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Denormalizing Denormalization

23 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle Stations!

2 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts on that tomorrow.

DePaul BDS et al

24 May

It’s temping at the end of a school year to play the numbers game: toting up wins and losses on each side to see who’s on top and who’s gaining momentum.  And in a year where student votes have gone against the BDSers 15:3 – or maybe 16:4 after Davis rejected divestment (again) but SJP narrowly won a referendum at DePaul – you’ve seen Israel supporters highlighting an unusually high concentration of BDSFails while the boycotters try to define everything (including defeat) as victory in disguise.

I’ve written before about the hazards of relying too much on head-counting (or, in this case, vote counting) which can lead to poor tactical decision-making based on the sometimes irrational faith people place in numerical information.  But dwelling on wins and losses within student government bodies also obscures a more fundamental truth that gets lost in the drama of nail-biting ballot races.  For as the BDS propaganda campaign closes in on its fifteenth birthday, student government votes are not what the BDSers have accomplished but what they have been reduced to.

I’ve been doing this gig long enough to remember when the first campus divestment petitions cropped up at places like Harvard and Yale.  And during those early days, it was not at all clear whether or not some school might actually respond to calls to divest (or at least treat the BDS agenda seriously, giving the “movement” the credibility it so craved).

In retrospect, such concerns were unwarranted.  For as we’ve seen over the last decade and a half, college administrators well understand that divestment and boycott calls represent the views of an aggressive, fringe minority willing to put things like campus comity and academic freedom at risk for the sake of their own selfish agenda.  Which (as demonstrated by the ASA backlash) has led college Presidents (and other assorted adults) to not just reject BDS demands but to vocally and eloquently condemn it.

Which means everything we’ve seen on college campuses over the last several years: the all-night Student Senate meetings, the blanketing of campuses with anti-Israel propaganda, the shouting and the bullying are ultimately forms of Kabuki drama (albeit delivered via megaphone) where the BDSers ignore both their immediate losses and the fact that their “wins” have never amount to anything.

You need evidence?  OK, so let’s go back to the first divestment vote taken by a US-based student government (Wayne State in 2002).  Remember that one?  I thought not.  For a record of this decision only carries on in those “victory” lists the boycotters routinely trot out to demonstrate their unstoppable momentum, documentation that never takes into account that (1) the initial vote led to nothing other than rejection and condemnation by the administration, and (2) subsequent student government votes on the matter didn’t materialize for another decade.  And the choice of student government as a target only got made when a freshly minted SJP organization realized it could never convince a school’s administration to divest, nor convince the media to pick up on any more post-Hampshire divestment hoaxes.

How about student referenda like the one that passed at DePaul last week?  Well how about the last BDS referendum that passed at Evergreen College in 2011, another forgotten story that led to absolutely nothing since even the staggeringly indulgent administration of Evergreen drew a line at taking student statements on Middle East affairs the least bit seriously.

Again, I don’t want to minimize the role these campaigns play in pumping anti-Israel toxin into a campus environment, lies which a certain percentage of uninformed people will end up accepting as truth.  But we should also not minimize the fact that every action triggers a reaction.  And, in the case of BDS, this has involved a newly energized pro-Israel community ready to brave the fight (no small feat, given the lengths their opponents will go to shout and shut them down) in order to deliver the truth the Israel-haters are trying so desperately to suppress.

Because no one believes any of these votes and referenda reflect the consensus of the student body, media coverage of this year’s campaigns has been nearly non-existent.  And given that the goal of the BDS “movement” is to create an illusion of momentum which they hope can be used to build a self-perpetuating bandwagon, it’s just as well that no one outside of the fever swamps of Mondoweiss is paying much attention of which student councils are voting divestment up or down (mostly down).

At the same time, there is a news story to be found in all the controversy being artificially inseminated into student life, the story of the outrageous lengths anti-Israel groups are willing to visit on campus after campus regardless of the cost to others.

I’ve written before about Israel haters running amok, but the lengths SJP has been willing to go this season surpasses anything I can recall.  Their failed attempt to haul political opponents before a student judiciary at UCLA might just seem like the latest chapter of BDS proponents finding new institutions to exploit and corrupt for their own gain.  But the fact that SJP chose to not include one of their allies on their suspect list – despite the fact that he had taken the exact same trip SJP was condemning others for going on – demonstrates a level of cynicism I’ve not seen in over a decade of BDS fighting.

