Speaking of Apartheid

As exciting as it is to see sanctions breaking out around the world that target those who have spent two decades trying to get these same entities to pass sanctions legislation targeting Israel, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that BDS is simply a tactic used by the propaganda arm of a war movement, a movement that will continue to find ways to deliver a steady drip of bile into the body politic.

For instance, popularity of the libelous Israel Apartheid Week has not diminished, despite increasing hostility to those who instigate it on most college campuses.  And while I never assumed the general meltdown of the Middle East would lead to reflection on the part of Israel’s critics, their increased level of invective and hysteria seems to indicate that they are ready to go to any lengths to make sure no one talks about any issue about which they disapprove.

Which got me thinking back to a few Israel Apartheid Weeks ago when I was trying to flog a concept that never got off the ground, one that would attempt to use an artifact from popular culture as part of a jui-jitsu campaign called “Speaking of Apartheid.”

The BDSers “Apartheid Strategy” assumes that non-stop, unyielding propaganda that repeats the same simple messaging again and again will, over time, seep into the consciousness of the public.  This is especially the case with the Israel-Apartheid Week’s target audience: college students with limited knowledge or understanding of either Middle East or South African history.  Thus the endless repeating of the “Apartheid Israel” mantra in editorials, letters to the editor, fliers, posters, handouts and speeches in hope of establishing the Israel=South Africa analogy over time, even if any one particular speech is forgotten or BDS battle lost.

Arguments against the Israel=Apartheid analogy are either complicated (such as run downs of Israel legal and civic institutions) or defensive (including both the “It is NOT Apartheid” argument, as well as seemingly offensive “well the Arabs are worse” arguments which comes off as defensive in debate).  In all of these cases, the initiative is ceded to Israel’s opponents.

The “Speaking of Apartheid” campaign I was noodling with tried to use a form of political “jui-jitsu,” which leverages Israel’s opponent’s incessant incantation of “Apartheid” by highlighting the similarities between Israel’s foes and Apartheid South Africa without making mention of Israel at all.  Thus, the need to defend oneself against accusation of Apartheid (or support for Apartheid) would be transferred from Israel’s supporters to its critics.

This was to be accomplished by delivering a rapid fire set of accurate Apartheid accusations against Israel’s foes via multiple delivery channels (hard copy, Internet, etc.) that utilize short messaging, arresting visuals and a common format that would be immediately recognizable to a college audience: the collectable card.

The Collectable Card Game was popularized in the US with the enormously successful Magic: The Gathering series, which was followed by numerous imports from Japan including popular Pokeman and Yu-Gi-Oh series.  These cards have a common design for information delivery which consists of:

  • A single arresting image (usually of a mystical creature or magic spell)
  • A brief description of the concept covered by the card
  • Color coded categories which distinguish different card types (monsters, spells, etc.)

Collectable Cards also utilize a variety of point systems for game play, but for purposes of this project I was thinking that we’d simply borrow the format for information delivery (ignoring elements related to gaming), leveraging the fact that every college student today will have had some exposure to this type of format in the past.

The design of game cards would include:

  • A color coded category
  • A simple title
  • An arresting image
  • A description of the category and sub-category of the card
  • A short text description (ideally accompanied by a quote)

While this project eventually morphed into something different (and probably less complicated), I still own the speakingofapartheid URLs and even got this far with one card:

speaking-of-apartheid

So what do you think?  Might this be something worth revisiting?  Discuss.

IAW Comes and Goes

I was going to provide some coverage of this year’s “Israel –Apartheid Week” (IAW) campus activities, until I realized that IAW had come and gone already.

I was surprised that it made such a small ripple in 2012, even in the Jewish press (which – outside of BDS Web sites, is the only place that tends to cover IAW activity).  After all, according to IAW organizers more US campuses than ever before held Israel Apartheid Weeks (42 is the number I heard).  And (needless to say) the organizations behind those IA Weeks have universally hailed themselves as brilliantly successful.

Now some campus-based Israel advocates claim that their own efforts to counter IAW with Israel Peace Week programming (which took place on over 75 campuses) helped blunt anti-Israel messaging at colleges and universities.  And while that may be true, I suspect this primarily contributes to the campus stalemate I talked about at the beginning of the year.  On some campuses, opposing forces galvanizes both sides to higher levels of activity, while on others the existence of a strong opposition will dampen the spirits of BDSers who tend to “probe with bayonets,” advancing only when they encounter mush and retreating when they meet steel.

Checking on what went on in a few campuses, it also seems like IAW programming was fairly subdued this year with the ubiquitous Omar Barghouti speaking to no more than 30 students on one campus, and the same films and speakers making one more circuit around the country.  Even when BDS/IAW groups opted for “direct action” (i.e., obnoxious behavior) they seem to have not moved past the usual Apartheid Walls and mock checkpoints we’ve seen pop up on campuses for over a decade.

