BDS Destroys Everything it Touches – The Case of UAW 2865

1 Dec

As long-time trackers of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions phenomenon know, BDS is an opportunistic virus ready to use whatever it learned the last time it infected (or was rejected) by a host organism when moving to a new target of opportunity.

Most recently, success in getting academic associations like the ASA on board their squalid little program involved:

  • Moving into leadership positions activists ready to put the BDS agenda ahead of the people and field they are supposed to be representing
  • Either passing a boycott resolution within executive committee (before members know what’s going on) or setting up a vote with no quorum that will allow a tiny percentage of members to vote in a policy that impacts the entire organization
  • Control debate by setting up stacked committees and “discussion” sessions that freeze our or harass critics, and coming up with endless excuses why those critics are not allowed to use the same communications channels the BDSers use to flood the membership with propaganda generated by people with no affiliation with the association

Most recently, these new tactics are being followed to the letter by the BDSers who purport to represent the membership of United Automobile Workers (UAW) 2865 which, despite its name, is actually a union of 12,000 graduate student employees within the California education system.

Like many unions, UAW 2865 has been getting the short end of the stick in negotiations with the state and college administrations over the last couple of years.  Partly, this reflects the weakening of unions generally (especially those that include very few active members – like a union of grad students).  But another reason why they’ve been force to accept crappy contracts recently is that the union’s leadership seems to have priorities that have nothing to do with bettering the lot of the membership.

Most notably, they have been pushing, participating in and spending union money on BDS activities, even before they receive the answer they’re hoping for from the rigged vote they’ve scheduled for December 4th.  And, not satisfied with the damage they have caused to date, they have done everything in their power to ensure a “Yes” vote will permanently wreck the organization by:

  • Weakening the group’s leverage with administrators by putting the union at odds with university governance (by calling for discrimination against a class of fellow academics and legitimizing the politicization of the classroom)
  • Putting the group at legal risk by potentially placing UAW 2865 in violation of state discrimination law
  • Alienating fellow union members, including the local Teamsters who have noted that “Whatever your motives, we cannot conceive of an action more hostile to the interests of our members and more antithetical to the most basic principles of the union movement than for a union to call for actions which are intended to do harm to the economic security of other union members.”

The good news is that an able group of graduate students has organized to overcome the enormous barriers the BDSers in the union’s leadership have erected and are valiantly attempting get word out to those graduates students/union members who might have no other way of knowing what is about to be enacted in their name.

And even as my hopes are with this group, it should be noted (yet again) the kind of price BDS asks of those it is trying to recruit to the cause.

I thought of this when William Jacobson, the Cornell professor who has been covering the ASA beat at Legal Insurrection, subtitled his piece on the union vote “BDS destroys everything it touches.”  For what better way to describe a program that is ready to destroy the credibility, bargaining power and solidarity with fellow members of the labor movement, all so a tiny minority can spread their Israel=Apartheid hate propaganda at the expense of thousands of working students?

As noted in my review of Nelson and Braham’s recent book on academic boycotts, the BDSers at ASA are working hard to redefine academic freedom out of existence (while all the time insisting that their own freedom to boycott fellow academics be protected at all costs), just so the hacks that lead the organization can punch above their trivial weight as either scholars or activists.

Meanwhile, those that forced the Presbyterian Church to vote divestment over and over again for more than a decade until PCUSA members did what they were told have demanded the organization place its most sacred possession – the claim to speak on behalf of “Christian Witness” – on the sacrificial alter for the benefit of an insatiable BDS Moloch.

But why stop there?  For given that BDS is just a tactic of a wider anti-Israel movement ready to corrupt any organization (the UN anyone?) and turn any virtue (including the quest to build a world based on human rights and international understanding vs. national power and tribal alliance) into weapons directed at their hated target (regardless of the damage this weaponization does to anyone else on the planet), couldn’t Jacobson’s “BDS destroys everything it touches” apply to all the hopes and dreams of those who profess to fight for a better future?

