Prove It!

Well things seem to be a bit quiet on Planet BDS land these days.

The last big announcement I can see on the BDS Central web site has to do with the Quakers, and (as noted here), we have yet to hear from any of those crowing boycotters as to why – if their victory is so absolute – they needed to wrap it in the vaguest (and seemingly misleadingest) wording imaginable.

You know, at this point I think it might be time to formalize criteria for success of a boycott, divestment or a sanctions activity, just so everyone involve with either fighting for or fighting against such an action will know what they are dealing with.

And the best and simplest standard I can think of (one I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, albeit informally) would be as follows: we will all agree that a boycott, divestment or sanctions decision has been made when the people who are allegedly making this decision stand up and say that they (1) are boycotting, divesting from or sanctioning Israel and (2) are doing so specifically in protest of Israel or its policies (also specified).

This standard really shouldn’t be considered extraordinary in any way.  After all, in every boycott and divestment campaign that has ever existed (from the Montgomery bus boycott to the protests against Apartheid South Africa), it was the people doing the boycotting or divesting that took center stage, announcing what they had done and why.

Certainly activists from inside and outside those communities (be they colleges, churches or other institutions) played a role in getting those organizations to join in a boycott or divestment campaign.  But when it came time to announce success, it was the President of the College, the governing board of the church, or some other person actually responsible for the decisions that were being claimed to get up on stage, tell the world what they did, and announce in no uncertain terms that those boycott and divestment decisions were taken for specific political reasons.

In fact, the anti-Israel BDS program seems to be the only example I can think of where people who did not make these decisions insist on the right to make claims regarding someone else.  Whether we’re talking about Students for Justice in Palestine pretending to speak for Hampshire College (while the real decision-makers at Hampshire were saying something completely different) or BDS Central interpreting for us a series of unrelated decisions made by the Quakers, time and time again we’ve been faced with self-serving external groups telling us what we should believe another institution has done while the institution itself is remains mum on the subject or is saying something that completely contradicts what the boycotters are saying.

So the next time you see a BDS press release announcing this or that retailer has kicked this or that hummus off their shelves, or this or that church or government council has cancelled a contract at the urging of boycott and divestment forces, everyone’s first response should be: Prove It.  And in this case, proof can only come from one place: from a spokesperson from the organization allegedly doing this boycotting saying in no uncertain terms that they have done so for the specific political reasons assigned to them by the BDSers.

This new standard is really in everyone’s interest (including the Israel haters).  For Israel’s supporters, it provides an objective standard to ascertain the real progress (or lack thereof) of the BDS campaign so that resources to fight it can be applied appropriately.  For institutions being targeted by the BDSers, it provides them a way to clearly state what they are doing and not doing (to avoid being criticized for something they didn’t do, for instance).  And for the public, it ensures they are getting honest and accurate information.

Even inhabitants of Planet BDS will benefit from such a standard since it would help them avoid another decade of being exposed as liars and frauds attempting to pass off one BDS hoax after another or trying to flummox the public through manipulative wording regarding other people’s choices.  With such a standard in place, they will know exactly when an institution has joined their movement and will no longer need to hide their faces when their hoaxes are exposed (since there will no longer be any).

So what do you say, world?  Shall we all agree that the only way we’ll know when Harvard or the Quakers or the sandwich shop down the street has BDSed is when they tell us they did?  Seems an obvious choice for me.

Hampshire BDS Revisited

If there’s one article I’ve linked to internally more than any other since starting this blog, it would definitely be this piece on Hampshire College.

Part of this is due to the fact that Divest This got started in reaction to the (false) story that Hampshire College had become “the first US college to divest in Israel” in early 2009. More specifically, it started as a reaction to the attempted rekindling of a BDS tactic that had been dormant for several years before the Hampshire story put it back into play.

Hampshire was also the original BDS hoax which led to several similar frauds during the three years since then (most of which consisted of attempts to pass off generic business decisions by third parties as being examples of politically motivated divestment choices targeting the Jewish state). So whenever a new boycott hoax broke out, it was easy to reach for Hampshire as the Ur-example of BDS dishonesty and excess.

Well Hampshire College’s investment portfolio is back in the news (or at least in my friend Jim Wald’s blog). After some discussion and debate, the school revealed a new policy regarding socially responsible investment which it declares to be the most rigorous in the country.

While the critical thinker in me has questions regarding what measurement is used to test the rigor of ethics, regarding the politics of the new policy the college seems to have come up with a way to balance its need to be socially responsible with the need to avoid the irresponsibility of certain parties it had to deal with two and a half years back.