This sameness might have something to do with lack of interest in the whole subject, even by Jewish leaders and journalists who once paid more attention to this aspect of the overall anti-Israel propaganda parade.  Doing and saying the same things year after year (especially in the same venues) tends to create diminishing returns in terms of student interest and press coverage, and with pro-Israel activists ready to counter those propaganda messages IAW becomes just part of the background noise of anti- and pro-Israel messaging on campus (which tends to get tuned out by the majority of students who remain unaffiliated with either side).

But, adding my own guess as to why IAW seems to be running out of steam (even as it expands to more physical locations), I suspect that the continued embrace of BDS by the “I Hate Israel” community is beginning to take its toll.

For showing films, giving speeches and acting out in public is one thing (and whether or not those things happen is completely under the control of the IAW/BDS types).  But actually implementing BDS requires other people to agree with the boycotters and do something, and as I’ve been documenting here for years, that’s proven to be a nearly insurmountable goal.

Even as they show their movies and give their speeches, colleges and universities are falling all over themselves to expand their ties to Israeli academia.  And with Israel now the safest place for investors worldwide, university endowment and retirement portfolios will continue to include (and likely add) more and more Israel and Israel-related companies to their list of chosen stock picks.

As predicted, student union votes endorsing divestment continue to go nowhere (UC San Diego finally had a vote on the matter – just to get the whole thing over with – and, needless to say, BDS lost again).  Which leaves SJP types scrambling to organize hummus boycotts and other trivialities (which also fall flat, thanks the simple counter-tactic of Buycott).

Under these circumstances, a retreat to more IAW-type events (even big ones, like January’s PennBDS conference or the One State conference that took place at Harvard) which consists of boycotters repeating the same messages to the like-minded makes sense as a means of keeping the propaganda flowing and the troops ginned up in the face of growing opposition to both their message and their behavior.

And that behavior is the one part of the story I’d like to focus more time on next.  For the only really new thing I’ve seen this year is a dramatic increase in bullying on the part of BDS activists who seem to be ratcheting up the nastiness factor to eleven, either as a way to gain some attention, shut up their opponents or simply find an outlet for impotent rage.

Pathos

Given how much more there is to learn from being wrong than right, I must send my thanks to one of our usual Anonymous commenters whose recent contribution caused me to make a major blunder.

As is frequently the case with Anons, this person chose not to respond to a point I had made, but rather to post a link to a site unrelated to the topic at hand, followed by a demand that we respond to her comment. In this case, it was a link to this site documenting house demolitions in Gaza and elsewhere. But in my haste to respond (and after looking at stuff like this for the last few days), I assumed the linked site featured horrific images of Palestinian suffering to make its case, rather than the nice clean maps and statistics which in fact are there. And so I lashed out at those who make emotional arguments at the expense of facts and reason, and was properly chastised for doing so.

To understand the lesson learned from this experience, I need to refer back to the three modes of persuasion mentioned a few posts ago that derive from the principles of rhetoric (in this case, rhetoric defined as means of persuasive political speech).

For those few of you still in the room, these three modes are logos (an appeal to logic and reason), pathos (an appeal to emotion) and ethos (a slightly more complicated notion of appeal to the moral authority of the person making the argument).

In a perfect world, all political debate would focus on logos, with everyone arguing on the basis of sound logical reasoning backed up by empirical fact. But since the only political debates worth having are ones involving competing reasonable alternatives, we must frequently mix into the discussion appeals to things other than the head, including human emotion. But for such an argument to have integrity, logos and pathos need to be mixed in just the right proportion. And any contribution of pathos must appeal to good emotion (such as compassion, courage and sense of moral duty) as opposed to bad emotion (such as fear, anger or irrational hatred.)

Since writing about this matter a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about how the BDS movement (and all its antecedents) consist primarily (if not entirely) of pathos-based arguments which is why so much of their literature and media looks like this and this. So when I saw a link to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICHAD) web site, I presumed it contained this typical content.

But of course it does not. Instead, it is filled with the aforementioned maps and tables, as well as testimonials, statistics and other elements documenting the many times Israeli authorities allegedly knocked down the home of a Palestinian family. Presumed in the argument based on this supposedly logos-based evidence is the fact that anyone who would do something as awful as knocking down a family’s house must be pretty awful altogether.

Thinking about this over the last few hours, however, it occurred to me that even with all those maps and figures, perhaps I was still looking at a pathos-based argument. After all, the image of a family house being demolished is at its core an emotional one (certainly for anyone who owns a home and raises a family in it). As such, it is similar to the statistics BDSers throw around regarding the number of children killed in conflicts like the recent Gaza campaign. Actually, the latter is even more emotionally evocative since what can be more gut wrenching (especially to a parent) than the thought of an innocent child losing his or her life?

