I had neglected one possible mutation of the BDS virus in the wake of dawning realization that the original goals of the “movement” (to get major civic organizations like universities and churches to embrace their “Israel = Apartheid” propaganda message) are growing ever beyond reach.

There have always been elements of threats, intimidation, and even violence within the range of internally acceptable activities carried out by BDSers over the years. While originally isolated to howling pro-Israel speakers off the stage at colleges like Berkeley and Hampshire, this tactic has moved from the periphery to the center of chosen BDS tactics as more and more people are rejecting their central message that BDS represents some kind of a “peace movement” worthy of respect.

When you look at what the BDSers brag about as “victories,” they include items like getting an landlord to not renew the lease for an Ahava store in London, largely by making life hell for Ahava’s retail neighbors through non-stop protests (including violent protests) that disrupted business activity for years. Today, you can see the same tactic being employed in Australia (although Down Under, Australian civil society has reacted by defending the target of these attacks and condemning the attackers).

Lately, the boycott brigade has moved from disrupting pro-Israel speakers (to ensure their voice never gets heard) to shouting and blowing bullhorns at artistic performances that dare to include Israeli dancers and musicians (most recently the nasty interruption of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra playing the Proms concert event in the UK).

This switch from trying to convince to threatening and intimidating has accelerated over the last several months, to the point where it is clearly becoming the central choice of strategy from the BDS playbook. And, in a sense, who can blame them for going down this route? After all, if you cannot demonstrate your relevance by actually achieving a political objective, you can still garner a headline by throwing a public tantrum, even if such effort simply turn more and more people against you and the Palestinian cause you claim to represent.

And property targeted, even the threat of violence and disruption can bend people to your will (as this example illustrates). The fact that such “achievements” convince no one means nothing as the BDS “movement” moves from trying to win actual victories to trying to keep its own members from realizing their own impotency and irrelevance.

I’ve noted before that Israel does not face a de-legitimization problem so much as it faces a propaganda problem (i.e., the well funded effort of enemy nation states and their allies abroad to besmirch the Jewish state’s reputation in every possible forum and at every possible opportunity).

But with this recent turn to threats and violent protest as the primary pillar of BDS strategy, I think I’ve got to revise that statement to say that Israel is primarily facing an asshole problem, i.e., the decision by the nasty, the brutish and the shortsighted to pursue the tactics of intimidation, regardless of how ultimately ineffective they have proven to be and how counter-productive these choices are for their own claimed cause.

Wazzup BDS? – Part 2

If the BDS cru has anything to crow about after another year of being shown the door in North America, they can probably point to the UK to encourage the ranks.

Here in the US, student councils were thought to be fertile territory for getting divestment resolutions passed (a weak substitute for convincing schools to actually divest, but a desired booby prize given that real college divestment remains a fantasy after a decade of tireless divestment effort on campus).But alas for the boycotters, student councils refused to take the bait (especially after the Berkeley BDS fiasco last year).

Not so in the UK where divestment calls were recently passed at two major college unions: the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University of London Unions (ULU).

In a period where boycott is still on the agenda in the umbrella Trades Union Council (TUC), these wins have given a shot in the arm to BDS advocates working both the student and union “beats.”

Why such a difference between student and union groups in the UK (who seem to be giving a hearing to BDS) vs. the US (which continues to be barren territory for any type of boycott or divestment win)?No doubt the BDSers would point to Europe as the source of all enlightenment creating a path that we mouth-breathing Americans will eventually follow.Meanwhile, critics point to dynamics particular to Europe (where Jews have limited political clout vs. Muslims whose political strength is growing).The fact that Europe has become an uncomfortable place for Jews generally has caused many to highlight general European discomfort with people of the Hebrew persuasion (which, in England, is unrestrained by Holocaust guilt you find on the Continent).

Personally, I suspect that these particular votes can be explained with more pragmatic reasoning based on the general BDS strategy of: (1) finding civic organizations with a progressive bent, ready to make statements on international issues beyond their purview; (2) infiltrating said organizations in order to get them to subscribe to the narrow BDS political agenda; and (3) refusing to back down under any circumstance, regardless of how much BDS politics poisons the organization they are trying to subvert.

And, in truth, the NUS and ULU votes seem to be modeled on similar votes in Britain’s teacher’s union (the UCU) whose leaders continue to try to pass anti-Israel resolutions despite these being abhorred by the membership.At the student union events, decisions to brand Israel an Apartheid state were passed in the waning moments of long meetings by “majorities” of one and then declared the will of 120,000 student union members, most of whom had no idea these words were being voted into their mouths.

So these votes seem to say more about the inability of British civic organizations to avoid being manipulated than it does about England, Israel or the Middle East.

