Strategies for a Challenging Year

During a period when Israel’s foes are taking advantage of increasing radicalism on college campuses and elsewhere, it is easy to panic or fall into despair as each news cycle brings more tales of terror for Israel and her supporters.  But if there’s one thing that separates the effective from the ineffective warrior (political or otherwise), it’s the ability to skip over panic and get down to business.

Yes, the news is indeed frightening (especially when your news feed has been customized to only deliver tales of your political enemies behaving badly).  And factors such as such as how decisions get made in Tehran or the Kremlin (or the White House for that matter) are beyond the control of any activist or group of activists, no matter how talented.  But the first rule of warfare is to understand what is in your control so you can make choices based on concrete reality, vs. wishful (or fear-driven) thinking.

Working from the top, the general zeitgeist is that the election of a controversial American President has galvanized elements of the political Left to find common cause.  While not a problem in and of itself (why shouldn’t political allies come together to fight a political foe?), the tendency of the ruthless (whether Leninist or anti-Zionist) to rise to power within such coalitions means such groups are likely to turn against Israel – if not immediately, then eventually.

The Right has also been doing coalition building and political agitation, of course.  But since the most significant anti-Zionist agitation has been coming from SJP types and their intersectional allies, at least for now we must focus on the actual vs. potential enemy.  Any good military will devote a subset of its energy to anticipating and planning for future threats.  But doing so at the expense of winning the battle you’re currently fighting is folly.

With that big picture in place, we must also keep in mind Tip O’Neill’s maxim that “All politics is local.”  It’s easy to lose sight of this central truth in an era when a food coop boycott in Brooklyn makes international news, or a church divestment resolution triggers tweets from Detroit to Doha.  But the reason why there was a boycott or divestment motion in that particular coop or church is because local anti-Israel activists within each community organized and sustained campaigns for them.

This means that understanding the local situation takes top priority.  Is there a divestment row brewing at your school?  Which groups are behind it?  How many members do they have?  Are those numbers real, or just boasts or Facebook joins?    Most importantly – who leads the opposition and are they any good?

By good, I mean, are they able to sustain coalitions or political activities for long periods of time, present a responsible face to those they are trying to convince (like unaffiliated students, administrators or reporters) and think and plan strategically?  Or is there success driven primarily by aggression and charisma – both strong sources of power, but more limited ones than patience, empathy and a strategic mindset.

Oh, and if the opposition has decent leadership, are they going to be around or are they about to go on exchange program next semester (in which case the next question should be who is in charge when they leave and how effective are they?).

If you have the patience, this short book goes into more detail about analyzing battlefield forces and landscapes, and elements of effective strategic thinking.  But in the particular period we’re living through when Israel’s foes are trying to use the current moment to gain control over the entire Left end of the political spectrum and turn it against us, some specific questions to ask include:

  • How much radical activity is really going on in your community? While partisans on both sides of the Right-Left divide have a stake in inflating the significance of such activity (either to condemn or celebrate it), it is your job to determine if that latest march or 20-page list of demands represents a genuine power play vs. a political stunt.
  • What is the response of the rest of the community to the radicals? Are they supportive, hostile, indifferent?  Fear of being condemned as racist, sexist or something-else-ist might make it difficult for community members to honestly express what they think.  But time spent really listening to people other than allies and enemies can help you better evaluate honest community attitudes.
  • Are there opportunities to cleave coalitions among our foes, or prevent them from forming? There is, after all, no requirement that every Left-leaning individual and organization must drop on their knees before the Palestine uber alles agenda.  And there are various ways of making that known, from recruiting confident and vocal minorities and feminists to openly question the assumptions behind intersectional alliances, to creating your own coalitions to focus on providing genuine help (vs. just slogans) to the needy and oppressed.

Most importantly, the successful warrior is a happy warrior able to project a spirit of confidence vs. fear and despair.  Our enemy thrives on other people’s weakness, following Lenin’s maxim to probe with bayonets, advancing when they encounter mush and retreating when they meet steel.  This means that no matter how overwhelmed you might feel at any given time, never let your foe see anything but impenetrable metal.

 

Countering What Comes Next

If recent analyses here and elsewhere are correct, SJP and associated anti-Israel organizations are likely to be shifting strategy to take advantage of the increase in radical political activity on college campuses and elsewhere.  This activity will probably take the form of building alliances with groups protesting at schools, pressuring administrators to cave in to demands, and shutting down events held by those with whom they disagree.

The marriage of such groups and organizations like SJP makes perfect sense since (1) the tactics now being inflicted on large numbers of students (such as shout-downs of speakers) were pioneered against Israel’s supporters and (2) anti-Israel activists have mastered the technique of bending other radical groups to their will through a one-sided application of “intersectionality” (which is why feminists in “the movement” must submit to the male-dominated SJP agenda, while SJP has no obligation to even mention gender Apartheid in the Middle East).

There are number of ways to meet this threat, some more productive than others.

For instance, one poor choice would be for Israel’s supporters – Jewish and otherwise – to try to find a home in newly forming radical alliances in hope to have a say when villains and victims are selected.   The problem with this approach is that our side displays little of the ruthlessness that is the ultimate source of power in such “movements.”  SJP, for example, is ready to cause limitless turmoil in other people’s organizations in order to get their way.  For better or worse, it is unrealistic to assume our side can effectively manage similarly destructive power grabs.