Now some people have pointed out that the new policy does provide the local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group an opening, given that the criteria it specifies for considering an investment/divestment target as “controversial” involves taking into account the opinion of a number of institutions that have long since been co-opted by the Palestine-uber-alles brigade (such as the UN or human rights NGOS) as well as reports in the media (which we all know bend over backwards to double check every story coming from the Middle East to guard against inaccuracy and bias).

But these potential loopholes (which are pretty minor and manageable, especially with grownups in the cockpit of decision-making), create a much bigger dilemma for the SJP types than they do for Israel’s defenders.  After all, SJPers have just two choices now that the new guidelines have been published: (1) don’t appeal to the school to place Israel-related companies on the Hampshire blacklist (which means Hampshire divestment won’t be an issue for anyone) or (2) do make such an appeal and ask the school to apply the new guidelines and divest from Israel.

The trouble (for them anyway) is that SJP has spent the last two and a half years announcing that Hampshire College has already divested from the Jewish state.  And they didn’t just make this claim once a few years back.  Rather, in press releases, conferences, speaking gigs, and even a movie, they have celebrated over and over their “success” in getting Hampshire to become “the first US college to divest from Israel.”  So if they now go back to that same administration and ask them to actually do what SJP just pretended they did in 2009, that would represent nothing less than an outright admission of what we already know: that SJP lied about Hampshire’s action in 2009 and has been lying about it ever since.

There is precedent (TIAA-CREF) where the BDS “movement” made a false claim about an alleged divesting institution one year and then appealed to that same institution to actually divest the year afterwards.  But in the case of TIAA-CREF, it was the boycotters original hoax that got dumped down the memory hole before they began a multi-year (so-far failing) campaign to get CREF to actually do what the boycotters just faked they did previously.

In the case of Hampshire’s, however, the only reason SJP is on the map (and has become the focal point of campus anti-Israel activity for the last several years) is because of their claims that they succeeded in getting a school to actually divest.  If they now go back to the administration with new divestment demands, that would constitute nothing less than a full admission that they have been lying to everyone for two years, something that needs to be taken into account when evaluating any claim about any subject made by this group (or any other BDS organization for that matter).

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a reflection by a Hampshire BDSer on his experience in 2009 which contains this extremely telling quote:

“To me, our failures were serious but understandable. The largest of these failures, obviously, was our inability to get the college to release an official statement alongside their divestment from the State Street mutual fund, which held six companies profiting from Israel’s occupation. This put us in the vulnerable position of having to fight back against not only the massive political force of the defenders of Israel’s atrocities but also our very own college, who quickly buckled to outside pressure. Essentially, we had prepared to be called “terrorists,” “terrorist sympathizers,” and “anti-Semites” – and we knew how to respond to those accusations. What we didn’t prepare for was being called liars. This forced us to spend a good amount of time, energy, and resources defending ourselves and our story, rather than simply using the platform to educate the public about Palestine as well as the BDS movement.”

As I’ve noted in the past, the boycotters have a ready store of stock answers when accused of anti-Semitism et al, but are rendered dumb when they are characterized (accurately) as losers or, in this case, liars.  While the Hampshire writer seems to think that SJP’s failure was the result of not getting the administration to officially sanction their fraudulent claims, I think there is a more obvious reason why the group was accused of lying, which I submitted in a comment to the story last April (a comment that still seems to be stuck in moderation for some reason):

Nuff said…

Post-Modern Politics

The BDS “movement” seems to be entering its post-modern phase.

I suspect this has something to do with the fact that its participants have gotten quite good at Web 2.0 media communications, but struggle to find any news worth pushing through that pipeline.

After all, the last real serious BDS victory I can think of was the Presbyterian Church in 2004 (i.e., SEVEN YEARS AGO).“Victories” since then have involved an obscure food store here, an aging rocker there, neither of which inspired much copycatting (quite the opposite in fact).

They could, of course, try to spread more faux information through various online channels and hope that their next BDS hoax gets picked up by the media (as happened with Hampshire College in 2009).The trouble with that strategy is that so many of us are onto it that it’s usually just a matter of hours before the latest BDS hoax is exposed, making the BDSers’ own dishonesty and embarrassment the story of the day.

Without the ability to spread either true or false information about boycott and divestment wins, the BDSers are stuck talking about “Colossal Victories” in the abstract (without making mention of what these consist of) or claims that cannot be proven to be either true nor false.

For example, their latest breathless press releases are about the French financial company BNP which has apparently shut down its operations in Israel.Now the company itself has said that this decision was made for purely financial reasons (the need to consolidate with the European financial meltdown looming).And even the boycotters are not claiming that this decision followed anything they ever did.