I know I’ve quoted him before, but Robin Sheperd in his book State Beyond the Pale sums up this whole sordid phenomenon so depressingly well that I shall again give him the last word on the subject:

Whatever it touches, the anti-Israel agenda always brings out the worst.  It brings out the worst in journalists who cast aside their principles of balance and objectivity.  It brings out the worst in seasoned commentators who substitute hysteria and foot stomping for calm analysis and enlightened discussion.

It brings out the worst in trade unions which put a hateful agenda above the interest of their members.  It brings out the worst in diplomats who debase themselves by pandering to tyrannies against a democracy.  It brings out the worst in artists and writers who submerge their commitment to beauty and truth in ugliness and lies.  It brings out the worst of the great traditions of Left and Right which default back to their shabbiest instincts and their darkest prejudices.

The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel

26 Nov

I’ve just finished reading The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, a book of essays edited by Cary Nelson, former President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and Professor Gabriel Noah Brahm of Northern Michigan University, both veterans of recent boycott wars within academia and contributors to this remarkable volume.

Before getting into content, I wanted to first highlight the publishing achievement regarding getting a book of such quality out the door in the brief time between the ASA/MLA BDS fights earlier in the year and last month when the title must have started rolling off the presses.  Quick-to-print publishing is nothing new, but getting a polished, well-writen-and-edited, academic volume like The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel (published by MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights and distributed by Wayne State University Press) completed in a matter of months demonstrates what can be done when dedicated (and genuine) scholars take advantage of modern publishing technology.

Moving onto content, the book is broken into six sections and many contributors (and some essays published as articles earlier in the year) will be familiar to those who have followed BDS overreach within academic associations in 2014.

In the first section, titled “Opposing Boycotts as a Matter of Principle,” contributors (including Nelson and Brahm, Martha Nussbaum, Russell Berman and others) make the case for why boycotting academia is wrong under any circumstances.  The arguments supporting this assertion are varied and powerful, but if forced to pick a favorite, I’d probably go with Cary Nelson’s “The Fragility of Academic Freedom.”

In that article, the author traces the emergence of the concept we now call “academic freedom,” highlighting its evolution as a human and social construct, rather than a natural law waiting to be discovered.  For if you stop and think about it, why should scholars – alone among professionals – be entitled to not just lifetime employment contracts (i.e., tenure), but the right to do and say what they please with minimum fear of professional reprisal?  It’s because individuals and organizations (especially the AAUP that Nelson previously led) fought for these rights and, just as importantly, convinced the non-academic public that the importance of scholarly work necessitated such benefits and protections.

But if such a social norm is predicated on the virtue of scholars having uninhibited access to ideas (and other scholars), what becomes of the academic freedom construct if academics themselves throw it away to support some transient pet political cause?  That’s just what the irresponsible academics leading the American Studies Association (ASA) did last winter (even as they insisted they were doing nothing of the kind) and it remains to be seen how social norms might change again once the lesson ASA taught (that politics can trump academic freedom – at least for them) seeps out into wider public consciousness.

Speaking of the American Studies Association, their boycott is the specific subject of the second section of the book, and readers can probably guess why I favorited Sharon Ann Musher’s piece “The Closing of the American Studies Association’s Mind,” which provides a blow-by-blow, detailed description of the unscholarly, unfair and unbelievable way the leadership of ASA forced a boycott onto the organization they led, damaging their association (if not their field) while remaining personally protected behind the blast shield of tenure.

The most politically contentious essays can be found in a third section entitled “The BDS Movement, the Left and American Culture” which makes a broader case regarding what the ASA boycott and Modern Languages Association’s (MLA’s) recent anti-Israel votes say about an academic culture where anti-Israel invective has become the norm.  While Tammi Rossman-Benjamin “names names” regarding where the loci of anti-Israel activity can be found on campuses (normally within social sciences departments) and Kenneth Marcus and Richard Landes do their usual masterful job exposing the irrational psychology behind ever-escalating Israel hatred on campuses, the piece that impacted me most was Samuel M. Edelman and Carol F S. Edelman’s “When Failure Succeeds: Divestment and Deligitimization.”