But when these examples of house demolitions or children’s deaths are presented in isolation (absent every piece of the story that led to these horrible images or stats such as weapons tunnels under or Hamas rockets fired from those homes containing those children), then we are being asked to draw conclusions based on those images and carefully chosen statistics alone. In other words, the emotional power of a destroyed home or broken child (whether a photo or a body count) is meant to elicit in us an emotional response that leapfrogs reason to the desired conclusion.

As I’ve stated before, the arguments boycotters make in their presentations, their literature, their videos and their speeches amounts to nothing more than pure pathos aimed directly at not the heart (kindness, courage, etc.) but the gut (fear, anger, disgust). Which is why they tend to focus their messages directly at those who consider themselves to be compassionate and caring.

These pathos-laden appeals actually represent a compliment the BDSers are making to their chosen audience, assuming them to be empathetic enough to be manipulated in such a manner. In fact, if you want to see how ineffective such a technique is against someone who lacks such empathy, watch what happens when you ask a BDSer about Jews killed by terrorism, Palestinians murdered by each other, or the plight of women and gays in the Middle East. Presuming they don’t simply ignore you (their usual first choice), within seconds you will hear a “that’s terrible, BUT…” follows by their next round of accusations against you-know-who.

In one sense, pure pathos has significant rhetoric power, although only as a means of shutting down debate, rather than winning it. Which is why this is the tool the boycotters always reach for first, last and always since they know they can never win an argument fought on level ground.

Pathos is also useful for drawing those who have a visceral reaction to conflict and war who may lack the knowledge to put information like that provided by ICAHD into context, or who may not have enough experience thinking critically about matters where even raw emotional reality must be tempered by reason and judgment. Uber activists (like our Israel-disliking community) refer to such people (i.e., those who feel they must “do something” when bad things are occurring) as “loose change,” i.e., the folks who make up the bulk of bodies who march in the streets after a Middle East war breaks out (at least ones in which Israel is involved).

I’d like to think that for all its ability to short circuit reason and manipulate the inexperienced and empathetic, that pathos will always fail to win the debate and thus will never lead to political victory. And given BDS’s ten year losing streak, there is room for this type of optimism. But if we ever enter a world in which pathos rules the day, I suspect the fate that will befall Israel is only a tiny slice of the horror the rest of us can expect to descend on our lives.

Pictures

Time to forgo my usual thousand words for some pictures, starting with my favorite “Israel-Apartheid Week” poster of the year:


The IAW concept was already looking tattered before the indifference of IAW protestors to the corpses of thousands of Arab political protestors littering the streets of Libya and beyond exposed their hypocrisy to all.

And speaking of hypocrisy, what better poster child for the BDS movement than Omar Barghouti, the paramount pampered member of the Palestinian bourgeoisie who spends his time jet-setting around the planet calling for boycotts of (among others) Israeli academics, while enjoying a subsidized life at an Israeli university (how’s that dissertation coming along Omar?), protected from harm by the very Israeli police and army he spends his life condemning.

Next we visit a wonderful animation by the folks at NGO Monitor of the BDS Sewer System (visit the original to see it in motion):


Other than the provocative imagery, what I like about NGO Monitor’s graphic is the linkages it maps out between the manufacturing of charges by corrupt or infiltrated institutions (the politicized NGOs and their funders at the top of the chart) which are then used to justify the attacks and protests that make up the arms and legs of the BDS “movement.” In many ways, BDS is not so much a political activity as it is a means to manufacture controversy within any civic institution anti-Israel activists choose to target. And given the resources at its disposal (mapped out clearly in the NGO Watch sewer diagram), it still astounds me how little they have managed to accomplish after a decade of activity.

Finally, an image to illustrate the good news I’ve alluded to over the last couple of weeks: The Divest This Guide is back from the printers! Thanks to generous donations by many individuals and groups, over 25,000 copies of the Guide are now winging their way across the country and around the world to inform those that may be encountering the BDS virus of just what they are dealing with. And what are they dealing with? I’ll let this final picture (actually, the book’s back cover) do the talking:

Speaking of Apartheid

Given that the organizers of this week’s so-called “Israel Apartheid Week” (actually two weeks – they can’t even tell the truth when saying the word “week”) has dedicated itself to my obsession, BDS, I thought I’d cross-post something from my pal Sol’s site here. So, without further ado…

Speaking of Apartheid

Students who will be exposed this week to the so-called “Israel Apartheid Week” need to understand that the entire framework behind the Israel-Apartheid accusation is based on a cover up.

