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Campus On Fire 2 – What to Do?

9 Nov

The two pieces of advice that I use as a mantra in the fight against BDS (don’t panic/don’t be complacent) are inexorably linked.

Last time (and over the years), I’ve pointed out things that should calm us when we hear stories of BDS and other anti-Israel activity “on the march,” such as the non-existent economic impact of a decade and a half of divestment campaigns, the triumph of buycotts over boycotts, and the rejection of BDS by some of the most progressive institutions in the country (such as food coops).

But the “don’t be complacent” recommendation requires us to appreciate the strengths the boycotters bring to the battle, notably:

  • The fact that they start from militant goals (the destruction of Israel or its weakening to the point where others can do the dirty work) justifies (to them anyway) the use of aggressive tactics that opponents (i.e., us – who are not interested in destroying anyone) cannot match or sustain.
  • Their indifference to the harm they cause others gives the BDSers the ability to select any target they wish (that school or municipality for divestment, this food coop or retailer for boycotting, etc.), which means they have the initiative when it comes to selecting the terrain upon which the next boycott or divestment battle will be fought.
  • The barrier to entry for BDS is virtually non-existent. For example, a couple of SJP-types on a campus can launch a divestment campaign (such as one that started recently in Princeton) by simply signing up for some free petitioning software, filling it with Barghoutian boilerplate, gathering a few hundred signatures, and claiming momentum (or even victory) regardless of what happens next.
  • The general media zeitgeist regarding stories about Israel combined with the BDSers’ demonstrated ability to use Web 2.0 communication tools to push their preferred spin means even trivial stories will get ink and are more likely to be shaped by an anti- (vs. pro-) Israel narrative.

These advantages are not trivial, but neither are they insurmountable, especially since the BDS project is predicated on coopting a neutral third party (such as a school, church or union) in order to make it seem as though the “Israel=Apartheid” propaganda message is coming out of the mouth of a respected institution.  And, to date, most civic organizations have proven resistant to being dragged into the boycotter’s orbit.

If you look at the influential constituencies that are now fully immunized from the BDS virus (college administrations, municipal leaders, food coop boards), it becomes clear that fights over irrelevant student council resolutions or hummus protests represent the pathetically low stakes battles the boycotters have been forced to pick after a decade and a half of failure.

But it is this very triviality that requires the BDSers to scream ever louder in order to mask the minimal limits of their support outside their own community.  And, at a time when thousands of Arabs (including many Palestinians) are being slaughtered daily in the non-Israeli part of the Middle East currently going up in flames, the need to ratchet up the volume to 11,000,000 becomes even more critical, lest anyone notice that the Palestinian suffering might have more to do with HamIsis than Netenyahu.

The combination of ruthlessness and infiltration that has led to the few BDS wins in recent years (such as some West Coast student government resolutions, or the ASA’s academic boycott) represents the tactics Lenin once summed up as: “Probe with bayonets.  If you encounter mush, advance.  If you encounter steel, retreat.”

Which pretty much means that those who want to beat back the BDS threat have to do so by ensuring those bayonets always encounter steel.

We have already seen this kind of resolve within broader Jewish community organizations (including Hillel) that have made it clear that the “Big Tent” they embrace will never include those pushing for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting the Jewish state.  And the whining you hear from groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), or their latest front group Open Hillel, demonstrates what Israel’s foes are reduced to when they encounter firm resistance.

With regard to college campuses, the Jewish community has also made the de facto strategic decision to leave key decisions up to students on the ground (providing help and advice when requested).  This choice carries some risk since you never know how many students are ready to man the barricades during any given semester (or how skilled those students are politically and organizationally), which means we cannot always plan ahead for where steel (vs. mush) will emerge.

But as more kids step up to the plate (as they have over the last few years in increasing numbers), chances grow that you’ll see more situations like Cornell (where SJP has been reduced to pathetic blubbering over their own alleged victimization) than at places like Hampshire College where the boycotters feel dominant enough to direct their impotent rage at the few (largely Jewish) students who oppose their agenda.

Finally, don’t panic/don’t be complacent counsels patience.  Anti-Israel agitation, after all, has been with us as long as the war against the Jewish state.  And in that war it is Israel that stands stable and successful, a nation strong enough to defend its interests and continue the quest for peace, while those who have waged war against her for decades descend into the chaos as totalitarians battle to the death with religious fanatics with everyone screaming about the Jews as they bury knives into one another’s backs.