In that essay, the Edelmans point out how seemingly trivial matters (like meaningless student government divestment votes rejected by school administrators before they are even brought up) provide a channel whereby endless propagandizing creates an environment in which students come to accept as natural the assumption that Israel is a ghastly place (even if it might not deserve to have its scholars boycotted).  Having spent several years exposing the failure and fraud behind the BDS “movement,” it’s become too easy to treat the BDSers’ shouts and viciousness as a form of temper tantrum from spoiled children not getting their way.  But as “When Failure Succeeds” points out, we all need to take far more seriously the boycotters’ unstated mission to endlessly pump sludge into the minds of the young.

In the fourth section, “The Israeli Context,” authors like Shira Wolosky and Rachel Fish contextualize academic boycotts within the framework of historic anti-Israel activity and political fads (like calls for a “bi-national state”) that are constantly resuscitated as fresh, new ideas in both academic and political settings.  While each of these pieces (like every other essay in the book) is a must read, the pragmatist in me gravitated towards Ilan Troen’s “The Israel-Palestinian Relationship in Higher Education: Evidence from the Field” which dismantles every trumped-up charge that make up the case for an academic boycott of Israel.

A fifty-page “Concise History of Israel, ” “A Boycott Dossier” (that includes first-hand documents relating to academic boycott activity) and a list of online resources (both pro- and anti-BDS) closes out the volume, and while the history lesson will seem a little 101 for those familiar with the story of Israel and the Middle East, it seems like a wise move to provide a factual framework to those who may have only been exposed to the BDSers’ dystopian fantasies about the region.

The most obvious criticism of a work such as The Case Against the Academic Boycott of Israel is that making BDS the subject of academic inquiry might seem like the equivalent of bringing a legal brief to a knife fight.  That’s actually an image that came to mind when I read Donna Robinson Divine piece in the book entitled “The Boycott Debate at Smith” where she describes one set of professors defending the anti-boycott stance taken by the school’s president by utilizing many of the subtle arguments found in Nelson and Brahm’s book while professors critical of Israel fell back on sloganeering and discredited maps to pump a far less subtle (and non-true) message into the minds of students.

But for reasons most Divest This regulars can guess, I can think of no substitute for the kind of scaffolding provided by a strong intellectual framework for the fight against BDS, even if works like The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel don’t come with a kit that includes pithy slogans, catchy chants or evocative poster images that students can bring into the next pro- or anti-Israel rally or event.

Going back to an earlier case of immunization against the BDS virus, one of the reasons boycotts are no longer part of the BDS repertoire at food cooperatives is that the people who ran one such a coop (in Davis California) laid out a case against boycotts that demonstrated them to be in violation of the founding principles of the coop movement itself.  And while such an historic argument might seem “academic,” it provided every group fighting coop boycotts after that the grounding and ammunition they needed to drive BDS out of their communities.

Now BDS and the attitudes supporting it are far more entrenched at all levels of the academy, even if support for an anti-Israel agenda has yet to transcend a noisy and increasingly aggressive minority.  But if un-blinkered students and professors (who still make up the majority at all schools, even if they might lack the conviction of Israel’s defamers) are ever to make progress, they need to base their choices of action on a bedrock of ideas, including the powerful and compelling ideas that can be found on every page of The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel.

Consistency

19 Nov

About a week ago, I started jumping into discussion forums related to the ASA boycott.

Unlike discussion I tried to have with PCUSA members who supported this summer’s divestment vote, ASA boycott debates were taking place on news sites that (in contrast to allegedly dialog-starved Presbyterian bloggers) don’t tend to delete challenging posts.

