PennBDS and the Black Community

This is part of a series of articles based on the program of the upcoming PennBDS conference. Check out this landing page to find out more.

While any discussion involving race in America can trigger some heat, debate over subject such as “BDS and the Black Community” (the next item on the PenBDS agenda), can be particularly problematical given that BDS proponents have a tendency to accuse their opponents of racism at the slightest (or even non-existent) provocation.

This phenomenon is particularly interesting, given BDSers tendency to claim that any criticism of their “movement” consists of nothing more than insincere accusations of anti-Semitism designed to shut them up (or in JVPparlance: to “muzzle” them from speaking truth to power).  So, once again, we seem to be in a situation of anti-Israel advocates projecting their own faults onto their critics.

One way to avoid such conflict is to focus on statistical information.  Unfortunately, while African Americans (and Hispanics) are appropriately represented in this professional survey, they are not broken out as a separate demographic.  However, there is some insight we can glean from aggregate data.

For example, general support for Israel in the US tends to run at around 60%, sometimes dipping a bit below, sometimes climbing to as high as 70%.  This is in contrast to support for the Palestinians which tends to rattle around the 20-25% range.  This general 3:1 ratio of support between the parties to the conflict is actually an average with Republicans falling in the 4:1 ratio range and Democrats hovering around 2:1.  If we assume that African American attitudes tend to clump around the same numbers as Democrats (or are even responsible for pulling Democratic numbers down), even numbers low enough to move the Democratic ratio from the 3:1 national average down to 2:1 imply parity of support between Israelis and Palestinians.

While partisans will occasionally try to make hay of the overall disparity between Democrats and Republicans, a more neutral observer would marvel at how this issue (unlike nearly any other political issue one could name) demonstrates such widespread levels of support for one side in a heated controversy (even if the level of intensity for this support might vary).  I’m at a loss to name any other single domestic or international issue where all parties and nearly all demographics agree at levels of 2:1 or higher.

Absent statistical evidence of support one way or another, we are left with anecdotal information and certainly the speakers who will be participating in this PennBDS panel will be making the case that certain African Americans (including, one expects, most of the ones participating in the conference) share the BDS view that Israel is the successor to Apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow American South.

The trouble is, I could provide equally compelling anecdotal evidence of black support for Israel, such as this speech by Cory Booker, the African American Mayor of Newark (and the man who gave the single most powerful speech in support of Israel I’ve ever heard).  Naturally, participants at the PennBDS event are free to ignore the existence of people such as Booker, or try to dismiss them as some kind of “sell out.”  But as with so many issues, the ignoring of inconvenient evidence is no substitute for proof of the BDSers claim that African Americans are generally in alignment with their political goals.

The reason it is so important for BDS advocates to allege such an alignment (with or without evidence) is the nature of their target audience: political progressives.  For such an audience, accusations of racism and Apartheid – especially coming from black Americans – would be particularly resonant, especially since black supporters of Israel are less likely to (1) hurl similar accusations of bigotry against Israel’s international foes; and (2) claim to speak on behalf of a black majority as a whole.  The desire to claim ownership of “black opinion” would help explain the extreme hostility that greeted news that Jewish organizations would be reaching out to the black community (a community anti-Israel activists would prefer to outreach to without competition).

In researching this topic, the most interesting quote I found was on this article where the speaker questioned what dog African Americans might have in this particular fight.  While this argument might seem self-centered, it actually demonstrates significant wisdom, especially in light of how African nations have historically been asked to join in on Arab League condemnations of Israel (funneled through the UN and other organizations), only to see their own concerns (such as stopping the oil-for-gold trade between the Arab states and Apartheid South Africa) ignored.

Given this history, it seems wise indeed for a community to focus on its own issues before agreeing to allow its history (and its voice) serve one side or the other in someone else’s political battles.

PennBDS: Well there goes January…

As some of you may know, the big US BDS event for the year will be taking place at the University of Pennsylvania, February 4th and 5th (mostly during Shabbat, of course).

