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BDS, the Trade Protection Act, and Israel

6 Mar

Given the amount of ink that’s been spilled over toothless student council votes taken place in less than 1% of US college campuses, it’s surprising that the biggest BDS story of the year (if not the last several years) has gotten virtually no coverage.

I’m talking about the Trade Protection Act, a bi-partisan piece of legislation currently working its way through the US House of Representatives, that would make a free trade agreement between the US and Europe contingent on the latter taking no part in anti-free trade activities (i.e., BDS) directed against Israel.

This is the first major expansion of America’s anti-boycott legal regime since legislation punishing US companies participating in the Arab boycott of the Jewish state was signed into law by that Zionist stooge Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.

As noted by William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection (one of the few pro-Israel media outlets to cover the story in detail), there may be fewer teeth in this particular proposal than in earlier anti-boycott laws, given that a trade agreement between nations is harder to enforce than a legal regime within a nation.  And since any alleged violation of the new rules would have to travel through complex bureaucracies in the US, Europe and whichever international group would adjudicate between them, I don’t expect this bill – if passed – would lead to many violators facing consequences for participating in BDS activities in a timely fashion.

But, like anti-boycott legislation passed in the 1970s, the Trade Protection Act would be most significant with regard to symbolic and indirect consequences.

Starting with symbolism, remember that for your average BDSer “Sanctions” (states inflicting economic punishment on Israel) is the Holy Grail.  It’s one thing for student governments to pretend that their stacked votes represent campus opinion, or that boycotting hummus made in New Jersey demonstrates the impending triumph of their movement.  But if a national government decides to cross the line from criticism to punishment of the Jewish state, suddenly we’re talking about an event with genuine political significance.

Yet after decades of propaganda designed to convince the US public (and through them, their representatives in government) that Israel is the new Apartheid South Africa, we finally have US sanctions legislation speeding through Congress – legislation which sanctions not Israel but those participating in BDS.

In a country where 3:1 support for Israel over her enemies has been a constant for decades, I don’t expect the boycotters will be able to rally a citizenry hostile to their cause against the new trade rules.  And even during a period when relations between the Executive branch and Israeli leaders are so strained, I can’t imagine a scenario where the President would pull out his rarely used veto pen for this particular issue.  In fact – as we have seen in many previous situations (J Street’s official anti-BDS position comes to mind) – BDS is so loathed across so much of the political spectrum that taking a stand against it is a cheap and easy way to establish one’s pro-Israel bona fides.

On the non-symbolic front, the real power of this legislation is that it gives European governments and companies behind hounded by BDS activists telling them to “do something” (i.e., do what they say) an excuse to say no.

Keep in mind that in the few instances when Europeans took steps in the BDS direction, those steps were chosen to cause minimal local damage (by boycotting goods that meant little to the local economy, for instance, or divesting assets that could be easily replaced by ones not on the BDS blacklist).  In all cases, people making genuine economic decisions (vs. the BDSers who just demand other people do so and deal with the consequences), are looking for risk- and cost-free ways to proceed.  So the power of the new Trade Protection legislation is that it actually adds a cost to boycott and divestment decisions, meaning those who take them will now have to make genuine sacrifices for the privilege of becoming a bullet point Omar Barghouti’s next slide presentation.

Keep in mind that the most important impact of the original Carter-era anti-boycott legislation was also indirect.  Sure, some companies got hit with fines for signing onto the Arab boycott of Israel (a boycott that required companies to literally sign on – creating a paper trail for US prosecutors).  But these fines cost them a lot less than the difference between their income from Arab League customers and the Israel market they were foregoing.

What really hurt these companies was the PR hit they took when it became public that they were caving into demands to not do business with one Jewish state in order to line their pockets with revenue from many Arab ones.  And once the cost of participating in the boycott included making financial and reputational sacrifices in the huge US (vs. small Israeli) market, US corporations suddenly had an excuse to say “No” to the boycott office in Damascus.

The fact that this legislation would extend the dynamic we have had in place in the US since the ‘70s into Europe has caused some consternation in BDS circles. BDS loudmouth sites like Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, for instance, have complained that the new rules could become a “devastating weapon” to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions project.  And while they might not be thinking in the same terms outlined above of how these new rules would impact them (by giving weak-willed Europeans an excuse to turn them away), limited discussion of the Trade Protection Act within BDS circles seems to recognize the threat of such a move to their ever-flailing program.

