years a new group (the Somerville Divestment Project, or SDP) was in the driver’s seat, pushing the first municipal divestment program in my then home city of Somerville MA.  And lo and behold, this group seemed to include the very same people I remember from MEJN days.

Today, SDP consists of a cobweb and new groups with names like The New England Committee to Defend Palestine and Ads Against Apartheid have come and gone (or formed for the soul purpose of engaging in a single activity – like running anti-Israel bus ads).  Similarly, while pro-Israel organizations are rightly concerned over the aggressive behavior of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on campuses, almost no one remembers the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSM) that drove divestment back in the early 2000s.

The rise and fall of PSM provides an interesting window into why anti-Israel groups tend to be so unstable.  For once that group gained momentum (especially on college campuses where their petition-driven divestment activity was centered), everyone from every side of the anti-Israel continuum (Left to Right, Secular-Marxist to Islamist) vied to seize control of the organization – to the point where its leaders had to spend more time fending off infiltrators than tending to their own mission, leading to the group’s demise.

If this tactic of infiltration sounds familiar, it is exactly what BDS activists do all the time to third parties (student government, academic associations, Mainline churches, etc.) in order to drag those groups under the boycott or divestment umbrella (regardless of how much damage such moves cause to the organizations they have infiltrated).  So it should come as no surprise that the infiltration skills they use on outsiders also come in handy when it comes time to drag the latest ascendant anti-Israel organization under this or that partisan umbrella.

Reading Bicerano’s piece over with this history in mind, it is clear that what she calls anti-normalization activity within Open Hillel (“anti-normalization” refers to a policy which says all pro-Palestinian organizations should reject dialog with any Jewish group that does not accept their pro-BDS stance and opinions on the Middle East in advance) is really just another example of the infiltration of a group formed with one agenda (Open Hillel – which allegedly wants to up dialog on campus) by another group (anti-normalization activists who want to shut such dialog down).  And as the former Campus Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel discovered, when such infiltrators want in, they are ready to do whatever is necessary to get their way.

As I mentioned earlier, it will be interesting to see if her experience with Open Hillel opens Bicerano’s mind to what others suffer when BDS infects this or that civic society group.  But for the rest of us, the lesson to learn is that, left on their own, anti-Israel groups (including Students for Justice in Palestine) contain the seeds of their own destruction in the form of their allies rather than their adversaries.

In a way, this situation is analogous to what we see in the Middle East where an Israel which focuses on staying strong and tending to the needs of its own people (including the need to protect them from harm) can grow and prosper, even as more numerous, wealthy and politically powerful adversaries fall to pieces as they contend with the contradictions built into their own societies and historical choices.

As much as BDS has been in the news this year (and as important as it is to continue to fight it), Israel’s supporters abroad also need to be ready to play a long game which will never involve total victory but will hopefully involve more wins than losses stretched over enough time to let Open Hillel and SJP join their predecessors in the cemetery of anti-Israel organizations whose names have long been forgotten.

What’s Left? – Arguing with Mike

3 Dec

Continuing my conversation with Mike Lumish regarding the Left’s relationship to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, those who were hoping to see sparks fly have probably been disappointed so far since that debate began in agreement that “The Left” is not the enemy, but the battleground over which much of the current anti-Israel battles are being fought.

But now that we’ve established the basis for our argument (with “argument” defined as a constructive engagement where people differ over important matters vs. a fight where people just yell at one another while never giving an inch), I’d like to take issue with a couple of points in Mike’s most recent response.

First, pointing out President Obama’s 2011 statement equating the Arab Spring with the struggle for civil rights in the US is a perfectly reasonable way to criticize the President’s lack of perception (as well as history, given how revolutions have historically gone when the ruthless are around to seize them). But I’m not sure it can be used to clinch an argument over the Left’s conflicted relationship with the Jewish state.

After all, this was just one of many daft things said during the heyday of Arab Spring fantasies.  And while I admit that the invocation of a sacred civil rights icon to describe what was happening in the Middle East seemed inappropriate even then, I’m hesitant to use such a statement as the basis of a critique of even the Obama administration, much less “The Left” that the Obama administration is supposed to be representing in Mike’s argument.

For there are all kinds of indictments one can bring to the current President’s foreign policy, from alienating friends (including Israel) while engaging in futile attempts to cultivate foes.  And any number of attributes of the current President can be cited to build that indictment (discomfort with the use of power, isolation enabling group-think that leads to poor decision-making, lack of experience in world affairs, etc.).