Even so, my ASA interlocutors tended to get scarce once they faced questions to which they had no answers (especially regarding the absence of any support whatsoever from the field in terms of implementing a boycott they insist represents “landslide” opinion within their organization).

Absent genuine conversation, the most interesting phenomenon I observed during these exchanges involved the techniques the BDSers used to avoid debate, including a familiar set of arguments regarding whether things like the ASA boycott represent inconsistency, and thus hypocrisy.

Those defending ASA (and other BDS groups) against accusations of double standards tend to point out that they are under no obligation to fight all the battles in the world.  Which means that (for them, anyway) they are fully justified in implementing a boycott against Israeli universities for perceived injustice while not doing the same over other injustice (real or perceived) elsewhere.

On the surface, this argument actually holds up.  For aren’t all humans creatures of inconsistency, especially with regard to politics?  Don’t we select which charities we give to and which causes we support, even as we know full well that other charities and causes support people who are far needier?  My wife is off to a community farm meeting tonight, just as I will be out tomorrow to participate in my sons’ Boy Scout meeting.  But is the naches we gain from being involved in these charitable causes diminished by the fact that we could be spending our time feeding the poor and healing the sick, rather than supporting a couple of civic organizations that don’t fight famine, pestilence and plague?

Similarly, I choose to fight against the forces of BDS rather than join the struggle to free Tibet or liberate the North Korean people from the loonocracy that has impoverished and enslaved them.   And if I have made such a choice, who am I to criticize the BDSers for dedicating their time and effort towards attacking just one country (Israel) vs. other nations where mass murder and repression represent daily occurrences?

But that “on the surface” phrase telegraphs my real opinion that the “don’t tell me I can’t attack Israel before I condemn ISIS” defense is, at best, superficial.  For this attack on Israel is not being made in the name of personal political preference, but in the name of universal values (human rights, academic freedom, the fight against bigotry and imperialism).  It is only when questions get raised about how much the boycotters actually subscribe to these values (vs. using them as propaganda tools) that we revert to the far thinner “it’s a free country/I can choose who I politick against” argument.

The assumption that criticizing the double (or triple) standard directed at Israel consists merely of calling people inconsistent (or hypocritical) also misses a far more interesting point that we can draw from the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant (the same philosopher I mentioned during that recent discussion of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals).

In the Alinsky series, I talked about how it is never moral for anyone to use someone else as a “mere means” towards their ends.  But Kant’s philosophy also included the “Categorical Imperative” which asks people to consider whether the motivation for their actions, if translated into a universal rule, would lead to moral or immoral consequences.

To a certain extent, this is just a fancy philosophical version of the “what if everyone did it” argument used by parents since time immemorial.  But Kant’s reasoning carries a pragmatic usefulness if used to interrogate the principles upon which someone’s choices are based.  For when asked to articulate such principles, most people try to locate their choices in something loftier than personal preference.  And it is the window on the soul such an articulation generates that invites meaningful scrutiny.

For example, if you were to ask an ASA member for the principles upon which their boycott was based, they might say that the behavior of the Israeli government (and Israeli universities which they claim represent that government – even if only tangentially) makes boycotting Israeli universities appropriate.  But if taken to a universal level, that would make it legitimate for any group to boycott the academics of any nation whose government did things that group did not approve of.

In fact, if we universalize still further, the boycott would seem to indicate that anyone with a political grievance against either a nation or its academics (or just a group of academics) was free to choose and implement their own punishments, up to and including excluding them from a wider academic community (i.e., a boycott).  Which ultimately translates to prioritizing the desires of particular group over what was previously seen as a reigning universal value (i.e., academic freedom dedicated to keeping the free flow of ideas unimpeded, regardless of politics).

But unless ASA is the only organization that is allowed to follow this new rule, why can’t a consortium of colleges and universities declare ASA a bigoted organization and ban them from campuses?  Why can’t legislators punish those who give the organization funds?  Why can’t the University of Illinois rescind someone’s contract over controversial tweets?  After all, if academic freedom must now take a back seat to someone’s political likes and dislikes, who gets to decide which “someones” and what “likes/dislikes” can be included under that rule?

