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.

BDS – Where Empathy Goes to Die

My friend and ally Mike Harris (author of How to Win a Debate with an Israel Hater) forwarded me this story, with which many readers are likely familiar.

By now, it’s a commonplace for radical anti-Israel groups like Jewish Voice for Peace to try to bring their disruptive protest tactics to any event promoting support for or celebration of the Jewish state.   Yet this year, they chose a very special target for one of their “direct actions.”

That target was the LGBTQ contingent of New York’s annual Celebrate Israel parade featuring gay men and women – young and old – showing their support for the only nation in the Middle East where their sexual orientation is not a legal and religious crime.

The way JVP decided to show their displeasure with that part of the event was to infiltrate the group and, at a key moment, disrupt their program by killing the music, tearing off their outer garments to reveal “Israel = Apartheid” t-shirts beneath, and screaming their slogans from the stage someone else (New York’s gay Jewish community) built.

The fact that some of the people terrorized by the infiltrators were kids was immaterial to the protestors and – more importantly – the planners of the protest who had determined in advance that their anti-Israel agenda trumps everything, everywhere, always.

While it would be easy to analyze such behavior through the lens of JVP hypocrisy and moral degeneration, it’s more interesting to think about what must be going on in the mind of those who have decided that the best way to push their allegedly progressive agenda is to infiltrate and terrorize gay youth.

Why this is interesting is that groups like JVP don’t simply think of themselves as progressive, but insist that they and their allies get to define who deserved that label and who does not.  The slur PEP (which stands for “Progressive in Everything But Palestine”) is one that gets routinely trotted out whenever a left-leaning individual or organization tries to stray from the anti-Israel orthodoxy groups like JVP are trying to enforce – demonstrating that maintaining Left-wing credentials is just as important to them as maintaining anti-Israel ones.

This poses a problem, however.  For progressive opinion has also been highly supportive of gay rights and increasingly supports people (including young people) exploring a constellation of sexual orientations.  And, whatever you might think about those ideas and associated political goals, it’s pretty clear that gay rights has become a defining principle for those who call themselves progressive.

The problem for JVP et al arises because, as mentioned previously, Israel not only represents an oasis of toleration in a Middle East sea of murderous homophobia, but is actually the most gay-friendly nation on the face of the earth.  This makes the agenda of Israel’s enemies one which must end with the increase in territory where homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment or death.

Israel bashers have used their usual tricks to get around this problem: highlighting and inflating the importance of incidental anti-gay violence by Israeli Jews while never mentioning the issue of systematic violation of gay rights by everyone else, for example.  When Israel’s friends ignored those taunts and began touting Israel’s progressive credentials through the lens of gay rights, JVP and its regressive allies came up with a new way around the problem: accusations of “Pinkwashing” (a fake phenomenon you can read about here).

This brings us back to that Israel Pride disruption that began this discussion.  For it is one thing to make the argument that gay support for Israel contradicts progressive values and be ready to defend that argument against those who claim the opposite.  But it’s quite another thing to jump up on someone else’s stage and start shouting your slogans that contradict the opinions of those whose space you just commandeered.

The interesting thing about JVP’s deliberate targeting of the LGBTQ contingent at the parade is that it required moving from fierce disagreement with the political opinions of segments of the gay community, to direct targeting of real human beings making up that community.  In other words, the protestors’ determination to establish themselves as True North for all progressive causes (including gay rights) required them to terrorize living, breathing gay people.

As mentioned previously, it would be simple to dismiss this whole episode as one more example of dishonest, reactionary behavior on the part of the anti-Israel fringe.  But whenever one moves from treating people as human beings to treating them as mere means to your own political ends, we are dealing with something far more dangerous than misdirected zeal.

For if Israel’s enemies are so lacking in empathy that they are ready to storm the gates to keep gay people in line (while all the while claiming and believing themselves to represent progressive thought in its purest form), what might they be willing to do next?