Ah, but apparently there are Israeli officials who fear that BNP decided to shut down their Israeli operations due to fear of boycott pressures.Now these officials are unnamed, and we are given no indication how the boycotters know what’s been said in private meetings between BNP and the Israeli government.But even if this speculation turns out to have a grain of truth behind it, so what?

If there was any suspicion that BDS had a role to play in the matter, BNP itself has denied it.And as we’ve noted many times in the past, divestment is a political act and thus makes no sense if it is done in secret.In fact, the whole point of divestment as a political tactic is to establish that the BDS message of “Israel = Apartheid” represents the opinion of a large, respected organization, rather than a small, marginal fringe.But if such a message is not forthcoming from such an organization then by definition, the political act of divestment has not taken place.

You see similar post-modern responses to the decision of Israel’s supporters to hold successful Buy Israel campaigns which the boycotters portray as proof positive that BDS activity is having such an impact that Israel’s friends are embracing such tactics out of terror at divestment’s unstoppable success.Alternative explanations, such as the fact that friends of Israel can easily foil any boycott by simply going shopping, never seems to occur to them.

Looking back on the last few years, I’m starting to realize that the whole “when we lose, we’ve actually won” argument that the boycotters trot out whenever they get their head handed to them is simply a long-standing aspect of this post-modern phenomena.For the rest of us, losing a fight (political or otherwise) means losing a fight.For the boycotters, however, defeat is just another form of victory (usually wrapped in declarations of pride that they at least got their propaganda message onto the agenda of whatever organization they have targeted for manufactured controversy).It reminds me of a line in a long-cancelled sitcom about an unctuous self-help guru who tells audiences “’No’ is just ‘Yes’ to a different question.”

When you’ve got an audience hungry for tantalizing signs of imminent victory and a means of communicating with them, it can be hard not to use the latter to send messages to the former.But when those channels are clogged with trivia, fabrications or nonsense it becomes harder and harder to treat BDS as anything other than an increasingly irrelevant public nuisance.

BDS to World: “We’re Not Losers” – Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series BDSFail

I’ve recently discovered two examples of the “But we’re not losers!” BDS argument mentioned at the end of my last posting (one from Australia, one from Philadelphia).Both of these make the case that programs promoting boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel are doing marvelously well, with a recent string of victories providing “a strong wind to the back of the BDS movement.”

Whether this is a direct response to the growing perception of BDS as a “non-winner” or simply general BDS bombast, it occurs to me that if I’m going to continue to talk about the loserish nature of the boycott and divestment project, I am obliged to prove my charge (which I plan to do over the this and the next several postings).

The best place to start is with the very lists of BDS “victories” provided by our friends in Philly and Oz which we can assume represents their strongest evidence of success.

Looking through these lists, the first category that jumps out are outright BDS hoaxes such as Hampshire College, Blackrock and Deutsche Bank, all of which were exposed months or even years ago as fraudulent claims about other people’s behavior put forth by overzealous divestment advocates.And while pushing fictional claims that Hampshire or Blackrock were taking political stands against Israel through divestment could be dismissed as simple human error when these stories first appeared, continuing to headline a list of “success stories” with hoaxes points not to misunderstanding but to an intentional desire to deceive.

Continuing on the theme of BDS victories that aren’t, another category of faux BDS “wins” from the BDSers own lists are stories that are long outdated such as the British National Union of Journalists (NUJ), the University and College Union (UCU) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ), all of which once passed boycott or divestment votes which were reversed (or never implemented) by subsequent decisions shortly after that.Now it may be that recent news has not reached Philadelphia or Perth that UCU and UJ are no longer in the boycott business, but presenting NUJ (which rejected a boycott in 2007!) as a continuing BDS victory indicates either extremely sloppy research or extreme dishonesty.

Next we have a list of BDS “victories” that cannot be disputed because, in fact, they don’t involve actual boycott or divestment decisions.Rather, they are simply examples of the BDSers themselves doing things (such as presenting petitions to TIAA-CREF or casting a student vote asking the administration of Evergreen College to divest from Israel) which ignores the fact that both CREF and the administration of Evergreen has already responded to these requests (several times) with a polite but firm no.


Lack of Concrete Victory is Incidental

Some stories that have appeared over the last couple of weeks highlight the fact that a lot more people seem to be chasing fewer and fewer BDS challenges this year.

For example, just last week The Forward published a survey that found only 17 instances of any significant BDS activity since 2005 on college campuses, along with an article raising questions of both BDS proponents and opponents as to why a project with so little impact is being treated so seriously.

Interestingly, both advocates and critics of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions efforts criticized the method the paper used to decide who got onto their list. And the metric the Forward chose: “a boycott or divestment effort that was significant and well-organized enough to draw an active official response from a student government or campus administrative body” does open up some questions.

