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Somerville Divestment Revisited – Reputation

23 Aug

This next set of essays were written during the second year of campaigning against BDS in Somerville, MA (2005) when divestment proponents tried to get a divestment measure they failed to get past the legislature onto the city-wide ballot.

A description of how that issue played out can be found here.

Few outside of British academic circles had ever heard of the Association of University Teachers (AUT), a UK-based union of university level instructors and professionals, until earlier this year when the organization voted to boycott two Israeli universities on a series of trumped up charges.

For veterans of divestment debates in the US and abroad, the details of the AUT debate will sound familiar.  An organization whose primary mission is support of its members through collective bargaining and other union services, the AUT also had a “social justice” constituency that was hijacked by a group of anti-Israel activists, led by Birmingham lecturer Sue Blackwell (an declared anti-fascist with a preference for Palestinian Flagwear who nevertheless links her Web site to various Nazi organizations).

Through relentless parliamentary maneuvering within a bureaucratic organization, Blackwell and her allies managed to pass a resolution calling for British academics to break all ties with Bar-Ilan and Haifa Universities.  World reaction to the move was swift.  Jewish groups scorned the decision while anti-Israel activists hailed it as another “victory.”  More importantly, academics worldwide condemned the AUT’s assault on intellectual freedom, and AUT members revolted against the usurpation of their name by a small group of fanatics, overturning the decision in an overwhelming vote that reversed the short-lived AUT boycott policy.

By then, the damage was done.  If AUT is known outside of UK and teaching circles today, it is known as an organization that was willing to sacrifice the one virtue upon which its reputation rested, the value of unimpeded academic freedom, upon the alter of anti-Israel activism.

Seen through the AUT prism, the Somerville divestment debate represents a similar attempt to “leverage” the reputation of an institution, in this case the city of Somerville, towards a narrow political end.  All of their talk of “fairness” and “evening the playing field” is simply a ruse to appeal to the better nature of Somerville’s leaders and citizens, the better nature that is the basis of the city’s reputation as a friend of human rights.  The goal (as boasted on various anti-Israel Web sites during last year’s divestment debate) is to “sign on” Somerville to their cause so that the city’s name, a name built on its reputation, can be used to maneuver other cities and towns to also join the boycott-Israel bandwagon.

I’ve thought a lot about reputation recently as more and more “mainline” Protestant churches have followed the lead of the Presbyterian Church which last year started the machinery that would lead to divestment of church assets in companies doing business with the Jewish state.  As bragged on the So-Called Somerville Divestment Project’s (SC-SDP’s) Web site, the New England Methodist Church and Anglican Church in the UK are ready to follow the Presbyterian’s down divestment’s blind alley.

As with the AUT, these churches have convinced themselves that an economic attack on a tiny Jewish state is a demonstration of the highest virtues of their faith: fairness, peace, human rights.  Yet one only need look at the spurious charges, the faux history, the absolute unwillingness to consider the other side that underlay each church’s resolution to understand that divestment is a gross example of little more than institutional bullying.

As we were all taught in Saturday morning cartoons from the 1970s, most bullies are actually cowards.  And these “mainline” churches certainly have a lot to fear.  Their flocks are diminishing rapidly, even as competing faiths like evangelical Christianity and Islam are expanding rapidly.  It’s been years since these churches had a major voice in a political or moral debate and when they have tried (as in their stand on the Iraq War or last year’s presidential election), they have found themselves on the losing side.

As their relevance declines as rapidly as their numbers, the leadership of the churches pushing divestment have found they can do something: they can bully one of the smallest states in the world, even as they fail to put their assets where their mouths are when confronting the rich and powerful.

Yet in taking these actions, these churches are mortgaging more than their own reputations.  Just as the AUT that was willing to wreak havoc on academic freedom under the guise of protecting it, these bullying mainline churches are using the voice of religious moral authority in general, the same voice that proved so important during the desegregation, anti-Vietnam War and anti-Apartheid movements (movements supported in partnership with American Jews) to support narrow and partisan ends pushed by a small but highly vocal minority.