I don’t know if it is confusion or just the usual BDS preference for avoiding difficult questions that causes them to break into the “Don’t tell me I have to condemn Saudi Arabia before I start in on Israel!” argument (even if Saudi Arabia was never mentioned).  For it’s very possible that they don’t understand the implication of the Dialectical Imperative for the simple reason that most people don’t study Kant (or philosophy in general) any longer.

Which is a pity since it can provide quite a bit of guidance in this particular situation.  For the article that got me thinking about this issue talked about how European academics were shunning Ariel University due to its location on what some consider “occupied territory” even as those same Europeans gleefully build relationships with schools on Turkish-occupied Cyprus.

For the boycott proponent, this observation simply boils down to: “Now you’re telling me I have to protest Turkey and I just told you I get to choose where I direct my moral/political wrath!!!”  But for those who subscribe to a Dialectical Imperative, the choice is really between two universal principles: one which embraces what we generally think of as academic freedom which says that the free flow of research, inquiry and learning should never be interrupted (even between nations in a state of war) and a different universal principle which says that this unfettered exchange of ideas that defines academic freedom can be put aside if politics (anyone’s politics) dictates.

Given a choice between these two universals, I know where I would cast my lot.

Death Threats

17 Nov

The leadership of the American Studies Association (ASA) had a bit of a problem as their conference wound to a close last week.

Even before that event began, claims that January’s vote of 16% of the membership represented democratic support for the boycott seemed at odds with the fact that not one American Studies department in the country has shown solidarity with the organization by implementing that decision.  And given that the organization’s California and Northeast branches have joined 250 college Presidents and the largest academic organizations in the country in condemning ASA’s boycott motion just increased the number of topics the organization did not want discussed (despite claims that their boycott was started to “open up conversation”).

And then you have the spectacle of an organization insisting it be treated as the inheritors to the tradition of Martin Luther King coming under the scrutiny of California law enforcement for civil rights violations.  With that spotlight upon them (not to mention scrutiny of whatever press they could not freeze out of their event), we saw the final unraveling of the policy as ASA’s leadership (which clung to the notion that the boycott was in effect if Israelis who attended their conference did not do so as representatives of their institutions) had to swallow hard as the remaining shred of their boycott was mocked as it went unenforced.

Now there has been some reporting that the boycott has been enacted by individual scholars refusing to work with Israeli colleagues for undisclosed reasons.  And while I’m a bit leery of using a couple of anecdotes to demonstrate a trend, if US-based American Studies professors are quietly shunning Israeli students and professors, this would indicate the existence of what is called a furtive boycott, the most cowardly (and ineffective) format the loathsome BDS “movement” can take since it involves taking political action (boycotting fellow academics for political reasons) without letting anyone know your decision represents a political act (since that might get the BDSer into trouble).

With the ASA’s squalid little policy reduced to a mass of contradictions the organization was too incompetent to untangle, it was just a matter of time before the leaders of that organization took to the airwaves to try to regain the initiative.  And what better way to do so than to roll out the old “death threat” trope which claims that critics of the boycotters are so hysterical (and potentially dangerous) that they have been showering the organization with calls for blood.

A couple of years back, I actually gave the BDSers the benefit of the doubt when they claimed that some of the criticisms they received contained threatening talk – potentially extending to threats on people’s lives.  After all, one need only descend into any comment section of a news story covering the Middle East to see people reduced to shouting accusations of Nazism at one another.  So in the heated world of Internet anonymity, it’s certainly possible that some deranged boycott critic might have ratcheted their verbal violence to the level of a death threat.

But then I encountered the “death threat” phenomenon in Olympia Washington, a community where BDS derangement tends to get magnified large enough to where it can be studied like a mutant oversized biology specimen.

