History Has Spoken – The AHA BDS Blues

5 Jan

As some of you might have heard, the latest attempt to bring an academic association on board the BDS “bandwagon” collapsed last night as the American Historical Association voted 144 to 51 to not bring two anti-Israel resolutions up for a vote within the wider organization.

The specifics of the decision will likely seem Byzantine to most non-academics, but the nut of it comes down to:

  • The proposals skirted the issue of an academic boycott (as did last year’s votes by the MLA), with the BDSers instead pushing resolutions condemning Israel for practices that they claim harm academic freedom (of Palestinian academics and American academics working with them). This might simply reflect a strategy of phases whereby this year’s condemnations would lead to next year’s boycotts, although it might also indicate a recognition that academic boycotts are radioactive after everything we saw ASA go through in 2014.
  • Decision-makers within the organization had already taken boycott votes off the table, and last night’s vote was over whether or not to take the extraordinary step of adding new resolutions to an agenda that had been closed in November (a deadline the BDS cru missed)

It is too early to tell if this decision reflects the start of an auto-immunization process within the academy, or if the boycott/condemnation bandwagon will continue across more and more academic associations in the coming year (including AHA which is likely to see the same resolutions submitted – within the deadline this time – for next year’s conference).

I was pleased to see that discussion over the resolution focuses on whether or not history professors at American universities (very few of whom have any expertise in Middle East history) equip them to make decisions that involve (among other thing) understand military choices made during last year’s Gaza war.  This  reflects a degree of intellectual humility that alone provides a certain level of protection against partisans insisting that an organization has the right – and responsibility – to make political statements in the name of the field (although only statements of which the boycotters approve).

I suspect that this recent vote will be used by critics of inter-disciplinary fields like American studies to make the case that academics representing more traditional fields (not to mention non-humanities fields like science and engineering) are better prepared to resist politicization and hubris.  But I think there is a simpler explanation as to why the boycotters seem to have lost so badly among History vs. American Studies professors.

For in this case, the AHA seems to be led by people who value scholarship, the needs of their members and the general cause of academic freedom over the requirements of a particular partisan agenda.  In contrast, organization that have passed anti-Israel boycott resolutions (notably ASA) chose to place the BDS “mission” of the leadership over scholarship, the needs of colleagues and the good of the academy as a whole.

Now there is no telling if the BDS tactic of infiltration will make AHA or some other academic organization vulnerable to the boycott infection in the future.  But I think the telltale sign of trouble moving forward is not the nature of the discipline, but whether or not a specific organization is run by a bunch of partisan hacks ready to trash everything and everyone for their own selfish gain.


That Will Be the BDS Year That Was

30 Dec

Like many a political motivation, my return to blogging at Divest This! earlier this year was motivated more by pique than by a sense that things were spinning out of control.

For every couple of years, a specific BDS story (the American Studies Association last year, the Olympia Food Coop a few years back) gets up my nose, perhaps because it involves the boycotters manipulating and harming others for their own lame purposes, a phenomenon I learned about (and have been reacting to) ever since divestment first crossed my path in Somerville, MA.

Unlike Somerville, the BDSers “won” with the ASA, even if their “victory” involves nothing more than insisting that their boycott has meaning when not one American Studies department (nor even the ASA itself) has demonstrated a willingness to actually implement or enforce it.

But even as condemnations for their move poured in from across the academy (including from the largest academic associations in the country), ASA leaders who have insisted on boycott uber alles have demonstrated what their program was really all about: giving a small group of partisans the chance to insist their propaganda campaign has gained momentum as they fan out to try to wreak havoc on the next academic association (if not the academy as a whole).

Will it work?  Hard to tell.  The Modern Language Association (MLA) has tabled boycott-related votes at their upcoming conference in January, and other associations with a substantial number of members salivating over the possibility of joining in on a boycott (like the American Anthropology Association and Middle East Studies Association) ended up pulling back from the brink, passing vaporous measures that condemned those who condemned the boycotters – but refusing to join the ASA in a move that might lead to personal consequences for BDS-obsessed pseudo-scholars (such as being turned into laughingstocks, a la Curtis “One Has to Start Somewhere” Marez).

Remember that when a civic organization becomes a promising target for the BDSers, you can expect to see widespread attempts at replication of one success across similar organizations.  But, as we learned with food coops, “success” at one institution can lead to self-immunization across that category, leaving it barren for future takeover attempts.  So perhaps another year spent mocking the cowardice and pretensions of the ASA boycotters will overwhelm their bombast enough to convince the rest of the academy that there is far more to lose than to gain from jumping onto an alleged anti-Israel “bandwagon.”

