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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).

A Look Back at 2013: University of California Student Government

21 Jan

I actually took two brief breaks from my hiatus last year to deal with some BDS stories making news.

The most recent had to do with the American Studies Associations’ academic boycott, a subject I plan to get to with a series of postings next week.  But the other event that caused me to break silence (and pen this piece for my friends at CIFWatch) had to do with divestment votes at several University of California campuses last Spring.

Before building on the case made in the story linked above, we should first acknowledge that pro-divestment votes taken by some University of California student governments do represent a setback of sorts.  While (as noted below) this does not mean we must accept the BDSers assertion that such votes are a first step towards their inevitable triumph, it behooves us to not make the same mistake the boycotters do and treat everything that happens (including defeat) as just victory in disguise.

For one of the reasons BDS loses so often is that an attitude which essentially boils down to “by losing we actually won” so detaches you from reality that learning from mistakes becomes impossible (since a “movement” that never loses never makes mistakes).  This is why the BDSers keep getting caught by surprise when things don’t go their way.  For when you live in a bubble where only the opinions of the like-minded are listened to, the existence of a majority that reject those opinions cannot be comprehended, much less worked into your political calculus.

But even if there is pragmatic value in treating a political situation as it really is (while also avoiding the trap of assuming not winning every battle means the war is lost), such pragmatism does not require you to imbue any setback (such as these UC student government votes) with a significance it does not deserve.

For as I noted on that CIFwatch piece, a student council vote in favor of divestment can only be seen to be significant (or even relevant) if (1) it stands a chance of having a practical impact (such as setting in motion an actual divestment decision by a college or university); or (2) it can be credibly asserted to represents the opinion of a majority of students on campus.

Actually, let me raise the bar even lower for the BDSers and say that such a vote does not even necessarily have to meet one of these two criteria but merely has to generate enough ambiguity so that one of those two criteria can be considered plausible.

By way of illustration, when divestment first made waves in the early 2000s (before the claimed 2005 birthdate of the BDS “movement” – a story for another time), it took the form of petitions calling on college administrations to divest from the Jewish state.  Now these petitions drew just a few hundred signatures.  But because it was unclear how college Presidents would react to such petition-driven campaigns, the media attention they drew far outstripped what these numbers would normally warrant.

Even at the time, no one anticipated Harvard or MIT would immediately initiate a divestment process just because a few hundred people signed an online petition on the subject.  But there was certainly a possibility that leaders at these schools would avoid taking a stance on the issue and thus give anti-Israel divestment credibility as a legitimate position (if a controversial one).

But such ambiguity was removed when college leaders not only rejected calls for divestment, but denounced them for the bigotry they clearly represented (then Harvard President Lawrence Summers going furthest claiming divestment calls to be “anti-Semitic in effect, if not intent”).  And once ambiguity was taken out of the equation, the fact that anti-divestment petitions were outstripping pro-divestment ones by a margin of ten to one demonstrated divestment to be what it has always been: the preference of an unrepresentative, marginal fringe.

Getting back to the UCs, when student government votes on BDS first surfaced at Berkeley in 2010, again it was ambiguity (this time over whether such a vote represented the view of the student body) that made this story newsworthy.  But after that vote was rejected and subsequent votes also went against the boycotters, after multiple all-nighters where students with vastly different positions on the a matter argued with and condemned one another, after pages of letters appeared in school papers demonstrated heated differences over divestment, we now know that whatever BDS might be it DOES NOT represent consensus campus opinion.

Now no one’s opinion was changed between previous no votes and last year’s yes ones.  Rather, the more recent votes simply represented that the boycotters had finally figured out how to pack student government with people who would vote in a BDS resolution despite the fact that everyone knew BDS DID NOT represent the views of the people student government claimed to represent.  And given the boycotter’s readiness to ignore the countless times they were told no, is it any wonder no one paid the slightest attention when a vote finally went their way?

Actually, a group of people who probably did pay attention was college administrators who were handed yet another reason to not take student government seriously (given that such government had just flushed its only source of legitimacy – the claim to represent the student body – down the toilet).