This same instability lurks within groups tasked to manage the propaganda component of the century-long war against the Jews.  Today, they travel under the banner of Students for Justice in Palestine – a name that will no-doubt change once it becomes apparent to all that what they stand for has nothing to do with the students or Palestinians (much less justice).

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.

Comments

29 Sep

This will no doubt come to bite me in the butt, but until I can figure out what’s wrong with the CAPTCHA utility I installed a couple months back to keep the site from being flooded with comment spam from various pants and Viagra salespeople, I’ve decided to turn it off so that anyone can contribute without going through a wall that seems to be keeping out almost everyone.

Speaking of comments, I’ve officially collected enough data points to describe a meaningful trend with regard to those dialog-starved, tough-lovin’ BDSbyterians who want everyone to know that their behavior over the last year simply demonstrates their faith-based virtues, something we’d understand if we only grasped their outstretched hand.

The trouble is, when I’ve reach out for that supposed “hand of reconciliation” by providing responses to over a half dozen entries on blogs run by Presbyterians in favor of last summer’s divestment vote, in five out of six cases the creators of those blogs deleted what I had to say (one going so far as to delete the entire comment thread – including his own responses).

The most recent example of this had to do with someone who made an appearance in the BDSbyterian piece linked above: Reverend Mark Davidson of the Church of Reconciliation (!) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

If you recall, Davidson was the fellow who decided the best way to show his devotion to justice and interfaith dialog was to plaster busses in the Chapel Hill area with those egregious “Be With Us” ads that have confused the public and appalled Jews and non-Jews across the country. And when he and his fellow BDSers were subjected to criticism for their thoughtless behavior, he decided that interfaith dialog could best be served by spreading this campaign across the country.

Recently, Rev. Davidson joined with a fellow NC BDSbyterian to write this piece which called for the church to stop pretending to not take a stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict and to be upfront with what everyone else can plainly see: that PCUSA has become a partisan in a hotly contested political conflict, favoring one side over the other (which, in this case, includes accepting the Arab characterization of events as the only acceptable truth).

In an odd way, I applaud Rev. Davidson’s honesty, just as I applauded John Spritzler who stumbled into stating plainly what others in the BDS brigade are trying to obfuscate: that the goal of BDS is the end of Israel as a Jewish homeland. And so I wrote the following comment to inform the authors and readers of that “Take a Stand” piece of the implications of such a decision:

“The problem (and the reason why so few take PCUSA’s opinion on the Middle East seriously) is that when there are two sides in a human conflict, then selecting to stand against one side means by definition that you are standing with the other. So by opposing the Israeli “side” (or, more specifically, standing against Israel and its allies, notably the US) in the conflict, you are embracing the Palestinian “side” (which must include *its* allies in the larger Arab and Muslim world).

But once someone starts probing how your choice of a side makes you complicit with the actions of those whose side you’ve chosen, suddenly there is an immediate retreat to the language of neutrality (often taking the form of claims that the church is simply embracing Christian love and peacemaking for all concerned). In other words, the notion that a church which has chosen a side must then take responsibility for that side’s behavior (including kidnapping, indiscriminate missile firing, use of human shields, killing of its own people – not to mention the repression of religious minorities: including Christians) is totally alien to an organization that wants all the benefits of taking a stand (including praise for its “bravery”) without having to live with any responsibility for its choices.”

Now you will notice that this response contained no obscenities or insults, no accusations of anti-Semitism or bigotry, but simply described what “taking a side” would actually involve (and cost).

And within minutes, my comment was deleted.

Stop and think about this for a moment. In a story specifically about “taking a stand,” the authors demonstrated an unwillingness to actually take a stand by defending their beliefs (although they did allow a couple of “you’re so wonderful” comments to appear below their posting). And, like other BDSbyterians who have been claiming since June that they are dying to engage in dialog with Jews (and non-Jews) who disagree with the divestment policy they stuffed down the throat of PCUSA, when it comes time to actually engage with critics, they do everything in their power to avoid the very dialog they constantly claim to crave.

