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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.

Series/Winning and Losing on Planet BDS

1 Apr

Hoping I’ve only lost most and not all of my audience after a month’s digression into the comings and goings of the PC-You-Know-What, it’s time now to look at other BDS-related news that’s been taking place over the last several weeks, particularly student government divestment votes that sprouted like mushrooms in the warm, wet Spring manure.

But before continuing with that particular metaphor, a little light housekeeping.

As some of you know, one of several reasons I took a hiatus last year was increasing frustration with the blogging format for a site that’s more essay-y (is that a word?) than blog-y (definitely not a word).

Over the years, I’ve written a number of stories based on previous writings, as well as several series – all of which got buried deeper and deeper the longer the reverse chronological nature of the blog pushed old material ever further down the pile.

So with the egotistical assumption every blogger/essayist has that his past commentary is of any interest to anyone, I just used one of those handy-dandy plug-ins available with WordPress to create a new meta-organizational structure on the site built around series.

If you look at the top of the page (as well as a new Series pull-down on the right sidebar), those menus that used to just bring up unorganized categories now list series that have been written over the years, including sequenced pieces on subjects like BDS and South Africa, International Law, as well as Strategy and Tactics for defeating BDS.  I’ve even created a Humor menu that will bring you back to those madcap adventures of Bill (I mean Sidney), Ted (I mean Omar), Pinky and the Brain (as well as to the only Adolf Hitler in the men’s room joke I’ve used to date) in case you need a break from the oh-so-serious reality all around us.

And speaking of reality, pardon me for not taking the latest attempts of the boycotters to create their own version of it as seriously as they do.

When you’ve been dealing with these doofuses as long as I have, you come to see patterns that repeat themselves like a Noh drama (or, more appropriately, a sit-com on the CW Network).

A dozen years ago, the BDS “movement” (simply called “Divestment” in the pre-Barghoutian days) was behind dozens and dozens of petitions on college campuses across the country demanding that every school in the land divest from the ZiZi Empire.

Why petitions?  Because free online petitioning software coming online at the time meant starting your own branch of “the movement” on a new campus was easier than registering at a porn site.  And the fact that the boycotters couldn’t care less who was signing up (be they students from the local campus, students from entirely different campuses, or pranksters claiming to be transfer students from the Moon), meant every divestnik could claim that their demands were backed by hundreds of voices (rather than just a tiny, unrepresentative bunch of loudmouths).

And then, as suddenly as they appeared, these petition-driven campaigns died out.  Why?  Because when your activity only causes every college administrator in the country to declare that they will never divest from Israel and opponents are out-petitioning you by margins of ten to one, even the most ardent fantasist can no longer maintain the pretext that their “free-screech” represents the opinion of anyone but themselves.

Say what you like about petitioning, but at least it didn’t require student governments across the land to be forced to pull all-nighters where a new generation of BDS-niks can howl at them in impotent rage for hours on end.  In 2010, it was maybe possible to convince a gullible media outlet that a divestment vote at Berkeley might reflect student opinion.  But after years of forcing redos at Berkeley and other UC campuses, recent “successes” (consisting of sneaking votes in behind the backs of the student body, bullying, elaborate cheats or packing student government with folks who are BDSers first, student reps second) simply demonstrates to all how hard it is to get a “Yes” vote in the absence of actual student-body consensus.

Now I’ll be the first to admit the creepiness of having to attend (or even read about) a Students for Just-Us-in-Palestine-demanded student government marathon session where BDS storm troopers work themselves into an erotic frenzy of Jew (whoops, I mean Zionist) hatred. And the manipulative language and disruptive behavior the boycotters deploy once these meetings commence further highlights how much groups like SJP hold in contempt the student body in whose name they are desperate to speak.

Actually, that’s not quite right.  For as far as those pushing divestment at all costs are concerned, the student body does not really exist, except as a prop in the boycotters’ own BDS&M fantasy drama.  In fact, the distance between student government declarations and actual campus opinion is what has allowed college administrators to flip BDS the bird on campus after campus with impunity.