 

Predator and Prey

Continuing from last time, why is it that the twentieth state government officially denouncing the BDS movement last week created so little stir among BDS opponents and proponents, even as stories about the occasional student government passing a meaningless divestment resolution continues to cause loud public cheers from the Israel haters, and equally loud teeth-gnashing from our side?

While I mentioned a couple of political explanations for this phenomenon previously, the fact that both side’s responses to BDS news are inversely proportional to the significance of that news might boil down to the storylines into which each side fits events.

Most people cast themselves as protagonist in their own dramas.   In the case of the boycotters, their self-created story casts them as members of an all-seeing, all-knowing vanguard, an elite that – alone – understands the world as it truly is.  The fact that others do not share their vision of unquestioned Israeli wickedness and pristine Palestinian innocence is due to the villains in their tale (evil Zionists) duping the masses, creating in them a “false consciousness” which anti-Israel forces must remedy – by any means necessary.

Vanguards ready to act on behalf of “The People’s Will” (as understood by those vanguards) were behind all of the totalitarian movements that tried to overthrow democracy in the 20th century.  This places BDS squarely in the tradition of movements ready to trash democracy in the name of a self-perceived and self-declared higher good.

Understanding this storyline helps explain the BDSers readiness to go to undemocratic extremes, from stacking elected bodies with single-issue partisans, to holding secret votes late at night or on religious holidays, to pushing votes year after year after year no matter how many times BDS is rejected.  From the outside, such behavior might seem cynical and corrupt.  But for the true believer, this is the way to express “the people’s will” without the pesky intervention of actual people.

If you understand the boycotter’s storyline, their reaction to victory and defeat becomes more explicable.  A win for them, such as an unknown food coop boycotting Israel goods, demonstrates that the masses are shaking off their blinders and moving in the direction of history (even if no other coop in the nation chose to participate in similar boycotts).  At the same time a loss (like BDS being condemned by state governments across the country) are just examples of powerful elites manipulated by Zionist foes hopelessly trying to hold back the inevitable success of the BDS project.

This heads-I-win-tails-you-lose formula the boycotters trot out to turn every BDS-related event into a victory for them makes perfect sense once you realize that within their narrative everything – including successful efforts to defeat them – are part of a consistent (if fantasy-driven) world view.

Moving on to us, our storyline also has us cast in role – that of the besieged victim.  Given Jewish history, this is not an absurd lens to view ourselves through, especially since the Jews’ return to history simply turned Israel into the Jew among the nations targeted militarily, diplomatically and economically for eradication since birth.

Unlike religious or ideological vanguards that see their mission to convert the entire world to their belief system, Jews – a small people without an evangelical tradition – must always take into account the needs and opinions of others.  This is what makes us so sensitive to slights and setbacks, causing us to fly into a rage (and occasionally over-react) when the boycotters get their way.  At the same time, our suspicion that friendships might be fleeting cause us to describe our wins judiciously, rather than engage in the kind of bombast our enemies indulge in every time they score a point.

Our history also leaves us without a militant or military mindset, which makes us often equate being besieged with being powerless.  But, as described here (and in more detail in this extended essay), siege warfare has its own rules of engagement which we would do well to understand if we want to stop reacting to the provocation of our enemies and instead take effective strategic initiative against them that reflects the realities of the battlefield.

The comment section in the first part of this story included an apt metaphor for the phenomenon I’m describing: that of predator and prey.  The predator, after all, might fail to capture or kills his quarry, but does not feel under existential threat from the prey he is trying to kill.  In contrast, prey – even if able to dodge disaster again and again – understands that he only needs to lose once to lose everything.

So if the Israel-haters preying on Israelis and Jews feel invulnerable, impervious to criticism and to any fact that interferes with fantasies of ultimate victory, it is because they know the likelihood of their own destruction at the hands of those they are trying to destroy is minimal.