While hypocrisy is always the easiest (and most obvious) explanation of such behavior, another explanation might be the fantasy bubble that BDSers routinely blow around themselves. For within this bubble, they can only hear the voices of those who shower them with praise and critics who shout vulgarities and accusations at them, which allows them to separate the world into the white-hatted, virtuous “we” and the right-wing-y, hysterical “they.” But when voices appear that ask challenging questions to which they have no answers, the response is to shut those words out and disappear them from any else’s view.

Anyway, I just discovered that this “Taking a Stand” piece was part of a series which also includes this piece which takes aim at the censorship (or “book burning”) represented by Zionism Unsettled being removed from the official PCUSA web site, to which I commented:

“Given how much the writers of this piece despise censorship (or “book burning at the courthouse steps”) in any form, you may be shocked to learn that the authors of another piece in this same series on the ecclesio web site (Taking a Stand, by Reverends Davidson and Shive) have repeatedly censored my comments, despite the fact that they contained no vulgarities or irresponsible accusations, just challenging questions that (I must assume) the authors were not comfortable confronting.

You can read about the issue at http://divestthis.com/2014/09/comments.html.  And, given the churches call for genuine dialog (no matter how difficult), I hope you will convince contributors to this site to not shy away from difficult issues going forward.”

I’ve got a stop watch going to see how long it takes for them to wipe those words from existence as well.

UPDATE: That comment I posted failed to appear, which would imply the site may not be accepting comments generally or has blocked yours truly.  Now it may be stuck in moderation, but I’m choosing to not hold my breath until it appears.  Nuff said.

Denormalizing Denormalization

23 Sep

With the Gaza war behind us (for now), things seem to be unfurling on campuses about as expected.

While anti-Israel activity is usually more of a second-semester phenomenon, the BDSers have been trying to leverage momentum from last summer’s war (and associated anti-Israel hysteria) to get their propaganda program rolling early at colleges and universities, even as chapters of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) are just raising recruits and getting off the ground.

Given the thuggish tactics these groups were trying on for size at the end of the last academic year, it’s no surprise that early tales of SJP on campus involve violence and intimidation as tactics of choice.  And given the amount of information coming out of Gaza that they need to suppress, we can expect the usual tactic of ignoring anything others have to say to be accompanied by ever-louder shout-downs of those who choose to mention little details like 4000+ rockets fired at Israeli civilians from behind Palestinian ones.

But a decade of manufactured anti-Israel hostility has also generated counter-measures in the form of bigger and better-organized pro-Israel campus groups that have proven their skill (and patience) again and again.  And following a dynamic I described nearly a decade ago, these groups have been given the leeway to take the lead on their own campuses, pulling in resources from the wider Jewish if and when they are needed.

Within this battlefield, Israel’s foes have some decided advantages.  To begin with, as the propaganda arm of a war movement, the BDSers – by definition – have militant goals which means they can be perpetually on the attack.  In contrast, Israel’s supporters are not interested in destroying anyone and thus do not have the incentive to spend semester after semester smearing Palestinians (or other Arabs) or even telling stark truths about what the Palestinians have done to bring so much misery upon themselves over the decades.

Similarly, the sociopathic nature of the boycotters mean they are free to pick the battlefield unhindered by worries over the damage they may cause to others.  Again, in contrast, pro-Israel groups are hesitant to drag the Middle East conflict into every civic space in the land and thus must wait until the Israel haters act before they can react to any situation (such as a BDS vote) that requires a fight.

Those advantages are somewhat mitigated by the fact that most college populations consist of roughly 5% of students hostile and 5% of students supportive of the Jewish state with the other 90% indifferent (above and beyond wondering why this particular political conflict must be in their face 24/7).  In theory, this vast majority can be swayed, possibly by propaganda (the BDSers preferred choice), possibly by reasoned argument.  But, in general, this large group tends to support dialog and are looking to see which groups seems most sincerely dedicated to working things out via genuine communication vs. screaming matches.

This makes the over-the-top nature of groups like SJP a liability, which makes an aspect of this year’s campaign – one having to do with “denormalization” all the more surprising.

If you recall, “normalization” means treating Israel like a normal country whose citizens have the right to participate in all of the activities allowed by citizens of any nation in the world.  Which means that “denormalization,” making normal life impossible for Israelis (and their friends), is at the heart and soul of the BDS project.

For instance, any scholar in the world is allowed to be part of the community of academic discourse – even if they come from nations rules by monstrous, murderous regimes that suppress academic freedom at home.  But an academic “denormalization” campaign seeks to make just one exception to this rule through attempts to bar Israelis (although just the Jewish ones) from the scholarly community.

