Headlines

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.

I’ll Be There!

Well now they’ve gone and done it.

In their excesses and their deception, in their over-reach and harassment, in their hectoring and their lies, the forces of BDS have summoned from the pages of history and the scrolls of our heritage, the one, the only… Captain Israel!

May the diety have mercy on them.

Courage

Now and then (usually in response to comments) I’ve posed the question: what if the world is NOT as the BDSers perceive it? What if there’s even a one-percent chance that the suffering in the region is NOT fueled entirely by Israeli villainy directed at pristinely innocent Palestinians (with no role played by the rest of the nations in the Middle East)?

What if these non-Israeli players (including, God forbid, the Palestinians) have agency and what if their decisions (including decisions to reject one peace offer after another) contribute to the suffering of themselves and others? And what if there is even the smallest of chances that BDS (like other propaganda campaigns) send a message to the Palestinians that “help is on the way!” “Don’t compromise,” the message continues. “Don’t give up your hope of total victory. For eventually our activity (be it BDS or some other form of de-legitimization) will so cripple the Jewish state that you will get everything you want without having to give up a single thing.”

Even if you reject the premise that someone other than Israel has primary responsibility for the misery in the region, accepting that there is even a tiny chance that my counter-narrative might be true means accepting there is a non-zero chance that BDS is contributing to the very suffering it claims to be fighting to end.

Which brings up the question of what is the mindset of those who blindly follow the BDS route and refuse to consider any possible negative consequences? It’s easy to accuse BDSers of pure cynicism, of claiming to be battling for peace, but secretly longing for war (whatever the cost to, among other people, the Palestinians the boycotters claim to care about). But I’ve generally been of the mind that the primary factor behind this phenomenon is not cynicism or secret longing for violence (at someone else’s expense, of course), but fantasy.

As I’ve described before, in the BDSers mind they are part of a bold, far-thinking, virtuous vanguard, the only people who see the world as it really is and act accordingly. Under that framework, why should it matter if BDS might cause an increase in suffering of Israelis or Palestinians or fellow church, school, city or co-op members? After all, these individuals are not really people, but are merely props in a drama taking place in the boycotter’s own head (or, more accurately, in the interaction between BDSers who are simultaneously indulging in a common fantasy).

I ran across two examples to illustrate this concept, both drawn from the recent dust up at Olympia. I first stumbled on this piece while looking for confirmation that the boycott decision was made by the Olympia board with only members from the BDS community (and no opposing voices) in the room. But reading this piece more closely, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. No doubt I will be accused of insensitivity to someone’s heartfelt confessions about how the boycott has impacted him personally. But in reading this piece over again, the two words that spring out (since they’re repeated more frequently than any other item) are “I” and “me.”

For this writer, the Middle East is not about Israelis or Palestinians, it’s about himself or, more specifically, his own feelings about himself as a ‘white, owning class, straight, Christian, able-bodied man” contending with his own courage in speaking truth to power despite feelings of his own vulnerability. Yes, stories of alleged Israeli atrocities dot his narrative, but only to demonstrate why he has chosen to act so selflessly. There is no need to confirm that these stories are accurate, or to put them in context since the subject is not Israelis or Palestinians or the Middle East or the US or the Olympia Food Co-op, but the all-encompassing, all-critical, all-important “I”.

In a second example, local BDSers have taken recently to discussing whether or not their participation in a boycott constitutes a great act of bravery. While some commenters (again, demonstrating their own selflessness) point out that their courage is nothing as compared to those confronting repression directly, at least one person has dug out the old “death threat” trope to give the impression that someone taking an anti-Israel stand in Olympia Washington is doing anything other than making the safest choice imaginable.

Given that a few Olys occasionally comment on this site, I strongly suspect that we’ll soon be re-visited by some of these valorous fantasists angry over my refusal to accept at face value their accusations of having received uncountable death threats. To which I would simply reply that every time I attend a publically advertised pro-Israel event in Boston, part of the evening always seems to involve walking through a metal detector. And never, in all my years of activism, have I heard any of my friends who also partake in these events bragging about their courage for joining programs where such security measures are necessary.

When BDS meetings in Oly start requiring similar security, then perhaps their claims of being under siege can be taken seriously. Until then, their alleged courage (like their alleged virtue) – while dripping from every pore of the BDSers fantasy selves – is in remarkably short supply here in the real world.

War and Peace

It once seemed obvious that the significance of BDS and related battles always take a back seat to events on the ground in the Middle East. After all, whenever violence breaks out in the region (whether in Lebanon, Gaza, or in boats off the Gaza coast), that tends to drive the agendas of Israel’s detractors and supporters rather than our activities driving what happens “over there.”

I’ve been rethinking that premise as news of the recent clash at the Israel-Lebanese border and the slowly but surely escalating rocket attacks from Gaza testify to the fact that Hezbollah and Hamas are, once again, testing their limits; trying to find out how far they can push before inviting a military response.

Certainly the dynamics related to being a militant organization (or, more accurately, part of a network of militant organizations) drives decisions on whether or not to pull the trigger every now and then. After all, a Hamas or Hezbollah leader with thousands of missiles at his disposal who constantly brags about past and future victories (real or imagined) against the dreaded Zionists will always face challenges by those posing as being even more militant. And how better to prove your challengers wrong than by lobbing the occasional rocket, even if this frequently leads to events spinning out of control?

Thinking through the calculations militants in Lebanon or Gaza must go through when deciding how far to push, it occurred to me that the response they have seen during previous clashes (which included thousands of anti-Israel protestors taking to the streets whenever Israel finally responded to an attack) must play a role in such an analysis.