BDSers, unsurprisingly, would like to receive a “win” credit every time they pass out a flier or leave a BDS-related comment on the web site of a school newspaper. In fact, my favorite line in the piece sums up this phenomenon of BDS champions demanding they be allowed to define the metrics for their own success and failure: “Advocates of BDS…meanwhile, say that the lack of concrete victories is incidental to the movement’s success.”

How nice for them. But anti-divestment activists bring up another criticism that BDS efforts defeated by their pro-active campaigning create non-incidents that, by definition, never reach the Forward’s threshold of significance. For example, just recently students succeeded in preventing a divestment vote from being re-introduced for the umpteenth time at the University of California in San Diego. But does that mean BDSers weren’t trying to win and opponents weren’t trying (successfully) to make them lose?

Part of the reason for this confusion stems from the fact that the Forward takes as the start date for the BDS “movement” BDSer’s preferred date of 2005 which leaves behind the most significant period of BDS success and failure, 2001 (when BDS was selected as the tactic of choice by anti-Israel activists meeting at the Durban I conference) to 2006 (when the Presbyterian Church voted to reverse their previous divestment position – the flagship victory for BDS since it was passed in 2004 – by a margin of 95%-5%).

Once you take into account the entire sweep of BDS “history” over the last decade, it becomes clear that boycott, divestment and sanctions is merely a tactic being deployed by a decades-old anti-Israel community that has tried different tactics at different times. While their efforts seemed to make some headway very early on in this period (at least with regard to garnering headlines), their ultimate failure led the whole divestment project to largely go into remission in 2005-2006 (the years BDSers currently claim as the birthday of their project), only being resurrected in 2009 after the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted in Gaza.

It is in this resurrected “rump” BDS campaign that the Forward is analyzing, one which boycott proponents are trying everything they can (from selecting increasingly marginal targets to fraudulently reporting pretend successes to demanding they be allowed to define their own criteria for victory) to recapture that feeling of momentum they once enjoyed.

But unlike the first half of the BDS decade, more people are onto them now. This includes not just pro-Israel activists ready to pounce or pre-empt a boycott or divestment vote at their school, church or food co-op. It also includes members of those civic institutions unallied with either pro-Israel or anti-Israel forces who simply don’t want to see the Middle East conflict imported into their organization.

So all in all, while the amount of BDS and anti-BDS activity is certainly larger than what the Forward article would indicate, its actual impact is even less than their survey describes.

In fact, beyond giving pro- and anti-Israel activists something specific to rally around, the only significant winner I can think of during this era is Omar Barghouti, the nominal leader of the resurrected BDS “movement,” who gets to leave the Israeli university he’s enrolled in to travel the globe on someone else’s dime explaining why the world should boycott their Israeli colleagues (not him, of course, just the Jewish ones).

Why every college, church, union, food store, and aging rock and roller (not to mention Israelis and Palestinians generally) must pay the price for his fame is beyond me, but then again he has a book contract and I simply have this blog. So what do I know?

Stream of Consciousness

Well even if actual BDS battles (or even minor skirmishes) have not been in the news recently, there does seem to be a fair amount of talk on the subject of late.

The highest profile of these debates took place on the pages of The Huffington Post where French philosopher Bernard-Henry Levi (or “BHL” as he is known within European intellectual circles) provided an uncharacteristically subtle commentary on the boycott, divestment and sanctions “movement” entitled “Why the call to “Boycott Israel’ is Crap.”

This was followed by a furious riposte by that unflagging Generalissimo (and token Palestinian leader of the largely Euro/American-led BDS movement) Omar Barghouti.

Given that most Divest This readers will have already seen both pieces, as well as commentary on the exchange, I will limit my own thoughts to noting how interesting it is to watch this most European of political dust-ups (continental academics, political leaders and writers are forever engaging in belly-wumping contests of this sort, complete with flowery versions of pre-match trash-talk that accompanies professional wrestling matches), this time taking place before a largely American audience.

Which reminds me… Given that Mr. Barghouti failed to mention a single example to illustrate the “spectacular rate of growth” for BDS he boasts about in his Huffpo piece, let me provide you this link to a recent boycott success.

Yes, even while the Israel haters of France are marching in the streets insisting that everything must be done to help the starving citizens of Gaza, the BDS movement has finally found a group of people it can try to impoverish: Gaza farmers. On the one hand, this kind of makes sense in a world where both anti-government and pro-government forces in Egypt are accusing their opponents of secretly being in the pay of the Jews (whoops! I mean the Zionists). But it also brings up the question of why the Gaza strip, in which people are allegedly dying of starvation on an hourly basis, has figured out a way to become an exporter of food. The world is indeed a remarkable place.