Another poor choice would be to set ourselves up in opposition to the radicals, abandoning interaction across the political spectrum and throwing our lot in with those most averse to the protestor’s agenda.  While there will always be a certain logic to embracing whoever seems to most vocally support Israel at the moment (which today are conservatives), a quick glance at history or the current political landscape demonstrates the folly of assuming today’s friends will always be friendly.

This is especially so since our greatest successes have come from cultivating support across the political spectrum (exempting the radical fringes), best exemplified by the ability of AIPAC to manage the community’s relationship with Congress regardless of which party is in power.  In addition, the more we can separate Jewish and Israeli concerns from domestic politics (either American or Israeli) the better.

So if joining the mob or joining the mob’s enemies are not likely to be productive options, what can we do (beyond holding the usual speaking events and hummus parties and hoping for the best)?

First of all, we need to understand each challenge we face as clearly and concretely as possible.  Reading stories of rampaging mobs on campuses can boil the blood, and get us fearful that any radical group we face has similar numbers and power.  But if you look at any political challenge objectively, it always boils down to understanding the enemy and his or her true numbers and resources, understanding your side in similarly concrete fashion, and being aware of the battlefield on which the fight might be fought.

SJP is made up of individuals, as are the organizations they are trying to align with or corrupt.  So how many people are in each of these groups, and how many of those people know what they’re doing with regard to creating and maintaining political alliances (a tricky project under any circumstances)?

Speaking of alliances, we do have alternatives (which I describe here) to throwing our lot in entirely with either our enemies or our enemies enemies and hope they play nice with us.

So first steps are to avoid panic, get a handle on the situation as it really is (as much as possible) and create the teams that can effectively country the enemies likely next steps.

Some examples of how this can work next time.

SJP Conference 2017 – Reading the Tea Leaves

There are a number of useful insights to be gained by looking at how Israel’s opponents portray themselves, especially in materials tied to their recruitment and planning.  Which is why communications about the annual conference of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) become regular sources for tea-leaf reading regarding the opposition’s priorities.

The title for this year’s SJP confab: “A Reimagined World: Dismantling Walls from Palestine to the Rio Grand” packs a lot of messaging into a single line, highlighting that the continued colonization of the Left end of the political spectrum represents the organization’s priority for the year.

This is reinforced by the first goal they specify: “Connecting our Regions and Struggles” which spells out plans to “move past lip service” of solidarity towards a Full Intersectional Monty whereby campus and community protest groups would be forged into a united front.

SJP’s second goal, “Holding onto History,” tries to make a connection between the Nakba (“the Catastrophe” – the Palestinian name for the creation of Israel) and the Great Migration of the South, demonstrating (1) continued effort to leverage racial hostilities in the US that have been brewing for the last 2-3 years; (2) indifference to historical fact (since this weak, incoherent parallel implies a total lack of familiarity of what that “Great Migration” actually was); and (3) contempt for the public meant to swallow SJP’s fact-free history and ridiculous parallels whole.

It is only when we get to Goal #3 that divestment makes an appearance in a telling goal title “Mobilizing Alongside and Beyond Divestment.”  The fact that BDS resolutions went down by nearly half last year indicates our side has effectively mobilized against SJP, or the number of strategic targets for divestment strategies (mostly student governments at colleges and universities) are drying up, or both.

Long-time BDS watchers know it is impossible to get the boycotters to admit defeat (since everything they do, including losing, is interpreted as victory).  For every reference to “successful campus BDS campaigns” (referring to couple of dozen student government votes they’ve won or continue to push), you’ve got weasel phrases like “getting our institutions to follow through on their commitments to divest” (which ignores the fact that not a single institute has made any such commitment, student government votes be damned).

Distilling the above with other elements of their announcement (including lists of activities SJP conference attendees will be trained in under the rubric of “Skills Sharing” – Goal 4), I think we are likely to see a ramping up of “intersectional” strategies vs. heavy-duty BDS campaigning over the coming academic year.

This is a sensible move for an organization like SJP which has proven adept at forming alliances with the most radical elements on college campuses and getting them to submit to their will.

For example, when the Women’s Studies Association became one of the few groups to vote for an academic boycott of the Jewish state, many people highlighted the hypocrisy of doing so while ignoring the rampant gender Apartheid among the very societies that boycott is meant to support.  But from a strategic (rather than a moral) standpoint, that alliance simply demonstrates how well SJP is able to build one-way demands into its supposed alliances of solidarity.  This is why admission to a “united front” always seems to require everyone adhere to SJP priorities, while bringing up little matters like the slaughter of Arabs (including Palestinians) in Syria or the brutal repression of women and gays throughout the Middle East (including Palestinian-controlled territories) will earn you an immediate blackballing as a right-wing, Zionist lackey.

The political zeitgeist on campus will continue to center on reaction and resistance to the new US administration and its policies, which is why the Rio Grande makes an appearance in the handle for this year’s SJP event.  This would indicate that the priority for 2017-2018 will be to tie every controversy associated with that administration to some aspect of Israeli leadership or policy.

