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The Peoples Poet

5 Nov

They can try to hoodwink the public with press releases declaring their latest fake victory. They can interrupt ballet performances by shouting and blowing bullhorns (and turn the entire audience into Zionists in the process). They can even show up in the comments section of this blog demanding answers to irrelevant questions and never respond when we answer their challenges by smashing their points to bits. But when they start messing with the brand, in the words of my favorite never-say die hero: this means war.

I’m talking, of course, of that maybe-one-day-to-be-slightly-famous poet Remi Kanazi whose latest masterpiece – are you ready for this – is called “Normalize This!” (Gee, I wonder where he got that name from?!)

During the three-minutes and twenty-six seconds needed to complete recitation of this work of (yet more) impenetrable outrage, poet Kanazi somehow manages to pack every cliché that’s ever been written on any anti-Israel web tract, pamphlet, hand-scrawled poster, website, Facebook posting, and Tweet, into a presentation that has more in common with rap video than Emily Dickenson.

During the course of his presentation, artist Kanazi manages to switch t-shirts a half a dozen times, no mean feat for a man allegedly living on the Prison Planet of Palestine. Oh, but wait. It turns out this champion for the underdwellers of the new Warsaw Ghetto of Gaza hails from New York City, which probably makes it easier for him to catch a plane to his various tour dates where he can put on his angry young Palestinian minstrel show before stunned audiences of the like minded.

As I’ve mentioned before, I begrudge no one who has been able to carve out a decent living from the whole anti-Israeli propaganda cornucopia (Lord knows I’ve never been able to pull such a feat off from the other side of the political divide). And while it doesn’t look like Kanazi is doing quite as well as Omar Barghouti (who plays his politics and sells his wares while under the protective umbrella of the Zionists he condemns), Kanazi seems to be making a pretty good run of things.

The only trouble is that – outside of those whose every waking moment is taken up despising the Jewish state – Kanazi’s act is nothing more than a resurrection of the old “People’s Poet” routines we saw 40-50 years ago featuring uncompromising and furious members of some ethnic group who would parade before mostly white audiences declaring their uncompromising fury. The fact that this latest version of the brand looks ready to throw anyone who disagrees with him into a neck-breaking headlock probably only increases the erotic thrill of spending $35 to hear him sneer at and condemn audience members for living in a house half as nice as the one he grew up in.

Unfortunately, this act is so old that parodies of it are at least the same age as the artist himself. And so I leave you with the final word on the subject, the Young One’s 1982 take on “The People’s Poet”:

Sorry about that… Sacramento

16 Aug

Figures that, just as I chose to get off the grid to commune with nature (and the family) for a few days, some Divest This postings start generating the kind of comments you’d expect from a “real” blog.

It looks like most of the exchanges to the last two pieces have to do with the subject of where pro- vs. anti-Israel politics falls within the whole Left-Right continuum (both in the US and generally).

As I’ve discussed before, there are good reasons to avoid thinking of the Middle East as little more than another talking point in the general Left-Right politics that permeates so much of our political discourse.  But given the passions this subject has generated, I am going to spend the next couple of days catching up on everything that’s been said this week in order to post something that I hope will be relevant over the weekend.  All I ask is that readers avoid adding unnecessarily to my comment-reading task, and wait until this weekend’s posting to give me your further thoughts (or tell me I’m all wet).

In the meantime, time to play catch-up on the Sacramento Sister City controversy that played out last week.

As readers have already told us (and linked to), the city of Sacramento ended up the site of another “sort-of” BDS battle.

I saw “sort of” because this debate was over Sacramento creating a sister-city relationship with the Israeli city of Ashkelon (which I guess fall into the category of “Sanctions,” but just barely).

West Coast BDSers objected to this decision, even though they and representatives of the Jewish community had apparently agreed earlier to not raise a stink over Sacramento’s plans to create sister city relationships with both a city within the Palestinian Authority (Bethlehem) and Israel (Ashkelon).

Par for the course, the local Israel haters gladly pocketed their gain (Bethlehem was made a sister city in 2009), then immediately broke their word to declare a similar relationship with Ashkelon traif, declaring, ironically, that the city – which has been the target of unceasing missile bombardment from Gaza for years – was guilty of being the launching pad for attacks into Gaza.