Similarly, product boycotts and divestment campaigns are designed to make buying Israeli goods or investment in Israeli companies seem extraordinary, just as last year’s marches in Europe and elsewhere want to “normalize” the notion that just one country (the Jewish one) has no right to defend itself when enemies shower its cities with rocket fire.

But among anti-Israel campus groups, “normalization” would require treating interaction between pro- and anti-Israel student groups as a normal form of human discourse.  Which is why they reject it, insisting that any dialog can only begin once those that disagree with them accept every BDSer fact and opinion in advance.

While the term “de-normalization” tries to smooth over some rough edges, the proper description of this position would be “anti-dialog” and “anti-peace” which pretty much sums up the alpha and omega of the BDS “movement.”

Which means that it is worth it for pro-Israel groups on campus to continue extending a hand to their opponents and then communicate out every time it is slapped away, thus demonstrating that the only thing abnormal going on is what takes place in the minds and meetings of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine.

Are the Presbyterians Really Peacemakers?

16 Sep

During this summer’s Gaza conflict, two organizations that made news earlier in the year when they passed boycott or divestment resolutions – the American Studies Association (ASA) and Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) – issued statements on the conflict.

Of the two, ASA’s call to immediately terminate all aid to Israel (taken this time without any pesky interference from the rank and file) simply demonstrated the organization’s true nature: as a membership group made up of scholars largely indifferent to ASA’s political posturing led by a cadre that is nevertheless happy to make politically charged statements in the name of those they purport to represent.

The inability of ASA leaders to argue their positions or explain their behavior outside of like-minded audiences has exposed them as charlatans and cowards long ago, which may explain why their summer Gaza statement made no news beyond the usual BDS fever swamps.  But PCUSA’s public rhetoric that claims their various statements and motions (up to and including a decade of divestment votes) represent a desperate craving for peace makes their behavior regarding the Gaza war more worthy of scrutiny.

As I noted previously, a statement made early in the conflict by PCUSA’s Stated Clerk followed a familiar pattern of making Palestinian victims concrete and visceral while retreating to the passive voice when it came time to “condemn” violence directed towards Israelis.  And while there is no question who PCUSA considers to be the victimizer when it comes to Palestinian casualties, it’s not at all clear that they are ready to place responsibility for missile fire and tunnel terrorism (successful and thwarted) where it belongs.

But another statement, made in late July (in the name of the entire church membership), one which calls on President Obama to “press for an immediate ceasefire,” is far more telling when looked at in the context of the many ceasefires declared and then broken between July and the final cessation of hostilities in August.

If you recall, this round fighting in Gaza was marked by countless calls for a ceasefire (made by, among others, the US President to whom the Presbyterians appealed).  But, each and every time, those truces ended when Hamas finished using them as occasions to reload and redeploy, allowing them to start firing once again.

The second to last ceasefire (in August) was the most bizarre since everyone (including Israel) thought the fighting was over, only to see it start again when Hamas decided that rocket fire would continue until their demands were met.

During each of these ceasefires (especially the last one), the leadership of PCUSA never managed to deliver some of the “tough love” they routinely deliver to their Jewish “friends” to the Palestinians they have spent the last several decades cultivating by embracing their narrative and joining in their divestment calls.  In fact, the relationship they have built (at the cost of their relationship to the Jewish community) placed them in the ideal position to have their voices heard.  Yet, as far as I know, no such “tough love” emanated from Louisville explaining that PCUSA’s continued support was contingent on Palestinians doing what everyone else was begging them to do: stop firing rockets and thus restarting the war.

Remember that PCUSA could have made such a call without compromising its all-but-official positions on who is right and who is wrong in the Arab-Israeli conflict in any way.  For placing blame on Hamas for causing this particular war to continue when it could have stopped much earlier in the summer does not necessarily require condemning Hamas for the many other things you or I could list (diverting development supplies into tunnel and weapons manufacture, hiding and firing among civilians, etc.).  It just requires you to ask the party that seems to be doing things that are prolonging the war PCUSA claims to desperately want to end to stop doing those things.

Just imagine the headlines you would have seen if the church had put its divestment position on hold unless and until Hamas agreed to the same truce everyone else had.  And think about the impact such a bold move would have had in demonstrating to the world (including the Palestinians) that PCUSA’s commitment to peace took precedent over their seeming pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel partisanship.