Some have predicted that a decrease in boycott and divestment activity will be matched by an increase in aggressiveness as some of the most virulent and violent behavior associated with radical student groups gets channeled towards Israel and its supporters on campus.  To fight such a wave, we will need to disrupt those alliances as much as possible, while also preparing to take advantage of a likely backlash against the kind of behavior we’ve seen in schools over the last year or two – two strategies that will be fleshed out next time.

Fair Fight

I’ve talked a number of times about how unfair the fight is between Israel and her defamers.

Those defamers, after all, have a militant goal: the elimination of the Jewish state.  With that goal as their North Star, strategies to weaken that state or make its destruction appear noble and just become clear, as do tactics to achieve those strategic aims (such as BDS).  In addition, the sociopathic nature of Israel’s enemies gives them the power to manipulate others while feeling no guilt over their own destructive, ruthless behavior.

In contrast, nearly all Israelis and friends of Israel do not want to see enemies eliminated.  In fact, our greatest dream (i.e., our goal) is not to see Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims destroyed, but rather to live at peace with them (or at least be left in peace by them).  With such non-militant goals driving our enterprise, it’s no surprise that we cannot gin up the kind of hatred needed to drive decades-long hostile counter-campaigns.  And our unwillingness to use others as means to an end means we are not ready to manipulate neutrals in order to use them as weapons in our political campaigns.

While I still hold to this analysis, some recent events also got me thinking of another way to look at “the fight,” one in which the odds can seem stacked in Israel’s favor.

The first event was the opening of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in New York, a two-billion dollar facility that anchors Cornell’s Tech education and research initiative.  This mammoth joint effort won out in fierce competition between some of the most prestigious science and engineering schools in the country.  And the success of Cornell’s bid was largely in recognition of the value of that school’s partnership with one of the world’s most successful schools of scientific learning: Israel’s Technion Institute.

Given that decades of harassment by academic boycotters has led to little more than marginal professors occasionally engaging in cowardly furtive boycotts and sputtering on Twitter, the opening of Cornell-Technion – remarkable in itself – sends an important message to the world: that linking arms with Israel brings success and progress, while shunning the Jewish state leads nowhere.

Speaking of going nowhere (as well as sputtering on Twitter) the event I’d like to use as a contrast to the opening of Technion-Cornell took place in Dublin last week where Israel haters from around that nation gathered to say the same things they and others have said at Israel-hating events for more than half a century.  And their star attraction was that failed academic whose Twitter id rivals that of America’s president: Steven Salaita.

Mr. Salaita’s been on a roller coaster ride since being hired to join the faculty of the Native American Studies department at University of Illinois (despite having no qualifications for the job), followed by his un-hiring by school leaders unwilling to give lifelong employment to someone advocating violence on Twitter, followed by a lawsuit and boycott of the university (which, among other things, destroyed the department he was going to join), followed by his decamping to American University of Beirut in Lebanon, followed by his being let go from that university as well.

And who is to blame for this string of disasters that have left him academically homeless (although not bereft of speaking gigs, it appears): the evil Jews (whoops!  I mean “Zionists”) whose power apparently extends to academic institutions in nations at war with the Jewish state.

For all his attempts to make his story come off like an epic struggle of right against might, the Salaita tale is ultimately about someone who never grew out of adolescence now demanding rewards (like tenure) he doesn’t deserve, someone ready to whine and blame/punish others for his failings.

While there might be a market for such self-pity within marginal groups (like the lame boycotters of the American Studies Association – another field Salaita announced himself an expert in), I can’t imagine that the professors staffing the new Technion-Cornell Institute got to their positions by behaving in such a manner.  In fact, the string of achievements on both campuses would indicate that they have much better things to do than bitch that no one is offering them a paid perch to spout politics that can’t be taken away.

Every few years, our Temple is blessed by a visit from young Israeli soldiers traveling through Boston, and I’ve always been stunned by the seriousness and maturity of kids not much older than my recent high-school graduate.  And it is these serious young men and women who then go on to university and from there become the next generation of Technion professors, business leaders, or successes in a thousand other fields (all the while continuing to contribute to the defense of their homeland).

In a contest between such serious people and freaks and weirdos like Steven Salaita, who has the upper hand?

Broadway and Nothingness

Broadway musicals are frequently played and sung in our home, and (usually once a year) we skip rent and food for the month to actually buy tickets to a Tony-winning show.

Our two latest stage adventures were Hamilton (which we all saw in Chicago) and Dear Evan Hansen (which only some of us saw in New York).  The former was definitely the more ground-breaking, a game-changing masterpiece that brought new urban musical forms to the stage in the same way West Side Story recreated Broadway via jazz and modern dance.  But Hansen certainly earned this year’s Tony’s with its talented cast, memorable songs, and heart-rending story about a high-school senior trapped in his own lies over a classmate’s suicide.

When comparing the two shows, it dawned on me that the protagonists were about the same age when you first meet them.  Hamilton grows up during the play (which continues through his death at 47), while Hansen is the same age throughout.  But it’s interesting to note that by the time Hamilton had reached Hansen’s 17-18-year-old mark, he had already been in college for several years, penned two remarkable and important public pamphlets railing against British treatment of the colonies, and was one year away from fighting his first battles as an artillery Captain in the Revolutionary army.

