SJP Thuggery – Are the Campuses Burning?

If any DT readers are in the Boston area, I’ll be part of a panel discussion next week on the subject of Defamation of Israel on College Campuses sponsored by CAMERA.  Other speakers include Richard Cravatts, President of Scholars for Middle East Peace and Gilad Skolnick, CAMERA’s Director of Campus Programming.

Unsurprisingly, I’ll be taking the BDS angle vis-à-vis colleges and universities, and will be spending the next few days trying to figure out the right balance to strike before a concerned audience who may be reading about campuses in flames in the Jewish (and even mainstream) press.

The balance I tend to strike in this blog – Don’t Panic, but Don’t be Complacent – still seems appropriate, even in a year when groups like SJP have shown enough organizational muscle to pull off a national conference (where tactics and resources were shared) and enough aggression to make life miserable for pro-Israel voices (if not Jewish students in general) on many campuses.

On the “Don’t Panic” side, keep in mind that it has been years (over a decade really) since it became clear no college or university in the country (if not the world) was going to actually divest from the Jewish state.

Even back in the early 2000s when BDS was just “divestment” (and divestment efforts led by the now-defunct Palestinian Solidarity Movement – PSM – vs. the new SJP incarnation of anti-Israel activism), college administrators (i.e., the grown-ups who actually make investment decisions) made it clear that they were not going to listen to demands from a propaganda campaign masquerading as a human rights  movement.  And we should never forget the fact that SJP rose to prominence by pushing that BDS hoax at Hampshire College, one which (among other things) convinced college administrators of the peril of even answering the phone when the divestment cru calls.

Which is why BDS battles on campuses have basically been fought within student governments over whether they would pass toothless divestment resolutions that everyone knows will be ignored.  And, even here, after years and years of effort by the boycotters, less than ten such resolutions have passed.  And even then, such “wins” have been the result of BDSers infiltrating student government and midnight deals passed during Shabbat rather than the Israel haters convincing anybody of anything.

But such votes do give groups like SJP the platform to rant and rave about Israeli “crimes against humanity” for hour after hour before a captive audience.  And the very impotence of their activity with regard to generating genuine consequential action may explain why they have to scream about their few “successes” ever louder in order to convince people that their message is embraced by more than a marginal fringe.

That screaming has also been coupled with ever-more aggressive “direct action” on campuses, and I suspect that this is one of the reasons passions about schools in flames run so high.

Part of this aggressiveness has to do with the nature of radical politics, a dynamic in which those who propose the most outrageous plans tend to rise to leadership positions due to their “passion” and “intensity.”  And let’s not forget that the BDSers are aligned to a broader, global anti-Israel project that has always been a mix of propaganda, threat and violence (with the latter two taking precedent as the Middle East goes up in flames).

But we should also not forget that a sociopathic political movement like BDS is all about pushing limits of civilized norms.  While every other political and human rights issue on the planet plays out in a reasonable fashion whenever they come up on college campuses, only the Arab-Israeli conflict has devolved into shout-downs of speakers, pat-downs of students in front of mock “Apartheid Walls,” hostile pranks like last year’s eviction notice outrages, and demands that every student on campus take a side (SJP’s) or be condemned as faux-progressives or enemies of human rights.

And when such limit-pushing is not met by significant resistance by those charged to keep campus live civil (i.e., administrators who know a Lawyer’s Guild shill for SJP is in the wings if they ever clamp down on the group’s outrageous behavior), that simply incentivizes the thugs to push even harder next time and communicate via the globe-spanning, free new media what others are now likely to be able to get away with on their campuses.

So what we seem to be dealing with are not college campuses slipping into the anti-Israel orbit, but a newly energized group of anti-Israel propagandists (ginned up – as they always are – after a war) that is out of control.  And how best to deal with this particular dynamic is something I’ll turn to next time.

Red Lines

I’m studying with some of the world’s foremost experts on the subject of subliminal messaging to convince the world to download the Divest This Guide and pass it on to those who need it (and maybe kick in a few bucks to get it printed for good measure).

But time does not stand still as I hock my wares, so let’s spend this week catching up on a few BDS stories that have come up as the number of New England daylight hours dwindles to single digits.

First off is this interesting piece written by the head of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) in Boston. For purposes of context, New England’s CJP and the associated Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) are the centerpieces of Jewish communal life in the region. Yes, Boston also contains some of the country’s most successful entrepreneurial Jewish groups (such as CAMERA and David Project), and yes other Jewish “alphabet soup” institutions (ADL, AJC, AIPAC – and that’s just some of the A’s) are also well represented here. But if there is an “official” line regarding what’s in and what’s out in terms of political organizations and stands, this line tends to get drawn by CJP.

Now this role is not without controversy. For these major coalition-based organizations have grown in size and influence by creating the largest tent possible, welcoming Jewish organizations and issues with which many already under the tent disagree. In general, peace is kept between Left and Right, between individuals and organizations with differing opinions on domestic and international issues, by avoiding the drawing of red lines, steering clear of absolutes that say who is “in” and who is “out” regarding the consensus of the community.

In fact, the only time I can recall such a red line being drawn is now with regard to the subject of BDS. I’ve mentioned the phenomenon of the mainstreaming of fight against BDS previously in a discussion of a resolution passed by the JCPA (the umbrella organization of Jewish Community Relations Councils around the country). Given that the state-of-the-nation vis-à-vis BDS is no different this year than last in terms of actual boycott or divestment success stories (i.e., unlike 2004-2006, BDS still has no institutional wins to speak of), it’s worth speculating why the fight against BDS seems to be going mainstream right now.

Now the BDSers themselves would no doubt tell you that it is because their “movement” has gained such unstoppable momentum that the Jews (I mean the Zionists) are massing against them in a panic. Now far be it for me to dis anyone else’s “narrative,” but such bloviating triumphalism would be easier to take seriously if I didn’t hear it after every BDS story hits the airwaves (even to announce their umpteenth defeat).

Which leaves us with a few other potential explanations, including:

* The notion of boycotts resonates historically with such force within the Jewish community that it has created a visceral reaction to fight back, regardless of how immediate the danger

* Having been caught by surprise when the BDS project swept through between 2001-2006, Jewish activists and activist organizations are committed to not being caught unprepared again

* BDS is part of a broader effort to challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish state, both its right to defend itself and its right to the same respect enjoyed by every other nation in the world. This “de-legitimization” effort is global (spearheaded by powerful states with the numbers and willingness to deny Israel any place of respect among world bodies, for example). As such, the resources being put to the fight against BDS are really being marshaled against this broader de-legitimization phenomenon.

This last point brings up an interesting connection with a theme discussed at length in the Divest This Guide (hint hint): that BDS is a bit of a loser. Given its inability to win any battles and the raft of Israel supporters it creates in its wake, perhaps an attack on BDS is hitting the whole de-legitimization project at its weakest point, creating a dynamic whereby the inherent weakness (and loathsomeness) of BDS gets reflected on the de-legitimization “movement” as a whole.

Something worth considering. Coming up next: Presbyterians playing badly