And speaking of BDS triumphs, what’s new in the East Coast “Belly of the Beast” of Hampshire College where student activists have had to contend with making films about their pretend divestment successes, having failed to achieve any real ones? Well they seem to have found a West Coast import to add to their repertoire: shouting down those with whom they disagree. Citizen Wald, who posted this piece, is on the story, but suffice to say that BDS’s current record of zero wins for Avogadro’s Number tries has not prevented the boycotters from getting themselves noticed, even they can only do so by acting like assholes.

And while we’re on the subject of beast-bellies and the Left Coast; tomorrow I shall be visiting Ground Zero for BDS in the West, if not the nation: Olympia Washington! Expect news from the region (as well an update on the upcoming print edition of the Divest This Guide) next week.

And finally… I’m still stuck in the Number #2 position over at the Pro-Israel blog off (albeit behind a friend and able competitor). Just two days left to vote (preferably for me)!

Harvard BDS Hoax Update

Well great, big, fat surprise: the latest divestment “victory” celebrated across the BDS ether, the Great Harvard Divestment “triumph,” turns out to be yet another hoax (the biggest one so far this year).

I was beginning to think that the divestnistas had put hoaxes behind them after spending so much time last year shredding their credibility with embarrassing frauds regarding Hampshire, TIAA-CREF and Blackrock. But given the nature of the Harvard story, I’m beginning to think that someone in the BDS world knows enough about business and finance to anticipate purely economic decisions (the turnover of assets in the Hampshire portfolio, the abandoning of collapsing Israel-Africa real-estate stock by institutional investors, the transfer of Israeli stocks out of an emerging market fund once Israel is no longer classified an emerging market) so that they can pounce and claim that these ordinary business transactions actually represent political divestment from the Jewish state.

The Harvard story reveals three things about the current state of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement”:

1. The sheer transparency of this year’s fraud (whereby a third-party moving Israeli assets out of an emerging market fund somehow translates to a Harvard-related political divestment decision) means the BDS crew must be absolutely convinced that everyone else is an absolute idiot. After all, Harvard doesn’t maintain its own emerging market fund. It invests in someone else’s. Yet the divestment crew seems to think that if they put the words “Harvard,” “Israel” and “divestment” into the same press release, they will find some media outlet (and some percentage of the public) ready to believe that this represents their first success at academic divestment.

2. For years, BDSers have been telling anyone that would listen that their divestment and boycott activities were targeted specifically at companies “benefiting from the occupation” (whatever that means). But once they got a list of Israeli companies “sold” by the emerging marketing fund owned by Harvard, it took them no time to invent rationales why Israeli companies never targeted for BDS treatment (or mentioned) before suddenly became part of Israel’s “machinery of repression.” Consider that the next time someone tells you BDS is highly limited, focused and thought through.

3. The most ironic part of this whole story is that the very event upon which the boycotters are hanging their latest “victory” (the removal of Israeli companies from an emerging market listing) is a demonstration of the phenomenal success of the Israeli economy (also testified by Israel’s recent joining of the OECD), a success which unfurled during the very decade that BDS has been tirelessly working to undermine Israeli’s economy.

As a final point, a big shoutout to everyone involved with exposing this latest divestment hoax in record time. Remember last year when the Hampshire story was allowed to linger for weeks? No longer.

I may have spotty Internet for the next couple of days, so anyone with new information is free to post it in the comments section. Or better yet, communicated it far and wide across the ether so that the next time BDS comes knocking at someone’s door bragging about its latest success, people will understand what nonsense they are truly peddling.

Strategy and Tactics: Tactic(s)

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Strategy

With the sides in the BDS conflict outlined in terms of numbers and organization, I’d like to turn the conversation over to the tactics used by those seeking Boycott, Divestment and Sanction against Israel.

Even through “tactics” appears in the plural, in fact the entire BDS project seems to be built around a single tactic with multiple manifestations. This tactic includes the following steps:

(1) Find an organization or individual that is self-identified with progressive or human-rights causes, preferably one with a history of taking stands on international matters. Ideally, these targets should have a track record of taking such stances after they hit “critical mass” in the media, rather than as the result of deep knowledge about the subject within the organization.

(2) Present the targeted group with the BDS case in stark black-and-white terms in which any information not directly related to Israeli villainy and Palestinian pristine innocence is removed from consideration.

(3) Push for the organization to take some kind of boycott or divestment stance, however small. Insist that the institution’s professed progressive and human-rights credentials leave them no choice but to do as the BDSers say.

