Go and Learn – Take 2

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

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

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

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

COMMENT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon

Go and Learn

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

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

Why Wait?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll keep you posted.