So what should we do as those aforementioned BDS mushrooms continue to sprout in excrement of the BDSers own making?  I don’t know, maybe we should get Israel investment clubs rolling on each and every campus where student councils voted “Yes” on divestment and force the BDSholes to do something about it.  Or why not simply ignore their trivial student government wins, just as they ignore each and every one of their own overwhelming losses and go on celebrate Israel on campus after campus, while brandishing the #BDSFail hashtag every time some SJP bellower opens their maw to demand we acknowledge their latest “astounding success!”

Above all else, let’s keep in mind that it takes zero political skill or public support, no devotion to justice or swimming with the tide of history to do what the BDSers have been doing over last decade and a half.  It simply requires you to be fanatically thoughtless of the needs of everyone around you (including those you claim to be fighting for), and ruthless enough to pursue your agenda regardless of who gets harmed along the way.  Simplicity itself (at least for those who years ago had their consciences surgically removed and replaced with self-righteous fury).

The Social Gospel Paradox

28 Mar

I’m close to finishing Joseph Bottum’s An Anxious Age, the subtitle of which (“The Post-Protestant Ethic and Spirit of America”) provides a valuable frame with which to close out this month’s discussion of what next for the Presbyterian Church’s relationship with Jews and Israel.

Works I’ve read (and urged others to read) over the last several years, such as the writing of Spotts and Poupko, look at the post-war era as the beginning of the end for the Mainline Protestant churches.  If you recall, this was a period when Mainliners like the Presbyterians, Methodists and Episcopalians joined in Ecumenical communion, putting aside doctrinal differences to create a joint front against growing competition from Evangelicalism and secular modernity.

While such a decision seemed perfectly reasonable and natural then (and still seems rational today), eliminating the differences between Methodist and Presbyterian gave people very few reasons to associate themselves with either church.  And so began a death spiral for Mainline Protestantism which Bottum identifies as the most important undiscussed contribution to changes in American society during the 20th century.

But the author also sees the post-war ecumenical era (and subsequent collapse of Mainline membership) as the result of decisions made much earlier, decisions that grew out of the challenges every church faced in the 19th and 20th centuries as modernism, rationalism and science began to dominate societies that once defined themselves as “Christendom.”

Mainline Protestantism managed to uniquely hold its own in the US until the 20th century due to its unusual nature of being both part of the establishment (given that, until quite recently, nearly every leader and intellectual in the nation was a member of this or that Mainline church) yet outside that establishment (since separation of Church and State and the diversity of Mainline substrates meant no particular church was ever in a position to dominate the secular political order).

From this position of insider/outsider, the churches fostered patriotism among their members while also giving their religious institutions an outsider’s platform to critique society.  Ironically, it was during a period when the churches still prioritized ministry (i.e., delivering the message of Christ within the context of specific doctrine) over politics that they were the most politically effective (think about church leadership in the fight against slavery).

The turning point for Bottum, however, was Walter Rauschenbusch’s introduction of the Social Gospel at the start of the 20th century.

Written during an age of tremendous political, economic and social upheaval, it’s no surprise that religious thinkers and writers were identifying Christ’s suffering with the suffering of the world’s marginalized and dispossessed (as defined in 20th century terms of class, race and the futility of war). But Rauschenbusch’s Social Gospel approached this challenge in a way that would have long-term (and largely unintended) consequence.  For his new Gospel identified six evils that form “the social sin of all mankind, to which all who ever lived have contributed, and under which all who ever lived had suffered.”

These six social sins include:

  • Bigotry
  • Arrogance of power
  • Corruption of justice for personal gain
  • Mob madness and violence
  • Militarism
  • Class contempt

But if you look at how the Social Gospel defines these sins (as evils that have lived with us since the beginning of time), they begin to look less like human failings (the original notion of sin) and more like metaphysical forces that transcend humanity, much like God or (more appropriate in this case) Satan.

Which meant that for those who embraced the message of the Social Gospel, simply fighting against bigotry or corruption was not enough.  Rather, one had to incorporate into one’s belief system the existence of superhuman evil in the universe organized around the six social sins.  In other words, during an era when rationalism was banishing Satan from set of beliefs one could hold as a person of reason, the Social Gospel provided those same reasoned men and women a new set of spirits (really demons) in which to believe.

