BDS Comings and Goings

Catching up on a couple of BDS-related stories that have broken since I returned from vacation last weekend:

The latest BDS “victory” or another post-hoc fallacy?

The latest boast regarding BDS effectiveness comes from Europe (of course) and has to do with the private security company G4S failing to win a renewal of a security contract for European Parliamentary buildings a few weeks ago.

Apparently, a month before this announcement was made, a group of Parliamentarians sympathetic to the BDS cause wrote a letter to the European President condemning G4S for the business it does providing security services within Israel (no mention why the boycotters have not been effective getting similar decisions made by other countries the company does business with, such as those human rights paradises on earth Saudi Arabia and Yemen).

By now, we all know the formula that says if BDSers did anything before such a contracting decision was made, then their efforts must be the cause of such decisions (see post hoc ergo propter hoc).  After all, large, governmental purchasing bureaucracies are well known for turning on a dime the minute they receive complaints from politicians or constituents.  And there couldn’t be another explanation as to why G4S didn’t get their contract renewed in a competitive bid with other providers, could there?

Now I’m not saying that the boycotters protest didn’t cause the effect they claim.  I’m simply pointing out that after years of fraudulent announcements of BDS victories (many of them based on post hoc fallacies), it is incumbent on the boycotters to prove that their activity was the cause of this decision which should be a simple task for them if they speak true.  For example, they need only use their claimed influence to get the EU purchasing agency to explain the rationale behind their decision publically.  Absent that, we have yet another example of the cock taking credit for the sunrise.

Go and Leave

Well Jewish Voice for Peace/Young Jewish and Proud have scrubbed my hometown of Boston from their epic Go and Learn campaign, a program we’ve met before which will allegedly be teaching students across the country about the wonderfulness of BDS.

Interestingly enough, their listing for Boston (which retained a TBD date and time in their announcement of a meeting that was supposed to take place this Thursday) disappeared from the Go and Learn site less than twelve hours after I dropped them a note asking where and when the event would be taking place.

Now I’m not making the causal connection between one of the critics with whom JVP claims to crave debate showing interest in coming to an event they claim was open to those “actively opposed to [BDS].” That, after all, would be a post hoc fallacy.  But it is interesting to note that the whole JVP/YJP gang can’t seem to manage getting their events off the ground in one of America’s most progressive cities.

Then again, (as Ian Faith once put it) Boston’s not really a college town.

Methodist Redux

I’ve been remiss in covering what will likely be the two big BDS stories of the year: divestment votes taking place at the Methodist and Presbyterians General Assemblies between now and June.

As many readers know, divestment ballots (both pro- and anti-) have become mainstays at Mainline Protestant Church gatherings since 2004.  And while these have been voted down again and again, the fact that BDS was once considered by these churches means the Middle East conflict is now permanently on their agenda.

This time around, the boycotters have pulled out all the stops, cold calling delegates to these events at their homes, and even having their propaganda materials translated into multiple languages (including Swahili).

Why Swahili?  Well, a large contingent of people attending this week’s Methodist confab come from African churches which were a major constituent for anti-divestment votes that last time this issue came before the Methodists in 2008.  But this mass translation and distribution is just one example of the intense level of activity and investment the BDSers are making in these two key sets of votes.

Now the pro-Israel side is not being somnambulant about the issue (as attested by this letter signed by over 1200 rabbis, including mine).  And it’s not entirely clear that the Methodists are ready to turn from their unanimous rejection of divestment four years ago just because lots of partisans are writing them letters or calling them at home.

We’ll be tracking progress of the various BDS votes taking place among Methodist delegates gathering in Tampa this week.  And I promise to provide more detailed coverage of the General Assembly of the much smaller, but must further infected Presbyterian Church whose own rendez vous with divestment comes up in a few months.

Stay tuned…

Hagaddah

One of the few good things about the Web savviness of Israel’s opponents is that you sometimes get to see all of the hypocrisy and clownishness of the BDS “movement” by simply visiting a single Web site.  And nowhere is this efficiency more on display than at the site of my West Coast friends’ favorite organization: Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

JVP has been a subject on this site more than any other BDS organization, perhaps because they tend to show up whenever the letters B, D and S appear at any time and in any combination in order to throw in their “As Jews, we approve!” boilerplate, while simultaneously denouncing accusations of anti-Semitism (whether or not they are ever made) and wrapping their message in a kaffiyeh (which they claim to be a prayer shawl).