This story confirms a number of things those of us who have been dealing with BDS for some time have known for years, that:

* Any attempt to reach a compromise with the forces of BDS is doomed to failure since they serve a “higher good” (at least in their own minds) that allows them to (among other things) break their word when necessary

* Any attempt by Israel to defend itself (by, for example, firing back at endless missiles targeting Israeli civilians) is by definition illegitimate to the BDSers

* Any attempt to create or improve ties between people (like Sacramento’s attempt to “repair the world” by extending a hand to the people of both Bethlehem and Ashkelon) is cool for every nation in the world – except the Jewish one.

In my mind, the most important part of this story was the vote itself where the Sacramento city council decided unanimously to confirm their decision to include Ashkelon on their list of sister cities.

Both BDS and Israel supporters showed up in strong numbers, and no doubt the statements made (and countless e-mails sent) by/from each side was heard by the councilors.

But this really did not disrupt them from deciding to move ahead with business as usual, not letting the noise of a manufactured controversy sway them from doing the appropriate thing quickly and efficiently.

Given that the boycotters were similarly brushed off a few weeks ago when they tried to import their pet peeves into another part of the California government, I suspect we might be seeing the beginning of the Hersovite effect I mentioned last posting: a sense those pushing BDS are so extreme, so fanatical and so rude that they can be easily dismissed, no matter how much they jump up and down demanding that they unconditionally be awarded the moral high ground and that everyone must immediately do what they say.

While the recent zero-for-two record with the California government does not an unquestionable trend make, here’s fingers crossed that we may have reached that point where those outside the readership of this blog understand exactly what they’re dealing with when they are forced to deal with the forces of BDS.

BDS Comings and Goings

24 Apr

Catching up on a couple of BDS-related stories that have broken since I returned from vacation last weekend:

The latest BDS “victory” or another post-hoc fallacy?

The latest boast regarding BDS effectiveness comes from Europe (of course) and has to do with the private security company G4S failing to win a renewal of a security contract for European Parliamentary buildings a few weeks ago.

Apparently, a month before this announcement was made, a group of Parliamentarians sympathetic to the BDS cause wrote a letter to the European President condemning G4S for the business it does providing security services within Israel (no mention why the boycotters have not been effective getting similar decisions made by other countries the company does business with, such as those human rights paradises on earth Saudi Arabia and Yemen).

By now, we all know the formula that says if BDSers did anything before such a contracting decision was made, then their efforts must be the cause of such decisions (see post hoc ergo propter hoc).  After all, large, governmental purchasing bureaucracies are well known for turning on a dime the minute they receive complaints from politicians or constituents.  And there couldn’t be another explanation as to why G4S didn’t get their contract renewed in a competitive bid with other providers, could there?

Now I’m not saying that the boycotters protest didn’t cause the effect they claim.  I’m simply pointing out that after years of fraudulent announcements of BDS victories (many of them based on post hoc fallacies), it is incumbent on the boycotters to prove that their activity was the cause of this decision which should be a simple task for them if they speak true.  For example, they need only use their claimed influence to get the EU purchasing agency to explain the rationale behind their decision publically.  Absent that, we have yet another example of the cock taking credit for the sunrise.

Go and Leave

Well Jewish Voice for Peace/Young Jewish and Proud have scrubbed my hometown of Boston from their epic Go and Learn campaign, a program we’ve met before which will allegedly be teaching students across the country about the wonderfulness of BDS.

Interestingly enough, their listing for Boston (which retained a TBD date and time in their announcement of a meeting that was supposed to take place this Thursday) disappeared from the Go and Learn site less than twelve hours after I dropped them a note asking where and when the event would be taking place.

Now I’m not making the causal connection between one of the critics with whom JVP claims to crave debate showing interest in coming to an event they claim was open to those “actively opposed to [BDS].” That, after all, would be a post hoc fallacy.  But it is interesting to note that the whole JVP/YJP gang can’t seem to manage getting their events off the ground in one of America’s most progressive cities.

Then again, (as Ian Faith once put it) Boston’s not really a college town.

Methodist Redux

I’ve been remiss in covering what will likely be the two big BDS stories of the year: divestment votes taking place at the Methodist and Presbyterians General Assemblies between now and June.

As many readers know, divestment ballots (both pro- and anti-) have become mainstays at Mainline Protestant Church gatherings since 2004.  And while these have been voted down again and again, the fact that BDS was once considered by these churches means the Middle East conflict is now permanently on their agenda.