In that instance, people who forced a product boycott onto a food co-op in the area were not just saying they had received the odd threatening e-mail.  No, at Oly they were telling critics (and, no doubt, each other) that they had received hundreds of personal death threats which had caused many boycott activists to go underground in fear of their lives.

It was only when they were pressed to explain how opponents of the boycott even knew where to send these supposed hundreds (if not thousands) of threats or asked what steps the boycotters took with local law enforcement to deal with what was supposedly a life-threatening emergency that the those hurling “death threat” accusations actually went underground (avoiding any request for evidence of their claims).

It was at that point I realized that the death threat trope seems to be trotted out every time a BDS story broke, which mean that either (1) boycotters routinely receive genuine death threats when they try to enact their program, but never do anything about it (neither to protect themselves nor expose the threateners for shaming purposes); or (2) the entire “death threat” shtick is a fake, designed to put opponents on the defensive while also demonstrating the allegedly threateend boycotter’s stunning bravery.

Given that no security measures were taken during the ASA conference itself (as opposed to cops I had to hire when the new Israeli Consul visited my temple earlier this year to support his own security staff), I’m going to go with option (2) and say that Lisa Duggan’s claims to face threat to life and limb for her courageous stance is just one more clumsy attempt to throw her political opponents off balance and disguise the abject cowardice of everything and everyone involved with the ASA’s boycott.

If anyone has evidence to the contrary, please forward it and I’ll be happy to publically correct this interpretation.

The Left and Anti-Zionism (or my “dinner” with Mike)

12 Nov

A few weeks ago, Mike Lumish (of Israel Thrives and Times of Israel fame) and I began a dialog over that perennial issue that comes up here and at all sites (or any other locations) where debate over the Middle East takes place: the role of the global Left in supporting an anti-Zionist (and, sometimes, anti-Semitic) agenda on the world stage.

The question that kicked off this debate (whether the Left abandons its principles when it embraces anti-Zionism) turned out to be a simple one to answer.  For the double-standards, ignoring of context (historical and geopolitical), and abuse of the language of human rights that are the sin qua non  of the BDS agenda (and the wider anti-Israel ideology from which BDS springs) is an affront not just to what the Left would consider to be its cornerstone principles (fairness and justice), but antithetical to any moral view embraced by people located anywhere on the spectrum (political, that is).

My response to his question (which asked whether we should consider the Left not as friend or enemy but the battlefield upon which the Arab-Israel conflict is currently being fought) brought forth an important (and potentially fruitful) response from Mike, namely: if the soul of the Left is an important plain upon which this battle is continuing, are supporters of Israel in the process of losing that battle?

One obvious way to try to answer this question is through the use of statistical evidence.  In fact, Mike provides a link to such evidence in the form of a survey demonstrating that while US support for Israel is still high in general, it is much higher among Republicans (68-77%) vs. Democrats (39-46%).

While I respect the use of survey studies (which have successfully supported a century of social-science research, after all), those ranges illustrate a couple of problems I have with the use of statistical information to answer important questions regarding political belief.

The first is the nature of the sample.  Taking just the Democratic side of the spectrum, this number would include everyone from the late Robert Byrd to the nastiest Che-Guevara-t-shirt-wearing BDSer who also happens to be registered Democrat.

But then you also have the issue of what kind of question is being translated into “support for Israel.”  Were respondents asked their support for Israel over Hamas in the latest Gaza conflict (which seems be part of the Post story linked above)?  And is data from this poll being conflated with previous polls asking different questions?  If so, what was the subject of those polls?  Was “support for Israel” framed around favoring its continued existence (to which more people Left or Right would probably say “Yes”) vs. splitting levels of responsibility the peace-process stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians (which would probably give you different results)?

Our deep and abiding faith in numbers tends to prejudice statistical information (which supposedly reflects the view of the many) over anecdotal data.  But hang in with me for a minute while I make the case for a specific set of anecdotal information that I think provides a valuable context which might propel this debate forward.