I’ve been batting around some ideas for addressing this stunning gathering of BDSholes from around the nation, but despite the occasional accusation that this blog is secretly funded by AIPAC, the Israeli government or the Elders of Zion (take your pick), I seem to lack the funds needed to fly speakers in from around the globe (just as I was unable to charter a flotilla of ships to sail across the Mediterranean).

But even with the meager sums I have to play with (most of my income being derived from editing coloring and connect-the-dots books, with a small supplementary allowance from my Mom), I have decided to do what I can for the Israeli (I mean the NazionistapartheidyNeoCon cause) by spending the month of January writing blog entries inspired by the program of talks and workshops that will be taking place at U Penn in February.

And because the blog format (which organizes information in reverse chronological order) is a bit cumbersome for an endeavor of this type, I have created a landing page (financed with Ben Gurion’s secret cache of gold coins) which I humbly entitle PennBDS – Oy!

Actual postings will appear on this site as usual, but if you my humble reader wants to direct people to a place where they can hear a rejoinder to the nonsense being peddled in Pennsylvania, feel free to direct them to the PB-Oy! site which will receive a live link whenever I complete a new essay taking apart one of the BDSers treasured talking points.

Oh, and as usual, this site shall remain open to comments throughout this project so PennBDSers, Jewish Voice for Peace-ians, Young Jewish and Proudniks, Adalahans and anyone else who wants to play the role of interlocutor and actually advocate for and defend (rather than just bellow and snarl) the BDS agenda is more than welcome to take part in an actual conversation.

Lock and load!


In case you haven’t visited there yet, I recommend you stop by and bookmark the new BDS Global Digest site which is doing a job this site’s never been able to do adequately: providing ongoing reports of BDS and BDS-related stories in the news.

Two of their stories seem to point to the Israeli economy reaching a tipping point with regard to the relationship between the Jewish state and the rest of the world.

This piece highlights Apple Computer’s decision to open its first development center outside of the US in Haifa, Israel.   If you add this remarkable accomplishment to decisions made by two other technology behemoths – Intel and Google – to double down on Israel, we have at last gotten to a point where a BDSer can’t touch a mouse or keyboard without busting their own boycott (and, in effect, becoming a scab to their own cause).

The second story tells of a $100MM+ partnership between Cornell University and Israel’s Technion Institute which will create a new applied sciences campus in New York City.  This bid beat out proposals by other major institutions, all of which brought plenty to the table, albeit without an Israeli partner.  So far from being an albatross around the neck of Cornell, academic linkages with the Jewish state have proven to be the source of fantastic success.

Which brings up this interesting headline regarding the University of Pennsylvania’s decision to distance itself from a major BDS conference that will take place there in February.  In this case, the school is not preventing the event from taking place but is simply making it clear that the opinions of the Penn BDSers and their guests are not shared by the university itself in any way, shape or form.

Needless to say, the organizers of the event are blaming this dissing on the usual bogeymen, while all the time claiming that endorsement of the university means nothing to them anyway (a strange claim indeed from a movement which exists solely to get its words to come out of the mouth of major institutions like the U Penn).

In a way, Israel’s foes are also trying to create their own tipping point, hoping if they can get enough schools, churches, rock stars and food co-ops to join their little boycott that this will create precedent which (they hope) will lead to similar groups signing up for the BDS program automatically.  This need to create an illusion of momentum is why they play up every win (no matter how tiny) and ignore every loss (no matter how huge).  It’s why they today claim to not give a damn about what U Penn thinks, even though PennBDS (sponsors of next year’s conference) are allegedly working morning, noon and night to get that school to share their opinion on the Middle East (and act accordingly).

There will be more (a lot more) to say about the U Penn event in the new year, but before wishing everyone a happy Kwanznukamas and signing off, I wanted to end with this final headline I stumbled across during my semi-regular Google search for BDS-related news:

OK, OK, in this case “BDS” refers to the dental examination, not the “mass movement” designed to bring the Israeli economy to its knees through song, dance and kvetching.  But still, it’s got nice ring to it so I thought I’d leave it with you to savor for the rest of the holiday season.