Red Lines

I’m studying with some of the world’s foremost experts on the subject of subliminal messaging to convince the world to download the Divest This Guide and pass it on to those who need it (and maybe kick in a few bucks to get it printed for good measure).

But time does not stand still as I hock my wares, so let’s spend this week catching up on a few BDS stories that have come up as the number of New England daylight hours dwindles to single digits.

First off is this interesting piece written by the head of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) in Boston. For purposes of context, New England’s CJP and the associated Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) are the centerpieces of Jewish communal life in the region. Yes, Boston also contains some of the country’s most successful entrepreneurial Jewish groups (such as CAMERA and David Project), and yes other Jewish “alphabet soup” institutions (ADL, AJC, AIPAC – and that’s just some of the A’s) are also well represented here. But if there is an “official” line regarding what’s in and what’s out in terms of political organizations and stands, this line tends to get drawn by CJP.

Now this role is not without controversy. For these major coalition-based organizations have grown in size and influence by creating the largest tent possible, welcoming Jewish organizations and issues with which many already under the tent disagree. In general, peace is kept between Left and Right, between individuals and organizations with differing opinions on domestic and international issues, by avoiding the drawing of red lines, steering clear of absolutes that say who is “in” and who is “out” regarding the consensus of the community.

In fact, the only time I can recall such a red line being drawn is now with regard to the subject of BDS. I’ve mentioned the phenomenon of the mainstreaming of fight against BDS previously in a discussion of a resolution passed by the JCPA (the umbrella organization of Jewish Community Relations Councils around the country). Given that the state-of-the-nation vis-à-vis BDS is no different this year than last in terms of actual boycott or divestment success stories (i.e., unlike 2004-2006, BDS still has no institutional wins to speak of), it’s worth speculating why the fight against BDS seems to be going mainstream right now.

Now the BDSers themselves would no doubt tell you that it is because their “movement” has gained such unstoppable momentum that the Jews (I mean the Zionists) are massing against them in a panic. Now far be it for me to dis anyone else’s “narrative,” but such bloviating triumphalism would be easier to take seriously if I didn’t hear it after every BDS story hits the airwaves (even to announce their umpteenth defeat).

Which leaves us with a few other potential explanations, including:

* The notion of boycotts resonates historically with such force within the Jewish community that it has created a visceral reaction to fight back, regardless of how immediate the danger

* Having been caught by surprise when the BDS project swept through between 2001-2006, Jewish activists and activist organizations are committed to not being caught unprepared again

* BDS is part of a broader effort to challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish state, both its right to defend itself and its right to the same respect enjoyed by every other nation in the world. This “de-legitimization” effort is global (spearheaded by powerful states with the numbers and willingness to deny Israel any place of respect among world bodies, for example). As such, the resources being put to the fight against BDS are really being marshaled against this broader de-legitimization phenomenon.

This last point brings up an interesting connection with a theme discussed at length in the Divest This Guide (hint hint): that BDS is a bit of a loser. Given its inability to win any battles and the raft of Israel supporters it creates in its wake, perhaps an attack on BDS is hitting the whole de-legitimization project at its weakest point, creating a dynamic whereby the inherent weakness (and loathsomeness) of BDS gets reflected on the de-legitimization “movement” as a whole.

Something worth considering. Coming up next: Presbyterians playing badly

Are BDSers being played for fools?

BDS is on the verge of scoring yet another spectacular failure, this time at the Davis Food Co-op where Co-op members and the Jewish community have worked together to help the Co-op’s leadership understand the true agenda behind a group of boycott partisans trying to put the decision of who can buy what at the store to a vote. I won’t jinx this cause before final decisions are made next week, but suffice to say things are looking no better for boycott advocates today than they did last year when Trader Joe’s gave BDS the brush off.

I’ve commented before on how the lack of actual success after a decade of BDS activity has left divestment advocates with a challenge on how to create and sustain a feeling of momentum. While BDS has proven an effective means of social bonding among anti-Israel activists, years of failures and reversals leave the BDS boosters/boasters with a serious credibility gap that needs to be filled by something.

Their most recent answer when challenged to demonstrate the success of their “movement” (which, on the surface seems to careen between ineffective and catastrophic) is to highlight the response of Israel’s supporters to their project.

I’ve recently highlighted how BDS is now on the national agenda of Jewish Community Relations Councils nationwide, and the issue of boycotts and divestment has even managed to unite vast swarths of the Jewish political world, with everyone from J-Street on the Left to ZOA on the Right condemning BDS as a militant propaganda campaign antithetical to peace.

Add to this a recent effort by high-level Israel advocates and activists to make the fight against BDS a global priority and the BDSers storyline becomes compelling: “Forget about our failures to date. For if so many of Israel’s supporters are taking us seriously, then they must recognize us as a serious threat.”

Now this assertion has some surface credibility, although it can also be seen as a tactical attempt to get the opponents of BDS to unilaterally disarm with an argument that says “standing up to divestment only makes the movement stronger” (at best, an unproven assertion that leaves Israel advocates with only one alternative: don’t fight back and risk “blowback,” leaving the field entirely to Israel’s critics).