Rauschenbusch’s critics pointed out that a world in which man was responsible for aligning his soul against supernatural evil left little room for God and Christ.  And while the original Social Gospel followers (all pious men and women) were able to deflect this criticism, it turns out that their children found it a bit easier to orient their faith around the fight against the Social Devil rather than belief in more traditional deities. And for their grandchildren and great grandchildren, it became easier and easier to abandon this or that doctrine – even the foundational beliefs of Christianity – so long as churches remained dedicated to the battle against bigotry, militarism and the other “genuine” spiritual evils in the world.

An irony that Bottum points out is that it was the very choice to put politics (or, more accurately, a human-based and ultimately politicized re-definition of religion) before doctrine that eliminated Mainliners role in both the religious and political realm.  For as church leaders have themselves bemoaned in recent decades, when was the last time you heard a Presbyterian minister on the Sunday morning talk shows proving moral guidance on the issues of the day?

But everything you have been reading about the Presbyterian Church over the last month points out a more depressing irony that only those outside the realm of true believers will recognize.  For if you look at those six social sins listed above, you will pretty much see a list that perfectly describes Israel’s ruthless and relentless foes.  And yet these foes, through skillful deployment of corruption, class hatred, mob violence, et al, have managed to force themselves to the top of the agenda of the descendants of Rauschenbusch, meaning the BDSbyterians (and those who follow them) have thrown away God in order to embrace (rather than fight against) a very devil that makes up the remnant of their belief system.

Ballad of the BDSbyterians

26 Mar

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Sorry for the delay, for those of you who can’t get enough of manic song lyrics regarding obscure situations.  (Actually, it took some time to tone down what I started to write.)

Anyway, in the spirit of the new BDSbyterian label I mentioned last time, I present a humble little ballad, sung to the tune (for the most part) of Modern Major General from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance.

The Ballad of the BDSbyterians

I am the very model of a BDSbyterian
I’m open to all points of view (especially if they’re Syrian)
Don’t bother me if you’re a Kurd, Tibetan or Nigerian
I am the very model of a BDSbyterian
 
Don’t talk to him if you’re a Kurd, Tibetan or Nigerian
Because he is the model of a BDSbyterian
 
I’m also well acquainted too with Judith Buter’s fond advice,
I understand facts fed to me by Hezbollah and Mondoweiss
I’ll happily toe Barghouti’s line regarding stocks the Church should ban
Because I am the model of a BDSbyterian
 
He’ll do whatever Omar says, yet claim to be a thinking man
That shows he is the model of a BDSbyterian
 
I also am the model of a terrorist apologist
My power for projecting guilt would stun a trained psychologist
How could this be? I do not know!  Go ask an anthropologist
I am the very model of a terrorist apologist
 
How could he warp his conscience so?  Go ask a trained psychologist
I guess it’s cause he’s made himself a terrorist apologist
 
I wipe my mind of what they do to Jew or homosexual
By leveraging the force of all my powers intellectual
Hamas missiles bore me so, I’ve not regard for where they land
Because I am the model of a BDSbyterian
 
Once rockets launch he has no care for whom they hit or where they land
Because he is the model of a BDSbyterian
 
One last point which proves that I’m a BDSbyterian
The Church must do my bidding or I’ll simply make them vote again
Divestment voted down five times is just a speedbump to my plan
And that’s why I’m the model of a BDSbyterian
 
He’ll make them vote a hundred times, or more because he know he can
And that’s why he’s the model of a BDSbyterian
 
My self-regard is buttressed by inflated moral vanity
My ego soaring while ignoring crimes against humanity
So IPMN writes pamphlets that are high-fived by the Ku Klux Klan
That’s not my problem cause I’m just a BDSbyterian
 
So what if David Duke is now his own committee’s biggest fan?
He doesn’t care because he is a BDSbyterian
 

The BDSbyterians

18 Mar

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I recently joked on Twitter (that most serious of places) that I tend to lose my audience once conversation turns to the Presbyterian Church.

Such flight is understandable, given that grasping Church politics requires navigating a sea of individuals and an alphabet soup of committees, some with intentionally ambiguous relations with the official organization.  It also requires enough familiarity and comfort level with the language in which religious discourse takes place to know when phrases like “bearing witness” are being deployed as words of comfort or weapons of war.

But I also suspect some Divest This fans might miss a little of the rough-and-tumble they’ve come to expect from this site whenever a BDS bully comes to call.  After all, I’ve had no problem highlighting Omar Barghouti’s role as a BDS huckster, or sending him and a representative from Jewish Voice for Peace back and forth in time in order to generate some cheap laughs at the boycotters’ expense.