Victory and Defeat

It’s often useful to try to pry out premises behind the things we believe, especially in situations where reasons exist for considering those beliefs irrational.

For instance, just this months all 50 US governors denounced the BDS movement, a denunciation that has come at the end of a long string of sanctions votes in state houses against organizations participating in boycott, divestment or sanctions activity directed at Israel.

By any measure, this should be being celebrated far and wide as a great victory for our side, and a great defeat for Israel’s foes. In fact, given that the BDSniks would be celebrating with fireworks and torch-lit parades if even one governor took their phone calls, it’s even more phenomenal that our huge recent wins came from just a couple years of effort, vs. the trivialities BDSers have to show for themselves after nearly two decades of constant campaigning to inflict economic damage on the Jewish state.

Despite this objective reality, our opponents still think of themselves as being on the cusp of tremendous victory, while we still feel vulnerable and besieged – ready to panic whenever some student government passes another toothless divestment resolution (vs. our opponents who let our wins roll right off them).  So why might this be the case?

One explanation is that both sides’ beliefs are actually reasonable since the goal of the BDS movement is not to see boycotts, divestment and sanctions actually implemented, but rather to create a climate in which Israel’s alleged “crimes” are taken for granted (with only the appropriate punishment open to discussion).

Given this, the boycotters have made strides in making Israeli villainy an incessant talking point in key communities such as college campuses and Mainline progressive churches.  Under this interpretation, the problem is not the imminent success of BDS in achieving its claimed goals (seeing Israel suffer economic punishment a la Apartheid South Africa), but in achieving its real goals of colonizing the Left-end of the political spectrum and turning it permanently against the Jewish state.

I am sympathetic to this argument, although I’d be more comfortable if it rested on data that goes beyond the anecdotal.

For instance, BDS has been infecting campuses for nearly twenty years, and even before it became the preferred tactic for anti-Israel activists, anti-Israel hostility has been cultivated on those same campuses for close to half a century.  No doubt any of us can point to a string of outrages that have taken place on numerous campuses during that period.  But how much has all that effort shifted public opinion towards Israel vs. her foes during this half century of alleged “indoctrination.”

A second interpretation of why we are so sheepish about our substantial wins while our opponents remain so buoyant about their trivial ones is the level of satisfaction each of us receives based on the nature of the blows we land on our opponents.

For example, when the BDSers “win,” that usually means they just got to spend hours (if not days, weeks and months) raining insults and calumnies down on the object of their hatred; castigating Israel as racist, murderous, bloodthirsty, indeed guilty of every crime every right-thinking person should loath.  Yet when we get a dozen state house to promise punishment against companies participating in boycotts of Israel, all we tend to claim is that this implies general public agreement that boycotting Israel is unfair and BDS inappropriate (or, at most, immoral).

But wouldn’t it be more satisfying to see Mondoweiss et al reeling day after day from accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and reactionary politics – especially given that these are crimes Israel’s foes are actually guilty of?  Many allies have told me for years that we need to start our own version of BDS with the explicit purpose of giving Israel’s enemies a taste of their own medicine.  But (as I’ve talked about ad nauseam) in order to pull this off and genuinely act like our enemies, we would need to become our enemies.

This would involve dedicating not a few nights to postering but years and decades to the non-stop smearing of Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims (take your pick), a smearing that would continue unabated, regardless of how much damaged it causes various communities (including the communities we would have to recruit to condemn our political foes).

But given the current state of the Arab world (vs. the Jewish one) it’s not clear to me that acting more like Israel’s enemies is the greatest choice, even while I share the frustration of those driven to distraction at having to “play defense” against such immoral and hypocritical foes.

Which brings me to a third and final possibility as to why the boycotters are perpetually giddy regardless of the scale or nature of wins and losses, while we go into kanipshins every time a BDS protest takes place, even in locales we previously never knew existed.  This has to do with the storylines into which we fit our accomplishments and failures, a subject I’ll dive into next time.