But in all the years I’ve been visiting JVP-land, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them put all of their pathologies online as much as they have in the last few weeks.

First up, you’ve got to wonder “what were they thinking?” when you watch them celebrate their own success in getting someone censored (in this case, a group of visiting Israeli gay activists) smack in the middle of a list of other stories decrying their own alleged victimization from censorship.

This form of doublethink first came to my attention when I ran across the JVP site Muzzlewatch a few years back, a site supposedly dedicated to shining light on attempts to stifle free speech (JVP’s) in discussion of the Middle East conflict.  During a six month period of challenging their accusations in a freewheeling comments section, it became clear that for Muzzlewatch’s creators, “free speech” meant their own freedom to do and say anything they wanted without being criticized while “muzzling” meant other people using their own free speech rights to say something JVP didn’t like.

Back then, the Muzzlewatchers attempted to justify their own textbook censorship (in that case, of participating in a lawsuit designed to get the media to shut up about a local controversial issue), by artlessly trying to convince readers that their act of attempted censorship was designed to encourage (rather than discourage) discussion (huh?). You can see this same convoluted logic on display in their current characterization of visiting gay Israelis as not actually interested in “open dialog” (defined by JVP of course), thus making it reasonable to shut them up and down.

If you combine this with JVP’s support for like-minded allies who have started shouting and heckling Israeli speakers from the stage, you’ll quickly discover what I learned years ago: that JVP is simply a partisan organization dedicated to its own side’s victory and its opponent’s defeat.  And in this struggle to achieve their ends, all means are allowed, including bastardizing the language of free speech and open dialog (just like they turn words like “peace” and “justice” into weapons of war), knowing full well that it is their opponents who actually possess these virtues that JVP only feigns.

This contradictory behavior plays out particularly clearly when you look at the challenges JVP (and similar organizations) face in trying to portray themselves as open (and even starved) for dialog, while simultaneously doing everything in their power to ensure “dialog” only consists of them saying what they want (from any forum they demand) without challenge.

For example, a few months back JVP’s “Youth Wing” rolled out their Go and Learn campaign and proudly announced they would welcome any and all (including critics) who wanted to talk about their beloved BDS project.  Now as one of those opponents they claim to crave debate with, I swiftly provided them an invitation to begin this dialog immediately.  And to my surprise, they published my comment on their site (although the ability to submit further comments somehow disappeared in the process).

Well here we are months later and despite follow-up e-mails I’ve sent the group, all that’s happened is that my original comment has been disappeared from their site, continuing JVP’s unbroken track record of greedily controlling their own public spaces at all cost while simultaneously shrieking to Gaia whenever anyone else refuses to hand their platforms (and money) over to them.

Later this year, I’m hoping to focus on some of the rhetorical and argumentation techniques necessary to present this type of unquestionable hypocrisy as moral virtue.  But before we get there, it needs to be pointed out that the first victims of the flimflam JVP and other BDSers spend so much time selling are the boycotters themselves.

It would be easy to dismiss their behavior as simply cynical and manipulative.  But no amount of cynicism could possibly explain this latest release on the JVP hit parade: their own version of the Passover Hagaddah, complete with “The Israelis are the new Egyptian Pharos!” words and imagery, delivered with the same subtlety as having a cinder block dropped on your head.

One is first tempted to simply stare dumbfounded at the combination of historic ignorance and cultural contempt required to cast the Jews as the villains in their own foundation story.  Even in an era when Passover readings and rituals have been leveraged for every imaginable political purpose (featuring Hagaddah’s written specifically for those of the woman’s rights, civil rights, Zionist and transgender perspectives), JVP’s foray into this long-abused genre sets a new precedent for utter tastelessness and self indulgence.  It is truly a work that could only have been contemplated (much less executed) by those whose universe consists of nothing but themselves.

But fear not readers.  For even a bit of sober psychologizing has not prevented me from sicing the Divest This dumpster-diving crew on the task of unearthing material that might help us better grasp JVP’s latest groundbreaking work.

Stay tuned…

Interlocutor

Interlocutor – Definition

One who takes part in dialogue or conversation

Having blogged about BDS for close to three years now, one of my greatest disappointments is the lack of BDS advocates ready to engage in a serious discussion or debate over their political project.