Again, one has to contrast today’s BDS effort with the fight against South African Apartheid in the 1980s when governments, colleges and universities, churches and other civic institutions understood and agreed about the nature of the Apartheid system, proudly (and publicly) made economic choices (including sacrifices) that punished that racist nation, and were celebrated for doing so.

In contrast, today’s BDS “movement,” after more than a decade and a half of untold efforts, has only managed to unite the powers they have endlessly lobbied (the US government, the nation’s largest academic associations, college Presidents, etc.) against them, while their dream of replicating in the US the situation we saw in France last summer becomes more distant than ever.

SJP Thuggery – Are the Campuses Burning?

6 Nov

If any DT readers are in the Boston area, I’ll be part of a panel discussion next week on the subject of Defamation of Israel on College Campuses sponsored by CAMERA.  Other speakers include Richard Cravatts, President of Scholars for Middle East Peace and Gilad Skolnick, CAMERA’s Director of Campus Programming.

Unsurprisingly, I’ll be taking the BDS angle vis-à-vis colleges and universities, and will be spending the next few days trying to figure out the right balance to strike before a concerned audience who may be reading about campuses in flames in the Jewish (and even mainstream) press.

The balance I tend to strike in this blog – Don’t Panic, but Don’t be Complacent – still seems appropriate, even in a year when groups like SJP have shown enough organizational muscle to pull off a national conference (where tactics and resources were shared) and enough aggression to make life miserable for pro-Israel voices (if not Jewish students in general) on many campuses.

On the “Don’t Panic” side, keep in mind that it has been years (over a decade really) since it became clear no college or university in the country (if not the world) was going to actually divest from the Jewish state.

Even back in the early 2000s when BDS was just “divestment” (and divestment efforts led by the now-defunct Palestinian Solidarity Movement – PSM – vs. the new SJP incarnation of anti-Israel activism), college administrators (i.e., the grown-ups who actually make investment decisions) made it clear that they were not going to listen to demands from a propaganda campaign masquerading as a human rights  movement.  And we should never forget the fact that SJP rose to prominence by pushing that BDS hoax at Hampshire College, one which (among other things) convinced college administrators of the peril of even answering the phone when the divestment cru calls.

Which is why BDS battles on campuses have basically been fought within student governments over whether they would pass toothless divestment resolutions that everyone knows will be ignored.  And, even here, after years and years of effort by the boycotters, less than ten such resolutions have passed.  And even then, such “wins” have been the result of BDSers infiltrating student government and midnight deals passed during Shabbat rather than the Israel haters convincing anybody of anything.

But such votes do give groups like SJP the platform to rant and rave about Israeli “crimes against humanity” for hour after hour before a captive audience.  And the very impotence of their activity with regard to generating genuine consequential action may explain why they have to scream about their few “successes” ever louder in order to convince people that their message is embraced by more than a marginal fringe.

That screaming has also been coupled with ever-more aggressive “direct action” on campuses, and I suspect that this is one of the reasons passions about schools in flames run so high.

Part of this aggressiveness has to do with the nature of radical politics, a dynamic in which those who propose the most outrageous plans tend to rise to leadership positions due to their “passion” and “intensity.”  And let’s not forget that the BDSers are aligned to a broader, global anti-Israel project that has always been a mix of propaganda, threat and violence (with the latter two taking precedent as the Middle East goes up in flames).

But we should also not forget that a sociopathic political movement like BDS is all about pushing limits of civilized norms.  While every other political and human rights issue on the planet plays out in a reasonable fashion whenever they come up on college campuses, only the Arab-Israeli conflict has devolved into shout-downs of speakers, pat-downs of students in front of mock “Apartheid Walls,” hostile pranks like last year’s eviction notice outrages, and demands that every student on campus take a side (SJP’s) or be condemned as faux-progressives or enemies of human rights.

And when such limit-pushing is not met by significant resistance by those charged to keep campus live civil (i.e., administrators who know a Lawyer’s Guild shill for SJP is in the wings if they ever clamp down on the group’s outrageous behavior), that simply incentivizes the thugs to push even harder next time and communicate via the globe-spanning, free new media what others are now likely to be able to get away with on their campuses.

