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Northeastern Beats Back BDS

18 Mar

Given that the topic I and two top-notch StandWithUs activists will be covering at next week’s anti-BDS conference in LA is called “Organizing the Community to Fight BDS” (or something along those lines); I wanted to highlight an example from my neighborhood that shows just what an effective ground game looks like.

Last night, the Student Government Association (SGA) at Northeastern University in Boston voted down a divestment resolution proposed by the local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, with the final tally including 9 for and 25 against (with fourteen abstentions).

This scale of this victory didn’t come from nothing, but was rather a case study of pro-Israel students doing everything right – especially with regard to following the rules that have led to virtually every success I’ve seen in the fight against BDS over the last 14 years.

To set the stage, SJP actually has a substantial presence at Northeastern which allows them to engage in numerous agitprop campaigns as well as muster the organizational oomph needed to put a divestment resolution in front of student government.  At the same time, their scale has given them the people power needed to make flesh some pretty nasty stuff, including their move last year to stuff eviction notices under fellow student’s doors in a particularly Jewish dorm (a stunt which got their organization temporarily suspended).

When that suspension was reversed (in no small part due to legal threats made by attorneys from the Lawyer’s Guild – a group that primary exists today to serve as consiglieres to the BDS movement), the organization may have deluded itself into thinking the student body was now on their side when they chose to bring a divestment referendum petition to last-night’s SGA meeting.  But while lawyers might be able to make conflict-adverse administrators stand down, they can’t eliminate the (accurate) impression on campus that SJP is a bunch of fanatical jerks.

Set against this mixed bag of SJP strengths and weaknesses were students making up Northeastern’s school’s pro-Israel community, including the campus’ Huskies for Israel organization which helped pull together a Students for a United Northeastern campaign to counter SJP’s divestment push.

Now on this particular campus, the Hillel director is top notch – both in her support for Israel, her political talents, and – most importantly – her trust in students doing the ground-level work of pro-Israel activism on campus.  And given the list of thank you’s in Hillel’s post-victory announcement linked above, those students clearly pulled in expertise as they needed it, while never losing sight of the fact that it was their responsibility to determine what would work and what wouldn’t in their unique campus environment.

I bring this up not just to congratulate everyone involved with this successful struggle (although they deserve all the congratulations you can send them), but to highlight the elements of what constitutes a successful ground game, with some thoughts about the choices we have when one or more of those elements is missing.

For example, I’m familiar with many instances where people wrestling with a BDS-related issue have turned to local Jewish community organizations or (in the case of college campuses) the school’s Hillel, only to find limited support for their efforts.

There are many reasons why this might be so. Most obviously, in many parts of the country Jewish human capital is pretty thin on the ground.  And even when there are community or campus groups, their resources or their skill and appetite for confrontational politics might be limited (as I discovered in Somerville a decade ago when the only synagogue in town decided to sit out the first issue in a hundred years that required Jewish solidarity).

In some instances, there exists bad blood between local activists and mainstream Jewish organizations  (fights over J Street seem to be a source for many of these conflicts – a fight I want to note, but not dwell on in a piece dedicated to “how-to”).  Especially since the point I’m trying to illustrate is what to do when you are not as fortunate as were the kids at Northeastern who had both strong student leadership and a wider Jewish community that had their back.

One choice (the least effective, in my opinion) would be for local activists to try to shame a mainstream Jewish organization into supporting their cause.  The reason this rarely works is that (1) an organization choosing to sit out a conflict probably doesn’t have the resources or wherewithal to make that big a difference anyway; (2) any ally who would prefer not to be by your side is going to sap energy from your efforts; and (3) such shaming tends to create more bad blood, increasing vs. decreasing community tension (especially in the case of a loss, which often leads to finger-pointing).

The second best option when others you hoped would take the lead can’t or won’t do so is for local activists to step into the leadership role themselves.  Time and time again: on campuses, at food-coops, within churches and cities (including Somerville) it was local people, many of whom had never participated in pro-Israel activism in their lives, who rose to the occasion, organized the community, and handed the BDSers their latest humiliating defeat.