Sites of organizations that advocate for BDS rarely allow comments, and even when they do, comments challenging their opinions tend to quickly disappear or get caught in moderation forever.

I still hold out hope that Young Jewish and Proud will answer the invitations I’ve sent them to debate this issue publically (especially since they announced a plan to engage in dialog through their upcoming Go and Learn program).  But given historic refusal of Jewish Voicefor Peace’s (parent organization to Young, Jewish and Proud) to share their civic spaces, even as they demand entrance to everyone else’s, my hope to find a good set of interlocutor’s within that group is dimming.

Of course, this site has always been open to comments, and a number of BDS proponents have visited us over the years.  To date, however, these visitors have scrupulously avoided discussing any issues brought up on this blog, preferring instead to show up, hurl an accusation (or leave a link) completely unassociated with anything mentioned in my posting, and demand we debate that subject instead.  And even when we follow their lead, they tend to make themselves scarce once their accusations or opinions are effectively challenged.

We recently had an above-average visitation from a young man involved with the big BDS conference that will take place at the University ofPennsylvania in February.  On the plus side, he provided us interesting information on his new organization (PennBDS) and how it relates to at least one other pro-Palestinian group on campus.

Now a number of Divest This regulars came at him from a number of directions, but my biggest issue with him was the initial attempt he used to try to put me on the defensive.

As many of you know, I’m quite interested in the use of political language, and the rhetorical technique he attempted falls into the category of red-herring fallacy coupled with some judgmental language.  This combination is a fairly typical in any heated debate (especially online) and starts with finding some point in an opponent’s argument that is vague or ambiguous.  In this case, he fixed on a statement I made that Penn BDS advocates were working “morning, noon and night” to get U Penn to divest, which I claimed put into question statements of the conference organizers that they don’t care about the University distancing themselves from the event.

My opponent pointed out that his group, PennBDS, is new and is focused primarily on this upcoming conference, and thus the statement that they were working “morning, noon and night” on an actual Penn-based divestment effort was false.  More than that, he claimed that this was an outright lie, a lie he demanded I admit to (which would no doubt help him make the broader case that, as the author of this site, I am an admitted liar whose words cannot be trusted on any matter).

The loaded language comes in when insisting that a rhetorical flourish not necessarily meant to be taken literally (was I really claiming that he and his organization worked every morning, every afternoon and every evening on just one BDS-related effort?) was an act of deliberate dishonesty and refusing to accept other more-likely interpretations.

And when I pointed out that the broader point (that as a BDS organization at Penn, PennBDS does indeed care if the university shows interest or disinterest in the BDS agenda) is more than valid, he retreated to an unrelated argument (that BDS must be successful, otherwise why would I and other pro-Israel activists put so much time into fighting it?).

This is an argument we have heard before, especially from a “movement” that has so few actual victories to hang their hat on and must thus look to the existence of opponents to demonstrate their effectiveness.  While there are many plausible reasons why people like me do what I do that don’t necessarily require us to be frightened of the stupendous success of the boycott and divestment “movement,” his original argument is another example of an effective rhetorical strategy, given that it puts Israel’s defenders in a lose-lose situation of either staying silent and letting Israel’s defamers run wild, or challenging them (at which point we become the basis the BDSers use to demonstrate their success).

As usual when talking about rhetoric and argumentation, I am probably going on too long about too little.  Still, it would be nice to find an interlocutor ready to stay the course in what I promise will be a respectful, if challenging, dialog with someone whose passion on this subject is at least as great as that of any BDS champion. Absent that, we seem to be dealing with a “movement” that is willing to do anything to push forward their cause short of actually defending it.

Go and Learn – Take 2

Well this is weird. While my comment was posted last week at the Jewish Voice for Peace/Young Jewish and Proud/Go and Learn web site, not much else has happened there since. So I decided to post an opening question in order to get the conversation going. But then it seemed that the ability to post comments on their site was gone.

Continuing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I decided to send my comment directly to the e-mail address they have on their site. Here’s my note in its entirity and I’ll keep you posted regarding whether they respond.

Just an FYI – The comments section of your Go and Learn web page seems to have disappeared (at least on Internet Explorer). I’m assuming this is either a technical glitch, or some problematical (and possibly rude) commenters required you to screen polite (even if challenging) comments from inappropriate insults before posting them.

If that’s the case, I hope you’ll be able to post the message below on your site, hopefully with a response so we can get this conversation you are clearly eager to have started.