After all, when war broke out in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008, leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas learned that their job was to hold out long enough for protests abroad to drive international calls for a cease fire, one that might leave militants battered but not defeated. Seeing this dynamic play out twice (three times, if you count the recent brouhaha over the Gaza Flotilla attack) may have finally confirmed that such activity can and should be taken into account when making military decisions.

Now most anti-Israel campaigners (who wrap themselves thickly in the mantle of “peace activists”) would violently reject the notion that they serve the role of a military implement (even unwittingly), something generals take into account alongside weapons, logistics and personnel considerations. They could be forgiven such an attitude, but for the fact that they always seem able to hold their tongues while militant organizations prepare for war, only taking to the streets after such a war has been started (or, more accurately, after Israel decides to respond militarily to attacks).

Even a seemingly trivial event such as the Olympia Co-op boycott (which could be dismissed as just another example of how BDS can’t seem to score a win anywhere beyond a ten mile radius around Rachel Corrie’s house) can be viewed in this light. You will, after all, not see any boycott of Lebanese products at the store, even though last week’s attack was so brazen that even the UN has fingered Lebanon as the culprit. And Palestinian “Peace Oil” will stay on Oly’s shelves no matter how many missiles Hamas decides to fire into Israeli territory.

But if the situation ever gets so bad (as it did in ’06 and ’08) that Israel unsheathes its sword, you can expect the Oly BDSers to link arms with like-minded activists around the planet to protest Israel’s response in the same assertive and aggressive way they have done in the past.

In their minds, “war” (defined only as Israeli military action, not the military action of others that might have triggered it) must be protested in the name of “peace” (defined as Israel not taking military action, even if as its self-avowed enemies continually rearm and test their limits).

This being the case, Israel’s detractors begin to look more and more like a weapon system than the heirs of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Perhaps it is this reality that makes them so vociferous with regard to hailing their own virtues and peace credentials. For if your foundational premise is your own unquestionable goodness, how much simpler it is to befog the air with the rhetoric of peace (and lash out at critics) than to step back and ponder how you ended up on the military balance sheet of those preparing for the next war.

Olympia Snowed – Washington Co-op Boycott

BDS projects tend to come in waves or fads. In the early 90s, campus petitions were all the rage, then Mainline Protestant churches were targeted followed by student governments and – most recently – aging rockers and food co-ops.

Part of the reason behind this ever-changing list is the fact that BDS is a relatively nimble “movement,” forever ready to dance away from defeats and capitalize on even the most trivial wins. And since there are so many more of the former than the latter, divestment advocates must forever find new targets of opportunity once too many loses begin to give them a reputation as losers within a certain community.

Which is why yesterday’s announcement that a food co-op (in this case, the Olympia Food Co-op in Olympia Washington) has chosen to impose a boycott on Israeli goods was only somewhat surprising.

The location for one of the few examples of a boycott taking place in the US makes sense (Olympia is home to Evergreen College, home of ISM victim Rachel Corrie and one of the only colleges in America that’s gotten a student divestment vote through after a decade of BDS efforts on campuses). But the details of how the boycott was decided were surprising, given what happened in Davis California just a few months ago.

In March of this year, the Davis Food Co-op, like Olympia Co-op, was faced with a group of members who wanted the store to refuse to sell Israeli goods. Unlike Olympia, the decision being asked of the board was whether to put such a boycott to a member vote which led to public debates and hearings on the subject before the Co-op board made its final decision.

We’ll get to that decision in a minute, but before we do it’s interesting to note that Olympia avoided the public controversy during the decision-making process by simply making their decision without much (if any) public awareness that the matter was being discussed. And so, once again, we have another institution whose members woke up one day to discover that an organization they have been a member of for years is now being touted by anti-Israel activists across the globe as fully onboard the BDS, Israel=Apartheid, propaganda bandwagon (talk about surprises).

As described before, the reasons Davis decided to turn down requests to put boycott on the ballot were extremely interesting and are worth reading in full here. While disappointed boycott supporters claimed the Davis board’s decision was driven by Jewish community pressure and fears of legal reprisals, in fact their decision was based on principles relating to the co-op community itself, notably:

* That the boycotters were demanding that they (an unelected group of people with no fiduciary or other responsibility to the co-op as a whole) be allowed to make decisions for the entire co-op (including the board, managers and members) based on their own political agenda

* That supporting a boycott vote implied agreement with the boycotter’s characterization of the Middle East and acceptance of BDS tactics as representing the entire Co-op, not simply the opinions of a subset of members advocating for a boycott

* That the boycott would fly in the face of principles of the co-operative movement, including the Rochdale principles regarding political and religious neutrality and the Cooperative Principle regarding cooperation between co-ops (including Israeli co-ops)

Davis’ stance also highlighted that co-operatives that have failed to live by these principles and apply sound and careful judgment to where and when it will engage in political activity have created poisoned atmospheres leading to divisiveness, alienation of members, resignations and other harmful results.

Now it’s possible that the leaders of the Co-op in Olympia know all this, but are willing to ignore principles articulated not just by Davis but by the global cooperative movement in order to make a political stance that they (and they alone) know is in the best interest of their community. But it’s equally likely that this is just one more example of a group of single-issue partisans bullying an organization that lacks failsafe mechanisms (such as ways of determining if members agree with a political policy) to make a decision BDS activists tell them is their only choice.

Now that the BDSers have gotten their way, they will (as always) be on their merry way, firing off press releases and posting on newsites and blogs across the planet that Olympia Food Co-op (not simply its leaders, but every man, woman and child who shops there) is all aboard the BDS propaganda express. As usual, it will be left to those members to deal with the wreckage, and the co-operative’s leaders to explain that they have taken a principled stance when they, in fact, have just been played for suckers.