Imagine for a moment any of the following events taking place in some possible world:
- The California Board of Regents (the governing institution for the University of California system) passes a resolution that included language that could be interpreted as tepid criticism of the Jewish state.
- A state legislature creates a sub-committee to study whether a different sub-committee should begin researching state investments as they relate to the Middle East conflict.
- A single college president says something that, artfully interpreted, could be construed as supportive of one tiny element of the BDS agenda.
If even one of these ever occurred, the Internet would detonate with shrieks of triumph that would pour in from San Francisco to Cambridge to Oxford to Riyadh. Omar Barghouti himself would be Facebooking hourly from his Tel Aviv flat as the world’s most subtly named Twitterer, “@IsraelBombsBabies,” flooded the #BDS hashtag with demands that we all bow down before BDS’s historic triumph and unstoppable momentum.
Given the BDSers tendency to declare imminent victory over their Zionist foes whenever they can get a group of hapless student council members to do their bidding after an all night browbeating session (and following years and years of these same councils voting down previous motions), one would think that the genuinely staggering momentum of political condemnation of the entire BDS program might at least warrant a moment of self-reflection on their part.
But, as we all know, self-reflection is in non-existent supply on Planet BDS where the very entities (school administrators, government officials, etc.) the boycotters have been lobbying for years finally casting BDS votes – to condemn it – are being interpreted as yet another demonstration of BDS victory. Why, after all, would the people they’ve been begging to join their cause instead come out swinging against it if they did not fear the boycotter’s phenomenal success?
One of the ironies growing out of the asymmetrical psychology vis-a-vis Israel’s opponents and detractors is that our side avoids shrieking in everyone’s face the moment we land a win (like the recent string of legislative sanctions votes targeting BDS) while also longing to give the BDSers a taste of their own medicine.
It’s hard to imagine our side raising Israeli flags, bursting into song and screaming that “The campus is ours!” whenever a student council vote goes our way (never mind Congressional action). At the same time, I know that many (including me) enjoy a certain amount of glee when a situation unfolds that requires the boycotters to slink away in defeat or burst into impotent rage as a salve for political humiliation.
But might our tendency to approach these matters thoughtfully, rather treating our victories as emotional rushes, actually be an asset?
After all, getting people involved with civic institutions (from student councils and food coop members to governors and Presidents) to pay attention to you requires treating them civilly and honestly.
Boycotts are all but dead in the food-coop movement, after all, and this defeat can be attributed to the fact that – unlike the BDSholes – Israel’s friends do not treat members of those organizations as means to a political end. Similarly, the reason local, state and national lawmakers are more inclined to listen to us vs. the boycotters is that we have a history of showing them respect, rather than showing up waving photos of bloody babies and insisting everyone has no choice other than to do what we say.
Even principled argumentation within our ranks can be a source of strength. For example, there exist a number of critics (including me) who question the use of government power (either legislative or judicial) to settle political matters, such as those surrounding boycott and divestment debates. But reasonable arguments against this position, especially ones addressing the anti-Semitism being introduced into campus life by groups like SJP, have helped our side sharpen our points and hone our positions, giving us better arguments going into the next debate.
The recent vote by the UC Regents provides a good case in point, given that they had to struggle with where to draw the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and its government and hatred directed against Jews (both inside and outside the Jewish state). The phrase they came up with to square this circle: “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism,” while possibly emerging from compromise, actually creates a useful category when debating those who insist that no attack on Israel (no matter how virulent, hateful or dishonest) can ever be interpreted as anti-Semitic.
This might seem like a small point (not to mention a lot of words on my part used to celebrate just a handful of them created by the Regents). But remember that the propaganda war being waged against the Jewish state is taking place on the landscape of language. And like other phrases that put our opponents on the defensive (such as “The Regressive Left”) “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” accurately describes concrete reality that cannot be ignored away or shouted down – no matter how much the boycotters are likely to be doing both in the months and years ahead.