In contrast, Evan Hansen has spent those same years anguishing about his lack of friends and purpose, writing letters to himself to buck up his ego (one of which is mistaken for a letter of friendship with the boy who killed himself), and set up a web page to maintain this fictional relationship.

This comparison is not designed to decry the youth of today, but rather to ask the question of how a society that has overcome so many of the terrors men like Hamilton had to face over two centuries ago (disease, want, slavery, invading imperial armies) today seems obsessed with the small and internal when so few obstacles are in the way of thinking and living for larger purpose.  After all, if men like Hamilton were able to fight for independence with barely enough food to feed an army and build a country while contending with Yellow Fever and  gout, shouldn’t we moderns be doing so much more with hideous diseases banished and food (and other needs of life) plentiful?

But what if such hardships were not impediments to living a serious life, but the inspiration to live one?  In fact, might Evan Hansen’s existential angst (and the angst felt by so many of us these days) derive from having inherited all the default comforts derived from the society he lives in, rather than having created that society (or contributed to its ongoing creation)?

This contrast may help solve one of the world’s great riddles: why are Israelis again and again ranked among the happiest people on the face of the earth.

Such happiness seems lunatic, given the knife-edge existence of the Jewish state and everyone dwelling within it, not to mention the sacrifices people living in that state must make in terms of high taxes and military service (including near life-long duty as reservists).  But if we think of these sacrifices as contributions each citizen is making to the nation they and their parents built, then being an Israeli is revealed as synonymous with having higher purpose, a reason for existence.

With purpose, one has room in the soul for genuine love and friendship, not the pretend friendships and unrequited high-school passions of Evan Hansen’s lost high-schooler, but the deep and profound connectedness between lovers, family members, and comrades-at-arms that marked the life of Hamilton.

With this Fall’s hurricanes bringing so much peril and damage to the United States, Jewish news sources have noted that today it is Israel that is sending aid to its American landsmen, reversing a decades-long dynamic in which Americans were the givers and Israelis the recipients of charity.   While such material aid is enormously welcome, it’s worth noting that the Jewish state has been exporting something much more important over the last seventy years: a way of life that provides an antidote to the existential crisis facing us all.

 

 

The Nazi Threat

There are two historical lenses that can be applied to the recent horrific events in Charlottesville and their aftermath.

The first would be what I’ll call the Cable Street analysis, which considers the violent clashes between outright Nazis and their supporters and violent counter-demonstrators as an extension or repetition of what happened in 1936 when Oswald Mosley – leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) – opted for a show of strength by marching thousands of his supporters through the East End of London.

To counter that protest, an opposition of tens of thousands (largely made up of Jewish and Leftist opponents of the Fascists) showed up and met Mosley’s marchers with sticks, rocks, eggs and dung.  Even with police trying to protect the marchers and keep the peace, the inevitable violence led to riots and an ultimate disbursal of the Nazis.

This show of force demonstrated that, unlike in Germany and Italy, the Fascists could not count on finding a critical mass of support among the British public.  Whether because of this failure, or because Britain was at war with Europe’s Fascists three years later, Mosley and his Black Shirts ended up a humiliated rump vs. the nucleus of leadership for a Fascist Britain.

The Battle of Cable Street, while large and fierce, was just one of many violent battles between proponents of rival Right and Left-wing ideologies fighting for supremacy on the Continent between the two World Wars, fights that provide a different lens to think about our present situation.

For while “Reds” and “Black Shirts” in Europe claimed to be in violent opposition to one another, one can also view their fight as competition for the same souls: those ready to abandon Liberalism and the Enlightenment for ideologies promising a new messianic future: whether that of a worker’s paradise or blood-and-soil nationalist empire.

Unlike Britain, where the Liberal order protected and asserted itself, taking advantage of Fascism’s proven weakness, but not falling for the illusion that opposition to Nazism translated into political virtue, the continent became divided between rival ideological empires responsible for history’s most costly World War (which took the likes of 50 million) and most costly social experiment (Marxism – which cost the lives of an additional 100+ million).

So are today’s clashes an attempt to halt a genuine Nazi advance a la Cable Street, or a new front on the age-old battle between civilization and ruthlessness?

One way to tell is by analyzing the relationship between the actual threat and the level and nature of the response to that threat.  While I’ll admit to getting a certain thrill in seeing torch-wielding Nazis flee in panic when faced with an outraged mob (much like the visceral pleasure of seeing Nazis gunned down in the movies), I can’t quite convince myself that the nation or the world faces a resurgent Fascist movement ready to try again to take over the planet.

Certainly our nation is broken into ideological camps that, for a variety of reasons, neither talk to nor understand each other.  But we have a choice between following this trend further into extremes (where every political battle is cast as one between Commies and Nazis), or stopping to catch our breath to determine if this is the direction we want to travel in as a nation.

As we consider our options, the Jewish condition (which again is being thrust upon us) can serve as a valuable means to measure political health.  Regarding the latest Nazi slogan “You Will Not Replace Us,” the “You,” after all refers, to the Jews.  So might those tearing signs bearing those words out of the hands of their opponents stop for a moment to consider similar phrases (such as “The Jews are our Dogs”) as part of the same problem?  If so, that’s a step in the right direction.