In fact, if you look at other BDS “successes” in the UK, they seem to be following a trajectory into deeply troubling, if not grotesque, territory.At Covent Garden, a group of thugs harass an Israeli shop into closure and this stormtrooper-like activity is declared a win for enlightened virtue.

In Scotland, a council representing a region whose child mortality rate is twenty points worse than Gaza’s is putting their energy into keeping Israeli products out of the region and then strutting with indignant rage when they’re accused of book banning (with the excuse that “we’re not banning Israeli books, just books printed in Israel”).

But you have to go back to the aforementioned UCU to see the ultimate endpoint of the BDS “consciousness.”

For, in addition to struggling to get an academic boycott passed in the face of members uncomfortable with their union leading an assault on academic freedom, UCU has also had to struggle with the fact that their boycott has been declared as potentially violating European anti-racism law.

What to do about this little inconvenience? Why simply reject the EU definition of “anti-Semitism” of course!In a vote that is sure to cause even more Jews to flee the organization, UCU declared that any definition of anti-Semitism that defines as bigotry even outlandish or pathological criticism of Israel must be declared null and void.

While anti-boycott activists may have made a tactical error in stressing the role of anti-Semitism in UCU shenanigans over the last few years, I can’t imagine anyone thought the organization would have the chutzpah to simply define modern manifestations of the phenomenon out of existence.

But that just goes to show you the effectiveness of trying to prick the conscience of BDS fanatics without understanding that, at the end of the day (and despite their pose as the ultimate examples of human-rights enlightenment), with regard to conscience the boycotters have none.

Winter BDS Rerun

BDS seems to have kicked off its 11th season by going into repeats. In this case, a repeat of the hoax strategy that seems to have taken over their project for the last 2-3 years.

I’m talking, of course, about recent claims that two major retailers: Hudson Bay Company in Canada and John Lewis in the UK, both of which were alleged (according to BDS press releases anyway) to have given into demands that they pull Ahava beauty products from their shelves in solidarity with the downtrodden against the Israeli military regime of repression, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Given that folks like the every-shrieking Code Pinkians have been harassing retailers selling Ahava for years (with no impact, other than triggering massive BUYcotts of Israeli products in their wake), and given that no major retail chain has ever caved to the demands of boycotters in the past (with chains like Trader Joe’s publically refusing to give into pressure, despite threats of pickets and disruptions), what are the chances that two of the Commonwealth’s most well-known retailers would both join the BDS “bandwagon” in the same month? Not particularly high was my first guess.

And sure enough, once someone reached out and contacted Hudson Bay, they cleared up the confusion by pointing out that the store has stopped selling Ahava as the cosmetics company works on reformulating and redesigning some of its brands for the Spring. And, sure enough, Britain’s John Lewis chain has taken a break from selling Ahava for the exact same, purely commercial, non-political reasons.

In fact, if you look at the John Lewis story, the details of the hoax become clear. In one letter, a boycott group contacted John Lewis to inquire if they were no longer selling Ahava products. And when they got a reply in the affirmative (for the reasons noted above), they sent a second letter inquiring about the store’s policy regarding the ethical sourcing of products.

Using the epic power of the cut and paste commands, they then strung quotes from both letters into a press release to give the false impression that their requests and protests regarding ethical sourcing (featuring quotes from the John Lewis spokesman’s second letter) was responsible for the store dropping Avaha (news they learned from the spokesman’s first letter).

In other words, just as with previous BDS hoaxes whereby ordinary business or policy decisions (at Hampshire College, TIAA-CREF and Harvard) were characterized as politically driven divestment choices, so to the Hudson Bay and John Lewis “boycotts” of Israeli cosmetics exist not in our reality, but only in the reality that exists in the minds and press releases of BDSers.

Now I will admit to knowing very little about the world of retail, especially in the volatile cosmetics industry, so I won’t pretend to understand how typical it is for the manufacturers and sellers of beauty products to rotate brands and introduce new products. But I do know the world of BDS pretty well, and just as they clearly have someone in their ranks who understood the institutional investment world well enough to predict the sale of Israeli equities once Israel moved from a developing to a developed world classification (which they could then fraudulently claim as political in nature), so I suspect that the news of Ahava shuffling brands got out into the BDS ether, inspiring them to try to pull off a new string of hoaxes to claim their first mainstream retail boycott success.

The thing is, it’s been a good year since those of us who oppose boycott and divestment learned to expose these hoaxes by quickly digging up the truth and just as rapidly making it public. Which makes their continued use of this technique seem less like a tick and more like an addiction.

Tactics – Doing Stuff

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Tactics

I had meant to post a couple of entries on the subject of tactics last week, but the Great Hummus Wars and a couple of other side projects delayed that a bit.

So let’s kick things off today with some tactical considerations drawn from BDS and anti-BDS activities that have been taking place since school kicked off in September.