Of course the big story in 2014 was the Presbyterian vote to repeat the mistake they made in 2004 and vote divestment back in.  And while I could be cute and say that the BDSers need to win twice more to make up for the four no votes they received in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012 (or embrace the PCUSA’s talking points that their choice to divest does not make them part of the BDS movement), no such double talk (either mine or theirs) can cover up the fact that this was a tragic loss.

But for who?  For the only reason divestment won by a narrow vote in 2014 is that the church has lost a half a million members since hostility towards the Jewish state entered their liturgy.  And while some of this loss just reflects demographics of an institution where old members age and their children do not join, the continuing exodus of many Presbyterian churches out of PCUSA indicates (1) large numbers of church members fed up with being dragged into someone else’s political battles year after year after year; (2) PCUSA leaders are ready to see their organization shrink in order to leave them in control of a more politically homogenous (albeit smaller and dying) flock.

So again it remains to be seen if other Mainline Protestant denominations will join their PCUSA brothers in embracing an anti-Israel propaganda campaign (not to mention demographic oblivion), even at a time when Christians have become the new Jews with regard to their coming extinction across the Middle East (save Israel).

The other bummer in 2014 involves West Coast BDSers finally cracking the code in getting more than a handful of student organizations to pass anti-Israel resolutions (such as divestment votes in student government or an academic boycott vote within the state’s graduate student union).

In the case of student government, this involves packing student senates with people who are BDSers first, student representatives second.  And in the case of that graduate student union, this involved the same majority of a minority tactic used within ASA. But regardless of the means of manipulation used, California continues to be an incubator for BDS tactics – including that tactics of disruption and intimidation that have spread throughout the country the more the excesses of groups like SJP go unpunished.

So what to do as we enter 2015, a year in which the boycotters feel emboldened, especially after riding another wave of anti-Israel hysteria that followed last summer’s Hamas war?

To begin with, we need to realize that the ever-louder shouts emanating from the mouths of BDS types are also designed to drown out the cries of millions in the Middle East dying under the jackboots of political Islamism (not to mention the secular tyrannies with which the jihadis are locked in a death struggle). And even if pointing this out means we will be met with accusations of Pink- Brown- Assad- and ISIS-washing (not to mention racism and “Islamophobia”), we have to learn to ignore the boycotters lame defenses as effectively as they ignore our strong ones.

Secondly, those fighting a rearguard battle at places like the University of California system need to learn the art of creative subversion.  Some ideas in this category might include starting Israel investment clubs on campuses, proving that students don’t give a rat’s ass about SJP’s divestment rhetoric, or building bridges between graduate student union members and their Israeli counterparts (and daring the union leadership to do something about it).

In addition to following the “Make an enemy live up to its own book of rules” recommendation from Alinky’s Rules for Radicals (suitably modified as described here), such tactics do not require activists on our side to play by the stacked rules set up by SJP, ones which demand that Israel forever remain in the dock with the boycotters acting as prosecutor, judge and jury.

And whether our counter-attack takes on these or some other forms, the attitude we must bring to the battle is that of the happy warrior, ready to mock the BDSers for their hypocrisy and pretensions, ready to “freeze” them as the shrill, bullying, cynical, manipulative turds that they are, and ready to build a thriving Jewish/pro-Israel community on campus that is as vibrant and powerful as the nation it defends (in contrast to an SJP fighting on behalf of a murderous rot spreading across the world).


23 Dec

I’m hoping to find time before the New Year to do a bit of a retrospective on 2014 (with a look ahead to next year).  But before then, I wanted to comment on a story that, while not BDS-specific, said more than any event I’ve read about this year regarding what supporters of Israel are up against.

The story came out of Binghamton University, the same SUNY school where the local Students for Justice for Palestine (SJP) group recently published a “Declaration of Principles” that included instructions for refusing to dialog with anyone who disagreed with them and tactics for disrupting the events of those holding a world view that did not comport with SJP dogma.

But the story that caught my eye did not have anything to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict (at least not initially).  Rather, it was about the coming together of people of different faiths to comfort those who were dealing with a tragedy from elsewhere in the world.

In this case, it was the recent massacre in Pakistan where Taliban gunmen killed 130 children in a recent school attack where both teachers and students were shot and burned in front of each other’s eyes.  That event was ghastly, even by 21st century standards. But rather than trying to mine the tragedy for political capital (connecting it to the arc of Jihadi violence consuming Muslims, Christians and Jews, for example), Jews on campus (including the author of the original piece and the campus rabbi) instead did all they could to comfort their Pakistani friends and fellow students in their time of national grief.