(4) If an individual or institution says “Yes” to a boycott or divestment call (even in the tiniest way), broadcast across the planet that the group is now squarely in the BDS camp and is in full agreement that Israel is an Apartheid State alone in the world at deserving economic punishment

(5) Use the success obtained in steps (1)-(4) above to try to get similar organizations to take a similar stance in hopes that this will give the BDS project “momentum.”

The details change from case to case. Sometimes (as in the case of municipalities and churches), the BDS appeal has been made directly to leaders behind the backs of citizens and church members. In the case of institutions with low thresholds for public petitioning (like food co-ops) attempts are made to get around the leadership to put boycott questions onto a public ballot. But whether the target is a university, church, city, union, co-op or over-the-hill rocker, the steps outlined above are pretty much always the same.

The divestniks know their demographic, which is why you’ll never see them take their roadshow to conservative or even moderate audiences, or even progressive audiences with a track record of careful consideration before taking stances on controversial issues. And steps 4-5 are crucial since, knowing how unpopular anti-Israel stances are among the general public, BDSers must create the appearance of institutional hostility towards the Jewish state from a well-known person or organization in order to try to create a reality that does not exist.

Now most political movements are about changing attitudes and dynamics, which is all about changing the “reality” of a particular approach to controversial topics. But this betrays the thin line between political action and political fantasy (a subject I’ve discussed in the past). For if you look at where BDS has been temporarily successful (such as the Presbyterian Church), the divestors have been so fast to move onto the next target that they immediately abandon the very people they’ve recently won over, leaving these groups to discover the consequences of the decision they were bullied into taking which often leads them to reverse course.

The widespread use of BDS hoaxes in 2009 is symptomatic of the fact that the five-step tactic noted above, while effective, hits a roadblock when it encounters an institution that knows what it’s dealing with when divestment comes knocking at the door. And after a decade of failed divestment and boycott efforts, the number of college administrations, student governments, church groups, etc. that are completely unfamiliar with BDS tactics and history becomes shorter. Which is why many anti-Israel groups decided last year to skip steps 1-3 entirely and simply publicize “victories” that never happened.

That observation aside, tactics involving presenting the complex Middle East as an oversimplified, emotionally driven morality play present a challenge to those of us who fight against BDS who are not inclined to counter their simplified, inaccurate storyline with a simple, untrue storyline of our own. Which is why we often find ourselves on the defensive, providing background and context to counter gut-wrenching images and ardent accusations.

I’ll have more to say about offense vs. defense tomorrow, but for now I should note that the BDSers themselves provide an example of how their own tactics can be countered. For if you’ve ever been in a debate with them, watch how quickly they’ll dismiss any accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, corruption and totalitarian violence against themselves, the Palestinians or Israel’s Arab neighbors by either ignoring it, dismissing it with a scoffing laugh or insincerely accepting such challenges then immediately spinning them into another condemnation of the Jewish state which they insist must continue to be the only topic of discussion.

If they feel that they’re allowed to draw the boundaries around what can and cannot be discussed in a conversation about Israel, the Middle East or BDS, then why can’t we?

Onto Part V – Offense vs. Defense

Comments and Boycotts

A commenter at the end of this piece asked if I’d ever participated in a boycott. And someone responding to this one talked about an experience he had making a personal boycott choice in reaction to the BDS phenomenon.

Regarding the first question, looking back I don’t think that I ever have practiced or participated in any boycott of any kind. Previous to when I got into the fight against BDS, it actually never occurred to me to make boycotting part of my political life. But once I saw how the boycott weapon was being misused as a bludgeon to attack Israel, it definitely became a personal decision to avoid using that weapon myself, despite many understandable requests to do so in hope of taking the fight to Israel’s foes.

Alan, who left a story about his decision to boycott Arab shops in Jerusalem as a statement against BDS targeted at Israel, has made a different choice. And while he and I (or he and anyone else) are free to agree or disagree with that decision, it must be pointed out that his choice was personal and thus profoundly different than the choices BDS is asking others to make.

Alan has chosen to deprive himself of the goods he might have bought at the prices he might have received. He has also chosen to announce clearly that he made the economic decision that he did for political reasons. And, finally, he must be willing to accept the consequences for the choice he’s made. Those consequences might be good (word getting out that boycotts go both ways) or bad (increased hostility between Israeli Arabs and Jews). They can also be internal (from feelings of satisfaction to discomfort regarding the targets he chose for his boycott action). But they are consequences that he is prepared to bear.

Contrast that with the BDS “movement” that is all about getting other people to choose divestment and (although rarely mentioned by divestment advocates) bear the consequences.

Think about it. If Hampshire’s Students for Justice in Palestine sent out a press release saying that their members were divestment from Israel, that announcement would, at best, lead to a blog entry asking what they were divestment beyond their allowances. But if they can claim that Hampshire College itself is divesting, well now that’s news. Which is why they’ve worked so hard to make it happen and, failing to succeed, they have worked even harder to get others to join them in pretending that it did.