But if current opponents of today’s self-styled Nazis instead try to lump the villains of Charlottesville, Donald Trump and Israel into a single package that will be the target of their attacks over the coming months and years, we may learn the truth behind a saying frequently attributed (inaccurately) to Winston Churchill and Huey Long: that if fascism comes to America, it will be called “Anti-Fascism.”

 

We Can’t Lose!

“From an organizing perspective, the tactics of getting local state and federal governments to condemn the bigoted BDS movement provide a common platform and points of unity for people in the United States to start working on.  Such legislation – and debate over it – provides a concrete way for citizens and their leaders to directly connect with the issues… and it also provokes a discussion that is often difficult to provoke on the true racist nature of BDS.

And the movement has had an impact on how people think about and discuss the conflict. It’s been great in affecting the discourse and just mobilizing people.  Suddenly the discussion around the country is: does BDS represent an act of bigotry that merits the anti-racist legislation condemning it?  Which is a very different question than whether or not BDS warrants its self-description as a human rights campaign.”

The above is actually not a quote but rather a paraphrase of statements made by BDS activists regarding how we should perceive their stunning lack of actual victories, given the decade and a half the boycotters have been trying to generate any actual wins for their “movement” (beyond getting stacked student governing bodies to pass meaningless boycott resolutions, or corrupting dying institutions to the point where they will do the BDSers bidding).

The sentiment in the original quote can be summed up by the actual sentence which precedes it which reads: “Advocates of BDS, meanwhile, say that the lack of concrete victories is incidental to the movement’s success.

As I’ve noted before: how nice for them!  For such a formulation means that whenever they actually pull some nasty bit of boycott or divestment work over the finish line, it’s time to pop the Champaign corks and  insist everyone in the world fess up to BDS’s unstoppable momentum.  But if they lose, they should still be given credit for opening up conversation and making previously suppressed topics (i.e., their condemnations of Israel that actually ring out across the physical and virtual universes 24/7) discussable.

My paraphrase of their original “we win by losing” argument at the top of this piece should highlight the absurdity of the boycotters’ contentions and pretensions.  For can anyone reading this imagine a scenario in which any BDSer anywhere would embrace the notion that every one of the dozens of anti-BDS bills that have been debated in the country represents victory for their enemies – whether or not those bills get passed?

While I’ve generally been lukewarm about the use of legislatures and courts to settle BDS-related disputes (especially when ground-level political alternatives are available), I’ve come to appreciate the utility of creating actual hard costs on those wishing to boycott the Jewish state in the form of having to give up the large American market in exchange for boycotting the small Israeli one.

But whatever you think about this or that piece of legislation (including one making its way through Congress as you read this), we can rest assured that if the bill passes or fails (for any reason), the boycotters will come up with a explanation for why either decision should accrue to their victory column.

But if we play by their rules, then passage of the bill (or any of the dozens of similar bills already passed by state governments) represents a stunning humiliation for the BDS “movement,” and any failure of these bills still counts as a victory for us since it “opens up discussion” of why the boycotters are a bunch of bigoted, hypocritical jerks.

 

Winning and Losing

A number of people have forwarded me this recent bit of BDS bombast, one which celebrates the “movement’s” unstoppable momentum by highlighting not just one-hundred but two-hundred successes!

My first instinct was to write an analysis similar to this one which took apart the boycotter’s BDS@100 Victories fantasy list from 2015.  But this would have largely been a word-for-word repeat refutation, given that this year’s 200 list simply copied and pasted “wins” from yesteryear, ignoring how many of them have been exposed as fraudulent, outdated, or irrelevant long ago (how many more years are we going to be asked to believe the Hampshire College divestment hoax for example).

For a while, I flirted with generating a BDS Fail at 20,000 list that would crowdsource a compendium of BDS catastrophes one-hundred times larger than their alleged list of triumphs.  Once I hit 50, however (and started toting up the considerable work others had done in this area), I realized such a project could easily get caught up in the old debate over what constitutes an actual BDS win or failure.

Does someone playing a concert in Israel represent a slap in the face to the boycotters, for example?  Certainly when they openly defy targeted protests, as Radiohead did this year.  But what about the hundreds of artists (not to mention thousands of scholars, pilgrims and tourists) who flock to Israel on a regular basis?  Are they also pushing a thumb in to the eye of Omar Barghouti and Roger Waters, or are they just taking advantage of the free, open, exciting, intellectually, culturally and spiritually vibrant nation that is Israel?

Similarly, do the billions in investment and even more billions in M&A and IPO dollars pouring into Israel represent a failure of the BDS movement or the success of the inventive and determined Israeli people?  In other words, might turning Israeli triumphs into BDS defeats be a way of diminishing Israeli accomplishments?

Rather than zero in on the BDSers faux triumphs, or try to overwhelm them with our own list of defeats, what if we instead looked at the concept of victory and defeat through the lens of warfare, a perspective I continue to urge our side to embrace.

For in war, the enemy distributing a leaflet or picketing a store doesn’t register as either a win or a loss, unless such action – in conjunction with others – can ultimately trigger attacks on an enemy or an abandonment of an ally.  In which case, we should be looking at whether BDS is having an impact on those nations where support for Israel is strategic.

The US is obviously the place to start, and if you look at the fact that half of state legislatures have already overwhelmingly passed anti-BDS legislation and the federal government is contemplating the same, it seems as though BDS continues to be considered toxic within communities whose decisions have real strategic impact.