Which left the field open for SJP to exploit someone else’s suffering when it came time for them to speak at the campus-wide vigil, an opening they used to link Pakistan’s tragedy with – you guessed it – their own political agenda to demonize the Jewish state.

This is certainly not the first time the loathers of Israel have tried to coopt someone else’s political momentum/moment/tragedy for their own purposes.  A few years back, for example, a group of them took advantage of the non-existent hierarchy within the Occupy movement to seize control of the organization’s agenda and march on the Israeli consulate.  And just a week ago, an emerging political agenda to confront so-called “micro-aggression” against minorities was seized by the BDSers in their umpteenth failed attempt to get one of their boycotts implemented at Harvard.

Now whether you consider Occupy and the campaign against “micro-aggression” as virtuous or venal, there are no doubt people sincere in their belief that these political projects are intended to do good, such as empowering the poor or protecting others from harm.  For SJP, however, these campaigns were just more pieces of political ground they could seize in order to indiscriminately lob propaganda missiles at their foes.

You saw the same thing happen when recent protests against the police in Ferguson Missouri tuned into a fervent national campaign.  For some, this was a long-overdue explosion of anger against police brutality, for others it was an incoherent expression of rage destined to do more harm than good.  But for the BDS types, Ferguson was simply another political parade that others got started.  And once it was on the move, the boycotters were ready to run out in front of it, unfurl their “Free Palestine” banners and declare, once again, that someone else’s political momentum automatically accrues to them.

Darkly, this same mode of cooptation has become routine with far less marginal political organizations and movements.  Why has the United Nations condemned Israel twenty times this year compared to only four official condemnations directed at the rest of the planet (where nothing bad happened in 2014 after all)?  Why do the Geneva Convention protocols only get activated when Israel’s foes marshal them for their own purposes? It’s because all of the machinery of international cooperation and human rights has long been coopted and turned into weapons of war against the Jewish state, to the detriment of every suffering man, woman and child on the planet who does not have the good fortune to be a Palestinian living under Israeli jurisdiction.

God knows what is going on in the heads of those who infiltrate and seize control of other people’s political movements, crash funerals and shout down anyone who dares to disagree with them, but I have long ago decided to simply judge the BDSers by their actions, rather than trying to get into the heads of those participating in such a sociopathic political movement.

The Binghamton vigil story has particular resonance with regard to the ongoing debate over what our side should do when confronted by SJP tactics of infiltration, cooptation and aggression.  On many occasions, I’ve been told we should simply fight fire with fire, but think for a moment about the kind of monsters we would have to become to see the carnage that took place in Pakistan as an opening ripe for exploitation, rather than a tragedy with victims that needed comforting and support

Perhaps our inability to act as ruthlessly, as thoughtlessly, as recklessly, and as selfishly as our rivals puts us perpetually at a political disadvantage.  But, again I turn to the Middle East itself where Israel has refused to play by the ruthless tactics of her political adversaries.

Like their SJP/BDS auxiliaries in the West, the nation states and terrorist movements that have targeted the Jewish state for execution over the last century are willing to do anything, anytime if it seems to further their cause.   Yet, strangely enough, it is Israel (which eschews such tactics) that remained independent and strong, even as neighboring kings gave way to military dictators who are now fighting to the death with religious fanatics as the entire ruthless region goes up in flames.

Arguing with Mike – Is that all you got? ;-)

20 Dec

Continuing on with my back-and-forth with Mike Lumish of Israel Thrives/Times of Israel/Elder of Ziyon fame, in my last contribution I hedged a bit in my challenge to Mike’s critique of Left-wing anti-Zionism, given that his original critique was more implicit than direct.  But now that he has made that critique explicit in his most recent reply, I shall make my challenge to it more explicit as well.

His argument rests on three linked observations/premises, the first being what Mike (and many others) consider to be one of the most prominent of President Obama’s foreign policy failures: his choice to support the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt coupled with the President’s choice to wrap his hopes for a democratic Arab spring in Egypt and elsewhere in the language of America’s two most sacred struggles (the War of Independence and the Civil Rights Movement).

With this charge in place, an accusation can then be directed at “The Left” (or least the US Left) based on an objective fact: that it voted overwhelmingly for someone (twice!) who pretended the Muslim Brotherhood (which all of us know as the Ur-Jihad, out of which so much of today’s Islamist mayhem sprung) was the inheritor of Thomas Jefferson and Rosa Parks.

With those two facts in place, the indictment which follows simply points out that a US Left which chose to vote for this President two times cannot possibly be considered friendly to Jewish peoplehood, especially given the role Israel plays in Jewish identity in the 21st century.