In terms of consequences, BDS leaves that to others as well. If their activity rubs ethnic and religious tension on US campuses raw, or puts UK unions in legal jeopardy, what do they care? All they want is the “brand” of one of these well-known organizations associated with their squalid little political program. And if Berkeley is turned into a war zone or a union gets sued over the position the boycotters forced into an institution’s mouth, it’s the institution (not the BDSers) who have to deal with the wreckage divestment has caused.

Considering the pose the divestment cru routinely strikes with regard to its supposed courage and boldness, just once I’d like to see them put anything of their own on the line. I recall a film where a father blasted some young people for playing at Third World radicalism with the statement “poverty is fine when you’ve got a return-trip ticket.” But if I were to craft a similar message for BDS it would be “boycotting is easy, so long as it’s other people doing it and other people paying the price.”

Friends and Allies

A couple of the more laughable moments during the recent divestment follies in California involved attempts to lump the Berkeley “victory” with a similar “win” at Hampshire College last year. The fact that both the Berkeley and Hampshire BDS attempts were epic failures (the latter having the after-effect of putting every college administrator on guard for similar fraud and manipulation, the former hopefully doing the same thing for student governments) never seemed to intrude into the fantasyland in which the boycott crowd dwells.

Meanwhile, back at Hampshire, attempts to portray last year’s divestment hoax as something other than the Pinky-and-the-Brain type bollocks that it was has been chronicled by one of my favorite bloggers, Citizen Weld who dwells in the lands Massachusetts’ Western Plains. CW blogs on a lot of topics pertinent to his wide ranging interests, but two recent posts of note regarding the Hampshire SJP’s attempt to document their own supposed wonderfulness can be found here and here.

And speaking of anti-divestment blogs, I’m thrilled to announce that Will Spotts, the former Presbyterian whose masterful treatise Pride and Prejudice provided the intellectual foundation for the successful battle to get divestment overturned at the Presbyterian Church’s 2006 General Assembly is back to blogging again.

While Will has left the church, he remains steadfast in his belief that his former religious home must stop its persecution of the Jewish state, for the sake of justice but also for the sake of the church itself which this year seems to have decided that it is free to engage in any type of anti-Israel animus, so long as it stops short of divestment.

Will and I will be working together again on the PCUSA issue in preparation for this July’s 2010 General Assembly where a dozen anti-Israel overtures and reports will be voted on. Stay tuned and make sure to visit Will’s site on a regular basis.

California Scheming: BDS at Berkeley

At the start of the 21st century, the year of butterfly ballots and hurricanes, some people speculated whether Florida was the new California, i.e., the one US state whose daily news triggers smirks and eyebrow-raising in the other 49. Well all I can say is that in the last week California has come roaring back, at least as far as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is concerned.

The week began with the historic decision of the Davis California Food Co-op to unanimously reject attempts by local BDS activists to turn the store in to the first voluntary Israel-free retailer in the country. The BDSers had put months of effort into trying to get their propaganda campaign made the Co-op’s mission. Needless to say, once the grown-ups who ran the organization read the boycotters the riot act before kicking them down the stairs, the divest-niks have not had much to say about what once seemed their top priority.

Unsurprisingly, they have been less reticent about bellowing the results of a vote taken a few days later by the Berkeley University Student Senate which at 3:15 AM on Wednesday voted 16-4 to pass a resolution requesting the school divest in companies doing business with Israel.

Needless to say, the two events are quite different in their significance. At Davis, the organization had to make an actual decision regarding whether or not it would partake in a boycott. Berkeley, in contrast, consisted of 16 students striking a pose by demanding someone else (i.e., the university as a whole) do their impotent bidding.

The fact that the university has already rejected divestment again and again over the last decade does not seem to diminish the divestors thrill at their own “success.” This starts to make sense if you read over their actual resolution, which can be seen in its entirety here, but basically boils down to:

* Whereas we agree that the Middle East conflict is too complex for a student government body to judge;

* Whereas every Israeli crime against humanity we can dredge up, imagine or pull out of our rear end (contained in the following 16-paragraph indictment) is absolutely and unconditionally true;

* Resolved: The 16 of us (or .045% of the 35,843 students enrolled at the university) have decided that Berkeley is now part of the BDS movement;

* Resolved: the textbook example of taking sides in the Middle East conflict represented by this resolution should not be interpreted as taking sides in the Middle East conflict (because we just said so)

In short, in the minds of the BDSers, victory is not measured by actual wins (of which they have none) or losses (such as Davis). Rather, their success is self-defined as getting their words (all 1700 of them in the case of this resolution) stuffed into the mouth of an organization that is more well known than the boycotters themselves (which pretty much includes everyone).