If it’s been hard to take the voice of the Church of England or the Presbyterians seriously during serious moral and political debates in recent years, how much harder will it be to listen to any religious authority in the future when the public realizes that this authority is susceptible to hijacking and moral blackmail by the rich and powerful against the small and vulnerable?

Even worse, these churches are also mortgaging assets they do not own: the ethical power of social investment, the economic power of the boycott, responsibly wielded as it was during the anti-Apartheid era, in order to float a morally bankrupt Israel divestment policy.  One can imagine a time in the near future when a corporation or nation that truly deserves censure can point to the actions of the churches as a demonstration of how legitimate boycotts directed at them are just another example of partisan politics wrapped in ill-fitting moral garments.

Just as Somerville’s aldermen (and, one hopes, its citizens) realize that the reputation of the city was not theirs to give away, one hopes that leaders and followers in cities, churches, schools around the world will reject the cynical lures of divestment, refusing to sell their reputations, and the reputations of what they represent, to those most willing to ruthlessly exploit the language of virtue.

Modern Language Association Israel Vote – No, Non, Nyet

10 Jun

First off, apologies for yesterday’s outage.  Apparently, an over-eager shoe and pants salesman tried to sell their wares in the site’s comment section to the tune of tens of thousands of messages, all of which were snagged by an alert spam blocker.  But an equally alert web host decided to shut things down to give me time to see what the hell was going on.

Anyway, all is well although I added a new Captcha facility to the commenting section that should prevent non-humans from spamming the site again.  And, in hope that this will be enough to keep away the robots, I also put the name and e-mail requirement for commenters on hold in hope we can attract a few of those Anonymous critics who have kind of made themselves scarce since Divest This was updated a while back.  We’ll see how it goes and I’ll keep you posted on any other comment-related policy changes.

Back to business, during last week’s Alinsky-fest, I wasn’t able to keep up with some of the latest BDS news which I’d like to cover between now and when the Presbyterians gather in Detroit at the end of the week.

Topping off the list was the failure of BDS advocates to get the Modern Language Association (MLA) to condemn the Jewish state over Israel’s “crime” of failing to get BDS advocates to stop spamming civic organizations in order to try to speak in other people’s names.

Even if you’re not familiar with how things worked out at the Modern Language Association Israel debate this year, the details will sound all-to-familiar to long-time BDSwatchers.

As usual, the 30,000 person academic organization took up the issue because a noisy minority within their ranks insisted that they do so back in January.  And, following a playbook written by other BDSers posing as academics who lead the American Studies Association, the boycotters within MLA ranks decided to hold a panel discussion on a resolution to criticize Israel for this or that imagined crime that consisted solely of proponents for the measure.

While Israel-dislikers (including the decidedly non-MLA members like Omar Barghouti) were given all the seats on this panel, critics of the proposal – deciding to do more than accept scraps from the table (i.e., sitting in the audience while their opponents controlled all the microphones) – held their own “unofficial” panel after MLA leaders refused to allow their voices to be included in any official program.  And once a watered-down version of the measure was sent to members (after a disgraceful and embarrassing committee vote described here), critics of the vote organized their own communication system to provide members factual rebuttals after those same MLA leaders refused to allow any official communication on the matter that didn’t measure up to the “scholarly” standards of Electronic Intifada.

Now the rules for the organization required 10% of the membership to vote “Yes” in order for the condemnation of Israel to become official policy  And when all the votes were tallied, the total  number of “Yes” and “No” votes did not meet this threshold and so the attempted hijacking of MLA failed due to lack of interest.

Needless to say, spin has been in the air since the vote with pro-BDS voices declaring victory since about 500 more people voted “Yes” than “No,” with anti-boycott proponents highlighting the fact that 94% of the organization either said “No” or expressed indifference or hostility to the whole sordid affair by avoiding the vote altogether.

Generally, I’m of a mind to say that a win is a win and a loss is a loss based on the reigning rules of an organization.  So while I might be appalled that only 16% of the membership of ASA can implement a boycott policy for the entire association, I would not claim that such a vote was inherently illegitimate since rules are rules.  Thus, given the 10% threshold MLA required for victory, categorizing last week’s vote as a #BDSFail is equally legitimate.