This time around, the boycotters have pulled out all the stops, cold calling delegates to these events at their homes, and even having their propaganda materials translated into multiple languages (including Swahili).

Why Swahili?  Well, a large contingent of people attending this week’s Methodist confab come from African churches which were a major constituent for anti-divestment votes that last time this issue came before the Methodists in 2008.  But this mass translation and distribution is just one example of the intense level of activity and investment the BDSers are making in these two key sets of votes.

Now the pro-Israel side is not being somnambulant about the issue (as attested by this letter signed by over 1200 rabbis, including mine).  And it’s not entirely clear that the Methodists are ready to turn from their unanimous rejection of divestment four years ago just because lots of partisans are writing them letters or calling them at home.

We’ll be tracking progress of the various BDS votes taking place among Methodist delegates gathering in Tampa this week.  And I promise to provide more detailed coverage of the General Assembly of the much smaller, but must further infected Presbyterian Church whose own rendez vous with divestment comes up in a few months.

Stay tuned…

The Silent S

22 Apr

Two recent BDS stories, which have gotten categorized in the Twitosphere around the ever-popular hashtag #BDSFail, highlight a theme discussed a while back on the challenges facing those advocating for the “S” of BDS: Sanctions.

Boycotts can be done by individuals, although in the case of BDS the goal is to get sellers to boycott Israeli products so that individuals are freed from getting to make their own decisions.  The target of divestment campaigns are also institutions, although in this case institutions with large investment portfolios such as well-known universities and churches.

But sanctions would have to be implemented by governments, and even with international bodies like the United Nations fully co-opted to turn out assembly-line condemnations of the Israel, state sanctions acting upon those condemnations have failed to materialize, other than the ongoing Arab boycott which has been in place since the 1920s, and thus cannot be considered a response to the BDS “movement” (especially one that keeps moving its start date out later from its actual 2001 birthday).

BDS protestors certainly made their voice heard when Israel was being considered for membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD).  But even with the megaphone provided to them by the Middle East oil states, the shrieking of the BDSers could not overcome economic reality which stated that Israel more than deserved its place alongside the world’s most developed economies.

In the US, government-sponsored BDS activities (whether in the form of divestment campaigns or outright sanctions) have been fairly muted. Calls to end US aid to Israel are even more longstanding than boycott and divestment campaigns, but tend to go nowhere given the strong alliance between the US and the Jewish state, an alliance that transcends political parties and remains stable, regardless of who sits in the White House.

The first BDS campaign I was involved in, an attempt to get a local government in the city of Somerville to divest, has the distinction of being the only divestment campaign I know of that was rejected by the legislative branch of government (the city’s Aldermen which voted down divestment unanimously), the executive (the Mayor who condemned BDS), the judiciary (the district court which threw out a BDS lawsuit demanding that binding divestment motion be put onto the local ballot) and the voters (who rejected a non-binding motion a year later).

A lawsuit is the cornerstone of one of the most recent BDS sanction failures.  In this case, a group of Minnesota based Israel haters have been working for two years to get the Minnesota State Board of Investment to remove Israeli bonds from their portfolios.  As in Somerville, once local elected leaders explained that they wanted no part in a propaganda ploy masquerading as a human rights campaign, the BDS cru took the state to court.  And, as in Somerville, the court dismissed the suit from the bench highlighting the fact that failure to win a political argument does not provide grounds for legal action.

(As an aside, this story represents the fourth instance I know of where lawsuits – one brought by BDS opponents and three brought by BDS advocates – were summarily dismissed.  Food for thought to those weighing the advantages of legal vs. political action.)

The other failed sanctions story took place at the local level, in this case the Davis-Woodland Clean Water Agency (WDCWA) in central California, which was asked to remove the French transportation and environmental company Veolia from consideration for a large local contract due to the company’s involvement in the state of the “Guess Whos?”.

After the usual frantic politicking and grandstanding, WDCWA did what democratic institutions generally do when faced with demands that they join the anti-Israel bandwagon: they voted down exclusion of Veolia unanimously.

As those BDS Fails were taking place, an interesting piece was published by Eran Shayshon of the Reut Institute on the increasing challenges anti-Israel advocates are having building alliances with traditional liberal groups whose support is necessary if BDS is ever to become a cause for anyone other than a marginal fringe.

