Targeted BDS

NOTE: I was getting set to respond to some questions/comments from earlier this week and it looks like some comments have disappeared from the last few posts. They’re not showing up in the Blogger spam filter, so I’m suspecting they may be related to a Blogger technical outage yesterday morning. If you think something was lost here and you want a response from me, please re-post it on this or one of the newer blog entries since I’m not that good at keeping current with discussions going on at previous postings. Now back to our regular broadcast…

As mentioned previously, there is a growing trend to replace general boycott and divestment calls with ones that specifically target “the Occupation,” an approach that seems to have found some traction, at least in Europe, a continent serving as a kind of incubator for new BDS tactics.

While researching this issue, I discovered a pretty exhaustive list of reasons why this so-called “targeted BDS” is a bad idea. And though there is not much to add to this well thought-out run down, there is an overarching framework for understanding (and hopefully rejecting) this new tactic, namely, that “targeted BDS” is a scam.

First, we must never lose site of the ultimate goal of the BDS “movement:” to get well-known and respected organizations to attach their names and reputations to the BDS message that Israel is an “Apartheid state,” worthy of the same economic punishment visited upon Apartheid South Africa. But as the last decade of BDS failure at major institutions has demonstrated, these institutions are not interested in having their names attached to someone else’s propaganda campaign.

Which is why you see the behind-closed-doors and dead-of-night deals being struck in places like Somerville, the Presbyterian Church and Olympia Food Co-op where BDS advocates have met with leaders behind the scenes in order to get a boycott or divestment resolution passed quickly and quietly before members of the organization have any knowledge of what is being discussed.

Now when the boycotters approach such institutions, it is important for them to maintain a façade of reasonableness and decorum in order to present their case for BDS being obvious and fully fitting into a human-rights or other appealing or acceptable framework. This is what I call the “all smiles” phase, during which divestment activists try to mask their true intentions which only get revealed after an organization “signs up,” to some simple “human rights measure,” only to discover 24 hours later that their name is being broadcast around the planet as being 100% onboard the Israel=Apartheid bandwagon.

But as we’ve seen over the last ten years, this strategy has either led to immediate rejection (by institutions now wise to the BDS game) or, at worst, temporary victory after which someone (usually the membership of an organization) reverses a boycott or divestment “win,” insisting that no one (and certainly not the Israel-haters) speak in their name.

Given this background, the BDS message needs to be constantly retailored. And targeting “the Occupation” gives its proponents a way to say that they are not attacking Jews or Israel (heavens no), but some amorphous entity known simply as “the Occupation.”

Putting aside the fact that use of phrases such as “the Occupation,” or (more frequently) “Israel’s illegal Occupation” is a matter of opinion and subject of negotiations, rather than an unquestioned fact, it’s clear that BDS proponents themselves have a near-infinitely elastic definition of what falls into this category.

After all, I have yet to see champions for this new improved “targeted BDS” turn around and reject or condemn their fellow BDSers who have not yet gotten the message and are working to boycott companies as far away from the “Green Line” as Taunton, MA (where Tribe hummus – target for a boycott – is located).

For one of the great skills of the BDS project is its ability to make a connection between any company or product they decide to put on their blacklist and their ultimate target (be it Israel proper or simply “the Occupation”).

Why target Tribe hummus? Well the company was acquired by an Israeli food manufacturer that supplies snacks to Israeli soldiers and they contribute to the Jewish National Fund, an organization with is traif to the boycotters because it plans trees in “the Occupation” (whatever that means), blah, blah, blah.

This ability to concoct a connection between any company and their ultimate target found its ultimate expression last summer when BDS activists were pushing their short-lived “Harvard has divested from Israel” hoax. In that case, Israeli companies whose stock was held in certain emerging market funds owned by Harvard were removed from those funds for the simple economic reason that Israel was no longer considered a developing but a developed company. And once that happened, BDSers tried to spin this purely economic decision as a politically motivated divestment activity.

During the 48 hours that this fraud was making headlines we were exposed to a list of Israeli companies that had never once been mentioned in the context of any previous BDS campaign. In this case, the divestment champions simply made on-the-fly connections between the companies leaving Harvard’s emerging market fund and “the Occupation” in order to flesh out their fictional tale of Harvard selling off these stocks for political reasons.