That said, I’ve always been troubled by votes made up of a majority of a minority on measures that claim to speak on behalf of an organization as a whole.

For example, the ASA boycott was presented to the world as not just the policy of an academic organization voted in by 16% of the membership, but as the “landslide” official position of the American Studies Association taken up in the name of the every ASA member (if not the entire field of American Studies).  But, as we’ve seen since that vote was taken (with not one American Studies department in the country signing on to the policy and many departments – as well as ASA’s largest chapter organizations – vocally opposing it), the policy does not represent the view of a most of the members in whose name the boycott was instituted.

Now we live in an age of representative (vs. Athenian) democracy, so I understand that decisions will invariably be made by less than 100% of citizens/members/participants/voters in most institutions.

I suppose that fail-safes (like the 10% threshold used for the Modern Language Association Israel vote) can prevent minorities from hijacking an organization and forcing it to say things that either a large minority or even a majority find offensive.  But I think the reason we don’t run into ASA/MLA-style problems on each and every controversial issue of the day is that partisan who believe strongly in most political causes understand that they have outlets for their political activism that do not require dragging their professional colleagues (or fellow members of another civic organization such as a food co-op) into a fight that will undoubtedly cause harm to innocents.

But as has been made all too clear over the last decade, the BDSers have no such respect for others, and no concern for groups like MLA and ASA beyond their usefulness (i.e., their serving as mere means to an end) in a propaganda war most people want no part of.

ASA Boycott – Not Defending the Undefendable

7 May

I’ve said my piece (really more than my piece) regarding the academic boycott voted in by the American Studies Association last year.  But now that we’re closing in on the six month mark since a boycott against the Jewish state was made policy by an (admittedly marginal) academic group, it’s worth taking a step back to see what the consequences have been for Israel vs. the ASA.

As far as Israeli academics are concerned, I’m not aware of a single American Studies professor from a single university taking a single step to target an Israeli academic or institution in compliance with the boycott policy.  Perhaps someone can provide us an instance of the boycott actually being enacted, but as far as I can tell the leadership of the ASA has proven itself willing to put its organization, its members and the entire discipline of American Studies at risk for the sake of a policy they do not have the guts to actually implement.

Supporters of the ASA boycott point out that the action was primarily symbolic – a means to demonstrate that the organization (claiming to represent the ideals of academic inquiry and discourse) had become so sickened by Israeli policy that they were willing to use the blunt instrument of a boycott to express their disapproval.  But for this symbolism to hold, it must be demonstrated that the boycott actually represents some kind of consensus within the field, especially for a vote passed by a “majority” of just 16% of the organization’s members.

The best way to demonstrate that a “landslide” of 16% represents membership consensus would be to provide examples  of how the American Studies Association boycott call has been taken up by the academics and academic departments in whose name the ASA claims to speak.

Again, perhaps someone can tell me otherwise but as far as I can tell the boycott has yet to receive backing from a single American Studies department in the country.  Yes, I know that some individual academics support the ASA decision and some departments have defended the organization against attacks (especially legal and legislative ones) made in response to the boycott.  But as far as I can tell, the only responses by American Studies Departments to the boycott itself have involved schools and departments ending their relationship with ASA, or insisting that they no longer be listed (inaccurately) as institutional members (which caused the group to drop mention of institutional membership entirely from the latest edition of their journal).

Not only that, but two of the biggest regional ASA organizations (in California and the Northeast – those two hotbeds of reactionary academia) have specifically disassociated themselves from the boycott policy, essentially telling the national leadership that they want no part of a partisan vendetta that brings nothing to the field except shame.

And speaking of shame, if you consider the academy as a whole (not just the sliver of it that represents the field of American Studies), it looks as though the ASA boycott has cemented a consensus that says boycotts are a threat to the entire academic project.  And given that the moral utility of the boycott rests on the assumption that being condemned by an academic organization makes the target condemnable, the fact that much larger and more broad-based academic groups like AAUP and ACE have roundly lashed out against an academic boycott of Israel means – by the boycotters own standards – it is the ASA that has lost all moral standing.