The third (and my favorite) alternative, however, is when local activists and mainstream organizations that might be bitterly divided over political issues (J Street, or even the Middle East conflict generally) put aside those differences to work together towards a common goal (the defeat of BDS) with an understanding that such solidarity did not require them to agree on all things, or even continue to work together in coalition after the battle was done.

This is the situation I wrote about at the end of the three-year Somerville divestment saga, a series of campaigns that involved people who usually spend all their waking hours bad-mouthing one another to put aside mutual hostility in order to staple signs onto pieces of wood, stand in front of polling places, hand out literature, and perform other concrete, vital tasks that left no time for political bickering.

Such a project-oriented approach lets people who ultimately care about Israel (even if they have different ways of expressing that care) to do some practical good (kick the BDSers’ butts) by fighting side-by-side.  And you’d be surprised how hard it is to trash someone on your blog a week after you’ve just fought (and won) the good fight alongside them.

Now we are involved with a long war and do not have the people or resources to enter every fight with the army we want, or even to win every battle.  But given that BDS is getting to the middle of its second decade with little more than a handful of meaningless student council resolutions under its belt, I’m guessing that the chemistry described above exists in enough places to be making the difference.

Ground Game

14 Mar

Years ago, I remember hearing a radio talk-show host chastise someone who had called to complain about a local political issue.

The advice the host gave him was that if the caller wanted to see things go his way, all he had to do was run for office and dedicate the time and patience needed to visit and shake hands with as many people in the constituency as possible.

For in an age when few people even bother running for office (as any of us who filled out a ballot consisting mostly of people running unopposed can testify), such retail politics is unstoppable.  In fact, even in national politics (at least at the Congressional level) those ready to wear out shoes and shake hands routinely beat opponents with more money, name recognition and support from the political establishment.

In the context of the fight against BDS, this phenomenon works itself out in the context of victory frequently going to those with the best “ground game,” (i.e., those who have the highest number of competent people working locally).

Since student-government votes on college campuses seem to be the BDS flavor of the year, we can look at this ground-game phenomenon in the context of what is going on at colleges and universities in the 2014-15 academic year.  For if you look at the schools where SJP has won a student-council vote or has been able to pursue its aggressive propaganda strategy with limited opposition, these are mostly at places where the opposition’s ground-game is better than our side’s.

Gauging the relative political strength of each side is often distorted by the fact that our victories tend to be quiet ones (student government votes that don’t take place or anti-Israel events that don’t happen because anti-Israel groups are weak, pro-Israel groups are strong, or both).  But even if our side doesn’t fire off press releases announcing some BDS plan or event that was thwarted or never happened, political power tends to accrue to those with the best soldiers deployed in the field.

This observation needs to be filtered through an understanding that both sides have strengths (and weaknesses) derived from their political stances and ideology.  The BDSers power, for example, derives from their ruthlessness, their readiness to say and do anything (including lie, infiltrate and co-opt other people’s organizations and agendas) to achieve their ends, and their indifference to the suffering they cause others.  But while that behavior can pack a political punch, the fanaticism needed to behave in such a way also contributes to the excesses and organizational fragility that has contributed to many a BDS defeat.

Similarly, our side benefits from the need to only tell the truth about Israel and the Middle East (which frees us from the psychological and cognitive burden of having to remember what we just told someone else), as well as from the fact that we tap into general American support for the Jewish state that has remains high, despite decades of anti-Israel propaganda.  At the same time, our inability to match the ruthlessness of our foes (which would involve spending decades smearing those with whom we ultimately want to live in peace while trashing our own communities in the process) limits our ability to “turn the tables” on our opponents.

But putting aside the obvious ethical divide between each side’s sources of strength, I think it’s safe to say that power-wise, ideology is a wash. Which means that success and failure derives from who is able to recruit skilled people and put them to work getting their program implemented in a particular setting (whether that’s a college campus, a church, a food coop or some other BDS target).  In fact, having covered (and been involved with) BDS activity since 2004, I can make the empirical observation that our victories (and defeats) have always been the result of the talent and passion of those on the ground.