Getting back to that DePaul story, about 10% of the student body cast a ballot in last week’s referendum with the pro-divestment side getting 1575 votes and the anti side 1333.  If those numbers ring a bell, it’s because you read that piece I mentioned earlier that describes most college campuses where 10% of the student body feels strongly about the Middle East (half on one side and half on the other) while the other 90% either don’t care or wish partisans of all stripes would just shut up and leave them alone.

But for the BDSers, that margin of 242 votes (or around 0. 9% of the student body) means just one thing: DePaul is theirs to do with as they please.  And given the behavior we’ve seen on campuses this Spring (including at DePaul), one can only imagine the mayhem they are likely to unleash now that they can pretend to speak for the entire student body.

University of Washington BDS Fiasco

21 May

As most of us in the BDS/anti-BDS subculture (and almost no one else) knows, the you-know-who haters suffered one of the biggest of the umpteen defeats they received this year when the University of Washington BDS vote went against divestment 59-8.

The only two newsworthy things about this most recent BDS setback are (1) the ballot went against the motion so decisively; and (2) this latest chapter of the campus student-council divestment saga barely made news before, during and after the vote.

While congratulations need to go to the pro-Israel students at UW who took the microphones and successfully made their case, the lopsidedness of the vote would point to an additional source for last night’s outcome: the fact that student governments are getting wise to the fact that SJP-types don’t give a fig about anything beyond their own fanatical agenda and are ready to badger representatives all night long if need be in order to get their way.

I’m speculating, of course, but from what I know of college campuses today it would probably be a stretch to say that a Zionist heart beats in the chest of 88% of students on campus (that’s 59/(59+8) BTW).  But I suspect that the 88% of UW student senators, and the students they represent, don’t appreciate being played for chumps just to give the boycotters a captive audience to wail at for hour after hour after hour.

With regard to the lack of media interest in the vote – even in the Jewish press – we need to compare this year’s campus divestment stories in aggregate to the media frenzy that took place at Berkeley in 2010.  That was the year the student government did vote “Yes” on divestment only to see the measure vetoed by the council President, a veto the boycotters couldn’t scrounge the votes to override.

While the elements of that story (consisting of twists and turns, each hinging on a nail-biting ballot) infused that tale with drama, the fact that this was the first major campus where student government was voting in divestment also made the story fresh and new (drama, freshness and Jews being three things the media can’t get enough of).  But in the years since that Berkeley defeat, the BDSers have been bringing the same measures up on campus after campus, only to see them voted down in almost every instance.

Given how little concern the boycotters have for student government opinion when they are told “No” (repeatedly), is it any wonder that neither students, administrators or journalists take these divestment ballots (or the student governments that vote them in) seriously on those rare occasions when the boycotters manage to eke out a “Yes” (usually by packing student government with their own supporters or sneaking measures in during the dead of night and/or during Jewish holidays)?

Unlike the boycotters, our side doesn’t tend to break into war dances and demand everyone (including our foes) acknowledge our “stunning momentum” when we win, which means the UW story will likely fade away (at least until the BDSers show up again to demand a redo, or bring the 59 people who voted against them up on charges).

But there’s one important message coming out of last night’s vote that should not go away.  For, as the UW Senate made loud and clear, no one is obliged to vote on this or that international issue just because 100 SJPers are breathing down their neck demanding that their pet peeve be made the law of the land.

If the student body of every college in the country has gotten along just fine without condemning Syria for genocide, Saudi Arabia for gender and sexual Apartheid, or the Palestinians for terror and corruption, then they are perfectly justified not embracing an BDS agenda pushed by allies of those repressive and bigoted societies.

SJP Running Amok

18 May

A recent story on the attempt by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and their allies to bring their political opponents up on charges at UCLA included a comment on how SJP has been running amok all year on campus after campus.  And if you look at what’s been happening the last few months, that description seems largely apt.

First, you’ve seen the videos of student breakdowns and shout-outs when they didn’t get their way with the votes SJP forced on student councils, debates that let them rant and rave while sneering and howling at their opponents but did not leave them with much to show for one more year of effort.

Much of this failure is simply due to the fact that the student body they yearn to speak for does not share their opinions, which is why the only “victories” SJP has managed to eke out came from student councils the Israeli haters have deliberately packed with people who will happily vote “Yes” on divestment, despite knowing that position represents nothing like campus consensus (which effectively strips those “Yes” votes of any meaning).

The fact that no one considers student council votes on international affairs as representative of anything means that those all-night hate sessions have become an end in themselves since it allows the SJP types to engage in orgies of Israel hatred before a captive audience. But like the Apartheid Walls and mock checkpoints they routinely set up to harass students, such activity only manages to convince more and more people that SJP is nothing more than a bunch of rude fanatics.