On the BDS front, it’s clear that boycott, divestment and sanctions remains top priority for the “Israel-disliking” community. At nearly every Israel-related event I’ve gone to that’s been big enough to draw protestors, signs blaring “BDS” are held aloft (interesting in and of itself since it implies a tactic so well known – at least to the protestors – that the acronym alone is all that is needed to identify it).

Despite its continuation as a high priority, however, a lack of potential targets seems to be making it difficult for the BDSers to choose appropriate tactics for getting their way. After the Hampshire hoax, school administrators are no longer taking their phone calls, and Israel-supporting students on campuses are on high alert for divestment resolutions getting snuck into student councils as they were at Berkeley last year. Attempts to spread boycotts at food co-ops fell flat before the Autumn kicked in, and even attempts at boycott hoaxes are being called out within hours, preventing them from turning into major media stories.

Perhaps this is why prominent BDS organizations are calling for repeats of boycotts that have already failed (yet another Ahava protest is scheduled for Boston this weekend) or asking supporters to “dance for Palestine” (which indicates that the only area where BDS remains strong is as a project designed to generate social bonding among the protestors themselves).

On our side, the happiest trend seems to be the growing awareness that BDS is not an existential or even overwhelming threat, but simply just another tactic for smearing the Jewish state (and not a particularly successful on at that) that needs to be dealt with.

Ben Cohen’s exposure of the Dutch retirement fund BDS hoax or the reversal of the Strauss Group’s temporary erasure of support for the Golani Brigade from its web site share something in common: they both occurred because a single activist decided to pick up the phone and do something. And lo and behold, all it took was one round of communication to get these BDS “successes” exposed or reversed.

To a certain extent, last week’s Hummus Wars at Princeton, as ridiculous as they were in some respects, represents a new willingness to challenge BDS wherever it rears its ugly head. The Princeton Tigers for Israel group could have easily sat out the debate and lived with the consequences (which were always destined to be small). But instead, they picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the boycotters at their school and – lo and behold – won what turned out to have been an easy victory.

The dirty little secret of battling against BDS is that it’s not all that hard. For a “movement” built on frauds and shouting and dancing and smearing mud on one another is just not that difficult to defeat with a little initiative, occasional ridicule, calm presentation of our side of the story (i.e., the truth) and an unwillingness to take the ongoing challenges posed by the boycotters sitting down.

Ethan Felson from JCPA encapsulates this spirit perfectly in his call for the Jewish community to give BDS a well-deserved kick in the pants by buying Israel this holiday season and focusing on all of those things BDS is against: reconciliation, civility, promotion of peace and willingness to listen to one another.

As more and more people are catching on that the divestment emperor has no clothes, the pleasure I’ve kind of been hogging of exposing this nakedness seems to be going mainstream. And what could be a better holiday gift than that?

Buy Israeli Goods (BIG) Day – Nov. 30

A dual alert has woken me from my turkey-and-headcold-induced stupor to help spread the word about Buy Israeli Goods (BIG) Day, this Tuesday November 30. The brainchild of the ever-creative StandWithUs organization and the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, BIG Day is designed to bring the successful Canadian Buycott concept to counter the umpteenth attempted boycott of Ahava cosmetics, also scheduled for the 30th.

While not normally a big advocate for holiday consumption (or a big fan of matter, generally), on this one occasion I urge folks to buy, Buy, BUY! Spend money! Purchase stuff! As long as it’s Israeli and please don’t hesitate to continue the habit after November 30.

The success of Buycott and other anti-BDS activities over the last year got me thinking about the role of creativity in the fight against those who have decided to make the defamation of Israel their life’s work, a theme I’ll be writing about over the course of the next week. In the meantime, take a look at this impressive list of general Hasbara over the last year to get yourself in the mood.

It’s All About Me!

A commenter at this site pointed the latest giggle-inducing “action” of our old friends Code Pink who struggled through most of 2009 trying to get anyone to notice them and their campaign against skin products from the Israeli firm Ahava. They recently claimed a new “success” in getting a Seattle Cosco to remove an Ahava Christmas display from the store. They apparently decided to not post this reader’s comment that such a “deshelving” might have something to do with the fact that it’s January.

This tale can be considered a cousin to a more serious one told by Rachel Giora, a tireless Israeli BDS activist who recently posted a 21-page document entitled “Milestones in the history of the Israeli BDS movement: A brief chronology.”

I lump these two stories together since they both share a common feature of relying almost exclusively on descriptions of activities by BDS activists themselves as proof of the momentum behind their “movement.” In the case of Giora’s piece, we are provided a pretty decent run down of petitions generated and signed calling for BDS projects within American and European universities, unions, churches and other civic institutions.