Getting back to college campuses, what this means in practical terms is that we have been playing (and will continue to play) a numbers game.  For students come and go on any given campus, which means that the level of pro- or anti-Israel activity is often determined by whether one talented leader (on either side) just graduated, is on exchange for a year, or is overwhelmed with schoolwork when Israel Apartheid Week/Month rolls around.

So for all those parents calling a school or Jewish community organization to complain when they read in the paper about what’s been going on at UCLA (for example), here’s some advice: teach your kids while they’re in high school (or even before) what the Middle East is really like, and either train them yourself or tap into other people who can train them how to organize, write and speak politically so it won’t take them until Junior Year to understand what is going on and contribute (or even lead) the good fight.

And for activists (including machers) incensed about the latest BDS campus outrage and want to do something about it, here’s something you can do: support those organizations that are making an effort to train and support students at ground level.

This last suggestion is often a difficult one to implement.  For just as many political partisans prefer to organize protests rather than run for office (which would require dealing with the details and compromises of representational government), and many educational reformers would prefer to come up with tools to support and evaluate teachers and students (rather than deal with either group directly), many a pro-Israel adult prefers to tell students what they are doing wrong (or provide their own resources such as web sites, curricula and fliers) versus getting involved with the messiness of having to deal with real students in real-world and diverse campus environments.

That last criticism comes from someone who is probably guiltier than anyone else of preferring to write long-winded articles (like this one) that few will read vs. jumping into the nitty-gritty of understanding the specific needs of specific communities unless forced to (by being invited to help a group fighting a divestment or boycott vote, for example).  But while I can justify that choice based on a perceived need to come up with a vocabulary and intellectual framework to deal with the BDS threat, I would never mistake the effort put into writing blog entries with the much harder work of organizing and supporting real live people who are doing most of the work of keeping BDS at bay.

As a final thought, we also need to keep in mind that (1) we are involved with a war in which BDS is simply the propaganda arm of the much wider War Against the Jews that has gone on for nearly a century; and that (2) this is a long war in which there will be battlefield wins and losses.  And the worst thing you can do in such a situation is to treat any particular loss (such as this or that student council vote that doesn’t go our way) as the beginning of the end, rather than just one battle among thousands we all have to fight until such time that Israel’s enemies decide there’s something better to live and die for than the demise of the Jewish state.

 

BDS and Student Government – What Next?

23 Feb

As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, one BDS “win” that was a bit of a disappointment this academic year was the string of pro-divestment votes that successfully passed in student governments at various schools (notably some of the University of California campuses where divestment had been voted down previously).

One reason it’s been easy to not take these votes as seriously representing the voice of student opinion is the fact that the BDSers themselves never took the votes of previous student councils the least bit seriously when they were handed rejection year after year.  And while I’m not sure if attempts to prosecute Jewish and pro-Israel voices are as big a factor as is general student apathy towards student politics, clearly these pro-BDS votes were the result of the boycotters getting themselves elected to Student Senates for the soul purpose of pushing ahead their anti-Israel agenda, the needs of the students they are supposed to represent be damned.

But even if we reject the boycotters’ claims that such “success” makes them an unstoppable juggernaut, the notion that student government has become the latest victim of infiltration with numerous progressive and minority groups allowing themselves to be coopted by anti-Israel partisans who care nothing for them beyond their usefulness, does pose a problem to Jewish and pro-Israel voices on campus.

Fortunately, those representing such voices have already started to take matters into their own hands in ways that do not require them to play at the BDSers’ game.

For instance, once it became clear that a stacked student government at UCLA only wanted to feign debate, pro-Israel students defiantly walked out of the meeting, leaving the boycotters with nothing but their own political ids as company.

And speaking of ids, what could possibly motivate the boycotters to start screaming “Allah Akbar” and announcing that Hamas now rules the UC system after a vote finally went their way beyond the need to wallow in their own fantasies of political potency?  And, to their credit, pro-Israel student groups have done all they can to broadcast the BDSer’s misbehavior far and wide, demonstrating to all the true fanatical face of “the movement.”