Now a normal political organization might step back and realize that such behavior is actually counter-productive to their cause.  But as I’ve noted again and again on this blog, BDS is NOT a normal political movement. For the type of behavior we’ve seen on campuses, particularly in the last month or two, only makes sense when you realize that for SJP types, the student body is not a group of real human beings who need to be won over, but a set of extras (or props) meant to serve as a backdrop for anti-Israel agitprop performances.

So why have things escalated in recent weeks, from eviction-notice stunts at Northeastern and NYU to the posting of Nazi propaganda images at Vassar to the recent attack on UCLA Israel supporters for daring to what the BDSers do all the time (i.e., tap into outside resources to support their political activity)?

Part of the reason is that there haven’t really been any consequences for these student groups’ most egregious actions.  Yes, SJP at Northeastern was suspended – but only temporarily.  And while administrators at some schools have spoken out against the bullying that’s been taking place on campus, they have done so in language far meeker than what they used when condemning the ASA boycott (which is more about institutions and faculty than students).

Some have characterized the lack of response by adult leaders at colleges and universities as feckless, and while I’m sympathetic to that view I’m also sympathetic to the plight of administrators who know SJP is ready to “lawyer up” (using those outside resources they insist cannot be used by their opponents) and make the lives of those trying to run a school living hell if SPJs are not allowed to continue doing whatever it wants (all in the name of the “free speech” that they routinely deny to others).

Knowing there are unlikely to be genuine consequences for misbehavior is certainly a motivator for more misbehavior.  And then you’ve got the instantaneous communication element brought into the equation by our old friend the Internet.  For once one SJP group gets away with some outrage on one campus; word travels to all the others at the speed of electrons, providing a blueprint for what to do next.  And keep in mind that while BDS storm-trooping and shouting matches may seem to us like surefire ways to put off potential allies, for the boycotters such tantrums – in and of themselves – represent success (which is why they proudly post and repost videos of their misbehavior all over that aforementioned Internet).

Beyond such rules and mechanics, however, SJP going so over the top on campus after campus is also a demonstration of impotent rage.  For once you get past all the noise, what has this latest incarnation of the permanent anti-Israel hate presence on campus actually accomplished since Students for Justice in Palestine came into existence?

Winning divestment votes in student councils, their only activity that involves convincing (rather than harassing) others, has pretty much been a bust, even during an era when no one takes seriously the notion that such votes represent campus opinion.  Their “You-Must-Listen-to-Me-and-Do-What-I-Say-Because-I’m-So-Angry” routine is well past the sell-by date for most students.  And pro-Israel organizations, despite being harassed for existing, are stronger than ever on US college campuses, just as the Israeli economy the boycotters are trying to wreck has gone from strength to strength to strength.

Finally, while impotent rage is a powerful driver for more and more misbehavior, remember that the rules for radicals tend to be applied both by and to fanatical organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine.  What this means is that these types of groups tend to attract fanatics and since political fervor is their main currency of respect, the most fanatical tend to end up in positions of leadership.  And just as BDS groups routinely try to infiltrate other organizations in order to speak in their name, these same groups must endlessly fend of infiltration by other radical individuals and organizations (often with ties to a particular strand of Left/Right – Secular/Religious radicalism within the Middle East itself).

This is the dynamic that ultimately destroyed the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM), the go-to group for anti-Israel agitation that spearheaded campus divestment activity in the early 2000s.  For just as the divestment tactic was starting to run out of gas, PSM leaders found themselves spending a majority of their time writing and enforcing rules that would keep people even nuttier than themselves from taking over – an effort that finally ended in the group’s demise.

SJP may have avoided PSM’s fate (at least temporarily) by not saying “No” to anyone, no matter what lunacy them demand the group engage in.  But as their anti-democratic, anti-peace, anti-justice and anti-student behavior becomes more and more obvious to all, it may just be a matter of time before this latest incarnation of campus “I Hate Israelism” implodes, joining PSM on the list of now-forgotten acronyms.

My UCLA Student Council Campaign Speech

11 May

As has been covered here and elsewhere, BDSer attempts to get toothless, pointless divestment resolutions passed by student governments over the last year haven’t gone so well (UC Davis just said no for the umpteenth time last week).

But at UCLA where a rejection of divestment resulted in this charming and mellow response, SJP types have decided to get to the root of their problem – the existence of informed, activist pro-Israel students who keep defeating them – by creating a new fake controversy for the purpose of stigmatizing their opponents.