In other words, “targeted BDS” is simply a new opening line, a new marketing campaign that boycotters hope will get them into the door of organizations that are wary of the widely rejected, broad-based divestment calls that have been part-and-parcel of the BDS project since its inception in 2001.

To date, civic organizations seem have been able to see through the various facades the Israel-dislikers use to mask their true goals. So there is hope that people of good sense and good will shall be able to see through this latest variation on their long-standing bait-and-switch tactics.


One of the shortcomings of this site has been its focus primarily on BDS activities in North America. Part of this is due to proximity and familiarity, but some of the reason also has to do with simple laziness.

Put simply, the lack of support for boycott and divestment in the US (exemplified by the decade-long record of BDS non-accomplishment) and preposterousness of its practitioners (most notably in their attempts to substitute pretend domestic victories for real ones) makes fighting BDS here at home a relatively easy task. Not so elsewhere in the world, notably in the Middle East itself and in Europe.

We’ll leave the former for another time to focus on the latter. For Europe has been the birthplace to some of history’s greatest ideas and political movements (democracy, the labor movement, Zionism) as well as all of its worst (notably the 20th century’s twin totalitarian movements of Fascism and Communism).

This history provides a framework in which BDS and other anti-Israel propaganda activities play out, and not simply because members of Europe’s totalitarian rump make up half of the so-called “Red-Green Alliance” (the partnership between militant Islam and far-Left radical organizations that drives the most militant anti-Israel agenda on the continent).

For Europe’s experience (notably during World War II) creates strange cross-currents that permeate how BDS plays out in different countries. Britain, for example, is one of the few European nations not stained by an embrace of or capitulation to Hitler and is thus free of some of the collective guilt that still plagues those on the other side of the Channel. But, in an ironic twist, the UK has emerged as incubator to some of the ugliest and most brutal tactics in the propaganda war against the Jewish state (from “lawfare,” which manipulates the UK legal system to harass Israelis, to campaigns built on violent intimidation).

This split between the UK and the continent also plays out on this side of the pond, where Mainline Protestant Churches with British origins (such as the Methodists and Presbyterians) fueled the BDS movement in the early part of the last decade, while continental churches (such as the Lutherans) were more reticent about joining a “movement” built around economic attacks on the Jewish state.

But countries with unclean hands from WWII such as France, the Netherlands and even Germany itself have their own confused relationship with Jews and Israel (best summarized by the ironic joke that “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for the Holocaust”). And the entire continent is struggling with a political dynamic quite different than the US (i.e., small and/or politically weak Jewish communities coupled with a politically ascendant, and increasingly unassimilated, Muslim minority).

Throw in Europe’s decisions to become a “moral power” without military strength to back it up (read Bosnia and Libya) and you end up with political dynamic that basically boils down to wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too.

Thus the perpetual European abstention at UN votes concerning Israel, creating the best of all worlds for Europeans who don’t put their Middle East economic interests at risk, all the while knowing that the US will curb UN excesses via its Security Council veto. And thus the phenomena whereby Europeans are increasingly investing their own money into ventures in the Jewish state while also financing much of the propaganda war against it.

It is within this moral vacuum posing as moral resoluteness that decisions such as Germany’s Deutsche Bahn railroad’s choice to pull out of a Tel Aviv to Jerusalem railway project get made. To a certain extent, this is a simple matter of gesture politics. But it also points to a larger issue regarding bad thinking on the continent creating a framework for equally bad thinking elsewhere.

For BDS activists (who are, needless to say, spewing notices around the world containing every accusation of illegality and criminality they can stuff into a press release), this is the latest “win” they’re hoping they can use as a hook for their next campaign. And, in this case, the might have a point.

For as broad-based BDS has continued to fail on both sides of the Atlantic, a new marketing angle for the “movement” has emerged, one that says that BDS is not targeting Jews or Israel (perish the thought), but only “the Occupation.” Within this messaging, the Deutsche Bahn decision has some resonance since it could be presented as crossing (literally) from Israel proper into territories that are disputed between Israel and the Palestinians.

And what is wrong with such “targeted” BDS (the latest phrase that crosses the lips of boycott and divestment activists during the “all smiles” phase when they are trying to lure a civic institution into their clutches)? Stay tuned for the answer to that question.