Clearly raw anecdote is not that valuable (since for every left-leaning supporter if Israel one can name, a critic could provide as many counter-examples as they like).  But I’d like to assign importance to the fact that in every BDS battle I’ve been involved over the last decade, the majority of allies I’ve worked would characterize themselves as progressive or Left-leaning.

This fact should not be used to support an assertion that liberals are more likely than conservatives to participate on the right side of a BDS fight.  Rather, it demonstrates that because BDS only tends to try to insert itself into liberal communities (colleges and universities, liberal Mainline churches, municipalities with big Democratic majorities, food coops – including the ultimate example of Park Slope), those trying to stop them are likely to spring from those communities and thus be more liberal than the population as a whole.

Under these circumstances, what we’re talking about is one group of self-identified progressives (those who fight against BDS) resisting another group of self-identified progressives (those pushing BDS), with this latter group insisting that anyone who considers themselves liberal/progressive/left-leaning must fully support the boycotters’ agenda.

And here, this anecdotal information supports not a statistical or anthropological argument, but an historic one.  For where have we seen fights that involve ideological extremists insisting that everyone who believes in a certain wide-ranging set of political principles must submit themselves to the extremists or be considered traitors to their own beliefs?

We saw this in the last century where one branch of the Left (call it Marxist, Marxist-Leninist, “Hard-Left” of whatever you like), made it very clear that any support for progressive causes required you to embrace their revolutionary agenda (and leadership) or be condemned as wishy-washy and hypocritical at best, treacherous and reactionary at worst.  And, in a dynamic that will sound familiar, while these revolutionaries demanded that everyone else submit to judgment, they were impervious to any critique of their own hermetically sealed world view (up to and even after Europe threw off the yoke of Communism).

Today, it is this same attitude (practiced by many of the same organizations and even individuals) that propels debates over whether someone is a PEP (i.e., “Progressive in Everything but Palestine”) implying that a “true” progressive can only have one attitude towards the Arab-Israeli conflict – the Palestinian one.  And just as last-centuries Marxists were impervious to criticism of their own beliefs (while busily condemning everyone else’s), so today’s BDSers cannot be swayed by argument over things like the state of human rights outside the Jewish state since their fanaticism can only see such arguments as “distractions” from the only topic they want to discuss (Israel’s guilt).

But let’s not forget that last-century’s Marxists lost the Cold War (better termed World War III).  And, as much as I admire those conservatives who stood fast against Marxism for a century (which does not include opportunists like Joseph McCarthy who, among other crimes, provided Communists with ideological ammunition they have still not depleted), part of the front against Marxism included progressives, liberals, Leftists (whatever you want to call them) who stood fast against the bullying and blackmail that played such a large part in the revolutionists’ agenda of subversion.

So if this is the nature of the battle being fought, are we doing ourselves a disservice for condemning a Left that might include the inheritors of an anti-Communist tradition that is trying to find a way to apply lessons learned in the 20th century fight against Marxism to our current conflict (best thought of as World War IV)?

Back over to you, Michael…

Campus On Fire 2 – What to Do?

9 Nov

The two pieces of advice that I use as a mantra in the fight against BDS (don’t panic/don’t be complacent) are inexorably linked.

Last time (and over the years), I’ve pointed out things that should calm us when we hear stories of BDS and other anti-Israel activity “on the march,” such as the non-existent economic impact of a decade and a half of divestment campaigns, the triumph of buycotts over boycotts, and the rejection of BDS by some of the most progressive institutions in the country (such as food coops).