And given the overlap between left-leaning Americans and American Jews (78% of whom voted for Obama in 2008 and 69% in 2012), Mike’s third observation is that these huge numbers were clearly voting against their most important interests – a choice which I suspect fuels his frequent condemnation that many Progressive Jews (and those who do not condemn them) suffer from having their heads “buried in the sand” (probably the nicest way of putting a sentiment that lends itself to a more scatological version).

I will agree that each of these observations has merit and the logic linking them together is likely to be convincing – even compelling – to some.  But I would like to challenge each observation/premise and the logic linking them, not to fly to the defense of the Obama administration, but to highlight how this argument actually weakens the case Mike is trying to make against Left-leaning opponents of the Jewish state.

To begin with, as much as I agree that each of us is entitled to focus on aspects of an issue (like Mike’s choice to focus on Obama’s behavior when the Brotherhood was in power in Egypt), genuine understanding can only come from focusing on more than one fact – no matter how revealing  that single fact might seem.

For even in the case of Egypt, the Obama administration provided aid to the Mubarak government before it fell, the Morsi Muslim Brotherhood government that replaced it, and the el-Sisi government that overthrew Morsi.  So in terms of action, Obama has simply been part of a continuity that goes back to the 1970s in which both Republican and Democratic administrations made the wise choice to pay Egypt to keep it out of direct military participation in the Arab war against Israel.

Now while I can split hairs regarding whether Obama was directly praising the Brotherhood when he used civil rights language to express his hopes for the Arab Spring, I think it’s safer to say that Obama’s Middle East policies in general (which included supporting Muslim Brothers Egypt wing while dropping bombs on its ISIS wing) reflect a complex reaction to a complex world.  And while one can praise those decisions, or condemn them as naïve or dangerous (I’d tend to fall between those last two), resting one’s case on just one aspect of administration policy (as Mike does) actually makes your case vulnerable to a wide variety of counter-examples (like the ones you just read).

Regarding “The Left” voting overwhelmingly for Obama in two elections, putting aside what we mean by “The Left,” there is a perfectly valid reason why such a group would vote for the Democratic candidate in 2008 and 2012: because that’s what left-leaning voters do.

In fact, most of those who voted for (or against) Obama were destined to do so even before the current President was born based entirely on partisan preferences (either inherited or chosen) that tend to overwhelm any particular issue.  And given that this same “Left” is just as likely to vote for a Democratic candidate who is not hostile to Israel over any Republican in the next election, focusing a critique on the Left for supporting a Democratic presidential candidate seems like condemning the tide for coming in and getting your beach towel wet.

I’m more sympathetic to the argument regarding Jewish voters (and Jewish organizations) that ran interference for the current President, rather than pressuring or lobbying him to stop his needless fight-picking with Israel’s government and appeasement of Middle East dictators.  But even here I make a distinction between Jewish Voice for Peace (which is the enemy of the Jewish state and its supporters) and Jewish community and defense organizations that have lost their way.

The former must be fought at all cost, but the latter have the potential of doing the right thing or, in the case of defense groups like ADL, of coming back to their roots.  And even if this is an uphill (and potentially fruitless) battle, I prefer it be waged in the context of trying to convince friends to get their priorities straight, rather than treating potential allies in the same way I treat enemies (like JVP).

Getting back to more general voting patterns, this 70-80% of Jewish voters was part of more than half the electorate that voted for the current President in two separate elections.  Which leaves us with the choice of treating the majority of Americans as foes of the Jewish state vs. treating them as what they are: a complex group with differing preferences and priorities, most of whom didn’t give Israel a second of thought when they made their choice for President.

Now keep in mind that I have picked at Mike’s argument not because we disagree that the Left is a vital battlefield over which the Middle East conflict will be fought, but because I feel that his major indictment – anchored as it is in a partisan moment that is going to change one way or another over the next few years – is both fragile and time-bound.

This is the reason I gravitate towards historic arguments (like Wistrich’s) or prophetic philosophical ones (like Wisse’s) since they are much too strong to challenge without serious engagement (which is why Israel’s foes ignore them) and are as relevant today as when these authors first started making them decades ago.

Yes, they take a little more work than does a contemporary partisan fight.  But if we are to make the right choices in the war over (not against) the Left – especially given the power and ruthlessness of our foes – we need to be armed with ideas that are as powerful as they are timeless.

Denormalization vs. Normality

14 Dec

A brief mention of “denormalization” in a recent piece got me thinking about the whole notion of “normalcy” in more detail.

For those unaware of what “denormalization” is all about, this is the name for that element of the anti-Israel propaganda toolkit designed to make everything about being an Israeli (or an Israeli supporter) seem strange, even risky.

