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SJP Running Amok

18 May

A recent story on the attempt by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and their allies to bring their political opponents up on charges at UCLA included a comment on how SJP has been running amok all year on campus after campus.  And if you look at what’s been happening the last few months, that description seems largely apt.

First, you’ve seen the videos of student breakdowns and shout-outs when they didn’t get their way with the votes SJP forced on student councils, debates that let them rant and rave while sneering and howling at their opponents but did not leave them with much to show for one more year of effort.

Much of this failure is simply due to the fact that the student body they yearn to speak for does not share their opinions, which is why the only “victories” SJP has managed to eke out came from student councils the Israeli haters have deliberately packed with people who will happily vote “Yes” on divestment, despite knowing that position represents nothing like campus consensus (which effectively strips those “Yes” votes of any meaning).

The fact that no one considers student council votes on international affairs as representative of anything means that those all-night hate sessions have become an end in themselves since it allows the SJP types to engage in orgies of Israel hatred before a captive audience. But like the Apartheid Walls and mock checkpoints they routinely set up to harass students, such activity only manages to convince more and more people that SJP is nothing more than a bunch of rude fanatics.

Now a normal political organization might step back and realize that such behavior is actually counter-productive to their cause.  But as I’ve noted again and again on this blog, BDS is NOT a normal political movement. For the type of behavior we’ve seen on campuses, particularly in the last month or two, only makes sense when you realize that for SJP types, the student body is not a group of real human beings who need to be won over, but a set of extras (or props) meant to serve as a backdrop for anti-Israel agitprop performances.

So why have things escalated in recent weeks, from eviction-notice stunts at Northeastern and NYU to the posting of Nazi propaganda images at Vassar to the recent attack on UCLA Israel supporters for daring to what the BDSers do all the time (i.e., tap into outside resources to support their political activity)?

Part of the reason is that there haven’t really been any consequences for these student groups’ most egregious actions.  Yes, SJP at Northeastern was suspended – but only temporarily.  And while administrators at some schools have spoken out against the bullying that’s been taking place on campus, they have done so in language far meeker than what they used when condemning the ASA boycott (which is more about institutions and faculty than students).

Some have characterized the lack of response by adult leaders at colleges and universities as feckless, and while I’m sympathetic to that view I’m also sympathetic to the plight of administrators who know SJP is ready to “lawyer up” (using those outside resources they insist cannot be used by their opponents) and make the lives of those trying to run a school living hell if SPJs are not allowed to continue doing whatever it wants (all in the name of the “free speech” that they routinely deny to others).

Knowing there are unlikely to be genuine consequences for misbehavior is certainly a motivator for more misbehavior.  And then you’ve got the instantaneous communication element brought into the equation by our old friend the Internet.  For once one SJP group gets away with some outrage on one campus; word travels to all the others at the speed of electrons, providing a blueprint for what to do next.  And keep in mind that while BDS storm-trooping and shouting matches may seem to us like surefire ways to put off potential allies, for the boycotters such tantrums – in and of themselves – represent success (which is why they proudly post and repost videos of their misbehavior all over that aforementioned Internet).

Beyond such rules and mechanics, however, SJP going so over the top on campus after campus is also a demonstration of impotent rage.  For once you get past all the noise, what has this latest incarnation of the permanent anti-Israel hate presence on campus actually accomplished since Students for Justice in Palestine came into existence?

Winning divestment votes in student councils, their only activity that involves convincing (rather than harassing) others, has pretty much been a bust, even during an era when no one takes seriously the notion that such votes represent campus opinion.  Their “You-Must-Listen-to-Me-and-Do-What-I-Say-Because-I’m-So-Angry” routine is well past the sell-by date for most students.  And pro-Israel organizations, despite being harassed for existing, are stronger than ever on US college campuses, just as the Israeli economy the boycotters are trying to wreck has gone from strength to strength to strength.

Finally, while impotent rage is a powerful driver for more and more misbehavior, remember that the rules for radicals tend to be applied both by and to fanatical organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine.  What this means is that these types of groups tend to attract fanatics and since political fervor is their main currency of respect, the most fanatical tend to end up in positions of leadership.  And just as BDS groups routinely try to infiltrate other organizations in order to speak in their name, these same groups must endlessly fend of infiltration by other radical individuals and organizations (often with ties to a particular strand of Left/Right – Secular/Religious radicalism within the Middle East itself).

This is the dynamic that ultimately destroyed the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM), the go-to group for anti-Israel agitation that spearheaded campus divestment activity in the early 2000s.  For just as the divestment tactic was starting to run out of gas, PSM leaders found themselves spending a majority of their time writing and enforcing rules that would keep people even nuttier than themselves from taking over – an effort that finally ended in the group’s demise.

