Fair Fight

I’ve talked a number of times about how unfair the fight is between Israel and her defamers.

Those defamers, after all, have a militant goal: the elimination of the Jewish state.  With that goal as their North Star, strategies to weaken that state or make its destruction appear noble and just become clear, as do tactics to achieve those strategic aims (such as BDS).  In addition, the sociopathic nature of Israel’s enemies gives them the power to manipulate others while feeling no guilt over their own destructive, ruthless behavior.

In contrast, nearly all Israelis and friends of Israel do not want to see enemies eliminated.  In fact, our greatest dream (i.e., our goal) is not to see Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims destroyed, but rather to live at peace with them (or at least be left in peace by them).  With such non-militant goals driving our enterprise, it’s no surprise that we cannot gin up the kind of hatred needed to drive decades-long hostile counter-campaigns.  And our unwillingness to use others as means to an end means we are not ready to manipulate neutrals in order to use them as weapons in our political campaigns.

While I still hold to this analysis, some recent events also got me thinking of another way to look at “the fight,” one in which the odds can seem stacked in Israel’s favor.

The first event was the opening of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in New York, a two-billion dollar facility that anchors Cornell’s Tech education and research initiative.  This mammoth joint effort won out in fierce competition between some of the most prestigious science and engineering schools in the country.  And the success of Cornell’s bid was largely in recognition of the value of that school’s partnership with one of the world’s most successful schools of scientific learning: Israel’s Technion Institute.

Given that decades of harassment by academic boycotters has led to little more than marginal professors occasionally engaging in cowardly furtive boycotts and sputtering on Twitter, the opening of Cornell-Technion – remarkable in itself – sends an important message to the world: that linking arms with Israel brings success and progress, while shunning the Jewish state leads nowhere.

Speaking of going nowhere (as well as sputtering on Twitter) the event I’d like to use as a contrast to the opening of Technion-Cornell took place in Dublin last week where Israel haters from around that nation gathered to say the same things they and others have said at Israel-hating events for more than half a century.  And their star attraction was that failed academic whose Twitter id rivals that of America’s president: Steven Salaita.

Mr. Salaita’s been on a roller coaster ride since being hired to join the faculty of the Native American Studies department at University of Illinois (despite having no qualifications for the job), followed by his un-hiring by school leaders unwilling to give lifelong employment to someone advocating violence on Twitter, followed by a lawsuit and boycott of the university (which, among other things, destroyed the department he was going to join), followed by his decamping to American University of Beirut in Lebanon, followed by his being let go from that university as well.

And who is to blame for this string of disasters that have left him academically homeless (although not bereft of speaking gigs, it appears): the evil Jews (whoops!  I mean “Zionists”) whose power apparently extends to academic institutions in nations at war with the Jewish state.

For all his attempts to make his story come off like an epic struggle of right against might, the Salaita tale is ultimately about someone who never grew out of adolescence now demanding rewards (like tenure) he doesn’t deserve, someone ready to whine and blame/punish others for his failings.

While there might be a market for such self-pity within marginal groups (like the lame boycotters of the American Studies Association – another field Salaita announced himself an expert in), I can’t imagine that the professors staffing the new Technion-Cornell Institute got to their positions by behaving in such a manner.  In fact, the string of achievements on both campuses would indicate that they have much better things to do than bitch that no one is offering them a paid perch to spout politics that can’t be taken away.

Every few years, our Temple is blessed by a visit from young Israeli soldiers traveling through Boston, and I’ve always been stunned by the seriousness and maturity of kids not much older than my recent high-school graduate.  And it is these serious young men and women who then go on to university and from there become the next generation of Technion professors, business leaders, or successes in a thousand other fields (all the while continuing to contribute to the defense of their homeland).

In a contest between such serious people and freaks and weirdos like Steven Salaita, who has the upper hand?

Campus On Fire 2 – What to Do?

The two pieces of advice that I use as a mantra in the fight against BDS (don’t panic/don’t be complacent) are inexorably linked.

Last time (and over the years), I’ve pointed out things that should calm us when we hear stories of BDS and other anti-Israel activity “on the march,” such as the non-existent economic impact of a decade and a half of divestment campaigns, the triumph of buycotts over boycotts, and the rejection of BDS by some of the most progressive institutions in the country (such as food coops).