If this critique (which I will admit has not been a big part of my own writing) seems a bit subdued, keep in mind that I turn to (as always) Lee Harris to understand how to best criticize the person who holds the most difficult job in the world.  And for purposes of this discussion, while the President’s world view (which has been shaped by his emergence from the academic Left) certainly has a place in that critique, it would be a fallacy to lay all of President Obama’s failings at the feet of all holders of that world view (especially since the biggest brake on the President’s excesses – especially during his first two years – was the strong support for Israel among important left-leaning constituencies, notably organized Labor and Democrats in Congress).

The other point Mike made that I take issue with is the notion that we must decide between criticizing the Left for the fact that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism dwells within its ranks (which it obviously does) or staying mum out of fear of offending potential allies within that end of the spectrum.

The reason I see this as a false choice is that there is no shortage of criticism of Left anti-Zionism/Semitism within the Left itself (which I have seen first-hand in every BDS battle I’ve been directly involved with where direct combatants on both sides considered themselves left-leaning).

Now I’d be the first to say I wish Israel’s leftist allies were as fired up and organized as her enemies.  But the inability to act as ruthlessly as the BDSers (and the rest of the odious project BDS represents) is something all of Israel’s friends lack (for reasons I’ve talked about many times).

More importantly, we must consider criticism of something as broad and diverse as what we call “The Left” in the same way we think about criticism of Israel.

As many people have articulated better than I, there are all kinds of things one can criticize Israel and its leaders for, and many people (including many Israelis) exercise their democratic privilege to make these criticisms all the time.  But as others have also pointed out, another group often travels under the banner of “critics of Israel”: those who are at war with the Jewish state who want to use its failings (which are shared by all democratic states) as a weapon to de-legitimize and weaken the nation in hope that this will lead to its eventual destruction.

Along the same lines, there are many people (Left and Right) who sincerely want to see those ugly elements of the Left jettisoned from respectable company (as the Right did when they drummed Pat Buchannan out of “the movement”).  But there are also people whose primary political goal is to defeat the Left politically.

Now there is nothing wrong at all with such partisan politics (or making this form of partisanship one’s political priority).  In fact, most people use general political alignment to define many, if not all, of their political choices.  But I would be hesitant to say that since anti-Zionism/Semitism has been fighting for control of more and more of the Left agenda that the Left as a whole cannot be trusted (which leaves as the only option abandoning it and embracing the Right).

The reason this is a poor political choice is that anti-Semitism (as we have seen over the last two Millennia) is a highly opportunistic virus.  Today, for whatever reason, being associated with left-leaning principles and causes is considered a sign of virtue (which is why even the most ruthless dictators use a progressive vocabulary when they lie about their true nature or – more innocently – why profit-minded corporations constantly tout their Green and communitarian values).  But that could change in an instant and as history has shown us, no end of the political spectrum (or any political ideology save Zionism) has been able to keep the forces of anti-Semitism at bay long term.

Perhaps this is why when I look for critics of the Left, I tend to find the works of historians (like Robert Wistrich) and philosophers (like Ruth Wisse) more satisfying than the latest broadside against Obama and the Left over this or that outrage on Fox News (or even my beloved daily Commentary).  For their view is a long one, and I suspect that our survival depends on thinking past the next election (American or Israeli) as well as thinking about how our present situation is anchored in both the past and the human condition.

A Source of Optimism in a Time of Ruthlessness

16 Oct

Some recent communication crystalized thoughts regarding how to approach events in the Middle East (and their associated blowback at home) with anything but despair.

Most recently, a brief discussion in the comments section required me to think again about the conundrum of treating BDS as both a failure and a threat.

As I’ve explained in the past, failure creates its own momentum, just as victory does.  So there is ample reason to communicate the inability of a propaganda campaign like BDS to achieve any of its stated goals, especially since it is one of the few elements of the global anti-Israel de-legitimization/propaganda campaign we “civilians” can directly impact.

But the scope of things we cannot impact (at least directly) was brought home when my Rabbi (who I have come to admire more and more over the years) sent we congregants a series of missives over the summer which described his attempts to carry on a normal sabbatical in Israel while dodging missiles trying to kill him every other day.

After such a harrowing experience, we were braced for a post-sabbatical holiday sermon that would focus on events in the Middle East.  But what impressed me most about his impassioned first-hand description of front lines in the recent Hamas-initiated war was his ability to clearly articulate reality (which includes both the Hamas Covenant and the organization’s official policy of child sacrifice) while still holding onto his long-standing optimism that peace (somehow, some way) would eventually emerge out of so much violence and catastrophe.

In more cynical moments, I might wonder whether someone’s longing for peace when groups like Hamas and ISIS are holding (and gaining) territory might represent an inability to grasp reality.  And the argument that 20+ years of peace processing seems to have led to noting but endless war is one I wish more people (including more optimists) would confront.