I’ve written before about why it’s next to impossible to turn the tables on Israel’s political adversaries (by forcing votes condemning Hamas, the PLO/PA or Arab regimes for war crimes or murderous homophobia, for example) since (1) the Jewish community is not ready to launch and sustain a propaganda campaign against those we hope to eventually live in peace with; and (2) we are not ready to wreak havoc on civil society for our own political gain.

But nothing prevents us from engaging in the most aggressive campaigning possible that exposes groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (and their Jewish Voice for Peace allies) as a bunch of fanatical and hypocritical thugs, ready to shout down their opponents while simultaneously insisting that their own unending bellowing voices are the ones being silenced.

Is it fair to use the excesses of some SJP/JVP groups to besmirch those organizations as a whole?  You bet it is, especially since the sole purpose of those groups is to smear the Jewish state with restricted “fact sampling” if not outright lies.

I was also pleased to learn that those opposed to the pro-BDS vote at UC Davis were able to successfully have that vote overturned by the judiciary branch of student government.

While this might seem at odds with my general uneasiness with the use of courts to settle BDS-related disputes, keep in mind that we’re talking student government here.  And just as I was amazed that the University of California student government includes political parties that have been battling each other for decades, it boggles my limited imagination to know that some schools need a judiciary to put a brake on the excesses of student legislators run amok.

In this particular case, appealing to the UC Davis Student Judicial Panel also represents pro-Israel students making our opponents play by their own rulebook, a la Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.  So if SJP thinks it can take over a Student Senate and twist it to their own purposes, why not force them to live by the rules of the student government they thought they had taken over?

All that said, there is much more than our side can do that does not require giving the Israel haters the role they crave of prosecutor, judge and jury over Israeli “war crimes.”

For instance, I’ve always wondered why Tamid investment clubs (or something similar) have not taken root on every campus where BDS is active.  Such programs require no approval by outside authorities (as far as I know), provide a campus platform for cultivating interest in investment in Israel on campus, and – most importantly – can appeal to students involved with business, technology and entrepreneurship, three of the most popular majors on US campuses.

Engineering and environmental science are also way up there in terms of preferred majors of US undergraduates.  And while inviting students to hear a talk about Israeli drip irrigation doesn’t do much to counter Israel Apartheid Week shrieking, forming and sustaining groups or clubs within Engineering, and Environmental Science departments (especially on campuses like Cornell with its important partnership with Technion) provides a means to bring more students into contact with genuine Israelis vs. the fantasy goblins that inhabit BDS demonology.

And while we are using our voices to expose the boycotters for the liars, hypocrites, bigots, fraudsters and bullies that they are, why not have a little fun at their expense? For even though satire did not play as big a role in bringing down the last centuries tyrannies as did tanks and planes, a show of public contempt for BDS measures on campuses could go a long way towards demonstrating how little anyone is ready to take the boycotter’s “triumphs” seriously.

If anyone is looking for an idea, I suspect most of the recently passed divestment resolutions could easily be worked into this printed format.

Fight on!

UC BDS Mayhem

10 Feb

Back in high school, I recall a Model United Nations in which the only committee whose members weren’t stoned for the entire week roused up enough energy and creativity to cast a unanimous vote in favor of the UN starting its own Space Fleet.

That memory (which I may have tossed into a previous piece on the subject of BDS) came to mind as I learned that the University of California Student Assembly (UCSA) just passed a series of resolutions calling for the university system to divest from every place on the planet they don’t like, starting with Israel, moving through Russia, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico and Sri Lanka, finally ending with the United States.

So how did we get to the point where a student organization that almost no one has ever heard of (much less voted for), an organization with no mandate to vote on international affairs, whose members have little more than undergraduate-level expertise about any of the countries they’ve just condemned, feels it’s perfectly appropriate to declare nations (including their own) so loathsome that the school system they attend should break all financial ties to them?

When we BDS-watchers last encountered UCSA, they had just passed a pro-BDS resolution masquerading as a pro-free-speech resolution on the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah, a move that earned them praise and warm kissed from Students for Justice in Palestine (which had pretty much dictated to them the wording of their measure) and scorn and ridicule from everyone else, including the students this group claims to represent.