One final argument that ASA leaders make to justify their decision (which, if history is any guide, they will go to any length to prevent being reversed) is that the boycott was meant to open up dialog on the Middle East (a dialog they claim is lacking and for which they desperately thirst).

Which makes it all the more strange that after a few embarrassing appearances in the media, this same leadership has largely “gone to ground,” avoiding discussing the matter in any forum where they cannot count on being surrounded entirely by partisan supporters.

Professor William Jacobson of Cornell Law School, who runs the web site Legal Insurrection (LI), reported that these same ASA leaders have urged members to not talk to him, which has not prevented LI from breaking most of the major news stories regarding the subject (including decisions by California and New England to defy the national organization’s boycott policy).

But probably the most telling example of how desperately the boycotters don’t want to engage in the conversation they claim to crave was this week’s appearance by Jacobson at Vassar College, a school where 39 professors attacked the college’s President’s when she joined over two-hundred other college and university presidents to condemn the ASA’s action (correctly) as an attack on academic freedom.

Jacobson originally presented his talk as a challenge to any or all of those 39 professors to debate him on the topic of the boycott (or BDS in general).  In other words, this single Cornell professor offered to be the lone voice willing to stand up to as many as 39 other scholars, all of whom back a policy they allegedly (1) believe in deeply; and (2) is meant to foster a conversation on the Middle East.

But given the chance to take to the field and defend their positions (with odds offered of nearly 40:1), every one of these professors declined, leaving Jacobson happily providing a lecture (which was fortunately not interrupted by the usual SJP heckling) to a packed audience.

I suggest you watch the whole thing since Jacobson’s Vassar talk lays bare the breathtaking cowardice and hypocrisy behind every claim made by the BDSers.  Yes, they are more than willing to hijack a membership organization in order to speak in the name of those who have shown no interest in enacting a policy that supposedly represents a moral imperative.  But not only are they unwilling to take any steps that would turn that policy into concrete action, they are also unwilling to step into the ring to defend their indefensible positions, even when given 39 seats to their opponent’s one.

BDS and Thuggery

3 Apr

I don’t think I’m alone in being appalled by the degree to which nasty behavior – up to and including intimidation and violence – has gone mainstream within the BDS “movement.”

Now anti-Israel activism has always had its ugly side that included vandalism, threats, and shouting down those with whom the boycotters disagree. I can recall the divestniks storming the podium when they lost the divestment vote they forced on the City of Somerville as far back as 2004, the same type of public tantrums we saw when the Methodist Church or Carleton College told them “No” more recently.

But in most of the cases just mentioned, BDS supporters were able to keep the Mr. Hyde portion of their personality in check, at least during what I call the “all smiles” period when they were trying to convince an uninformed audience that both they (and what they were requesting) were all perfectly reasonable.

But recent behavior in schools like Michigan, Vassar,  Northeastern and elsewhere seem to indicate that the boycotters no longer feel the need to be bound by civilized norms even during a period when it would be to their benefit to pretend to be something other than a bunch of single issue fanatics ready to do anything to get their way.

On the surface, this slide to uncouthness up through violence seems counter-productive.  Why resort to tactics that (1) make it less likely to convince anyone of anything; and (2) give your “movement” the reputation of being made up of mindless thugs (making it that much more difficult to win your next campaign)?

Some theories I’ve been toying with to explain this degeneration of behavior include:

1. Despite all its bombast, BDS is no closer to achieving a single one of its goals now than it was when it was birthed in sin at the 2001 Durban I conference. In fact, by any conceivable measure: growth in Israeli GDP and exports, partnerships between Israeli and international businesses and universities, numbers of tourists and celebrities visiting the Jewish state, (i.e., anything other than the boycotters own ability to make noise), BDS has been a flop.

Given that they have been reduced to trying to get school governments to pass toothless divestment resolutions that everyone knows will be ignored by school administrators, the student body and the media, why not use these campaigns primarily as a way to force others to watch your political id come to the surface?