But the “don’t be complacent” recommendation requires us to appreciate the strengths the boycotters bring to the battle, notably:

  • The fact that they start from militant goals (the destruction of Israel or its weakening to the point where others can do the dirty work) justifies (to them anyway) the use of aggressive tactics that opponents (i.e., us – who are not interested in destroying anyone) cannot match or sustain.
  • Their indifference to the harm they cause others gives the BDSers the ability to select any target they wish (that school or municipality for divestment, this food coop or retailer for boycotting, etc.), which means they have the initiative when it comes to selecting the terrain upon which the next boycott or divestment battle will be fought.
  • The barrier to entry for BDS is virtually non-existent. For example, a couple of SJP-types on a campus can launch a divestment campaign (such as one that started recently in Princeton) by simply signing up for some free petitioning software, filling it with Barghoutian boilerplate, gathering a few hundred signatures, and claiming momentum (or even victory) regardless of what happens next.
  • The general media zeitgeist regarding stories about Israel combined with the BDSers’ demonstrated ability to use Web 2.0 communication tools to push their preferred spin means even trivial stories will get ink and are more likely to be shaped by an anti- (vs. pro-) Israel narrative.

These advantages are not trivial, but neither are they insurmountable, especially since the BDS project is predicated on coopting a neutral third party (such as a school, church or union) in order to make it seem as though the “Israel=Apartheid” propaganda message is coming out of the mouth of a respected institution.  And, to date, most civic organizations have proven resistant to being dragged into the boycotter’s orbit.

If you look at the influential constituencies that are now fully immunized from the BDS virus (college administrations, municipal leaders, food coop boards), it becomes clear that fights over irrelevant student council resolutions or hummus protests represent the pathetically low stakes battles the boycotters have been forced to pick after a decade and a half of failure.

But it is this very triviality that requires the BDSers to scream ever louder in order to mask the minimal limits of their support outside their own community.  And, at a time when thousands of Arabs (including many Palestinians) are being slaughtered daily in the non-Israeli part of the Middle East currently going up in flames, the need to ratchet up the volume to 11,000,000 becomes even more critical, lest anyone notice that the Palestinian suffering might have more to do with HamIsis than Netenyahu.

The combination of ruthlessness and infiltration that has led to the few BDS wins in recent years (such as some West Coast student government resolutions, or the ASA’s academic boycott) represents the tactics Lenin once summed up as: “Probe with bayonets.  If you encounter mush, advance.  If you encounter steel, retreat.”

Which pretty much means that those who want to beat back the BDS threat have to do so by ensuring those bayonets always encounter steel.

We have already seen this kind of resolve within broader Jewish community organizations (including Hillel) that have made it clear that the “Big Tent” they embrace will never include those pushing for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting the Jewish state.  And the whining you hear from groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), or their latest front group Open Hillel, demonstrates what Israel’s foes are reduced to when they encounter firm resistance.

With regard to college campuses, the Jewish community has also made the de facto strategic decision to leave key decisions up to students on the ground (providing help and advice when requested).  This choice carries some risk since you never know how many students are ready to man the barricades during any given semester (or how skilled those students are politically and organizationally), which means we cannot always plan ahead for where steel (vs. mush) will emerge.

But as more kids step up to the plate (as they have over the last few years in increasing numbers), chances grow that you’ll see more situations like Cornell (where SJP has been reduced to pathetic blubbering over their own alleged victimization) than at places like Hampshire College where the boycotters feel dominant enough to direct their impotent rage at the few (largely Jewish) students who oppose their agenda.

Finally, don’t panic/don’t be complacent counsels patience.  Anti-Israel agitation, after all, has been with us as long as the war against the Jewish state.  And in that war it is Israel that stands stable and successful, a nation strong enough to defend its interests and continue the quest for peace, while those who have waged war against her for decades descend into the chaos as totalitarians battle to the death with religious fanatics with everyone screaming about the Jews as they bury knives into one another’s backs.

This same instability lurks within groups tasked to manage the propaganda component of the century-long war against the Jews.  Today, they travel under the banner of Students for Justice in Palestine – a name that will no-doubt change once it becomes apparent to all that what they stand for has nothing to do with the students or Palestinians (much less justice).