In theory, this experience (as well as the many bruising BDS fights that have roiled student governments within the University of California system for over half a decade) should have taught student representatives to respect the opinions of those who voted them into office.  Unfortunately, the only lesson put into practice over these last 5-6 years was learned by SJP, that lesson being if you want to get your political opinion to come out of someone else’s mouth, make sure that you and your allies are the ones casting most of the (stacked) committee votes.

So after seeing their divestment resolutions voted down again and again in school after school, the Israel-dislikers put time and energy into getting their own people elected to office, making sure to not let voters know that their primary agenda item once elected would be to vote “Yes” for resolutions that were voted down time and time again by previous student Senators.  And given the low voter turnout and limited campus interest in what student government does or says, Students for Justice in Palestine is now claiming that the dominos are falling their way.

But what do these votes really mean?  After all, the presumption behind the BDS obsession with higher education is that since colleges were hotbeds of anti-Apartheid activism in the 1980s, if the boycotters can turn them into hotbeds of anti-Israel activism in the 2010s then their formula of “Israel = Apartheid” will be proven true.  (This is the same logic behind the argument “All dogs are animals.  All cats are animals.  Therefore, all dogs are cats.”)

If political disputes were settled by logic alone, the fact that the BDS case for their campus activism is founded on a textbook fallacy would end the dispute.  But SJP, like its predecessors and eventual successors, are not in the logic or argument business.  They are in the “do anything necessary to give the illusion that our hatred of Israel reflects the belief system of more than just us” business.  And, as we have seen over the last few months, SJP’s “anything goes” mentality has done more to expose their fanaticism than anything Israel and its allies could achieve (even with the zillion-dollar budgets we receive from Mossad and the Elders of Zion bank on the moon).

One need only look at campuses where the SJP types feel in the ascendant to see political ids running wild.  At UC Davis, a divestment vote was followed by the painting of swastikas on the wall of the school’s Jewish fraternity.  This was after the group winning the vote began chanting “Allah Akbar!”, with one student senator squealing in a now-deleted Facebook post that “Hamas has taken over UC Davis!” (a phrase I suspect never appeared on her campaign literature).

This type of lunacy is just the escalation of what we have seen at other schools where the boycotters think they can get away with anything, including punching students who challenge them, surrounding political opponents in an attempt to intimidate, and that old campus standby of shouting down any speaker their opponents manage to bring onto campus.  Historically, this atrocious behavior was limited to a few small schools located in places where the wider community shared their anti-Israel views (notably Hampshire College in Massachusetts and Evergreen College in Washington).  But with these recent “wins,” the boycotters seem ready to bring their mayhem to much larger communities.

To understand why the BDSers overplay their hand time and time again, making their behavior the story vs. their preferred claims of political momentum, you need to keep in mind that:

  • Attempts to drag student government into their squalid project is actually a boobie prize that is meant to substitute for the fact that college administrators and investment managers no longer take their calls and are ready to announce before a BDS vote is even taken that they have no intention to take such egregiously manufactured “mandates” the least bit seriously.
  • Anti-Israel activism always ratchets up whenever there is a war in the region, like the one Hamas started last summer. And given the total disinterest across the entire BDS multiverse in stopping Hamas from launching the next war they are preparing for as you read this, it’s pretty clear that SJP et al can’t wait for more Palestinians to die so that they can march and scream and shove photos of bloody babies into everyone’s faces (even if some of those photos were taken in Syria).
  • And speaking of Syria, the other reason why divestment advocates have been so shrill in recent years is that their chants have to drown out the screams of hundreds of thousands of people dying across the Middle East at the hands of those who hate Israel just as much as the boycotters do.

As ever, Israel’s defenders are stuck having to do what they can, given that we are not likely to rev up a hate campaign against Muslims/Arabs/Palestinians to counter the one the BDSers have dedicated themselves to targeting Israelis/Jews.  And as much as “turning the tables” might sound good on paper, our side – to its credit – is not ready to wreak havoc in our communities just so we can score points against political enemies.

But we are hardly without options, even during a period when our opponents are feeling especially aggressive.

