Medea Benjamin Hearts Caterpillar

It’s been a week since those die-hard sleuths a Pro Israel Bay Bloggers broke the story of how Medea Benjamin, chief heckler of Code Pink and militant support of divestment programs everywhere, finances her radical-chic lifestyle through a twelve-million dollar trust fund stuffed with investments in companies that top the BDS blacklist (not to mention shares in progressive industries such as tobacco and Big Oil).

Unsurprisingly, the recipients of those funds have gone to ground, hoping the whole story will blow over if they don’t respond (good luck with that), with  just a few die-hard Twitterers left to throw up lame excuses for the Code Pink Dear Leader’s inexcusable hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is an obvious lens to view this latest chapter in the ongoing “Do as I say, not as I do” BDS “movement,” a movement headed (it should be repeatedly noted) by a poseur who travels the planet (no doubt with funds donated by One-Percenters like Medea Benjamin) hectoring academics to shun Israeli universities – including the one he continues to be enrolled in.  But in an age when the BDSers have quadrupled their efforts to slander the Jewish state while remaining silent about the killing fields of Syria, the stench of hypocrisy emanating from such groups has become so foul that even someone whose nose has been amputated should be able to smell them from a distance of a hundred miles.

Beyond the obvious hypocrisy angle, the Benjamin investment scandal ties in nicely to that WIX controversy that broke last year at Cornell (a school that just voted down a divestment bill the WIX-using Students for Justice in Palestine group tried to sneak under the door during the Jewish holidays).  If you recall, this is the same Cornell SJP that became embarrassed in 2013 when the social media world went all a-Twitter over the fact that the organization was using an Israeli software product – WIX – to create their pro-BDS, anti-Israel web sites.

Rather than go down the usual route of pretending other people’s arguments don’t exist and continuing to shout their own self-serving accusations, the Cornell SJPers instead chose to answer critics by insisting that their political stance did not require them to become “beautiful souls” who actually had to live by the philosophy they demand of others.

Now one could make the case that WIX has never been a BDS target so that BDSers using that particular product are not necessarily acting in direct contradiction to their alleged principles.  But given that Benjamin’s 2011 stock portfolio includes shares in the very companies anchoring divestment campaigns since 2009, this same excuse can’t be used to dismiss the behavior of the High Priestess of Code Pink.

Why are student governments voting on divestment measures across North America?  Because BDS campaigners on those campuses (supported by outside organizations that receive Benjamin Foundation funding) insist that a school endowment or retirement portfolio that contains a single share of GE or Intel or Caterpillar stock means that the school is “taking sides” in the Arab-Israeli conflict and must divest in order to “even the playing field.”

But as the Benjamin story highlights, the BDSers themselves cannot even be bothered to check out where their own money is coming from before accusing others of the “sin” of owning the same stocks they hold and profit from.

Ultimately, this story highlights just how irrelevant companies like Caterpillar are to the overall BDS project, beyond providing anti-Israel activists the excuse they need to force their agenda onto any organization of their choosing. For just as the student body of Cornell or the membership of the Presbyterian Church serve as a mere means to the boycotters ends, so too Caterpillar is simply a useful tool that allows Club BDS to create mayhem at any institution that owns even a single share of this widely-held stock.

If you look at the “Israel is guilty of everything” boilerplate that has become standardized in the various resolutions being voted up or down (mostly down) across the land, it contains the words the boycotters desperately want to stuff into the mouth of someone else so that the can claim their narrow partisan agenda is actually embraced by the masses. But as Medea Benjamin and Cornell SJP have demonstrated to us all, owning Caterpillar stock or using Israeli tech is perfectly acceptable – as long as you’re them and not the people in whose name they demand to speak.

PennBDS – Spectacle

Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when 3.5 inch floppy disks were considered cutting edge, I attended some of the big computing tradeshows that defined that pre-Internet era (PC Expo, Mac World and – the big one – Comdex), as both a journalist and an exhibitor.

It was while acting as a journalist that I learned an important lesson: that the level of violence a salesperson has to do to his or her own character in order to attract people into their booth is directly proportional to the crappiness of their product (or the likelihood that it would never be released).

Said violence frequently involved apes (including dressing up in a gorilla suit or, in some cases, having an actual live chimpanzee in the booth – usually under a sign that bore some variation on “Don’t Monkey Around with Data Security!”).  Other acts of “spectacle” included the use of celebrity impersonators (poor imitations of Robin Williams and Cher ring a dim bell) and, at one MacWorld, Leonard Nimoy wearing a grey turtleneck sweater yamming on about Wingz!, a Mac spreadsheet that never saw the light of day.