In this case, the BDSers are protesting the fact that some Jewish (and non-Jewish) students have taken trips to Israel and (gasp) some of those trips have been underwritten by Jewish community organizations!  In other words, while SJP-types reserve for themselves the right to accept help from allies across the planet, they want their opponents’ doing the same thing branded as an ethics violation.

Now I don’t go to UCLA (or any undergraduate institution).  But if I did and was faced with SJPers asking me to “take the pledge” against going to Israel to learn the truth, I would probably channel my inner Goldberg to respond something like this:

“Stop and think for a moment about all the bitter and violent conflicts in the world, conflicts that have left hundreds of thousands dead in places like Syria, Chechnya and the Congo.  Yet none of these situations seem to require student government to spend all-nighters voting on whether to condemn one side (and one side only).

Think also about all of the international students we have on campus: Chinese and Taiwanese, Pakistanis and Indians, Turks and Armenians whose nations have been at loggerheads for decades.  Yet none of these communities seem to have decided that student government exists to advance their partisan agendas.

It is only the Arab-Israeli conflict that must be voted on year after year after year – with “No” votes being treated as nothing more than an invitation to push the same initiative again next year.  Only the Arab-Israeli conflict involves endless propaganda events that entail flying speakers in from around the world to explain to students why Israel is guilty of everything, harassing students at mock checkpoints, and shouting down those who disagree with the SJP/BDS party line from the stage.

Speaking of propaganda events, I don’t believe any Israel supporter has ever demanded SJP types to explain where the money is coming from to fly Omar Barghouti around the world on an annual basis, just like no one is insisting on a complete accounting of who underwrites those fleets of ships sailing across the Mediterranean to pretend to bring “urgent” medical supplies to Gaza.

Similarly, no one is questioning whether our local SJP chapter has the right to draw in resources from the hundreds of anti-Israel groups working around the globe.  Yet when Israel’s supporters do the same thing, somehow this is now being described as an ethics problem.

So it’s an ethics violation to discover the truth for ourselves first hand?  Only to those dedicated to stifling any truth that prevents them from spreading lies.  So it’s an ethics violation for Jewish students to reach out to Jewish organizations while SJP gets to work with whomever they like?  Only to those who consider “free speech” to consist of their ability to control who gets to participate in debate.

Getting back to money, why is it that Israel and only Israel is routinely signaled out for condemnation by organizations like the UN (such condemnations serving as the basis for most SJP indictments of the Jewish state)?  Is it because the 50,000 deaths in that conflict over the last 65 years (which includes both Jews and Arabs, by the way) are more than the 150,000 murdered in neighboring Syria over the last five?  Or is it because neighboring Syria is allied with some of the wealthiest nations in the world – who also happen to be the world’s worst human rights abusers – nations that have used their wealth and power to ensure organizations meant to keep the peace and support human rights instead serve as tools in a propaganda war – the same kind of corruption being demanded of our student government.

Again, SJP is free to benefit from the countless billions used to fund the propaganda campaign of which they are a part.  But they are not free to stifle discussion of what their campaign is really all about.  And they are certainly not free to decide what both they are their opponents are allowed to say and do.

If you have decided that my choices of who I work with, where I go and what I say present some kind of ethical lapse or challenge, I’ll make it easy on you – don’t vote for me, because I don’t want your vote.

As you can see in this piece, I have strong feelings about the political situations in the Middle East, beliefs I neither apologize for nor insist you share.  In fact, if you are considering voting for me, here are some promises to which I pledge my sacred word:

I pledge to never even consider using my office to force student government to officially condemn my political enemies.

I pledge to never do anything that would imply that the student body I represent shares my political opinions on the Middle East when clearly they have a diversity of opinions, all of which deserve respect.

I pledge to never turn the campus upside down or insist that every student must take sides on a political issue important to me, but not necessarily to everyone else.

In short, vote for me if you want someone to represent your interests on issues important to the student body – rather than someone who sees the student body (and government office) as a means to push an agenda that serves their partisan desires rather than your genuine needs.

If you enjoy seeing the Middle East conflict – with all its bitterness and hostility – imported onto campus and want to see the number of hostile all-night votes, propaganda events and ugly disruptions go on forever, then please vote for those who have that as their primary goal.  But if you want to be represented by someone who cares about the students on campus and does not simply see you as a stepping stone to advance someone else’s boycott agenda, then I humbly ask for a vote which I promise never to betray.