The trouble is that when you use the word “Presbyterian,” you are actually describing both foes and friends of Jewish peoplehood.  After all, it is members of the Presbyterian Church who have seized key decision-making bodies related to Middle East policy-making (such as the Israel Palestine Mission Network) and used them to churn out endless propaganda of the ugliest variety.  And if there’s anyone you could assign the label “Presbyterian” to, surely it would include the leadership of the Church (which enables all the anti-Israel excess we’ve seen over the last two decades).

At the same time, Presbyterians are also at the helm of groups like Presbyterians for Middle East Peace which has done such a good job battling for reason within the denomination.  And let’s not forget the fact that the General Assembly members who have voted down divestment time and time again over the last four PCUSA GAs are both Presbyterians and friends (or at least not enemies) of the Jewish state.

But then it dawned on me, why should we continue to let the BDSniks continue to brandish the “Presbyterian” label, just because they work so hard to try to stuff their opinions into the mouth of every other man, woman and (if there are any left) child in the denomination?  After all, just as the leaders of the American Studies Association (who have demonstrated a readiness to destroy the reputation of the organization they purport to lead over the “right” to boycott their Israeli colleagues) are BDSers first, academics second, so too the Presbyterianism of the people I talked about last week clearly takes a back seat to their primary identity as anti-Israel activists.

Which is why I am proposing a new term: “BDSbyterian” (pronounced bee-dee-ess-bah-teer-ean) to describe those who have made it their life work to get the PCUSA to say “Yes” to divestment, regardless of how many times actual Presbyterians keep saying “No.”

Now if you want a sense of what a BDSbyterian looks and sounds like, I can think of no better example than Reverend Mark Davidson who proudly shares his story of how his church’s “witness activity” (which involved working with anti-Israel Christians, anti-Israel Jews and anti-Israel Muslims to plaster some of those egregious “Be with Us” ads on the side of busses in Chapel Hill) succeeded in “bringing Jewish-Christian relations in our community to an unexpected deeper and more substantive place.”

And how did a political campaign that has appalled Jewish and non-Jewish Israel supporters around the country generate such deep and substantive Jewish-Christian relations?

Apparently, beyond the Jewish Voice for Peace types Reverend Davidson was able to import (including Jeffrey Halper of ICAHD fame – who also appears on the bus ad simply as a grandfatherly Israeli), the response from the local Jewish community consisted of entirely predictable condemnations.  These were accompanies by the usual calls to have such ads banned, and it was the Jewish community’s decision to rejecting banning Davidson’s deeply offensive political speech that the Reverend decided represents some form of constructive dialog.

Adding to that, someone apparently vandalized Davidson’s Church after the ads ran and while (as far as I know) the perpetrators were never caught, the Jewish community in Chapel Hill did the right thing by joining with other religious leaders to condemn such a stark example of hatred – in spite of (not in support of) the offense Davidson’s political activity was causing the community.

In other words, after having their face slapped by an alleged interfaith partner, Davidson’s Jewish neighbors chose not to turn to the law to shut down his campaign.  They then turned the other cheek when an act of vulgar vandalism created common cause with the Davidson’s church, only to have the good Reverend say “thank you very much” while continuing to let ads condemning Israel as a nation of racist murderers and its supporters a bunch of apologists for Apartheid (but only in the nicest possible way) drive past their houses of worship on a daily basis.

So now we know what passes for “interfaith dialog” among the BDSbyterian set.  In fact, this particular BDSbyterian is so proud of his success that he is urging other churches to follow his lead, no doubt hoping that the whole church voting to divest from that bigoted, Apartheid-y Jewish state will create the greatest opportunity for interfaith dialog yet!

As you might guess, this kind of behavior is welling up the snark in me.  And now that I have something to call these people other than the Presbyterian title they crave but do not disserve, it’s time to finally get around to that BDS musical number I’ve been sitting on for a couple of years, especially now that I have someone’s mouth to put it into.

Stay tuned…

PCUSA and BDS: Reverend Clifton Kirkpatrick

14 Mar

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I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion over who allowed divestment to be voted on by the Aldermen of Somerville, MA in 2004, ushering in three years of conflict in a city that ultimately rejected divestment at the executive, legislative and judicial level (not to mention in the voting booth).