Now such relationships could change over time.  Enough indoctrination of the young, for example, might turn upcoming generations of leaders against the Jewish state.  Indeed, one could analyze the hostility of the last President to Jewish and Israeli interests as a success for the Israel-haters long game.

But keep in mind that such long games are subject to reversals and influence by confounding variables.  To cite the most obvious example, does the most recent US election represent the “victory” of pro-Israel/anti-BDS forces, or was it the result of a much more complex set of factors, most of which had nothing to do with Middle East or Jewish politics?

If we move from treating every student government vote as a victory or defeat to thinking about factors that are truly strategic, what seems to matter more than failed (or even successful) hummus boycotts are the factors that led to the explosion of the Israeli economy (including liberalization of finance, cultivation of entrepreneurship, and an embrace of the modern information-based economy).

Similarly, while it’s painful to see Israel harangued at yet another BDS conference or rally, what has more impact on the world: those shrieks and scolds, or the fact that Israel has just become a de-facto ally of the world’s second most populous nation (India), and is making diplomatic inroads into areas of the world that have been hostile to it for decades such as Asia, Africa, and even the Middle East?

At the center of these genuine victories has been an Israeli government which, whatever its shortcomings, has set priorities where they belong: growing the economy, expanding diplomacy, doing what is necessary to keep the flames engulfing the entire Middle East outside, rather than inside, the walls.

Similarly, friends of Israel in the US who have built strategic relationships with both political parties, not to mention strategic alliances within academia, business and mission-focused organizations, understand that we too can play a long game.  And one key to victory in such a game is to never mimic our enemies by mistaking fleeting (never mind trivial or false) “wins” as the measurement for genuine success.

Simplicity

Occasionally, I like to supplement this longer analysis of war as the best metaphor to use when dealing with BSD and other anti-Israel campaigns with additional strategies and tactics that are in the process of being demonstrated in the field.

Supporters of the Jewish state are endlessly frustrated by the success of the boycotters in getting their “Israel=Apartheid” message across, regardless of its total lack of truthfulness, even as the truths we tell barely make headway.

“A lie can travel across the planet while the truth is tying its shoes” (or something to that effect) is an explanation we tell ourselves as to why the other side’s fabrications seem to resonate with so many while our carefully constructed and well-articulated rebuttals fall on deaf ears.  And there’s no question that a lie endlessly repeated (especially one that tells a simple story) can be very impactful on our story-loving brains.

But the power of their propaganda message derives not from its dishonesty, but from its simplicity.  “Apartheid Israel” packs within it a wide range of messages and connections of bigotry and repression, as well as a clear set of steps to follow (boycott, divestment, and sanctions leading ultimately to state dismantlement) that need no further elaboration.  In contrast, our explanations as to why Israel is not an Apartheid state (usually accompanied by long-winded analysis and history lessons) makes audiences’ eyes glaze over, not because they are false but because they are complicated.

Many messaging debates within the pro-Israel community boil down to how to find a similar storyline to counter the BDSer’s “Israel=Apartheid” slogan, with arguments generally breaking out over whether our storyline should be negative or positive.  But even here, the messages we argue over tend to be multi-faceted and complex, whether negative (let’s talk about Arab repression, homophobia and sexism, as well as the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and depredations of Gaza’s Hamas rulers – who are really just like ISIS, etc.) or positive (let’s celebrate Israel’s democracy, open society, tolerance of gay people, technology, cuisine, beaches, nightlife, yada yada, yada).

In contrast, a storyline that has developed organically over the last few months demonstrates how the power of simplicity can work in our favor.

While Israeli governments have complained for years that the Palestinian government makes regular payments to convicted terrorists and their families, that complaint was just one of many related to incitement, tolerance of and even collaboration with terror.  But in recent months, stories of those terror payments have “gotten legs” and regularly appear in the media, as well as being discussed and debated in high government circles.

Part of this has to do with the recent changeover in US government with associated changes in foreign policy priorities.  But this doesn’t explain why one particular aspect of Palestinian perfidy as it relates to terror (payments to terrorists) has gotten so much more attention than other equally valid points of controversy.

I would posit that these terror payments have captured the public imagination due to the fact that the storyline they imply is a very simple one: “In an age when the US and the world are supposed to be fighting terror, why are taxpayers also subsidizing it?’  Such a message has the virtue of being straightforward and common-sensical, as well as aligning with the political goal of exposing Israel’s enemies for what they are.

In the world of rhetoric, the term synecdoche refers to the part of something standing in for the whole.  The reason this rhetorical device works as a persuasive technique is that it gives someone a small idea they can easily grasp (such as the illogic of subsidizing terror while also fighting it) with a much larger truth (all the corruption and dishonesty and hypocrisy of Israel’s foes with regard to terror).

When a synecdoche like the current terror payment one takes hold among the public, it’s incumbent upon the strategic warrior to take advantage of the situation by reinforcing the simple part (by endlessly pounding on this one accepted idea) vs. broadening the debate by highlighting every other complaint we have against Israel’s foes.