For we have already seen how that aggression can become the story, turning BDS victory laps into apology sessions where the Israel haters have to answer questions about swastikas and punches and other rude or violent behavior, rather than getting people to pay attention to their manufactured “victories.”  And just as SJP will never, under any circumstances, stop making accusations in order to answer questions posed by critics, so too we must talk only of those swastikas and punches and other appalling acts of rudeness and never mention this or that student vote, other than to put it into the context of SJP manipulativeness and misbehavior.

I was also happy to see Israel’s defenders walk out of recent votes, rather than stick around and pretend that a stacked Student Senate had any interest in what they had to say.  But this refusal to play by someone else’s rules will only be effective if we can figure out ways to get the other side to play by ours.  And while I’ve talked about what this could consist of in the past, I’d like to revisit our options over the next couple of weeks – in anticipation of those events I mentioned recently (as well as to get my mind off the shoveling left to do).

Comings and Snowings

4 Feb

Well a pair of Snowmageddons (which kept the kids home for four school days out of the last seven) has left little time for blogging.  More annoyingly, it also prevented me from making it to a talk by Matti Friedman that was moved from a snowy Monday to a conflict-ridden Tuesday.

For those in the know, Freidman wrote the most talked about story on Israel and the media last year entitled An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth.  And, in addition to writing a defense of that piece against lame attempts to discredit it/him, he has also been on the speaking circuit, providing all-important context to understand the media phenomenon he writes about so well.

Fortunately, this transcript from a recent talk in the UK probably includes most of what he said last night here in Boston.   And since the BDS brigade has chosen to ignore rather than smear this former AP journalist/whistleblower, you can assume his is writing about and saying truths that they do not want others to know about.

Moving onto events I actually plan to get to, any and all West Coast BDS fighters are invited to the StandWithUs 2015 Anti-BDS Conference where yours truly will be speaking alongside the best in the business with regard to battling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement.”  The list of my fellow speakers represents a who’s who of thoughtful pro-Israel thinker and activists, and I’ll leave it to readers to guess which one of them got into a legendary fight with my mother more than 25 years ago.

The event takes place March 21-23 in Los Angeles and while it is not free, it is certainly worth it, so I hope to see some of you there.

Closer to home, I’m also doing a gig in Providence Rhode Island the evening of February 25.  I’m not sure about attendance policies, but if you are interested in going (or just meeting up), drop me a note and I’ll let you know the details.

Finally, a friend of the family recently forwarded me (via my wife) a note from Hillel in California regarding the mayhem currently underway in a UC system where the BDSers recently cracked the code of how to get BDS resolutions passed by student governments, regardless of the fact that their opinion remains nothing more than the bigoted beliefs of a ruthless minority that refuses to take no for an answer.

I’ve written about the topic so many times, it’s hard to know where to start on this subject (although this piece is as good a place as any).  But as the sun (and the children) rise for the first day of school since last Friday, I must defer writing anything new on this topic for another 24-48  hours.  So tune in towards the end of the week for some further thoughts on whether the sky is actually falling over on the Left Coast, or if we are just seeing another example of impotent fantasy politics turning another institution (student government) into a laughingstock.

Infiltration

11 Dec

Since returning to the anti-BDS fold earlier this year, I find myself doing more analysis of recent BDS-related stories, rather than covering breaking news as it happens (although I can’t resist pointing readers to the latest BDS hoax story, something we’ve not seen in a while).

But moving right along, today, I’d like to talk about the brouhaha over the recent defection of Holly Bicerano, the former Campus Out-Reach Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel, an organization you have met on this site previously.

It will come as no surprise that many on this side of the aisle understood Open Hillel to be just another attempt by BDS activists to infiltrate the mainstream Jewish community under the guise of “openness” and other words with positive connotations.  And I don’t think I’m the only person to have noticed that the groups that form the backbone of Open Hillel (notably Jewish Voice for Peace) or the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization which Open Hillel warmly welcomed to their recent national conference have always erected high barriers around their own institutions and events to limit those of differing opinions from participating.