And this brings us to the real story behind these UC votes, namely, what it says about the difference between BDS and any normal political movement.  Every UC campus, after all, is home to students of many nations with historic animosity (Indians and Pakistanis, Mainland Chinese and Tawianese, etc.).  But Indians are not lobbying college presidents to divest from and denounce their Pakistani rivals, nor are Taiwanese packing student governments to get them to stuff anti-PRC messages into the mouth of the student body.

Only the Arab-Israel seems to have generated a political movement of such monumental selfishness and insensitivity to others, one which insists that its needs must take precedent over not just every other human rights issue on the planet, but every issue of actual importance to the students at the University of California (or any other civic space into which boycotters decide to drag the Middle East conflict).

So did I miss anything?

14 Jan

Sorry for the hiatus.  It was mostly work related, although as I mentioned as Divest This! was winding down last year, it’s not clear that a blog (with its reverse chronological nature) is the best format for the kind of arguments I have been building over the years regarding the true nature of BDS and how to fight it.

But blogging is a great way to get news and analysis into the conversation quickly without having to ask anyone’s permission.  And given some of recent goings on in BDS-land (especially with misbehaving academics), it seemed appropriate to revive the site (for a while anyway) to see if a bit of historical perspective can supplement some of the important work that has already made great strides in ensuring any recent BDS successes are Pyrrhic ones.

Every year usually contains one or two major BDS fights, along with a few skirmishes, and 2013 was unusual only in that there were three stories that drew media attention.  In order of increasing significance these included: (1) some student governments within the University of California system finally passing (rather than rejecting) divestment resolutions; (2) Stephen Hawking’s decision to say “Yes” to those who urged him to blow off Shimon Peres’ Fifth Annual President’s Conference, and (3) the American Studies Association (ASA) voting in an academic boycott of Israeli universities.

It was actually that last story that pulled me out of retirement, not because there is an imminent threat of widespread academic boycotts breaking out around the planet, but because the ASA boycott demonstrates – yet again – the willingness of Israel haters to demolish important cornerstones of civic society (in this case academia) in order to have their way.

As pre-hiatus readers know, the BDS strategy is to find an organization whose name and reputation they can exploit in order to get their propaganda message (that Israel is an “Apartheid State,” alone in the world in deserving economic punishment) to come out of the mouth of anyone more significant than the boycotters (which pretty much includes everyone – including a previously obscure academic organization).

And in order to achieve these ends, any means are justified.  Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at the type of manipulation that has made academic associations this year’s battlefield for the anti-BDS fight (just as food coops were the “hill to fight on” few years back).  But before going there, I’d like to take a look at the other two setbacks I mentioned (UC student governments and Hawking) a bit more closely.

But before going there, we first need to step back and put the current BDS-related challenges into perspective, something I plan to do in two days time here at the revivified Divest This.

BDS Lessons Learned – Responding to Setbacks

3 Mar

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Lessons Learned

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from covering and writing about the BDS “movement” over the years is how to deal with setbacks.  And, ironically, this is a lesson that’s been taught to me by the BDSers themselves.

For example, when students in Oxford overwhelmingly voted down BDS by a margin of 7:1 last week, did the BDS Movement’s official web site fly into outrage and despair over this setback for their academic boycott project (in that decidedly non-Zionist environment of British academia no less)?  Did Mondoweiss express deep disappointment at this resounding defeat (never mind use the vote as a moment of reflection on the current state of BDS “momentum”).

No, they simply ignored the fact that the vote ever took place.

But if later this week the University of California at San Diego Student Senate joins a handful of other student governments who have passed toothless and largely ignored divestment measures over the years (remember that big vote at Wayne State in 2003?  I thought not), as sure as night follows day this story will break across the BDS ether with pronouncements that this is just the beginning and that students across the country should join their comrades in San Diego in denouncing “Apartheid Israel.”

More importantly, supporters of Israel are not likely to follow the course the BDSers generally take of simply pretending that any setback never occurred.  Rather, we are likely to condemn the decision, fight to have it reversed, and argue about it for weeks on end (at least in the Jewish mainstream and online press).