Putting aside the fact that these letters and petitions tend to re-circulate the same names over and over again (I’m often curious as to how Israelis like Ilan Pappe and Jeff Halper have time to do anything else beyond signing such documents), they all tend to be part of campaigns that either failed or never got noticed. For example (quoting Giora):

“In May 2006, the feminist organization, New Profile, sent a letter of support to the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), initiated by new Profile activist Dr. Dorothy Naor, for contemplating adopting a policy of selective divestment as a means of bringing peace to Palestinians and Israelis.”

Not mentioned (and, I suspect, not noticed) by Giora, is the fact that 2006 was the year when the Presbyterians voted down divestment by a margin of 95:5. In other words, New Profile’s letter was part of failed attempt to get PCUSA to maintain a divestment stance they took in 2004 but overwhelmingly rejected in ’06.

Again and again throughout her history, Giora talks about letters sent to organizations like the British teacher’s union AUT (now UCU), supporting a boycott of Israeli academics that never got made official union policy. The message in all of these cases seems to be that as long as you’ve got people like Giora and her friends and allies acting as busy bees to promote BDS across the globe then BDS is on the march, even if the author never points out a single actual success for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

I’ve well aware of the notion of politics acting as a surrogate for certain types of social bonding, and there is nothing wrong with agreement on important issues being the starting point of what turns into real friendships.

But in the case of the BDS movement, we seem to have a phenomenon where a decade of failure has created the need to posit a new metric for success: the enthusiasm of divestment adherents. After all, people like me who fight against BDS can expose divestment hoaxes at Hampshire, Motorola, TIAA-CREF and the like. We can point out that not one university has divested a single dollar from Israeli companies since the BDS project began in 2001. We can highlight the enormous reversals divestment has had in the few places where it briefly saw success (like the Mainline Protestant churches), or publish facts detailing the explosion of investment in Israel since the BDS project began.

But how can we argue with people like Giora when she makes the claim that she and her like-minded colleagues have put a lot of time and made a lot of noise over the last ten years promoting the case of boycott and divestment? We can’t since there is no disputing the time and energy they have invested into making BDS a reality. We can only point out that all of that effort has led to nothing but failure, and hope to God that they continue to put their chips down on this loser strategy for the next ten years.

Product Boycotts

I’ve not talked a lot about consumer product boycotts directed against Israel, perhaps because those have not been a major component of BDS in the US.

Up in Canada, however, consumer boycotts seem to be more popular. I suspect that some of reason behind the phenomena is geographical. The concentration of population and media in certain Canadian cities means boycott activities are more likely to gain volunteers and get the attention of the national press in places like Toronto or Montreal.

The culture of anti-Israel organizations may also play a role since these groups tend to be fragmented, with each “doing their own thing” with regard to B, D or S. A lack of institutions with global name recognition (a la Harvard or the Presbyterian Church) to be subverted may also make boycott a more appealing strategy than divestment in the Great White North.

Whatever the reason, consumer boycotts have some serious limitations. First off, contemporary consumer culture (with its constant bombardment of marketing messages) makes it very difficult for someone “selling” the notion of not buying this or that (for whatever reason) to rise above the din. And even when someone does manage to pull off a boycott-related protest, they face the challenge that a counter-boycott does not require their opponents to do anything other than go shopping (often for products they would have bought anyway).

The inherent risk of a boycott strategy is laid bare in this video which shows what happened when a bunch of Canadian BDS-niks decided it would be a great idea to protest in front of a store selling Israeli wines.

Toronto Wine Boycott Flops – Part 1
Toronto Wine Boycott Flops – Part 2
Toronto Wine Boycott Flops – Part 3
Toronto Wine Boycott Flops – Part 4

As that story unfolded (and you should really watch all parts), the dozen or so protestors were met by hundreds of Israel supporters who bought out the store’s Israeli wine supply and proceeded to party in the streets while the boycotters slunk off in humiliation.

That was obviously a sweet moment, but not unique. If you recall last year’s Trader Joe’s “deshelving” floperoo, the Israel-dislikers, after declaring that Trader Joes across the country would face their wrath for not ending their distribution of Israeli couscous, barely managed to make a nuisance of themselves in a single store. And the only thing their efforts resulted in was a sellout of Israeli food products (which continues to this day), acclamations for Trader Joes for standing up to the BDS bullies, and an example created for the entire retail world regarding the benefits that accrue to companies that tell boycotters to take a long walk on a short pier.

Most recently, an attempt to boycott the Israeli cosmetics firm Ahava (again in Canada) led to a wild sell off of Ahava goods across the Commonwealth (helped along by the marvelous new anti-boycott site Buycott Israel). Add to that the sell-out performances of Israeli films targeted at this summer’s Toronto Film Fest and you’re left with a situation where marketing directors for Israeli companies are likely salivating at the prospect of being boycotted by cretins like those who keep coming back to the boycott well for another dunking.