But Ms. Bicerano’s decision to publically break with the group and expose how much BDS and anti-normalization advocates are driving Open Hillel’s agenda is obviously newsworthy, given the former Open Hillel leader’s position in the organization she left, and her general attitudes towards BDS (which she supports, at least with regard to the Presbyterians) and Israel (which she blames for last summer’s Gaza war and for thwarting Palestinian democracy).

It is always interesting to see if this kind of “defection” represents the start of a journey by someone like Bicerano, or simply represents a red line over which even someone active in anti-Israel political activities and programming will not cross.  If it’s the former, I wish her well.  But even if it’s the latter, the activities that turned her off from Open Hillel provide an interesting window into why anti-Israel organizations tend towards instability.

Unlike Jewish organizations like Hillel (and the alphabet soup of community institutions – some of which have been in business for a century), anti-Israel organizations tend to form, rise, fall, break apart and either disappear or reform into new organizations with a cycle that seems to repeat every 5-7 years.

For example, when I first moved back to the Boston area, a group called the Middle East Justice Network (MEJN) got up my nose, but I was too busy to do anything about it.  Yet when I finally did get around to putting time into pro-Israel activism and tried to find out what the group was up to, no trace of it could be found.  But within a few years a new group (the Somerville Divestment Project, or SDP) was in the driver’s seat, pushing the first municipal divestment program in my then home city of Somerville MA.  And lo and behold, this group seemed to include the very same people I remember from MEJN days.

Today, SDP consists of a cobweb and new groups with names like The New England Committee to Defend Palestine and Ads Against Apartheid have come and gone (or formed for the soul purpose of engaging in a single activity – like running anti-Israel bus ads).  Similarly, while pro-Israel organizations are rightly concerned over the aggressive behavior of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on campuses, almost no one remembers the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSM) that drove divestment back in the early 2000s.

The rise and fall of PSM provides an interesting window into why anti-Israel groups tend to be so unstable.  For once that group gained momentum (especially on college campuses where their petition-driven divestment activity was centered), everyone from every side of the anti-Israel continuum (Left to Right, Secular-Marxist to Islamist) vied to seize control of the organization – to the point where its leaders had to spend more time fending off infiltrators than tending to their own mission, leading to the group’s demise.

If this tactic of infiltration sounds familiar, it is exactly what BDS activists do all the time to third parties (student government, academic associations, Mainline churches, etc.) in order to drag those groups under the boycott or divestment umbrella (regardless of how much damage such moves cause to the organizations they have infiltrated).  So it should come as no surprise that the infiltration skills they use on outsiders also come in handy when it comes time to drag the latest ascendant anti-Israel organization under this or that partisan umbrella.

Reading Bicerano’s piece over with this history in mind, it is clear that what she calls anti-normalization activity within Open Hillel (“anti-normalization” refers to a policy which says all pro-Palestinian organizations should reject dialog with any Jewish group that does not accept their pro-BDS stance and opinions on the Middle East in advance) is really just another example of the infiltration of a group formed with one agenda (Open Hillel – which allegedly wants to up dialog on campus) by another group (anti-normalization activists who want to shut such dialog down).  And as the former Campus Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel discovered, when such infiltrators want in, they are ready to do whatever is necessary to get their way.

As I mentioned earlier, it will be interesting to see if her experience with Open Hillel opens Bicerano’s mind to what others suffer when BDS infects this or that civic society group.  But for the rest of us, the lesson to learn is that, left on their own, anti-Israel groups (including Students for Justice in Palestine) contain the seeds of their own destruction in the form of their allies rather than their adversaries.

In a way, this situation is analogous to what we see in the Middle East where an Israel which focuses on staying strong and tending to the needs of its own people (including the need to protect them from harm) can grow and prosper, even as more numerous, wealthy and politically powerful adversaries fall to pieces as they contend with the contradictions built into their own societies and historical choices.

As much as BDS has been in the news this year (and as important as it is to continue to fight it), Israel’s supporters abroad also need to be ready to play a long game which will never involve total victory but will hopefully involve more wins than losses stretched over enough time to let Open Hillel and SJP join their predecessors in the cemetery of anti-Israel organizations whose names have long been forgotten.