But is it incumbent upon us to always rise to the boycotter’s bait?

This is not a simple question since, unlike members of the BDS “movement,” supporters of Israel are not wired to throw their latest wins in the faces of our opponent day after day, week after week, month after month, all the time demanding that they respond to our taunts.

Even in a situation like Oxford (where it was the boycotters -  not us – who demanded a vote on this issue), beyond a few news stories celebrating a rare moment of sanity within British academia, our side’s coverage of this event all but died out within a few days.

And if you look at the real stories that provide insight into how well BDS is faring, stories of Israel’s massive economic expansion, the success of Israeli brands like Ahava and SodaStream in global retail markets, the stampede of colleges and universities to build ties with their Israeli counterparts (all of which took place during the period when the boycotters were working tirelessly to bring the Israeli economy to its knees and isolate its academic institutions globally), you find a similar reticence on our part to portray these as political victories for pro-Israel forces.

This is because few (if any) of the thousands of decisions leading to Israeli economic and academic success have anything to do with politics.  Rather, they represent the benefits that accrue to an inventive, energetic, academically minded people who have managed to overcome adversity and win in some of the toughest competitive arenas in the world: academia and the high-tech marketplace.

And while it would be easy to play the BDSers game and portray each and every investment decision (by companies such as Intel, Apple and Google) in the Jewish state as a slap in the face of the Israel haters, there is an understandable reluctance to drag business partners and colleagues into a political debate against their will.  And thus we find ourselves in a situation where the boycotters can still kvell about  some dopey food co-op in the top left corner of the country no longer selling Israeli ice cream cones while we keep the fact that the world’s most important companies have made Israel their second home out of the political arena.

Now we are faced with that ongoing dilemma of whether to respond to BDS taunts (and thus get caught up in an argument that the boycotters control) or ignore them completely (and thus allow the boycotters to define the story to their advantage).  But this is just another variation on the current Jewish dilemma of whether to strike out against Israel’s defamers (which could give them the publicity they crave) or not mention them at all (and leave them free to do whatever they like at our expense).

Which is why I have chosen, after years of dealing with this issue, to engage directly with the boycotters, but to do it on my terms rather than theirs.

They, after all, want the discussion to begin and end with their accusations (whether based on context-free facts or invention) that they claim prove Israel to be “Apartheid state” (after having assigned themselves the role of prosecutor, judge and jury).  Or they demand we respond to their latest trivial accomplishment, while all the time ignoring any facts making up the counter-narrative described above.

But just because they have assigned the rest of us the role of the accused, does not mean we have to play it.  For there are other subjects that need to be brought into the discussion, such as the BDSers long history of failure, fraud and manipulation, their cageyness with regard to their ultimate goals, and their hypocrisy with regard to assigning themselves the mantle of human rights champion while they ignore the human rights of everyone on the planet that does not serve their immediately political needs.

In fact, as far as I’m concerned these should be the first and only topics that come up in any debate about BDS.  And only when our questions have been answered (rather than shouted down or ignored) should we be ready to listen to whatever they have to say.

BDS Lessons Learned – Who are We?

1 Mar

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Lessons Learned

Some current goings on in the world of academic divestment (at Oxford University as well as the University of California system) provide insight into the next lesson I learned while studying the BDS “movement,” a lesson regarding the nature of the organizations supporting and opposing BDS propaganda programs.

I’ve already talked about the sociopathic and fantasy-laden nature of individuals pushing boycott and divestment projects.  But those individuals make up groups, including the alphabet soup of BDS champions (JVP, SJP, PACBI, et al), and these groups also have a nature.

The key power of such groups is their willingness to continue pushing their agenda ruthlessly and relentlessly, regardless of the cost to themselves and others (best exemplified by their demand for an umpteenth student council divestment vote at the University of California at San Diego next week).

Over the years, many people have asked me where BDS groups get their money.  And while anti-Israel activists obviously need a source of funds to fly Omar Barghouti and other BDS/Israel Hate Week speakers around the country (never mind leasing flotilla ships to sail across the Mediterranean), most of the anti-Israel campaigns we have to deal with at schools, churches, etc. are led by smaller, networked groups whose most important resource is not money but their own fanaticism.