Such behavior came to mind as I started thinking about the type of “spectacle” that is important enough to merit its own session at the now-so-close-I-can-smell-it PennBDS conference.  Like the aforementioned chimp shows, BDS performances have the tendency to bewilder and appall their target audience, rather than attract and inspire them.  In fact, given that BDS public performances have tended to be either bizarre (such as attempts at creating a “flash-mob,”), gross (queue the Code Pink bikini squad) or hostile (including blowing air horns and shouting through megaphones at concerts and ballet performances), BDS spectacle seems to represent an evolutionary step downward from the good old days of PC Expo monkey-business.

Interestingly, the behaviors required to participate in these types of BDS activities are the very ones I have been busy teaching my nine-year-old to avoid.  This includes interrupting, wallowing in mud, and being rude during public events.  It’s intriguing to discover that at the same time I am trying to get my 3rd grader to learn proper manners, the PennBDS cru is running a course on how to unlearn them (and then celebrating the results).

There is a logic to this behavior once you realize that, unlike getting schools, churches or cities to embrace your political program, making a spectacle of yourself only requires acting up in public and thus success or failure is under the full control of the boycotters.  Sure, they’re likely to get kicked out of a store or concert for being public nuisances, but even if their “direct action” winds up with them sitting on the pavement, the ability to initiative these actions requires nothing more than their own rudeness and exhibitionism.

And we should not forget that between the start of a flash-dance or interruption-fest, the digital cameras will be rolling (do digital cameras roll?), capturing every minute of the “big event” on film (well, bits, anyway).  This video footage is a crucial component for understanding why folks like Code Pink put such a stake in spectacle.

Given how much BDSers brag of their flash mobs, de-shelving, and similar “direct actions,” you might be surprised to discover that no more than a couple of dozen these types of events have ever taken place.  Each one lives on, however, on BDS web sites, Facebook pages, YouTube channels and even the occasional DVD which are then talked about in mailing lists, RSS feeds, tweets and BDS conferences, with participants hailed for their edginess and “courage.”.

Once you realize that these stunts are not played out to convince an external audience, but to impress an internal one, everything makes perfect sense.  Other questions get answered as well, including why the BDSers disrupt talks put on by their political opponents when this is guaranteed to turn the uncommitted against their cause?  It explains why they perpetuate fraud and hoaxes, knowing full well they’ll get caught.  It explains why they use corrupt tactics to win one battle, which all but guarantees they will lose the war.

For a full explanation, we must again return to our old friend fantasy politics; a set of activities that on the surface seem political, but in reality are designed to create a self-image among participants in a collective fantasy where they (and they alone) represent a noble, courageous, vanguard, of all-seeing seers who battle alone against unspeakable evil.

Why should such fantasists care about how the public reacts to their flash dances and catcalls since, for them, this public does not actually exist except as props in a drama going on in their own heads.  In fact, all of us are props for the fantasist: Israel, it’s friends and supporters, even the Palestinians in whose names the boycotters claim to speak are just things, not people, a backdrop for YouTube videos designed to demonstrate to the world that by acting naughty in front of grownups that the BDS “movement” is more than what they are.

And what are they?  Well here in reality, BDS is just a tactic used by the same tired Israeli haters who have been gathering in church basements for decades to show each other cliché-ridden 16mm films and talk about how horrible the Jews (whoops! I mean the Zionists) are.  And while the names and faces may change, the only genuine difference is that today those films are distributed via Internet download and the basement has been briefly extended to an unknown location on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

Who Pays?

So how ‘bout that flotilla?

At a time when the staggeringly incompetent leadership of Code Pink et al has left yet another group of political tourists stranded in a foreign land, it’s easy to poke fun at one more BDSer fiasco (which thankfully didn’t get anyone killed this time).

But as I’ve noted before, for those who find themselves in the boycotter’s cross-hairs, BDS is no joke. In the case of groups like the Methodists, attempted manipulation by Israel-hating “activists” has routinely led to needless divisiveness and rancor. But there is one place where boycott and divestment activity has an even nastier impact: in the Middle East itself.

This makes sense when you consider that outside that region, BDSers have to make do with manipulation and moral blackmail to get their way (tools which, at best, have only ever led to a rare temporary or marginal success). But in Israel and the Palestinian territories, those pushing boycott can fall back on threats, intimidation and even violence to get their way.