During the 1980s when the Apartheid government of South Africa needed 15 million tons of oil to fuel its military and its economy of repression, virtually all of that oil was imported to Apartheid South Africa from the Middle East. South Africa paid a premium – in gold mined by black slave labor – for that oil, the lifeblood of their racist regime. As the Kenya Daily Nation said at the time “Arabs are buying South African gold like hotcakes, thus helping to sustain that country’s abominable policy of Apartheid.”

It was during this period that the accusation that Israel was an “Apartheid State” was born, an accusation designed to throw the unknowing off the track as to who was truly oiling the wheels of Apartheid.

Flash forward to today when organizations like Hamas regularly incite genocidal hatred, yet simultaneously accuse Israelis of doing what they openly advocate (at least in Arabic). For these organizations, the legal segregation of Jews from the rest of the world (their own version of global Apartheid best exemplified by their so-called “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” or BDS program) is of less interest than outright extermination.

Those who join in the activities surrounding Israel-Apartheid Week in the name of devotion to human rights seem to have adopted intentional or unintentional ignorance regarding who really practices Apartheid in the Middle East today. Repression of women (or gender Apartheid) is enshrined in national and even religious law in one Arab country after another. Brutality against homosexuals (or sexual Apartheid) has been behind legalized murder of scores of gays and lesbians across the Muslim world. The repression of religious minorities (or religious Apartheid) is considered legal (even sacred) by those who accuse Israel of repression and racism. And speaking of racism, the practice of slavery directed against Black Africans still finds a home in the 21th century in Sudan, a nation which is a proud member of and protected by the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

And so the cover up of who truly supports and practices Apartheid continues behind an incessant propaganda campaign directed against the only country in the Middle East that has free speech, free elections, an independent judiciary, human rights for women and homosexuals, and the most varied population of racial and ethnic types in the world: Israel.

Unless and until those behind this month’s Israel Apartheid Week’s activities take the time to explain these contradictions, students are free to assume that everything taking place on campus this week and next are simply exercises in low-rent propaganda based on Apartheid Week advocates’ assumption that students are nothing more than a bunch of ignorant suckers.

Note to Apartheid Week’s organizers: We’re not!

Giving BDS the Fingers

A recent commenter left a note which struggled with a central question many of us deal with in our activist lives, namely: how do we contend with a movement like BDS which is perfectly comfortable bending the truth and shredding the rules of propriety to get its way?

Should we become like them and try to exploit the civic and religious organizations to which we belong, dragging them into the Middle East conflict for our benefit, regardless of the pain that might cause other people? Should we infiltrate and trash other people’s cultural events, assuming that our political projects trump every other imaginable human need? Should we throw pies at anti-Israel speakers or assault them verbally (or even violently) and then hide behind rhetoric that says destroying other people’s ability to be heard is a matter of our free speech rights?

The thing is, every Israel supporter I’ve ever dealt with just does not have it in him or her to behave in the same selfish, irresponsible and dishonest way that Israel’s attackers often do. And I don’t think this is a bad thing. Yes, it means that we frequently have to respond to the other side’s nonsense rather than take the initiative ourselves. But if you look at the state of Israel (free, successful, united on the big things) vs. it’s opponents (unfree, failing in all possible measures, murderously divided), you begin to see that refusing to play by the rules of civic society comes at a very high cost.

Which is not to say that we can’t take the initiative ourselves and have fun doing it, especially when confronted by the same old dreary assaults that Israel’s demonizers trot out year after year after year, such as the shrill but discredited BDS movement and the long-in-the-tooth Israel Apartheid Week (yawn).

Take the latter for example (please!). For, as it turns out, those Apartheid Week clowns have scheduled their campaign right smack-dab at the beginning of Buycott Israel Month!

Buycott Month is actually a little project cooked up by some local activists working together with the hugely successful Buycott Israel program in Canada. As you can see from the Success Stories section of the Buycott Month site, there’s not been a single instance of boycott directed at Israeli products that didn’t end up turning into a massive sellout of Israeli goods and an equally massive humiliation for the forces of BDS.

With Buycott Month, we decided to ratchet the fun level up another notch, asking people to send us their own stories of buying and enjoying Israeli products, breaking a boycott, making an investment or taking part in a counter-protest of Apartheid or BDS activity during the month of March. And tying these tales together will be the “Finger-B,” (shown above) a gesture you can make to let the world know that you’re not just enjoying what Israel has to offer, but giving BDS “The Fingers” in the process.

The site provides an easy way to send in your pictures and stories, and it would be great if we can fill it up with 20-30 or more tales during the month of March.

So stop by, act up, spread the word, tell us your story and – most of all – remember, always remember that we’re not only right compared to the endless wrongs of BDS, but that we also know how to do our activists activities with panache.