This fanaticism comes at a cost, however.  For just as BDS-proponents will use underhanded tactics to subvert third parties (such as student councils or food co-op boards) they also use these same tactics to try to grab power within their own organizations.  This tale from someone once involved with the now-defunct Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) is extremely telling with regard to how a once-successful political organization dedicated to anti-Israel divestment fell apart in the process of repelling non-stop attempts at internal subversion that leveraged the same tactics BDS uses to subvert others.

This is why anti-Israel organizations tend to be unstable, breaking apart and reforming under new names every 8-10 years (with Students for Justice in Palestine being the current flavor of the month).

In contrast, the pro-Israel community suffers not from instability, but from too much stability.  Specifically, we need to deal with a political landscape made up of: (1) grassroots activists working at ground level; (2) entrepreneurial pro-Israel groups (such as StandWithUs, CAMERA and The David Project) who focus on specific types of activism, and; (3) very large organizations (JCRC, Hillel, AIPAC, AJC, etc.) with multiple missions who have taken an understandable interest in fighting against BDS.

A network of small to large institutions provides grassroots activists expertise and resources to fall back on when needed.  But as anyone who has ever worked within an institution understands, getting big (or even medium-sized) organizations to move or change course can require a lot of effort, especially since these institutions have their own long-term goals that will generally take priority over responding to the crisis of the day.

Despite the complex nature of the pro-Israel community, over the last 5-6 years a consensus has emerged regarding how to deal with the issue of BDS.  First, there is now a common understanding that regardless of how open the “Big Tent” is going to be for Jews with different opinions about Israel and the Middle East, support BDS remains a bright red line separating those inside the tent vs. those outside of it.

Just as importantly, an informal consensus has emerged which says that the best people to deal with a particular BDS problem are those on the ground (student groups on college campuses, anti-divestment organizations within churches, etc.).  So rather than descending on a campus and telling students what they should and shouldn’t do, the network of pro-Israel organizations have contented themselves to let the locals call the shots, providing support and resources only when they are asked for.

This approach comes at a cost, especially in situations when a well-organized and/or well-informed set of activists are not available at a particular institution.  This is common on college campuses where high student turnover means pro-Israel (like anti-Israel) organizations may be strong or weak during any particular year.  But it’s also common in places like food co-ops where I’ve only seen local members organize themselves to repel a boycott project about half the time.

But as we saw with the recent Brooklyn College blow up (where, absent a locally organized response, politicians jumped in on their own), letting anyone run their own anti-BDS effort without a local focal point can cause more harm than good.

And so activists up and down the pro-Israel food chain (from the leaders of 100-year-old Jewish organizations down to individual activists like myself) have had to learn to keep our peace, even in situations where we can think of a hundred ways that this or that community could repel a BDS attack, unless and until the people on the ground reach out to ask for our help.

While this hands-off approach can be frustrating, it does provide a healthy dose of perspective.  For example, when BDSers got a divestment resolution through the UC Irvine and UCSA student government organizations last year, this barely made a ripple in the media (outside of hyperventilating BDS web sites for whom any achievement, no matter how irrelevant or trivial, represents impending triumph).

This lack of panic on our side grew out of an understanding that the militancy of the BDSers and their endless search for new categories of institutions to subvert means we are always going to win some (like Oxford) and lose some (like, potentially, UCSD).

More importantly, with three years separating the UC Irvine (and potentially UCSD) votes from a similar vote at Berkeley (which did make international news), most of us now understand that student council BDS resolutions demonstrate nothing more than the ability of BDSers to subvert or morally blackmail student leaders into striking an irrelevant pose that (1) will never be acted upon by the grownups who run the university; and (2) in no way represents the opinion of the students these leaders are supposed to be representing.

Perhaps because BDS has been with us for so long, most people now understand that, regardless of whether they win or lose this or that particular vote, they have yet to demonstrate that their Israel=Apartheid hate message represents the opinion of anyone other than themselves.  And it is to the subject of who gets to speak for whom that we shall turn to next.