No doubt there are hundreds of bureaucratic reasons that might make it difficult for the organization to move in such a direction (although such bureaucracy never seems to keep PCUSA from taking all kinds of actions directed at Israel, up to and including Zionism Unsettled).  But one would think that an organization that is truly dedicated to peace, one which really wanted a particular conflict (the Gaza war) to stop, would do anything in its power to turn that desire into reality – even if it meant temporarily condemning someone other than their usual target of criticism.

Given that the church remained silent when their voice might have helped, it seems that there is something more important than peace on PCUSA’s agenda.  Which means we should take their demands that we treat them as peacemakers with the same grain of salt we treat their claims of love and friendship.

Battle Stations!

2 Sep

While life required taking a break from new writing in August, it’s time now to get ready for what is likely to be an ugly year with regard to BDS battles brewing on campuses and elsewhere.

One of the reasons BDS hasn’t gone into remission (as it did between 2006 and 2009) is that it remains the tactic of choice for Israel haters eager to mobilize supporters into action.  For, despite all its flops and failures, frauds and faux-pas, the “movement” derives certain advantages from its choice of the BDS tactic, namely:

  • BDS campaigns are easy to explain and implement.  Set up a survey monkey account and BANG!, you’ve got a petition-driven divestment campaign up and running at a college or university.  Sign up a few volunteers to march in front of a local hardware store and POP! a SodaStream boycott effort is underway.
  • Because virtually every institution in the world retains some tie to the Jewish state (investments in Israeli companies or US companies doing business with Israel, academic exchange programs, sale of Israeli consumer products and technology), that gives the BDSers license to inflict themselves on any civic organization they please.
  • And because the boycotters could not care less about the damage they might cause to those civic organizations, there are not bound by the limits normal people confine themselves to (such as the need to tell the truth and not use others as mere means to an end).

As always, geopolitics beyond any of our control is what has allowed BDS to chug along since it was resurrected in 2009 (or – to be more accurate – when it was reborn in fraud with the Hampshire College hoax that took place that year).  For whenever Hamas decided to restart hostilities (as it did in 2009, 2012 and this summer), carefully orchestrated outrage brought people into the streets.  And those orchestrators have been ready to give anyone who shows up to their rallies desperate to “Do something” something to do: start a BDS project in their neighborhood.

Traditionally, anti-Israel activity on campus is more of a second-semester phenomenon since it often takes a few months for a chapter of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to get their act together, recruit new members, get funding, and plan and execute programming.  This is why events like Israel Apartheid Week (no matter how tired and loathsome) tend to be scheduled for the Spring.

But with this summer’s carnage still fresh in people’s minds, we have already seen the anti-Israel bandwagon rolling on college campuses and beyond.  And given that physical assault seems to now be on the SJP menu, I think we can expect the out-of-control behavior we saw in places like Northeastern and Vassar last year to spread and escalate.

As depressing as it might be to have to start dealing with the attack on Israel’s legitimacy (including its legitimate right to defend itself against endless rocket attacks) immediately and everywhere, keep in mind that our side brings its own assets to the fight.

First off, years of escalating anti-Israel activity on campus and beyond has created a counter-force in the form of enthused, energetic and informed pro-Israel groups fighting effectively against defamation of the Jewish homeland across the planet.    And both Israel and the diaspora have woken up to the fact that we need to take the battle against the propaganda weapon wielded by faux “peace-activist” war groups just as seriously as the IDF takes the threat of missile and tunnel weapons.

Finally, the sheer volume of lies people are being asked to believe in order to embrace the SJP/BDS/Hamas storyline of pure Israeli villainy and Palestinian pristine innocence is pretty much ready to not just snap the camel’s back but flatten him into a millimeter-thick camel pancake.  And with ISIS running amok in Iraq, Boko Haram kidnapping and raping their way across Nigeria and Syria racking up more Arab casualties per month than Israel has in decades, the notion that we must ignore the rest of the world and talk only about Gaza casualties (based on figures provided by Hamas, of course) becomes an ever-harder sell.

But how should we be framing our message during a period when SJP and the like minded will be doing all they can to manipulate the uniformed and shout down (or beat down) those with opposing views?

Some thoughts on that tomorrow.