2. The gravitational field surrounding radical politics generally tends to pull in the direction of further radicalization. I saw this in Somerville when the local divestment group that originally showed enough pragmatism to get their measure passed eventually drove away moderate members, leaving a fanatical core that was never able to accomplish anything again. And when faced with the kind of losses we’ve seen over the BDS decade and a half, it’s only natural that louder and more ruthless actors will be more effective at pinning failures onto lesser radicals (and drive them from the ranks) than vice versa.

3. Despite claims that divestment campaigns “foster dialog” about the Middle East, those that push these initiatives are willing to go to almost any length to ensure dialog on this subject cannot take place; from wallowing in pathos-driven arguments designed to make rational discourse impossible, to ignoring facts and opinions they don’t want to hear, to shouting down any speaker trying to bring those alternative facts and opinions to the attention of others.

This tactic has become more and more difficult to sustain as the “Arab Spring” turned to Winter, which meant that some of the facts that needed to be driven from the stage included the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Arabs (including thousands of those Palestinian Arabs the boycotters claim to be fighting for) in places like the killing fields of Syria. While the boycotters have been able to marginalize issues like gay rights in the Middle East (at least in their own minds) by invoking fake phenomena like “Pinkwashing,” erasing scores of dead Palestinians from the record (while simultaneously claiming to care about them deeply) has required them to shout ever louder and, most recently, resort to tactics that go beyond just verbal violence.

4. Sadly, those tasked with keeping the peace on college campuses (i.e., administrators) have shown far more patience for the excess of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) than they have or would ever show towards a group directing this same level of hostility towards any minority group other than Jews.

In many ways, this choice reflects the double standard directed at Israel which gets punished for the intransigence of its alleged Palestinian negotiating partners. But this also reflects the fact that college administrators are primarily concerned with keeping their own headaches to a minimum. And given that groups like SJP have made it clear that they stand ready to create living hell for anyone who makes them play by the rules, the easiest route for many college leaders is to carve out an exception that lets one group of students (Israel haters) say and do things they would never tolerate from anyone else.

5. On the plus side, the escalation of BDSer’s atrocious behavior reflects their genuine frustration with the countermeasures Israel’s supporters have been deploying more and more effectively in the last couple of years. No longer are Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish friends willing to stand idly by as the defamers have their say, and the fact that anti-divestment forces have been able to win the day even when outnumbered by SJPers 10:1 demonstrates (1) the strength of our arguments and (2) the readiness of fair-minded decision-makers to listen to them (which makes it all the more important for the furious boycotters to prevent those arguments from being presented or heard – by any means necessary).

As a final (and ironic) bright spot to all the BDS thuggery we’ve seen escalating over the last year, it comes from the way such behavior demonstrates to all the true face of a “movement” pretending to be the inheritor of Martin Luther King and Gandhi.  For having already shown that the boycotters are ready to say anything (up to and including manipulating others and lying over and over again) to get their way, every act of BDS misbehavior provides ammunition for those of us who want to show how the BDSers are now ready to do anything to get everyone else to bend to their will.  

Can ASA President Lisa Duggan Keep a Secret?

24 Feb

We interrupt whatever I was going to say next for one of those “What the hell were they thinking?” BDS moments, this one from Lisa Duggan, the incoming President of the American Studies Association.

When we last left the new leader of this once unknown, now infamous, academic organization she was celebrating the “dialog” triggered by the boycott she and others forced onto the organization by “going to ground” and refusing to give interviews (lest she end up on record turning herself into as big an embarrassment as her predecessor Curtis “One has to start somewhere” Marez).

She made a brief appearance in the comment section of a short-lived, thoughtful insider blog to accuse anyone critical of her and the organization she leads of homophobia.  And when challenged to defend this ludicrous accusation, she once again chose to make herself scarce by returning to the quiet of her ivy bunker at NYU.