SJP may have avoided PSM’s fate (at least temporarily) by not saying “No” to anyone, no matter what lunacy them demand the group engage in.  But as their anti-democratic, anti-peace, anti-justice and anti-student behavior becomes more and more obvious to all, it may just be a matter of time before this latest incarnation of campus “I Hate Israelism” implodes, joining PSM on the list of now-forgotten acronyms.

Holiday Celebrations

11 Apr

Well the holidays are upon us, so time to take a look at some inspiring events from the various war zones the BDSers chose to open up over the last few weeks.

Starting off with an event that put all the boycotter’s loathsome tactics and abhorrent behavior on display, a divestment resolution suddenly appeared on the agenda of the Student Assembly at Cornell last Tuesday, which meant a vote on the matter would take place over the coming week.  Actually, the original agenda made no mention of the measure – consisting of standard SJP boilerplate – but a re-send later in the day added it to the bottom of a long list of items.

Coincidentally (NOT!), discussion and voting on this measure would have taken place over a period when (quelle coincidence!) many Jews would be heading home (or would already at home) for Passover.

Thankfully, students at Cornell were able to organize a response rapidly enough to get the whole sordid thing tabled indefinitely yesterday afternoon (effectively killing the measure).

I’ll let this video from the vote (which ended with the usual BDSer tantrum) tell the tale:

Yes, once again, screaming at everyone who doesn’t do what you say is standard operating procedure for the current generation of Israel haters.

Actually, it’s also the tactic of choice for the last generation, as displayed by this articulate British fellow peeved over the fact that his group’s ongoing picketing of an Ecostream store in the UK (which sells evil Sodastream dispensers) has been met by effective, good-humored and hugely successful counter-protests by Sussex Friends of Israel:

And moving back one generation further, 85-year-old Saul Zabar dealt with the you-know-what-holes asking him why he wasn’t taking their phone calls by telling them point-blank “I didn’t think you were worth it.”  (Truer words were never spoken.)

But for better or worse, it is still worth it for some of us to continue working towards the continued defeat of BDS, the weakest link in the entire chain of anti-Israel propaganda that goes under the label of “de-legitimization.”

And in that spirit (as well as the spirit of adding bitter herbs to an otherwise sweet upcoming holiday), it’s also worth noting some not-so-good news coming from a place I haven’t revisited yet this year: Olympia Washington where local activists who lost a lawsuit against the local food coop for their anti-Israel boycott recently had their appeal of that original court decision rejected.

Now if I were a BDSer, I would simply ignore that story (as they have ignored the fact that every other food coop in the country have used Olympia as an example of what NOT to do) or come up with some cockamamie way to translate that defeat into a disguised victory.  But one of the reasons the boycotters lose so often is the fact that they spend far too much time in their own virtual reality vs. the real one.

Personally, I prefer learning from experiences (good or ill).  And, in the case of Olympia (vs. stories coming out of Dartmouth, Sussex and Zabars) the lesson seems to reinforce what I’ve said in the past regarding the preferability of political vs. legal responses to BDS.  For, more often than not, whenever we engage with Israel’s opponents at the political level we tend to win.  But whenever a BDS-related case has gone to court, the people bringing the suit (usually the BDSers, BTW) have always lost.

This may sound like odd commentary, given that I provided expert testimony in the Olympia case.  But that contribution was motivated by the fact that I never say no to anyone asking for help in their BDS fights.  And for those who aren’t asking for such help right this moment, I’m going to give you some advice anyway:  put your energy into coming up with imaginative tactics based on a sound strategy articulated in skillful language and you too will probably have the pleasure of seeing the boycotters bellowing and blubbering in impotent rage, rather than celebrating and gloating at your expense.

A Panic-Driven Response to Omar Barghouti

3 Feb

As the leader of a “movement” that has accomplished next to nothing in close to fifteen years, Omar Barghouti seems to have developed special vision powers (perhaps learned while studying at an Israeli school he insists everyone in the world but he should boycott).  These powers allow him to see panic-stricken Israeli supporters on all sides that quiver in perpetual fear of BDS’s explosive growth that always seems to arrive in the form of a damp squib.

Barghouti’s latest New York Times piece (paired with a “rebuttal” by Hirsh Goodman which declares Israel to be guilty, but urges something other than boycotting as a punishment – great diversity of opinion Grey Lady!) demonstrates all the rhetoric ticks that give BDS staying power despite lack of concrete victory (incidental or otherwise).

