Tek Talk

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is why a “movement” like BDS, which has proven such a bust in real life, seems to continue to capture headlines.  How does a project that has found it virtually impossible to win any genuine significant victories still manage to get its self-characterization of “unstoppable momentum” into the news?

A credulous media (including US and European papers ready to print BDS press releases verbatim and, sadly, a partisan Israeli media ready to use BDS campaigns to bludgeon political rivals) might provide some explanation for this phenomenon.  And we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the BDSers’ relentless inconsiderateness to generate attention (the most recent example being the unmitigated gall of a group that celebrated disrupting a major Jewish Federation event demanding that that same Federation hail their leader as a community hero and fork over a cash prize).

But there is one aspect of the competition between Israel’s defenders and detractors that needs to be highlighted, one area where Israel’s foes have traditionally outclassed its friends: the use of the new media (including blogs, social networks and other Web 2.0 communication tools) to get their message out.

This disparity hit home last month when dueling stories regarding BDS success and failure (the latter written by me) appeared in the online Israeli news daily Ynet.  This piece (written in an emotional frenzy by an Israeli supporter) managed to generate over 1000 Facebook recommendations and was Tweeted close to 250 times.  My rejoinder, in contrast, barely broke the hundred mark on Facebook and never got past low double digits on Twitter.

Assuming every connection generates another round of re-forwarding and re-Tweeting, it’s safe to say that the ten-to-one disparity between the two stories meant the original tale of BDS success found a home in thousands of more places than the corrective.  And thus, once again, a lie is traveling around the world at the speed of light while the truth is still trying to find its socks.

Given how every BDS debate attracts at least one argument about how people truly interested in boycotting Israeli will have to give up their computers, their cell phones and the Internet as a whole (since much of that technology is based on Israeli inventions), I’ve often wondered why we marvelously inventive Jews haven’t managed to use all this technology half as well as our opponents.

Part of this might be an age issue.  While there are plenty of young people involved with pro-Israel activism, my sense is that average age skews a bit higher on this side of the divide vs. the other.  If this is the case, you’ve got a pro-Israel community comfortable with some aspects of online communication, such as e-mail and Web surfing, but not others (such as social networks, Twitter and other technologies that are in the process of replacing mail as the prime communication vehicle for young people).

I can sympathize since I am part of this cohort, someone who is happy to spend more than an hour writing a blog entry every few days who is not ready to spend 20 minutes a day recommending and relinking stories written by others in order to elevate them in Google search rankings.

Fortunately, there has been some movement in the right direction over the last couple of years.  Web sites like this one and are a big improvement over the sites you’ll still find hosted by larger Israel advocacy organizations in that they act as starting and endpoints for multiple mechanisms of communication and community building.  And even the aforementioned Jewish CommunityHero site is based on key elements of Web 2.0 success: openness and trust.

At the same time, attempts by BDSers to exploit that openness (as we saw with the Community Heroes controversy) demonstrates one additional advantage Israel’s foes have over its friends.  For just as they steadfastly demand we open every conceivable forum to them or face accusations of “muzzling” and censorship, they will never reciprocate by opening their online spaces up to potential critics (in the form of maintaining open or unrestricted comments sections or any other option that would give critics the same freedom they demand for themselves).

Thus Web 2.0 savvy combines with general BDSholiness provides the forces of boycott, divestment and sanctions a bit of an edge.  But given that we’ve been winning every other battle over the boycotters, there’s no reason to believe we won’t figure out a way to win this one as well.

She Waz Robbed!!!!

The Internet (or, at least the 4/1,000,000,000th of it controlled by the self-proclaimed “Jewish Voice for Peace”) is in a tizzy over the latest slight to their Dear Leader.

Backstory: The Jewish Federations of North America recently began an online project called Jewish Community Heroes.While I was only aware of it in the context of general improvement in the Web 2.0 campaigning I’ve seen within the Jewish community lately (the subject of an upcoming posting), apparently this month+ long campaign lets people nominate “heroes” in their community (both professional and voluntary) and lets other people vote on each nominee with a panel of judges making the final choices of Heroes who will receive cash prizes.

To most of us, this campaign seems a nice way to celebrate both the values of the community and people who share those values.For Jewish Voice for Peace, however, the “open” part of a Web 2.0 campaign means just one thing: an opening.

You see, Jewish Voice for Peace (or JVP – an organization we have seen before) is committed first and foremost to being the Jewish face of the BDS movement.The trouble is, the Jewish Community (notably the Jewish Federations), in addition to running the Heroes campaign, have unanimously decided that BDS advocates are one of the few groups of people who have placed themselves outside of the “big tent.”

Now to most of us, the obvious answer is for JVP to continue to feel free to do what it wants (including advocating for BDS, for a cutoff of US aid to Israel, for interrupting Israelis at speaking events, and other things the wider community finds noxious) with an understand that in doing so they represent themselves and not the Jewish community as a whole.Ah, but you see JVP desperately wants to claim they represent more than a small minority.And thus they endlessly rail against Jewish organizations which they claim conspire to exclude them.

And so, when the Heroes campaign based on assumptions of good will among participants opened, someone threw the hat of Cecile Surasky, the West Coast leader of JVP, into the ring.And since online politics is one of the few areas where Israel’s foes do better work than its friends (another angle on that aforementioned upcoming posting), ballot stuffing was inevitable and up shot Surasky in the polls.

Once the inclusion of someone whose every waking moment is spent campaigning for everything the Federation (sponsor of the contest) is against became known, Surasky nomination (and associated Web entry) was pulled.This led to inevitable screams of censorship and repression, highlighting the “irony” of the Fed taking this action on Yom Kippur (implying that this was yet another sin against JVP that the community had to atone for).

Now I tried to express my sympathies with Cecile on the Muzzlewatch page where her complaint was aired.But then I remembered they shut down their comments section years ago once critics started asking too many questions that Cecile and her JVP friends couldn’t answer.

Then I thought about joining JVP in order to express my concerns as a member (worth it, I thought, even though their $60 membership fee represents three months of my allowance).But, unfortunately, in addition to that fee new members are asked to sign a loyalty oath declaring their adherence to JVP principles (including support of BDS).And while it may be fun to fantasize about joining their organization and then do my own thing while pretending to speak in their name (i.e., serving up a little sauce for the gander), my respect for other people’s civic space prevents me from going this far in the real world.

Unfortunately, this type of respect for others is not shared by Surasky and friends who continue to demand access to other people’s organizations and platforms while greedily protecting their own civic spaces at all costs.Which is why I’d like to announce my own contest that anyone (including members of JVP) are free to join.

Announcing the first annual Divest This BDS Bozos ™ competition, a month long quest to find the most ridiculous, hypocritical and/or downright clownish BDS campaign and/or campaigner on the planet. I’ll assume Cecile wants in, and I’m even happy to use the profile provided in her Heroes campaign (with suitable clarifications) as a first nominee.Anyone else interested in submitting your own BDS Bozo can send it to me at divestthis[at]aol[dot]com or post your nominee in the comments section.First prize will be a donation to the Jewish National Fund in the name of the winner.

Game on!