This message was summed up pretty openly in this recent statement by our old friends at PACBI (fathers of the most recent incarnation of the 10-year-old BDS “movement”). In it, they make it clear what they think of Palestinians trying to work with Israelis on projects based on common understanding and mutual benefit; accusing such people of acting as “fig leafs,” i.e., collaborators and traitors who cynically sell out the Palestinian “collective” for their own personal benefit.

Given what tends to happen to “collaborators,” once singled out in Palestinian society, the price to pay for trying to make a go at peaceful co-existence has become high indeed for those who still harbor hope of living a peaceful life (something clearly not on the agenda of the “de-normalizers” of PACBI).

As the PACBI statement boasts, organizations committed to peaceful co-existence have already shut down thanks to pressure put on Palestinian partners in such endeavors. And given that PACBI has organizations like Hamas and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine among its ranks to enforce what it has decided is the “general will,” it’s hard to imagine what a Palestinian looking to live cooperatively with his or her Israeli neighbors has to fall back on (other than their own courage).

In a sense, the type of McCarthy-ite search for traitors we are now seeing in the West Bank and elsewhere is the result of BDS having so little to show for it after a decade of effort outside the region. For if you cannot hurt your enemies, your own people are always there to threaten, ostracize, and generally screw.

Now it’s one thing if Israel-dislikers abroad decide to flush their own hard-earned cash down the toilet so that the Code Pinkians can blog and tweet about their failure to sail across the Mediterranean. While I can imagine far better uses for the millions of dollars these “Friends of the Palestinian People” spent on such a junket, I can also think of far worse things that money could go towards.

But given that the latest (and only successful target) of BDS seems to now be Jews and Arabs seeking to live alongside one another in hope of achieving something approaching a normal life, can we at long last stop pretending that BDS is the tactic of anything resembling a “peace movement?”

The Bigger Picture

I’m attending my first AIPAC Policy Conference this week and, seeing the organization in action, I can understand why it’s the subject of so much demonology by Israel’s enemies. While I’ll have more to say about the experience in the coming days, suffice to say that this is one American Jewish organization that has its SH*T together. While many of us struggle to find our mission or our audience, AIPAC combines the professionalism, discipline and long-term thinking that one rarely sees in any institution public or private.

Switching back to the subject of demonology, I was pretty disappointed at the number of protestors who turned out to this event. Even the AIPAC New England dinner (which I’ve attended twice) seems to bring out bigger numbers of people who at least have a semblance of a coherent message. But with 7500 AIPAC supporters gathering in DC, the best the Israel haters could manage was a contingent of black hats from the Norman Klitorus sect, a gaggle of people waving anti-Israel and anti-Obama signs with the delightful message of “God Hates Fags,” and a small group who, for some reason, decided to dress up as pieces of Swiss cheese.

Word has it that a few Code Pinkers paid the $500 registration fee to get into the final dinner so that they could heckle Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu before realizing that using this same tactic for a second year in a row meant the dreaded Zionists were ready for them (drowning out their shouts in a burst of applause before ejecting them from the room). In fact, those of us in the cheap seats only found out the “edgy” “transgressive” Pinkians did their thing when we were walking out of the dinner to fetch dessert. Thus is the fate of people whose entire political movement consists of posting pictures of themselves acting naughty on their own Facebook pages.

I was curious as to whether the subject of BDS would be featured at the event and, in typical AIPAC fashion, this subject was fit into a broader, well thought-out context that falls under the heading of “Delegitimizing of Israel.” While BDS was an example of this type of de-legitimization, speakers correctly pointed out that the de-legit program originates with the Arab states working through their domination of organizations like the UN to create ugly bits of nastiness like the Goldstone Report which they can then use to whitewash their propaganda program.

Within this framework, BDS is just a hanger on, a barnacle clinging to a bigger De-legitimization ship created and manned by some of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest states. No doubt this is not the reality the BDSers (who see themselves as brave, righteous lonely souls battling against powerful enemies) want themselves or others to comprehend, but it is a useful way to understand what we’re really dealing with when confronted by those advocating for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Now it would be fair to point out that if BDS is simply a parasite gaining sustenance from the actions of the wealthy and powerful, then this site is simply attaching itself for a ride on that parasite, having fun at the expense of a “movement” that is really just a third-removed threat from the real action. To which I would say “guilty as charged!” But in a world where groups like AIPAC (with support from the 7500 people in that room last night) are dealing with big stuff (like securing the US-Israel relationship and trying to stop Iran from going nuclear), it’s nice that BDS provides people like me with a hobby.

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.