Thus 16% of the American Studies Association’s membership voting for an academic boycott is a “landslide vote” while the stunning backlash against the boycott from across the academy goes unmentioned.  Or perhaps that is just part of the panicked response of Israeli supporters?  (Keep in mind that in the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose world of BDS, both the BDSers own activity and the overwhelmingly negative response it generates counts as a victories for them.)

Then you’ve got odd-hand quotes from people like Secretary of State John Kerry treated like official policy, without mentioning actual US policy which has been to reject and condemn boycott and divestment (as well as enforce anti-boycott legislation implemented by that Zionist stooge Jimmy Carter in the 1970s).

Mix in two parts Apartheid accusations, a sprinkling of “non-violence” and “we can’t be anti-Semitic because we’re anti-racists” and voila: the rhetorical magic that seems to have kept Mr. Barghouti on top of a movement willing to fly him around the planet, despite his inability to get anything bigger than a student council to do his bidding (and even then, only barely).

Oh, and speaking of BDS talking points, my favorite one that gets trotted out whenever someone mentions the Dear Leader’s hypocrisy of continuing to study and work at an Israeli college he insists be boycotted by everyone else is that even  Nelson Mandela once worked in a South Africa law office.  Perhaps those who use this pre-digested excuse can provide us information of how the administrators of a genuine Apartheid system allowed Mr. Mandela to travel the planet propagandizing against them (as opposed to putting him into jail for decades – a punishment Mr. Barghouti knows he will never face, unless he has to go into Israeli protective custody for those Mohammed cartoons he drew – Just kidding!).

Sorry, where was I?  Oh yes, I was giving my own panic-stricken response to BDS’s impending triumph (it must be panic stricken, since any criticism of the “movement” has been defined as falling into that category).

Look, as I’ve mentioned countless times in the past, Israel faces an set of existentialist crises: nations on all sides falling to pieces while declaring their eternal enmity to the Jewish state, new fanatical movements demonstrating their “authenticity” by escalating genocidal anti-Semitic rhetoric into the stratosphere, an Iran both nuclearizing and pouring arms into places like Gaza and Lebanon, and a global propaganda campaign dedicated to ensuring that when any of these players gets around to pulling the trigger, every step will be taken to limit Israel’s ability to shoot back.

BDS is just a small piece of a multi-faceted campaign that has already corrupted virtually every institution designed to deal with genuine human problems like war, bigotry, refugee crises and global poverty.  And while individuals have no control over what the tyrannical rulers of Israel’s opponents do next, and cannot cure the rot that has seeped into institutions like the United Nations, we do have some influence over the institutions of civil society we have created and helped to maintain.

And it is at this very grassroots level that BDS finds it impossible to achieve a lasting success without the kind of backroom deals designed specifically to get around the fact that the grassroots loathes their message and are disgusted by their behavior.

In fact, it has been the failure of BDS to achieve its goals at the level of civil society that has helped de-legitimize the entire de-legitimization movement, which is why the boycotters have to resort to badgering a film star about which soft drink she endorses in order to get anyone’s attention (ignoring the fact that the planet has already decided to flip them the bird by stocking up on Zionist bubbles and flavor).

Speaking of which I guess I need to get back to my “favorite” subject, BDS and celebrity, with a look into the whole Soda Stream, Oxfam, Scarlett Johansson brouhaha (*sigh*). Apologies if I take a day or two to get to it.


16 Jan

One of the pieces that has gotten the most play on this site is this one which debunks BDS boasts of impending triumph with some figures demonstrating how little the “movement” has accomplished since it got off the ground at the now-notorious Durban I conference in 2001 (not 2005, BTW).

I suspect it is the power numbers have to demonstrate and persuade that makes the figures in this piece so illustrative of the true success and failure (mostly failure) of boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts.  For how can one argue that a boycott (which, using any conventional understanding of the term, would measure its success by the financial pain it causes the target) has been successful when the economy of that target doubled in size during the very decade the boycotters insisted people stop doing business with it?

Similarly, the doubling of exports during a period when BDSers worked tirelessly to get the public to stop buying Israeli goods (not to mention a ten point jump in popularity of the Jewish state during a decade when activists worked 24/7 to get the public to loath Israel as much as they did) better demonstrates gains and losses for the “movement” than would any pithy slogan or shouted argument.

Naturally, the boycotters have found a solution to how to deal with the challenge these numbers present: by adding this information to the huge pile of facts and arguments they routinely ignore.  Thus Israel’s blockbuster 2013 tourist year, the huge influx of investment in Israeli companies and the mad scramble of colleges and universities to forge partnerships with their Israeli counterparts must all take a backseat to Meg Ryan cancelling her vacation plans. (Whoops!  Looks like that was another BDS hoax.  Guess I’ll have to stop using Meg for my punchlines.)