It was particularly amusing to read this crow that links the Berkeley vote to the BDSers Hampshire “victory,” which – in Pinky and the Brain fashion – is interpreted to mean that their movement now has unstoppable momentum. The fact that Hampshire divestment was exposed as a hoax over a year ago seems to have not sunk in with them, nor has the fact that the students who overplayed their hand at Hampshire helped send a warning signal to every college administration in the country about what to expect when BDS comes knocking at the door.

Now I could be cruel and use the divest-niks own formula (which says that investment in = political support for the Jewish state) to claim that Berkeley’s continuing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Israel (despite demands that they divest) demonstrates the true political position of the university (a position that likely involves the decision of more than 16 undergraduates).

But instead I’ll be generous and agree with the Berkeley-16 that the opinion of a dozen-and-a-quarter people must be considered sacrosanct. In which case, I’ve decided to play with a new widget that comes with Blogger, a poll (which you’ll see to your right) that lets you, my dear reader, weigh in on the issue of Berkeley’s divestment resolution. And remember – according BDSers themselves – only 16 votes are needed to make this non-binding “resolution” legitimate.

Vote early, (but preferably not often)!


Apologies to my reader for the quiet around here the last week. In addition to vacation, I’ve been working on a little project that should be of interest to the anti-BDS community which I’ll be writing about sometime next week.

In the meantime, some quick thoughts about a topic I’ve mentioned here before: how to best measure the success (or failure) of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) “movement.”

In thinking about this subject, I was reminded of the one and only performance review I ever received at work. Having led my own company for 20+ years, I was anxious to be on the receiving end of one of the external reviews I had been giving others for so long once I sold my company and now had a (what’s the word for it?) oh yes, a “boss.”

It helped that I was growing fond of this relatively new supervisor, and was sure she’d be impressed by the fact that my division was the only one in the company that had managed to hit its numbers in the midst of the 2008 economic meltdown.

Imagine my surprise when that achievement was met with a grade of “Meets Expectations.” Her explanation was simple: we had promised to hit a certain threshold of revenue, we accomplished that goal, and thus we met the expectation we had set for ourselves. The fact that we had done so under extremely challenging economic conditions, and were the only group to have accomplished this goal in the company did not change the fact that the results we had obtained were no more than what we had set out to do at the start of the year.

I think about this lesson in consistency and the importance of measureable results when looking at how the BDS movement not only asks it be graded on a steep curve, but also demands that it be allowed to constantly change the terms under which its’ success is to be judged.

After all, the BDS “movement” started close to ten years ago at the now notorious Durban I conference. And during that period, it certainly achieved some early successes (raising the profile of BDS on college campuses and getting divestment passed within Mainline Protestant churches), only to see those successes collapse as colleges across the country rejected their divestment calls, and churches voted down divestment by margins of 95-100%.

So what did divestment advocates do? They simply erased those troubling first five years of their project, and now claim that all of their activity was inspired by “a request from Palestinian Civic Society,” by which they mean the PACBI organization which began in 2005. Now I’ve have issues with PACBI which I’ve discussed in detail here and here, but even putting those aside, a restart of BDS in the second half of the last decade turns out to be an ideal way to flush half a decade of failure down the memory hole.

Divest-niks also seem to want to be given not an E, but an A+++ for effort rather than be graded based on any actual success.

They spend a decade calling for colleges and universities to divest. None do. But then the BDSers insist their movement be judged by the fact that they still have people on the ground pushing their project after so many years of failure.

Boycotts target Israeli products in the US and Canada. Counter-boycott activities drive up sales of Israeli goods by hundreds of thousands of percentage points. And yet the Internet is strewn with stories, photos and videos of boycotters hailing not any achievement, but simply their own existence. And whenever they do announce (or, more frequently, thunder) a “triumph” (like Hampshire College), more often than not this turns out to be a complete fraud.

When you add it all up, the BDS crowd seems to want to be given credit for simply talking, writing and doing stuff, in hopes that no one will peer behind their curtain of words and hand-waving and notice what a bust their “movement” has been, even after a decade of intense effort.

So here’s a challenge the divestment crew can take up if they want to prove the potency of their squalid little project. In December of last year, Israeli exports were up 30%, representing billions of dollars in new income for the Jewish state. Now by the boycotters own standards (which says economic activity translates to political support), the world loves Israel several billion dollars more than it did in November of last year (when the BDS movement was telling us all their support was exploding worldwide). That being the case, perhaps the divestment crew can tell us what they accomplished in December to match this figure. Comments remain open for their input.