But, at the same time, I maintain my own optimism about not just ultimately defeating BDS but the ultimate success of Israel and the Jewish people over the forces of chaos which are clashing and burning and killing across the globe.

Now this optimism is not blind to the fact that what we can expect in the coming years is more and more darkness and that even “victory” over the bloody forces arraigned against us represents nothing but a limited respite.  For, despite the slogans and costumes and Koranic verses, what we face on all battlefields is not ultimately Islam (or Islamism or Jihad or whatever euphemism we use to sooth the sensibilities and prejudices of ourselves and others) but mankind’s oldest enemy: ruthlessness.

If you read this series (or other things I’ve written in the past), you’ll recognize my cribbing from Lee Harris who describes history as the halting progress of civilization against a ruthless foe always dogging its heels.  When mankind was capable of nothing but foraging and hunting, it was the ruthless who discovered they could get all the food they wanted by simply killing others to obtain it, making the survivors their slaves in the process.

Moving ahead ten-thousand years, who could have anticipated that a blend of 18th and 19th century philosophy and economics, or the racial ravings of an Austrian paper hanger would harden into ideologies used to justify the murder of millions and the enslavement of billions?  But if you think of movements like Communism and Fascism as the intellectual infrastructure the ruthless use to justify their means, then everything makes perfect sense.  For the ends these ruthless Fuhrers and Commissars pursued was not the utopias they promised the public (and gullible foreigners), but their own absolute rule with a power of life and death beyond anything history’s most vicious tyrants and emperors could ever imagine.

Today, it is the Islamic world where a lethal blend of historic fantasy, cultivated grievance, and ends-justify-means ideology is driving the planet to a new brink.  But it is also a war-weary world that can’t bring itself to do what must be done to drive off the ruthless that has created the opening where a new group of warlords will fight to the death to win the right (and the power) to expand their war world-wide.

To be fair to folks like Neville Chamberlain, at least he and his generation made their decisions within living memory of the killing fields of World War I, which helps explain why they went to the lengths they did to ignore and appease evil until it was almost too late to stop it.  Our excuse is that we have become too comfortable with a half a century of non-war (or, more specifically, a half a century where most of us never had to make sacrifices in order to defeat a ruthless enemy).  Which is why it has become so easy to blame Bush, blame Israel, blame ourselves for the world returning to a state of nature we’d rather believe does not exist.

So what can possibly provide anyone a sense of optimism when facing a new conflict that is sure to lead to the re-ordering of the world (and not for the better), a re-ording likely to be accompanied by the death of millions (if not tens of millions)?  In a word: Zionism.

How can it be that the most loathed label in the global political lexicon can be a source of hope, even salvation?

The inspiration of a people at the brink of extinction creating a nation three years later which has grown into a successful, prosperous, mighty and humane democracy should be enough (dayenu) to justify a high degree of optimism.  But think for a moment about how much the history of the Jewish state defies the laws of the jungle that hold sway nearly everywhere else on the planet.

Israel has the might (and has always had the might) to actually commit all of the crimes it is routinely accused of, and yet it has chosen not to do so.  And as galling as it might be to be accused of genocide by the genocidal leaders of a Palestinian less-than-state whose population exploded under dreaded Israeli “Occupation” (rather than go down, as it has during all other genocides in history), as ludicrous as it might be to be accused of ethnic cleansing by Arab state who cleansed their nations of Jews decades ago (with Christians next on the hit list), as vile as it might be to hear nihilists and allies of the warlords bringing misery to the rest of the world declare “Zionism” to be the ugliest word ever uttered, Israel’s choices represent its determination to not let its soul be driven by the same ruthless nature that has historically guided those with power.

Want another example?  OK – How about an atomic-scale one?  For rather than use its nuclear arsenal to dominate the region (like any “normal” nuclear power would do), Israel simply shut up about it with the assumption that it would remain a last resort (rather than an asset to be pulled out for this or that strategic reason).  My guess is that a nuclear Iran will not show similar restraint.

One can find other examples, all of which add up to Zionism demonstrating to the world that a state can succeed without devolving into bitter ruthlessness or ends-justifying-means on a national scale.  And, given the mayhem that now engulfs virtually every one of Israel’s neighbors, it is a lesson worth considering – especially by those who might prefer to nail to the cross a nation that may have found a way to live with the many paradoxes (past vs. future, faith vs. politics, national vs. individual identity, power vs. humanity) that has made modernity such a vexing, thrilling, yet bloody experience for all of us.

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.