As a wordy people with a great deal we’d like to get off our chests, it’s tempting to jump right in and start explaining why those terror payments are just the tip of the iceberg, and to provide long lists of additional outrages routinely practiced by Israel’s enemies.  But just as a disciplined warrior making headway with a bow doesn’t simultaneously fill his hands with additional swords and spears, we too should focus on driving home our current advantage, rather than larding up the news with additional storylines that actually dilute, rather than reinforce, our message.

Mennonites, Divestment and Non-non Violence

A couple of years back, I took enough interest in the Mennonite Church’s flirtation with divestment to pen this piece regarding some back-and-forth I had in the comments section of an editorial in a Mennonite newsletter regarding the subject.

The reason this church divestment debate didn’t generate the kind of obsession I developed over the Presbyterians’ decade-long fight over divestment is that (1) I never realized Mennonites still existed until this controversy hit my BDS radar; and (2) decisions by a tiny sect (there are currently between 75,000-80,000 Mennonites in the US – or a quarter of the number of number of Jews just in Massachusetts) don’t pack the same propaganda punch as votes by well-established (if also declining) churches whose members number in the millions.

The church’s historic eschewal of violence likely made them a tasty morsel for a propaganda campaign like BDS desperate to portray itself as non-violent, despite the BDSers flipping between refusing to renounce and actively encouraging violence within the wider anti-Israel “movement.”  So while it’s clear what the boycotters get out of owning the Mennonite “brand,” it’s still not particularly understandable what the Mennonites get out of such a deal.

Their desperation to join the BDS project, whatever the cost, is apparent in the “Third Way” concept they came up with in the two years between 2015 (when church support for BDS was tabled based on further contemplation) and 2017 when divestment was voted in nearly unanimously.  This “Third Way” consisted of the church balancing its divestment decisions targeting Israel (and Israel alone) for financial punishment with a commitment to devote time and energy confronting the Church’s own history with regard to anti-Semitism, particularly, as it relates to the Holocaust.

Now I will admit that the Mennonite role in the attempted annihilation of every Jew in the world was unknown to me, but apparently church history during World War II does lend itself to some soul searching.  Personally, I have no interest in tarring today’s Mennonites with things their forefathers said and did, but if current member want to spend some time probing those issues, more power to them.

Trouble is, what they claim to be a long-overdue confrontation with their own past (1) only began when they started talking about joining a project (BDS) dedicated to assaulting the most important Jewish project of the last century (the creation of the Jewish nation); (2) established as a “Third Way” the equivalence between the behavior of that Jewish nation and the murderous anti-Semitism of the last century; and (3) refused to even acknowledge any role for contemporary anti-Semitism in the conflict they’ve decided to threw themselves into.

A church that has supposedly dedicated years to contemplating the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry might, for example, notice that they are allying with traffickers in Jew-hating rhetoric as incendiary as those they condemn themselves for ignoring decades ago.  To grasp such an obvious fact does not even require them to wade into the quagmire of defining where anti-Zionism ends and anti-Semitism begins.  It just requires them to pay attention to the fact that Mein Kampf and the Protocols of Zion are best sellers and staples of political discourse among the very societies today’s Mennonites are dedicating their entire historical reputation to support.

The rhetorical techniques to avoid these matters I saw in play during my brief foray into discussion with church members are always available to Mennonites to justify their morally unjustifiable behavior, as are the usual tricks of claiming Jewish support from marginal groups like Jewish Voice for Peace to “prove” divided Jewish attitudes towards their project.

But a genuinely moral movement dedicated to grappling with tough issues before lending their reputation for justice and non-violence to those actively supporting one side in a violent conflict would not rely on such flimsy devices to avoid the moral conversation they simultaneously claim to crave.

While I have engaged with fewer Mennonites than I have with members of other Churches, I suspect as individuals they are no less intelligent and decent than the many religious men and women I’ve debated over the years on matters related to Israel and BDS.  Which leaves open the question of how smart and honorable people could have come up with (and now celebrate) something as immoral and intellectually vacuous as their “Third Way.”

Once again, the drug of choice that inevitably leads to such intellectual and moral rot goes under the name of BDS.

Bringing Out the Worst

The recent outrage against Jewish participants at Chicago’s “Dyke March” got me thinking back to this quote from Robin Sheperd’s State Beyond the Pale that clearly spells out the totalizing awfulness represented by the anti-Israel agenda of which BDS is a part:

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.

Focusing on the last few months when gay supporters of Israel have been subjected to harassment and threats, can we determine why the fight for gay rights is becoming the latest sacrificial victim to the all-devouring Moloch of anti-Israel animus?

Starting with the obvious, the yawning chasm between Israel’s and her foes (including the Palestinians) with regard to gay rights is so vast that BDSers claiming dominion over the entire Left end of the political spectrum must do something to neutralize the threat of someone pointing it out.

While their usual tactic of ignoring any virtue of the Jewish state and just hammering incessantly on its flaws (real or imagined) might work with some audiences, the shocking contrast between Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv and gays being thrown off tall buildings in Egypt and Iran is too gigantic to ignore out of existence.

And so they moved onto their next tactic to obscure reality, concocting a fake phenomenon called “Pinkwashing” which claims that any pro-gay policies of the Jewish state (and, more importantly, any mention of those policies by Israel’s supporters) is just a nefarious scheme to mask the true invidious nature of “The Occupation,” the only subject anyone is allowed to discuss (but only on the boycotter’s terms).