So what we seem to be dealing with are not college campuses slipping into the anti-Israel orbit, but a newly energized group of anti-Israel propagandists (ginned up – as they always are – after a war) that is out of control.  And how best to deal with this particular dynamic is something I’ll turn to next time.

The Israeli Economy-Security Dialectic

9 Oct

A few years back, I put together this piece which looked at hard numbers regarding the growth of the Israeli economy and exports, both of which doubled during the BDS decade.  And while I don’t have the time to update that analysis for 2014, it is worth looking at an aspect of the Startup Nation story that demonstrates an interesting dialectic regarding Israel’s economy and its security situation.

One would think that a nation routinely subjected to heavy missile bombardment would be the very place investors would flee, given the instability such a military situation implies.  But in the case of Israel, the opposite seems to be the case as investment continues to pour into the country as if months of attacks from Gaza never took place.

The best example of this phenomenon is Intel’s decision to invest six billion dollars (that’s “billion” with a “B”) into updating its Israeli chip plant – the biggest investment ever made into the Jewish state – a decision which was announced in September, that is AFTER the country spent the summer on the receiving end of endless rocket fire.

Intel plays a key role in unlocking the reason behind such an unprecedented (and counter-intuitive) business dynamic.  For it was in 1991, well before Israel became the Startup Nation darling of the international M&A and investment communities, that keeping promises while under fire first demonstrated the mettle of Israel and the people who live and work there.

If you recall, that was the year Israel was first subjected to random missile fire, this time from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which hoped to provoke Israel into joining (and thus “Zionizing”) a conflict begun when Iraq invaded, annexed and looted Kuwait.  As American and allied forces began shoving Iraqi troops back across their own border, Saddam decided to point his Scuds towards one of the few nations not arrayed against him, socking Israel with waves of rockets that many feared were armed with the same chemical weapons the ex (as in now ex-ecuted) Iraqi dictator used against his own people in the 1980s.

Israel never rose to that bait, but while coalition forces were demonstrating the paper nature of the Iraqi tiger, executives at the Intel Corporation who managed a plant in Israel that was turning out the company’s most valuable chips had different concerns: how to get their Israeli employees to stay home and safe, rather than show up for work.

Apparently, the Israelis who worked the chip factory had no intention of letting a tyrant living (and killing) miles away to disrupt their lives.  And if they had to defy their own government (which was urging people to stay indoors near shelters until the threat lifted), they certainly weren’t going to let some distant executives tell them what to do.

And so they showed up to work, keeping the factory firing on all cylinders, and delivering on every promise made to those Intel executives with regard to deliveries and deadlines.

It was this incident, more than any other, which demonstrated that the Jewish economy included something more than innovative inventors and programmers and a budding entrepreneurial culture that was shaking loose the vestiges of a planned economy.  For those Intel-employed Israelis were demonstrating tenacity, nerve, defiance and an unwillingness to not keep to their word even (or, should I say, especially) under fire.

So the minor impact of the Gaza campaign on the Israeli economy followed by a seemingly positive impact it had on that economy once the guns fell silent has an explanation: the continued demonstration of Israel’s ability to do remarkable work and get the job done, regardless of how harrowing the circumstances might be.

This should come as no surprise to those who understand that a citizenry brought up to defend itself, one which has lived on the precipice for  most of its existence, is not about to let a little thing like rocket fire from death-worshiping maniacs get in the way of carrying on a normal life.  And those who recognize this reality are ready to vote for Israel with their wallets, which is why Israel continues to receive the highest grade for investment – even as the rest of the region tumbles into self-imposed chaos.

This should provide another bit of perspective with regard to our old friends in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement.”  For the BDS project is predicated on the notion that economic pressure deriving from their activities will so weaken the Jewish state that it will agree to capitulate to demands of those seeking its ultimate destruction.  But if weeks of direct military attack has only increased the nation’s defiant resolve, resolve rewarded by the very people the BDSers are asking to shun the Jewish state, then what is BDS left as other than a transmission belt for propaganda dedicated to ensuring that the millions of corpses being generated by #AlHamIsis across the Middle East never get noticed, much less mentioned.

The Blood Bucket Challenge

8 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.