But a strange thing happens whenever BDSers think they are only talking to each other.  For as any readers of the incomparable Elder of Ziyon blog know, Duggan recently made an online appearance (spotted by the equally incomparable Barbara of Stop BDS at Park Slope fame) where she squealed with glee at an upcoming Israel-is-wrong-about-everything event at NYU (scheduled – as usual – to start at sundown on Friday and finish by sundown Saturday).

The event is meant to build on what they call an “unprecedented wave of public dialog in response to the American Studies Association’s recent endorsement of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” (ignoring, of course, the fact that most of this response consists of the group being condemned by a galaxy of fellow academics).

And to celebrate such a “wave of public dialog,” the woman who leads that organization urged followers of her Facebook page to “PLEASE DO NOT post or circulate the flyer. We are trying to avoid press, protestors and public attention.”

Where to start?

First off, you have another illustration of what “dialog” means to the average BDSer: an event where they have total control over every microphone, ensuring that even if a critic finds out about their event, decides to break the Sabbath and overcomes whatever other barriers they have erected to ensure homogeneity of thought, the most they can expect is to be given a minute to question a panel in lockstep agreement about everything and an audience ready to shout down those who ask anything too challenging.

Then you have someone who helped drag a once-respectable organization into the shitter, allegedly to “start a discussion,” urging her followers to keep their own conversations secret, lest they be overheard by those they clearly perceive as enemies (which includes the press and public).

Finally, there’s that weird “Are you drooling yet?” throwaway that makes the whole posting sound like something my eleven-year-old would impulsively cough up onto Facebook (“Meet me after school so you can drool over my Pokémon import cards, but don’t Joe Pimply-face or Fatso Mulligan.”)

While I got some heat back when I was asking whether ASA should still be considered an academic organization, I think a better question to ask is whether the group’s leaders are actually grown-ups.

No doubt, once the sun goes down this Shabbat Lisa Duggan and her like-minded allies will spend the next twenty-four hours congratulating themselves for their courage, wisdom and virtue, safe from the prying eyes of anyone who does not live on Planet BDS.  But one wonders how the rest of the members of the American Studies Association (especially the 80% or so who either voted against or didn’t vote at all to allow Marez, Dugan et al to speak in the name of their field) feel about being represented by people of such dubious adulthood.

Over the years, I’ve actually met a number of people who were or still are members of ASA.  Those who left did so because the group was starting to represent different definitions of the field as well as prioritizing politics over scholarship.  ASA supporters like to conflate these two issues, accusing anyone who disagrees with their politics as hostile to diversity.   But as the boycott and the behavior of Duggan, Marez, and other BDSers demonstrates, the greatest threat to the field comes not from dread Zionists overhearing what they’re saying, or critics of diversity, but from a group of incompetent radicals who are boycotters first, American Studies professors second, and grown-ups a distant third.

ASA and Oxfam – Another Thought Experiment

7 Feb

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Thought Experiments

Time for yet another thought experiment, this one designed to answer the question I ended my last piece with, namely, what makes the nature of BDS so unfathomable to those who (like ASA and Oxfam) become its willing victims?

To kick things off, think about a political issue you care passionately about.  Maybe it’s pollution or global warming, or perhaps you are outraged by the genocide the government of Sudan has practiced in Darfur or the behavior of China in Tibet.  This political passion might even have to do with the Middle East conflict.  For instance, I happen to hold beliefs no less passionately regarding who is right and who is wrong in that conflict as do the BDSers (although hopefully more informed by facts and reason).

OK, now think about the various institutions you belong to and possibly even lead: perhaps a church or synagogue, maybe a professional or civic organization.  And from this list, pick one that, if they endorsed your political beliefs, would help amplify your positions far beyond what you can do on your own.

But let’s say that after some consideration and talking with other members of the civic group you have chosen, you learn that others do not share your beliefs (or, going even further, hold beliefs opposite to yours with the same vehemence as do you).   And in addition to offending these members (who may, in fact, hold a minority view within the chosen group), you know with certainty that getting this organization to officially endorse your views will cause significant damage to its central mission.