GFM/BDS – Screwing Your Allies

In Boston, the Gaza Freedom Marchers came, they annoyed some New Year’s celebrants, they gathered under a banner asking “AMERICA STOP FIGHTING FOR THE JEW” (later, slightly modified with the addition of “ish STATE” – possibly written using a large red crayon).

In San Francisco, they donned foam-rubber puppet heads and frightened children walking by the Israeli consulate. And in solidarity with their fellow Gaza Freedom Marchers in Cairo, they held a series of two-hour hunger strikes (no doubt forgoing appetizers once the hunger strikers took a break for lunch).

But it was in Cairo that the true believers gathered in force, having spent thousands of dollars each to travel to Egypt, only to wind up making their “historic” Gaza Freedom March around their hotel lobbies. And what was the message they delivered to the world? Only the now-obvious fact that Gaza has two borders (which means that the “siege” the GFMers were protesting could end immediately once Hamas started using their Egyptian border to import food rather than missile parts).

Given the self-congratulations ringing in the Israel-bashing corners of the blogosphere, one would have thought that the GFM’s attempt to re-ignite the anti-Israel hysteria that accompanied last year’s Gaza conflict consisted of more than a concentrated fiasco in Cairo and some self-indulgent street theater in major metropolitan areas like Waterville, Maine.

But it all begins to make sense once you realize that theater is the point of it all. There is a reason the Internet is filled with photos of Code Pink “activists” stripped to their underwear, smearing themselves with Ahava mud in department stores, despite the fact that this particular form of “direct action” has barely ever taken place. It’s because those photos are the first and foremost goal of such activities. The purpose of Code Pink is to make its members feel significant, important, edgy. And if over a thousand people have to go broke dragging themselves to Cairo only to get arrested, beaten or ignored, that’s a small price to pay to let the Code Pink crew continue to dwell in their fantasy world.

It’s become more and more clear with each passing year that participants in BDS (including the Gaza Freedom March leadership now looking for a new activity to distract the world from their recent Cairo fuck-up) could not care less about Palestinians or any of the “downtrodden” in whose names they claim to speak. But with the GSM/Galloway/Code Pink fiasco starting out the year, we’ve turned a new page where the BDS mixture of self-indulgence, indifference to others and complete lack of any sense of consequence for their decisions is now primarily targeted at the rank and file participants in their own movement.

BDS: The Last Refuge of a Loser

If AIPAC, Alan Dershowitz and the Mossad were make a wish for what they hoped Israel’s opponents would kick off the year with, they would be hard pressed to come up with anything better than last week’s Gaza Freedom March fiasco.

From across the Atlantic, leadership for the scheme was provided by none other than George Galloway, the legendary British loudmouth who so pleases foes of American foreign policy that they continually fail to notice that he’s picked their pockets for the umpteenth time.

And providing leadership and logistics from the American end was Code Pink, a group whose operational abilities currently extend to getting six people into a department store to smear themselves with mud and take photos of each other before getting arrested.

With such an able crew at the helm, what could possibly go wrong when they convinced over 1200 anti-Israel activists from around the world to fly to Egypt where they were told they could march to the Egyptian side of the Gaza border and join protestors in Gaza (as well as other GFM events around the world) in a massive demonstration of solidarity?

Well, to begin with, no one seems to have gotten all of the I’s dotted and T’s crossed with the Egyptian government before asking over a thousand people to spend their vacation time and cash flying to Cairo in hopes that they’d be allowed “go mental” at the tense Egyptian-Gaza border.

And so, protestors were left cooling their heels in their Cairo hotels for days on end. Absent planning or leadership, some activists simply started harassing Egyptians, going down the usual checklist (hunger strikes, sit-ins, etc.), only to discover that the Galloway/Code Pink axis had sold them out by cutting deal with the Egyptian government to let 100 leadership-chosen activists enter Gaza after all.

I’ll have more on the GFM over the coming days (including its hilarious attempt to crash First Night celebrations in Boston), but given the focus of this blog, the point of bringing up GFM is the resolution that this intrepid vanguard created to try to salvage the wreckage they caused in Egypt, their masterly Cairo Declaration.

And what new, innovative, brilliant tactics form the basis of this new gauntlet they are throwing down to the world: why none other than Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), with a focus on international trade unions.

As noted, I’ll have more to say on GFM and BDS in the coming days, but for now I’d just like to invite Code Pink to embrace their Cairo Declaration and begin right now to get the AFL-CIO (or any American labor union) behind their squalid little project. And their success or failure in this endeavor will allow us to directly measure the capability of their leadership and popularity of their cause (or lack thereof).