Creating such a distraction and getting people to embrace it, however, are two different things.  So the current strategy of harassing and ostracizing Jews (regardless of their level of support for Israel) from “the movement” has become the enforcement mechanism to ensure the pointing finger never swerves from the Jewish state and the plight of gay people in the rest of the Middle East remains off the table for discussion.

Enforcement of ideological conformity requires ruthlessness on the part of those trying to create barricades around what can be legitimately discussed.  It also requires that the community being taken over (in this case, the politically active gay community) be too weak or confused to do anything about it.

The means the ruthless use to achieve these ends involve creating or infiltrating a subset of the community being targeted (by creating “Queers for Palestine” style front groups) or infiltrating existing organizations and moving into positions of leadership with the sole purpose of subverting them towards the anti-Israel agenda. Once established, these forces can commit outrages like the one at the Chicago Dyke March, then defend their bigotry in the name of the entire community they claim to represent.

Much has been made about the language of “intersectionality” and “triggering” used to frame demands that Jews (and only Jews) leave the parade, but this simply shows how those amorphous concepts (presuming they ever meant much) are now simply tools for the ruthless to bully the reasonable.

Keep in mind that such a strategy can only work if the bulk of the people within the community being subverted do nothing.  In fact, the boycotters count on majorities remaining indifferent, or at least not coming to the defense of Jewish members out of fear that they too will be swept up in a purge.

Fortunately, we have seen other communities (such as food coops and academic associations) where resoluteness by the rank and file immunized a group from being turned into yet another tool for anti-Israel propaganda.  The health of those communities vs. the rot that accompanies those that succumb to the BDS virus demonstrates – once again – that willingness to fight on behalf of a tiny minority (Jews) is what separates a genuine movement for justice from one that subverts the language of justice for their own shabby instincts and dark prejudices.

Canary or Lab Rat?

The incomparable Dexter Van Zile wrote an excellent piece about how the current spreading campus culture of censorship and violent intimidation to enforce ideological conformity had its origin in the ways Israel and her friends have been treated on college campuses for more than a decade.

To understand the full impact of what Dexter is talking about, it’s worth considering his insight in the context of another phenomenon first articulated by the late Senator and former UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan which he called “defining deviance down.”

When Moynihan first introduced the concept, he was referring to mainstreaming behaviors once considered taboo.

Clearly not all changes to societal norms should be considered bad.  Replacing contempt for women, minorities and gays with open mindedness and respect represents obvious improvement, for example.  But toleration of other behaviors (like drug use and casual sex), while liberating for the individual, have personal and societal consequences (addiction, AIDS, etc.) which are hard to even discuss (lest one come off as “reactionary”) before their full negative consequences emerge.

With regard to campus shout downs and censorship, the targeting of Jews with those tactics clearly preceded their current much-wider expansion.  But correlation does not mean causation.  So might we be able to identify a mechanism (and historical precedent) whereby starting with one group (the Jews) served as a similar warm-up act for a much wider (and sinister) agenda?

Because the BDSers are such a reactionary bunch, it’s easy to dismiss any progress they make as the result of ruthlessness and relentlessness vs. innovation.  But this would be a mistake.  For the community of which the BDSers have always been a part has proven itself to be remarkably inventive when it comes to thinking of ways to either seize power or get others to relinquish power to them.

Seizing control of human-rights machinery created to make the world a more peaceful place and turning it into a weapon of war, while ghastly and immoral, is also a remarkable breakthrough in propaganda “technology,” as is the rhetoric needed to convince progressives that supporting a repressive society (the Palestinians and their Arab allies) aligns with their principles better than supporting an open one (Israel).

The Prophetess Ruth Wisse, in her analysis of anti-Semitism as a political ideology vs. one of many forms of bigotry, identifies the reason why totalitarians first targeting the Jews on their way to terrorizing and ultimately controlling or destroying everyone else.

As described in this piece (which is part of this longer series), the gap between Jews’ perceived power (or omnipotence, in the eyes of the anti-Semite) and their highly limited actual power (and willingness to use what power they have) becomes an open invitation to the would-be tyrant.  For if you want to convince the public that you are arming yourself against an all-powerful threat with near 100% certainty that this “threat” will not hit you back, your best choice of target are the Jews.

We’ve seen this kind of behavior with the last century’s totalitarian movements.  Think of Hitler arming his supporters and organizing secret police forces to ferret out the Jews controlling the planet, creating machinery that was later used to set that planet ablaze.  Or Saddam Hussein who hung Jews in the public square to demonstrate his resoluteness with regard to this urgent Zionist “threat,” after which he got around to placing that noose around the neck of the entire nation of Iraq.

So what we have seen over the last several years is not just an attempt to shut down voices of just one opinion (support for Israel) but an experiment to see how far the system can be pushed in allowing a small, loud minority to control discourse and, eventually, the campus as a whole.  And because not enough people did anything when the problem was just “the Jews” the brutes have now come for all of us.

Many people examining this phenomenon incorrectly describe it using the image of “the canary in the coal mine.” But the coal-mine canary, which alarms miners of deadly gas by graciously dying before humans can be harmed. is just an early warning system.  In contrast, the role we Jews play in this ugly game of tyrants is that of experimental lab animal.