The author highlights the fact that as more people become aware of the “true colors” of Israel’s adversaries, it becomes increasingly difficult for liberal organizations that actually embody hopes for peace and concerns for human rights to ally themselves with those who simply mouth these virtues as slogans in order to get what they want.

But I would add to Shayshon’s analysis a more mundane but extremely powerful factor: that it is much easier to reject the blandishments of a political loser than a person or movement that seems to have political momentum.

And with BDS being rejected in places like Berkeley and Park Slope (two of the most progressive institutions in the US), as well as being shown the door in states like Minnesota and California (which can hardly be accused of being reactionary “red states”), it becomes that much easier for individuals and organizations to join a bandwagon against a “movement” that has been exposed as not just narrow-minded and hypocritical, but guilty of the greatest political sin of all: failure.

It’s Not Over Over There

5 Mar

One of my great disappointments is the inability to give BDS activity outside of the US the attention it deserves.

People often make the assumption that while BDS has been a bust on these shores, that over in Europe it is having a better time of it.  But if European investment levels in the Jewish state (Europe now invests more venture capital into Israel than into any European country), panic over continental boycott and divestment efforts seems to be unwarranted.

And even at the local level, there seems to be a track record of BDS being given the old heave ho in the UK, at least if you look at efforts to get local councils to take BDS propaganda into consideration when deciding whom to hire to manage their waste.  In fact, this new blog I was just told about seems to be ringing up more stories of BDS failure in just the last month than I’ve measured here in six (although that might be because the BDSers are not actually bothering with trying to get anyone to divest these days – just in holding conferences and then using the existence of these events to prove their own relevance).

Something to think about…

News, News, News

8 Sep

Boy, it’s been a busy news week in BDS-land (which must explain why Captain Israel has decided to become involved right now).

First off, the latest attempt to sacrifice academic freedom for political posing has come a-cropper in Germany. About a week or so back, the organizers of an academic event in Deutschland decided they would “take a stand” by alerting an Israeli professor that he was no longer welcome to address the group at their October conference.

This story was interesting since the professor in question is involved with Ariel College in the West Bank, which made this issue a test case for the recent BDS mutation of “targeted boycotts,” i.e., banning Jews, (whoops I mean Israelis, whoops I mean Zionists, whoops, I mean “settlers”) if they can be connected in some way to institutions in the disputed territories.

As the enraged reaction against the decision and its ultimate reversal makes clear, freedom of debate, discussion and inquiry still trumps partisanship in the academy. It is also interesting to note that the sputtering arguments made by the originator of the boycott decision: that his banning of Israelis – and only Israelis – from the family of scholars was simply a matter of “international law” (defined by him, of course) held so little water.

On another news front, the Olympia Food Co-op is now being sued in civil court for breaking its own rules in implementing a boycott of Israeli products last year. If you recall that story from way back when, the Co-op’s rules require consensus among the staff in order to implement a boycott. But when that consensus failed to emerge, the organization’s board (in cooperation with BDS partisans and no one else) decided to simply implement one anyway, so there is clearly a case to be made that the organization violated its by-laws at the expense of many of its members.

As regular readers may already know, I tend to question government intervention (either via legislation or the courts) in the fight against BDS, given how well we seem to be doing via straightforward grassroots counter-boycott campaigns. And in the big scheme of things, the real story regarding BDS and food co-ops is how Olympia put every other food co-op in the country on notice of how ruthless boycott activists can be in trying to get their way, and how much misery they bring in their wake (which is why there has not been a single co-op boycott in the country since the Olympia decision).

That being said, the board of the Olympia co-op has certainly run roughshod over its staff and many, many members in its hell-bent decision to implement and hold tight to their little boycott, regardless of the cost to others. It will be intriguing to see how they behave now that a bit of that cost must be borne by them. And it will be particularly interesting to see what the results of a discovery process unearth, given the weak arguments the organization has put forth over the last year and a half regarding why this decision, made behind the backs of the membership, is legal.

And lest you think the news is all new, BDS champions at Loyola University have gone back to the future with (wait for it…) calls for a Sabra hummus boycott! (Hasn’t anyone told them that this food fight went stale months ago?)

Now last I heard, among the thousands of people murdered by the genocidal Assad regime in Syria were countless Palestinians who dwell in that country. I just bring that up to demonstrate how well the “human rights” champions and “Friends of the Palestinian People” at Loyola are ordering their priorities.