But the “don’t be complacent” recommendation requires us to appreciate the strengths the boycotters bring to the battle, notably:

  • The fact that they start from militant goals (the destruction of Israel or its weakening to the point where others can do the dirty work) justifies (to them anyway) the use of aggressive tactics that opponents (i.e., us – who are not interested in destroying anyone) cannot match or sustain.
  • Their indifference to the harm they cause others gives the BDSers the ability to select any target they wish (that school or municipality for divestment, this food coop or retailer for boycotting, etc.), which means they have the initiative when it comes to selecting the terrain upon which the next boycott or divestment battle will be fought.
  • The barrier to entry for BDS is virtually non-existent. For example, a couple of SJP-types on a campus can launch a divestment campaign (such as one that started recently in Princeton) by simply signing up for some free petitioning software, filling it with Barghoutian boilerplate, gathering a few hundred signatures, and claiming momentum (or even victory) regardless of what happens next.
  • The general media zeitgeist regarding stories about Israel combined with the BDSers’ demonstrated ability to use Web 2.0 communication tools to push their preferred spin means even trivial stories will get ink and are more likely to be shaped by an anti- (vs. pro-) Israel narrative.

These advantages are not trivial, but neither are they insurmountable, especially since the BDS project is predicated on coopting a neutral third party (such as a school, church or union) in order to make it seem as though the “Israel=Apartheid” propaganda message is coming out of the mouth of a respected institution.  And, to date, most civic organizations have proven resistant to being dragged into the boycotter’s orbit.

If you look at the influential constituencies that are now fully immunized from the BDS virus (college administrations, municipal leaders, food coop boards), it becomes clear that fights over irrelevant student council resolutions or hummus protests represent the pathetically low stakes battles the boycotters have been forced to pick after a decade and a half of failure.

But it is this very triviality that requires the BDSers to scream ever louder in order to mask the minimal limits of their support outside their own community.  And, at a time when thousands of Arabs (including many Palestinians) are being slaughtered daily in the non-Israeli part of the Middle East currently going up in flames, the need to ratchet up the volume to 11,000,000 becomes even more critical, lest anyone notice that the Palestinian suffering might have more to do with HamIsis than Netenyahu.

The combination of ruthlessness and infiltration that has led to the few BDS wins in recent years (such as some West Coast student government resolutions, or the ASA’s academic boycott) represents the tactics Lenin once summed up as: “Probe with bayonets.  If you encounter mush, advance.  If you encounter steel, retreat.”

Which pretty much means that those who want to beat back the BDS threat have to do so by ensuring those bayonets always encounter steel.

We have already seen this kind of resolve within broader Jewish community organizations (including Hillel) that have made it clear that the “Big Tent” they embrace will never include those pushing for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting the Jewish state.  And the whining you hear from groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), or their latest front group Open Hillel, demonstrates what Israel’s foes are reduced to when they encounter firm resistance.

With regard to college campuses, the Jewish community has also made the de facto strategic decision to leave key decisions up to students on the ground (providing help and advice when requested).  This choice carries some risk since you never know how many students are ready to man the barricades during any given semester (or how skilled those students are politically and organizationally), which means we cannot always plan ahead for where steel (vs. mush) will emerge.

But as more kids step up to the plate (as they have over the last few years in increasing numbers), chances grow that you’ll see more situations like Cornell (where SJP has been reduced to pathetic blubbering over their own alleged victimization) than at places like Hampshire College where the boycotters feel dominant enough to direct their impotent rage at the few (largely Jewish) students who oppose their agenda.

Finally, don’t panic/don’t be complacent counsels patience.  Anti-Israel agitation, after all, has been with us as long as the war against the Jewish state.  And in that war it is Israel that stands stable and successful, a nation strong enough to defend its interests and continue the quest for peace, while those who have waged war against her for decades descend into the chaos as totalitarians battle to the death with religious fanatics with everyone screaming about the Jews as they bury knives into one another’s backs.

This same instability lurks within groups tasked to manage the propaganda component of the century-long war against the Jews.  Today, they travel under the banner of Students for Justice in Palestine – a name that will no-doubt change once it becomes apparent to all that what they stand for has nothing to do with the students or Palestinians (much less justice).