Anyway, the trouble is that even if we embrace the notion that Elvis Costello cancelling a gig in Tel Aviv should be treated as vastly more significant than the billions in non-boycott, un-divestment, anti-sanctions activity that is driving the Israeli economy to ever greater heights, this doesn’t get around the problem that the whole premise behind BDS is farkakt, given that it presumes a nation which has withstood more than half a century of war, terrorism, propaganda assaults and economic blockade will suddenly buckle because some aging rock star decides to blow off his fans.

One could make the reasonable argument that people buying stock in Israeli companies or purchasing a second SodaStream for Christmas are making simple economic choices with no political implication. But remember it is Israel’s detractors, not its supporters, that have imbued such decisions with political importance.  Had they not thrown everything they had into getting Elton John to join their squalid little program, for instance, his visit to Israel would have been as politically significant as his appearance on the Cher show in 1975.  But once he defied their demands and went so far as to flip them the verbal bird on stage, suddenly his choices took on political meaning created entirely by the boycotters themselves.

The other argument against using actual results as a barometer of success or failure says that BDS is really not about causing the Jewish state economic pain or isolation.  Rather, it is a mechanism designed to inject into popular consciousness the propaganda message that Israel is an Apartheid state, alone in the world as deserving economic punishment.

The boycotters refer to this practice as “starting a conversation” (one they also claim is being stifled, despite the fact that members of “the movement” are shouting this messages at the top of their lungs in every forum in the land, sucking up all the Oxygen that might otherwise go into fighting against genuine human rights abusers – such as the nations most supportive of BDS).

Such an assertion (best illustrated by my favorite BDS quote of all time: the one that said “lack of concrete victory is incidental”) would mean that every time they go to a college president or student union asking them to back a divestment motion, every time they storm a retailer insisting that Israeli products get pulled off the shelves, every time they force a boycott vote at a food coop or academic association, they are really after something other than what  they claim they want these institutions to do.  Which means that every college, church, city, union, coop or association that has gotten caught up in the tumult of a BDS fight is really just serving as mere means to the Israel haters’ unspoken ends.

The last bit of perspective we should all keep in mind is that while the work being done to defeat propaganda activity at home is well worth the effort, big decisions (such as whether there will be war or peace in the region) are being made by geopolitical actors.  Hamas and Hezbollah (and their Iranian armorers) may take into account the fact that Israel’s response to rocket assaults may be limited by the protests of US and European “peace activists” who only spring into action once shooting goes in two directions rather than one.  But the decision to pull the trigger still lies with these groups, meaning political dynamics can change in an instant based on decisions we have no way of anticipating, much less preventing.

Why you should shop at Cliff’s Variety

27 Dec

Well I was hoping to post some of my own BDS Christmas carols to give our tone deaf (in every meaning of the phrase) friends in BDSland something to work with other than their own contrived and butchered rhymes.

Unfortunately, everything I came up with was sung to the tune of a Gilbert and Sullivan number (no doubt an artifact of a childhood reading Mad Magazine “Sung to the Tune of…” features).  So my long-delayed BDS musical will have to wait until better inspiration strikes.

Especially since the best piece of inspiration I’ve received this holiday season comes from this little shop that could, not in Bethlehem, but San Francisco:

Two things I found inspirational from this episode of the type of BDS Christmas abuse mentioned previously include:

  • For those who occasionally feel overwhelmed by perpetual propaganda attacks on Israel, check out the video to see the true face of BDS at one of its Ground Zero locations (San Francisco), a face both pinched and self-righteous, with a fat mouth singing incomprehensible lyrics out of tune.  If that is what we are fighting (which we are, at least on the domestic front), is it any wonder that we’re winning?
  • And check out the guys and gals who work in a variety store to make their daily bread (vs. the BDSers who seem to enjoy a lifestyle that gives them plenty of time to abuse Cliff’s shoppers during the holiday season).  As far as I can tell, the guys who introduced the BDS Bozos to the pavement outside their store were not motivated by Zionist affiliation.  Rather, they were simply insisting that they were not going to serve as props (or, in this case, have their store serve as a set) for someone else’s demented morality play.

My only disappointment is that Cliff’s Variety Store’s web site doesn’t provide those of us living on the other side of the country the chance to purchase anything online (although they do offer a way to Like them and send them an e-mail of support – which I’m doing right now).