I mention this because even when some form of BDS activity gets snuck in through the back door of an institution (be it Somerville or the Olympia Food Coop), there is usually someone in the leadership of the institution heavily involved with the sneaking.

Previously, I provided an example of the type of single-issue fanatic driving anti-Israel invective and BDS-related activity within the Presbyterian Church, as well as the infra-structure that allows such activity to find a permanent home within the organization.  But, as has been pointed out over and over, the activity of those representing minority opinion (such as supporters of a church divestment policy that has been voted down time and time again) could only have gotten as far as it has if enabled by those in power within PCUSA.

And the leader whose fingerprints can be found on most of the incriminating evidence regarding attempts to force a position on the church despite the opinion of the membership is Reverend Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) from 1996 through 2008, the very period when BDS sunk its fangs into the organization swearing to never let go.

The Stated Clerk is tasked to manage the business of the Church’s General Assemblies, those bi-annual meetings when representatives from the various PCUSA governing units (called “Presbyteries”) meet to elect leaders and vote on church policy.

As I’ve noted many times in the past, Church culture has historically been built around decentralized decision-making, which means power is supposed to rest with the Presbyteries who get to vote on matters before the organization. But, like many institutions whose rules were constructed for simpler times, the Church has experienced an increasing hollowing out of democracy out as specialized committees, bureaucrats and professional leaders more and more determine policy with the voting membership of the Church treated like an obstacle to be overcome, rather than the sole source of legitimacy.

This is why GA voters are always asked to vote on a flurry of measures as the assembly is winding down, committee-generated measures which many voters have little time to read, much less understand or debate.  In fact, divestment was just one of many such measures related to the Middle East (most of them hostile to Israel) voted in during the last hours of the PCUSA’s 2004 GA.

Will Spotts’ Pride and Prejudice (required reading for anyone who wants to understand what’s been going on within the Church), starts by pointing out that when Reverend Kirkpatrick summed up what he thought would be the defining issues to come out of the recent General Assembly he had just presided over, divestment wasn’t even on his list.

This is indicative of a lack of understanding among many Church leaders who have increasingly turned to ecumenical partners such as the Palestinian Christian group Sabeel for all their information regarding the Middle East while also turning a deaf ear to their alleged Jewish interfaith partners trying to explain why BDS is anathema to all but the most fringe members of the community.

Given that anti-Israel resolutions had already become a staple of General Assemblies by 2004, Kirkpatrick can be forgiven for not anticipating the outrage that year’s divestment decisions would trigger. But he has fewer excuses for the dishonest way that decision was framed to Jewish organizations and the press, especially attempt to portray calls for divestment as simply bubbling up from the grassroots (behaviors also well documented in Pride and Prejudice).

By the time the 2006 and 2008 GAs rolled around (over which Reverend Kirkpatrick also presided), I was deeply involved in covering votes the church took to rescind divestment (in ’06) and confirm that decision (in ’08).  And at both conclaves, attempts to suppress voices critical of Church policy were on full display as anti-Israel partisans increasingly took central stage and, more importantly, took over the committees created to restore some sense of balance to PCUSA’s Middle East policies.

And during all that time, leaders like Kirkpatrick – rather than listening to what GA members were telling them in vote after vote – continued to portray previous GA “reverse” decisions as simple pauses on the way towards restoring the “status quo” of the pro-divestment Presbyterian Church from  2004-2006.  And given how much power continues to be centralized into the hands of the few within the organization, those few stand on pretty thin ice when they try to portray their behavior as a simple response to the will of members.  For, as with so many things BDS-related, within the Presbyterian Church some people’s opinions are more equal than other’s.

In doing a little “where are they now” research, I stumbled on this Wikipedia article on Reverend Kirkpatrick.  And while I generally recommend against reading too much into material from this particular source, I thought it was telling that the last of the four sentences that make up his entry simply states “After serving the denomination through twelve years of declining membership, Kirkpatrick chose to step down from his position.”

Such a brief article didn’t have time to point out that during a period when PCUSA’s death spiral was apparent to all, it’s Stated Clerk (like many of its other leaders) had other priorities.