COMMENT:

It’s been close to a week since I posted my invitation to debate the plusses and minuses of BDS with folks at JVP/YJP. Given the holidays (and the time it might take to pull together a response from all the material you are gathering for your March program), I thought it might be easiest to post something on a relatively simple specific BDS-related issue to start the conversation you so clearly desire. Until I hear otherwise, I’ll keep posting things here and my http://www.divestthis.com/ web site.

For the first topic, let’s start with something small and seemingly clear cut: when did the BDS project begin? Yours and similar BDS sites trace the origin of your movement to the July 9, 2005 “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS,” indicating that BDS efforts in the US and abroad represent a response to this 2005 event.

But if you do a little Googling, you will see that divestment was first making headlines not in 2005 but in 2002 when BDS efforts were underway at many US college campuses (with a petition-driven divestment campaign at Harvard and MIT putting the program on the media landscape). In fact, my own involvement in fighting against BDS began in 2004 when a divestment campaign came to Somerville, MA right after a successful effort by your predecessors to get the US Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) to pass a divestment resolution that same year.

Unfortunately, a factual timeline traces BDS back not to the 2005 Civil Society call but to the now-notorious Durban Conference in 2001 when (at an associated NGO conference) anti-Israel NGOs met to launch a coordinated “Apartheid Strategy” campaign with BDS as its prime tactic. I say “unfortunately,” because this would create an origin for your efforts not in a call from Palestinian civil society but in a constellation of organizations originating in the US and Europe (as well as in the states of the Middle East).

Claims that BDS began years after its actual 2001 start date also allow you to ignore what happened after 2004 when BDS was nearly unanimously rejected across civil society, including every college campus as well as by other members of the country’s most progressive institutions (including PCUSA which rescinded its 2004 divestment resolution in 2006 by a margin of 95%-5%).

A 5-6 year vs. 10-11 year time horizon also lets BDS advocates claim a degree of newness to their program which makes the near complete lack of actual tangible boycott or divestment successes seem more the result of this still being an early stage of your campaign. It also helps obscure the fact that during the actual BDS decade (not half decade), other divestment campaigns (notably against Iran and Sudan) were both launched and succeeded. Finally, it helps avoid the fact that the Israeli economy doubled in size and the popularity of Israel in the US shot up 20 percentage points during the very years boycott and divestment champions were trying to get both numbers to go down.

I look forward to hearing your perspective on seemingly simple, but actually quite informative issue.

Jon

Go and Learn

As regular (and even irregular) readers may know, I have been a harsh critic of the organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), one of the main proponents of BDS (at least in certain parts of the US). And I have been particularly harsh on them for their insistence on having access to other people’s public forums while simultaneously controlling or eliminating discussion in thier own civic spaces where debate over BDS and other issues could occur in public.

Well good news! It looks like the youth wing of JVP (named Young, Jewish and Proud) has decided to engage with critics (and supporters) of BDS in a new program they entitle Go and Learn. Now this program is scheduled to begin in March, but given the clear importance JVP/YJP put on this issue, I have invited them to begin the debate immediately on their new Web site and just posted the following invitation in this comments section:

Why Wait?

I’m thrilled to learn that you are interested in an open discussion and education project surrounding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) project.

As some of you may know, I represent one of those people “actively opposed to [BDS]” your invitation above is asking to engage with you. As the creator of the web site www.divestthis.com, I have been eager to discuss and debate with people like yourselves who are supportive of BDS. Until now, however, there have been very few supporters of BDS ready to engage directly on this subject in a sustained and constructive manner.

I’m glad to discover that JVP is interested in remedying this situation and recommend that we begin this debate right now on the Internet (where the world has access to our exchanges), rather than wait until March to discuss what the Young, Jewish and Proud organization obviously considers to be such a pressing topic.

I will post information on your invitation and my own at Divest This (along with any follow ups), but I recommend we have this public discussion right here since, unlike the forums you claim to not have access to, your organization is in full control of this online space. And using it to provide a globally public forum for our conversation would not just provide everyone with the discussion you clearly crave, but would also demonstrate JVP’s openness (in contrast with those places you feel you have been excluded from).

I look forward to hearing back from you and let the conversation begin!

This invite is awaiting moderation, but given the eagerness they are showing to have an open conversation on the subject we will no doubt hear from them soon.

I’ll keep you posted.