But there are other explanations as to why anti-BDS fervor seems to be gaining so much momentum that should be considered possible alternatives to the somewhat self-serving “you’re fighting against us proves we’re winning” divestnik storyline. For example:

* If you recall, the first wave of divestment activities in 2001-2004 (which included divestment petitions at many universities and actual divestment votes at Mainline Protestant churches) caught Israel supporters largely off guard. Given this, the recent level of response to current BDS efforts is an understandable example of “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

* In a mirror image of the BDSers own claims of cause and effect, the fact that anti-Israel activists have made boycott and divestment such a high priority understandably invited an adequate response from critics.

* Given the historic precedent, Jews are understandably appalled at the notion of boycotts directed against their fellow Jews and thus see the battle against BDS as a moral issue, regardless of whether divestment represents an actual threat.

* Boycotts (particularly academic and product boycotts) and divestment have proven to be enormously unpopular with general public, even among those indifferent or hostile to the Jewish state. Which makes the fight against BDS a winning cause, one which even the most risk-averse are willing to join.

As a final (and purely speculative) theory regarding the origins of anti-BDS momentum in recent months; what if the organized Jewish community – seeing how lame BDS has been and how easily it is defeated – secretly want Israel’s opponents to continue to embrace this tactic for another decade or three? In which case, the recent mainstreaming of the fight against boycott, divestment and sanctions is really a ruse, designed to make BDS activists think they’re successful so that they will continue to waste more and more time doubling down on a strategy that has proven to be so disastrous to them and so successful to us.

Given that this blog is being read by at least one BDS activist (who enlightened the comments section recently with the eloquent retort “GO BDS!!!” written in all caps), the divestniks can take away from this posting a simple but important question: are the Jews playing you for suckers?

Now They’ve Done It: JCPA/JCRC vs. BDS

Some interesting news out of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) last week. By a unanimous vote, the organization decided to confront the issue of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and urged the constituency of the organization (which includes Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country) to make thoughtful but forceful confrontation with the issue a top priority.

As I had a small role in the drafting of this resolution, I thought it might be valuable to let you, my reader, know something about its significance. JCRCs form the backbone of Jewish community life in many parts of the country, especially with regard to interaction between Jewish groups and the wider world. Outreach to local government officials, minority groups and religious organizations frequently flows through a local JCRC.

In general, JCPA/JCRCs tend to compartmentalize between domestic and foreign-policy positions, focusing on what they refer to as “social justice” issues (such as healthcare and civil rights) domestically while dividing their international activity between Israel-related matters (most recently how to deal with a nuclearizing Iran) and the needs of Jewish communities in the Diaspora (JCRC’s have played a particularly important role in revitalizing Jewish towns in the former Soviet bloc, for example).

These positions are not without their controversy (debate over gay marriage, for example, has divided more than one JCRC). But putting those debates aside, an important aspect of last week’s vote is that it marks an important fusion of often-disconnected domestic and foreign-affairs agendas. Simply put, the JCPA vote recognizes in no uncertain terms that BDS – the propaganda campaign to delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the American public as well as internationally – is a domestic threat to American Jews and a threat to the State of Israel that must be confronted and defeated.

As people who have been following this blog know, BDS has always been more about noise than actual success. In fact, during the last decade when BDS has been the strategy of choice among Israel’s opponents, support for the Jewish state as well as economic success of that Jewish state have both skyrocketed, attesting to the enduring failure of boycott and divestment as an actual economic threat.

But the wider Jewish community now recognizes that as a propaganda threat, BDS must be challenged head on. While it’s easy to mock and ridicule a “movement” that has accomplished so little after so much effort, we should also not stop confronting it (a confrontation that will include continued ridicule of its pretenses and fiascos) until the boycott/divestment does what Israel haters always do once a decade: realize their latest campaign has been a flop, slink away to lick their wounds before coming up with another nasty strategy to inflict on the public for another decade.

What does this mean for American Jews? Well, at the very least it means that the fight against BDS is now on the radar and part of the mainstream Jewish agenda (always a good thing, especially after divestment took people largely by surprise 7-8 years ago). Among other things, this means that activists working on local campaigns can point to the unanimous JCPA resolution when trying to get the support of local synagogues, Hillels or other community organizations.

And how about the BDSers? Well no doubt they will declare the fact that JCPA has noticed them enough to pass a resolution condemning their activity as yet another triumph (it’s hard to find anything that happens anywhere that the boycotters don’t consider a victory). Yes, the noise level of BDS has finally reached the point where mainstream Jewish organizations are no longer ignoring it. But as I’ve said before, considering that a success is similar to a loud drunk measuring his sexual prowess by how many women tell him to piss off in a single night.

Having spent years screaming at the top of their lungs and waving their metaphorical privates around in order to catch someone’s notice, the divestment crew can hardly complain once last week’s vote turns into actions that continue to ensure BDSers ongoing reputation as a L-O-S-E-R.