If I ever needed another excuse to visit the Bay Area, I now have one (to spend as much as I can at Cliff’s).  And I hope that those of you reading this who live within proximity to the store will be able to do this sooner than I can (and make sure to thank them for standing up to the bullies while you hand over your credit card, ideally to buy the latest and greatest from SodaStream).

The Herscovite BDS Moment

13 Aug

Just an FYI that I’ve got a couple of big projects (including an update to this site) cooking over the next several weeks, so postings may be lighter with more “newbrief” type material making an appearance for a while.

But before that, I wanted to plug a hole in the narrative about BDS and community by looking at a city I’ve not gotten to until now: the little BDS-wannabe town of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Usually, when I’ve talked about communities dealing with BDS issues I’ve focused on places like Boston or San Francisco where Israel’s active supporters and detractors are pretty evenly matched numbers wise (which makes those places good test cases for support for Israel vs. BDS within the wider communities in which these two sub-groups operate).

At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got places like the Happy Valley in Massachusetts or Olympia Washington which demonstrate just how miserable a place can become when the forces of BDS are in the ascendant.

But Ann Arbor, Michigan is a case all its own.

In a state where there exists a high percentage of Arab and Muslim Americans, you tend to find a fair amount of anti-Israel activism in Michigan (especially on college campuses).  Many BDS campaigns and even some boycott proposals have circulated in the state (one student union divestment bill even passing many years ago in Wayne State).

I’m not sure why these stories rarely make it onto the radar of even the Jewish press beyond Michigan’s borders.  Perhaps the media’s (and general Jewish communy’s) focus on the coasts makes activity in “flyover country” less noticeable than similar activity in places like Berkeley or Brooklyn.  Or perhaps because much of this activity (at least on college campuses) happened so long ago and led to nothing makes this a nothing story.

But I suspect that one reason BDS activity in places like Ann Arbor is so marginal is that the BDS activists themselves put so much energy into marginalizing themselves.

I hate to use the word “cult,” lest I start sounding like you-know-who, but in the case of Ann Arbor, I don’t think there is another word that could better describe the organization that has taken center stage with regard to Israel protests and BDS activities in the area.

Much of this activity centers on an organization that (at least for a while) went under the name of Jewish Witnesses for Peace.  And while this group has been involved with the usual failed BDS attempts here and there with regard to hummus boycotts and support for campus divestment activities, their primary “campaign” involved haunting the biggest synagogue in town with hostile protests (complete with angry and bigoted signs waved by people with coats over their own heads) during worship services for years and years and years.

And who came up with a stratagem that seems almost custom-made to appall everyone in the Jewish and non-Jewish community and cause every aspect of the anti-Israel agenda to be rejected in disgust?

Well credit seems to go to one Henry Hersovitz, a longtime anti-Israel agitator who apparently went by the name “Henry Henry” previous to finding his calling by picketing a synagogue he claims to have once attended (although no confirmation of that claim can be found).  You can begin to grasp the scope of dementia that fuels the Dear Leader of the local BDS movement from this site designed to counter the work of the “Herscovites” (the name these anti-Hersocovite forces have given the local protestors).

The reason I think “cult” is a good descriptor for this group is the way they seem to deal with any internal protest from people questioning a strategy that that has led to nothing outside the galvanization of the entire community against the BDSers and their cause.  In fact, who is “in” and who is “out” of the group seems to be solely dictated by someone’s willingness to participate in activity unquestionably detrimental to the cause the protestors claim to champion.  Which makes doubting the leadership a crime worthy of ostracism.

 I bring this up since the BDS groups in general could soon start looking more like Ann Arbor than vice versa.

Like the Ann Arbor protestors, the nationwide (really worldwide) BDS “movement” has faced nothing but failure, their achievements primarily consisting of inspiring the creation of successful pro-Israel organizations to fight them.  But outside of Ann Arbor, most BDSers cling to their fantasies of immanent victory at least to the point of still being able to feign enough humanity to occasionally fool those unaware of their real intentions.

This allows them to act in a semi-civilized fashion (until they lose, of course, at which point they show their true colors by throwing a public tantrum).  But what will happen if (as I suspect) the continued failure rate of BDS projects causes more and more people to “go Finkelstein” and question the competence (if not the sanity) of those who continue to push a program that has been proven to be such a loser for more than a decade?

We’ve seen some answers in those loud protests designed to shut down opposing views on college campuses, or other forms of bullying and harassment that might generate a few minutes of digital footage for BDS web sites but continue to alienate more and more people (as well as provide ammunition for sites like this one).

So how much farther does “BDS Global” need to devolve before we can accurately claim that “They are all Herscovites Now?”