At its grossest, denormalization involves jumping up and shouting during orchestra concerts or blowing air-horns during ballet performances where Israeli performers are on the stage.  The idea here, I suppose, is to inform those performers, the audience and the world at large that while any other nationals can entertain the public uninterrupted, Israelis engaging in such “normal” activities will never know what awaits them.

While we’ve seen increasing use of disruptive tactics at colleges and universities (primarily targeting political vs. artistic events), for the most part campus “denormalization” consists of a refusal by anti-Israel activists to do anything with Jewish or Israel-related counterparts (including engaging in dialog with them) lest such interaction create the appearance that the Arab-Israeli conflict is just another issue to be discussed and solved normally.

I’ve talked before about how those embracing this tactic have only succeeded in denormalizing themselves.  But a better word for this phenomenon might be “ab-normalizing” (as in abnormal psychology).  For what else are we to make of individuals who have decided to shut their eyes and ears to evidence that contradicts their beliefs (and shut their mind to critical thought) joining together with the like-minded to prevent anyone else from seeing, hearing or thinking in ways different than the boycotters?

But given that you can read about the sociopathologic nature of the BDS “movement” in previous diagnosis, today I’d like to focus on a different but related question, namely: might denormalization campaigns conducted by the abnormal be doomed by the fact that Israel remains today the only normal country left on earth?

Perhaps some explanation is in order.

A few years ago, I was on a panel at my temple presenting with fellow parents on how to talk to your kids about Israel.  And during that talk, a fellow panelist who had recently visited Israel with her family described how unusual it seemed to be in a country where armed soldiers (not to mention armed civilians) were so omnipresent.

Some further reflection on how strange it felt to visit a nation where everyone seemed to be not just a soldier but a veteran of combat got us thinking about how the difference between Israeli society and our own might reflect our unusualness, rather than theirs.

After all, mine was the first generation of Americans that took it for granted that our civic duty did not require a stint in the military.  And my parents are just old enough to remember a time when those slightly older than they (who had fought in World War II) were universally familiar with making sacrifices for victory, up to and including seeing friends die or killing others in combat.

Now presuming there was nothing unique about the gene pool when this Greatest Generation was born, it was historical circumstance that forged them into a force that would save the world and then rebuild it before passing onto their children a peace they hoped would ensure that such a level of sacrifice need never be required again.

But, again echoing my favorite political thinker, it is a very small step from being relieved of the burden to defend yourself to taking as a given that the law of the jungle can be kept at bay by people (i.e., a professional soldiery) that you rarely, if ever, need to interact with.  And, given one more generation, it becomes easy to forget that the law of the jungle ever existed.

It’s a cliché to say that Europe chose to spend its resources on a cradle-to-grave welfare state while the US covered the costs of defending the continent.  Like most great simplifications, this one is far from fair or accurate.  But I think it is fair to say that a continent devastated by two world wars (and in the cross-hairs of nuclear annihilation for 50 years after that) would welcome the chance to believe that mankind was evolving beyond the need to fight for survival (a fight that would necessitate both dying and killing).

Yet even as we retreat ever further into our comforts and security, one nation continues to live as if history had not reached its end.  To be a citizen of Israel means fighting and sacrificing for that privilege, and raising children to understand that they too need to do more than be born in order to ensure the survival of their nation.  It means living with the understanding that everything you have (including the lives of you and your family) can be taken away in an instant by ruthless men who also understand that the law of the jungle has not been chucked into history’s dust bin.  In short, it means living in a way that was considered “normal” throughout most of human history. And, far from generating pessimism, living in the real world seems to have made Israelis some of the happiest, most successful people on earth.

Perhaps an unconscious understanding that only Israelis manifest the strength and civic values that once formed and sustained other nations fuels resentment of the Jewish state (alongside more traditional reasons to resent its inhabitants).  Or perhaps societies where one segment of the population outsources its defense to another no longer understands that an Israeli citizen under arms is neither frightening nor heroic but normal, reflecting a now-forgotten way of life that was once taken for granted.

Which means that “denormalization” can only highlight the abnormal nature of the denormalizers and the un-normal situation of those they are trying to turn against normal Israelis.  Got that?

I suppose such a tactic might work, at least with those most stubborn in their determination to forget what the world is really like.  But on a less-meta level, I’m not sure a nation where every citizen understands what is required for survival, where even violinists and ballet dancers have heard the sound of artillery, is going to be cowed because some BDShole blows an airhorn at a concert or one group of 18-year-olds on a college campus refuses to talk to anyone who has their number.


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.