So what do you do next?  Well, if you are a normal person, you might find other outlets for your political activity (such as joining or starting a different organization that has advocating for your beliefs as its primary purpose).  Or, if getting this or that civic group to participate in your chosen political activity is absolutely vital, you might spend time educating members in order to achieve consensus around both your beliefs and the need for the organization to act on them.  But even if you went down this controversial route, I would guess most of you would try to find some form such an endorsement could take that would minimize wider fallout.  And I suspect you would be willing to ultimately take “No” for an answer.

Now that you have thought through how a normal person (or political movement) might behave, think about how much this diverges from the behavior of those pushing boycott, divestment and sanctions directed against Israel.

To pick a couple of examples, when BDSers determined that their boycott program would offend many, many members of food coops around the country, they simply leveraged the loose rules those coops had in place regarding product boycotts (rules that never had to be air-tight since they were based on the assumption that coop members would take one-another’s needs into consideration) to force boycott votes (or simply implement a boycott behind the backs of the membership).

Or how about the Presbyterian Church which has official voted down anti-Israel divestment motions in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. Again, a normal political movement would get the message and move on.  But, as we’ll see when the church meets this summer for their 2014 General Assembly, the BDSers are willing to force a vote again and again and again (possibly forever) until the organization “gets it right” by doing what they say.

This type of militant politics must seem strange to the typical groups targeted by BDS: progressive organizations with a concern for human rights (even if acting on that concern is not central to their mission) who presume that anyone bringing a political matter before them is sincere about their goals and acting in the normal fashion outlined in the thought experiment that started this piece.

The notion that a food coop, or the Presbyterian Church, or the American Studies Association or Oxfam are just a means to an end for the BDSers is what is unfathomable to these organizations.  For most people participating in a civic institution understand that members of that institution have different (often opposing) beliefs and needs – which makes harmony within such groups a marvelous thing since it means those individuals have put aside differences to work together for a common good.

In contrast, the BDSers perceive these groups as existing for one purpose and one purpose only: to pass their BDS resolutions.  And not just pass them, but do so in ways that will cause maximum damage to the institutions primary purpose.

I happen to sympathize with critics of ASA’s boycott policy that are equally hostile to some of the anti-boycott legislation being proposed at the state and national level.  But then why are statehouses and Congress even talking about ASA, except for the fact that the association decided to take a stance that has brought the wrath of the academy and others down on everyone’s heads? And rather than contemplate the role their own behavior played in creating these controversies, the very same ASA leaders who triggered a crisis are now demanding everyone in the field take sides in a debate that should never have gotten started (one over who gets to decide where and how much academic freedom can be limited based on political need).

Moving onto Oxfam, this is an organization dedicated to doing good in the world (they are one of the most important groups helping victims of Syria’s civil war, for example).  And, no doubt, having Scarlett Johansson as one of their ambassadors has also done some good in terms of raising their profile and funds.

But rather than allowing the organization to express disappointment and agree to disagree over the film star’s decision to endorse a soda manufacturer, members of an alleged “international human rights community” who are BDSers first, Oxfamers second, required – once again – that everyone choose a side.

One of the dilema’s Oxfam finds itself in has to do with ambiguity.  For, from my perspective anyway, the role of the SodaStream (a company that is consciously trying to build bridges to peace through economic activity) and its location (on a piece of disputed territory likely to end up as part of Israel in any peace agreement) is complicated.  And while Oxfam is free to claim that this situation is, in fact, crystal clear, that leaves them limited room to claim ambiguity as a defense when it comes time to explain why a branch of the organization giving money to organizations central to BDS are doing so for purposes other than promoting BDS.

One of those organizations happens to be called “Who Profits?,” and to end this piece (finally), I’d like to ask the question of who profits when an organization is attacked, lets down friends and allies or is torn apart in order to ensure Omar Barghouti has something to boast about on the pages of The New York Times? Not ASA (or its members).  Not Oxfam (or the people it is trying to help).  No, the only people profiting from the manufactured BDS controversies over the last few months are the boycotters themselves, which makes the real question why other people are willing to pay such a high price for someone else’s political bragging rights.