The BDS Twitocracy

Before giving the Presbyterians a rest for the next couple of years (wouldn’t it be great if the BDSers could ever bring themselves to say/do the same thing?), some momentary reflections on not the content of the decisions made during last week’s General Assembly, but the medium in which those decisions were communicated.

As background, I first started using Twitter in 2010 in order to follow what was going on at UC Berkeley when the student council was making decisions on a high-profile divestment resolution.  Because those debates were not public, Twitter seemed like the only way to obtain real-time information on what was happening at ground level 3000+ miles away.

At the time, I believe I would have been referred to by other Twitter users as (what’s the technical term I’m looking for?), oh yes – an imbecile.  With no followers and no understanding of the importance of hashtags and at-symbols, I spent my first 20 minutes as a tweeter shouting out messages into the void, oblivious to the fact that no one else on the service knew I existed, much less was seeing what I was typing.

Fortunately, I quickly switched to listen mode, and was able to read about debates and votes as they were happening, an experience I repeated just a few months ago when the Park Slope Food Coop shot down an Israel boycott “live” on Twitter.

By the time both Park Slope and the two big church votes came upon us earlier this year, I moved from being a complete Twitter dolt to someone who knows how to use the service adequately, still mostly listening but occasionally contributing commentary (with appropriate hash tags this time around).

Those who are experienced Twitterers can skip this paragraph, but for those unfamiliar with the service, Twitter allows you to post short, 140-character (or less) messages (called tweets) which can be seen by anyone who chooses to follow you.  In addition, you can mark your messages with hashtags (words in front of the # number/hash sign), and ask Twitter to show you an ongoing stream of all tweets that contain that hashtag.  In addition to typing your own Tweets, you can also “re-tweet” a message you like, which means it will get rebroadcast to everyone who follows you.

In the case of both the Methodist and Presbyterian divestment votes, hashtags were selected by those interested in covering the debate (#churchdivest for the pro-BDS folks and #investinpeace by Israel’s supporters).  You could also follow the debate on general Presbyterian hashtags such as #presbyterian and #ga220.

I’ve noted in the past how Israel’s foes seem to be more adept at using this new technology than her friends, something that manifests itself when following streams such as #churchdivest and #ga220 where pro-BDS tweets and re-tweets seemed to outnumber anti-divestment messages by as much as ten to one.

But as I looked at a dizzying dashboard of messages, I began to see the same generic BDS messages appearing again and again (Repression! Apartheid!!  Justice demands!!!, yadda,  yadda, yadda), reflecting the dozens or even hundreds of times these messages were passed on via re-tweet or hashtag-laden repost.  It was only then that I realized why this communication technology has been so effective for the BDS types.

For if you’ve got a small group, no more than a few dozen people, dedicated to repeating the same talking points ad infinitum, Twitter rewards you by not just filling up all relevant timelines with your posts, but by giving higher weighting to frequently re-tweeted tweets.

But this ability to dominate the airwaves comes with some unexpected downsides.  With both the Methodist and Presbyterian votes (as well as the Twitter coverage of the Berkeley vote from two years ago), the BDS bombast was coming fast and furious, implying that a vote in their favor was just moments away.  But once the vote went against them, suddenly there appeared the new voices of “lurkers” (people who had been following the Twitter discussion, but not contributing to it) bewildered as to why they had just lost a vote that seemed to be going their way until mere moments before.

The instantaneous content creation and dissemination nature of Twitter also provides an electronic paper trail of what people are actually thinking when events unfold, vs. the spin they try to put on things later.  The ALL-CAP curses with lots of exclamation points that hit the airwaves the minute after the Methodists and Presbyterians voted no are an example of this.  But so too were the tweets before the big divestment votes insisting that divestment was the only issue that mattered.

Now with regard to the recent Methodist and Presbyterian Assemblies, this sentiment happens to be completely accurate.  The Jewish community was far more concerned about a repeat of the PCUSA’s 2004 divestment vote vs. symbolic votes regarding, for example, boycotts companies like Ahava.  And given that anyone who knew church politics understood that BDS forces were assured of winning these symbolic votes, the fact that BDSers spent thousands and flew people in from around the country to lobby at both church events demonstrates that they too understood that divestment was the only game worth winning.

Which is what makes all the post-GA spinning that says “the settlement boycotts are an even bigger victory than divestment” or making hay of some last minute “relief-of-guilt” option the Presbyterians voted on that means less than nothing is not only contradicted by the facts.  It is also contradicted by the BDSers own statements made during the heat of battle (one of the few times you can fish a little bit of truth out of what they say).

The Beinart Effect

While this year has mostly been dark clouds for the forces of BDS, both small (failure at the Park Slope Food Coop), medium (another year of getting nowhere on college campuses) and large (the Methodist Church rejecting divestment yet again), there is a silver lining for them that we in the boycott-fighting business should take note of.

You saw it play out with the Methodists who rejected divestment and just as sensibly rejected various partisan resolutions that could be presented as the church taking sides in the Middle East conflict.  But they did pass a resolution supporting boycott of one segment of Israeli society, namely businesses located in the disputed territories (better known as the settlements, or – to use BDS parlance – “The Settlements”).

We saw a similar decision last month in the UK where the largest food cooperative organization in the country also passed a settlement boycott measure, and it’s very possible you’ll see something similar play out when the Presbyterians meet in June (although I still anticipate that they will reject divestment, as did the Methodists, for a fourth time).

The settlement boycott issue is a tricky one, for while general rejection of BDS has pretty much reached consensus across the entire Jewish political spectrum, attitudes towards what should ultimately happen with the disputed territories remains an issue of deep contention within Israel, among Israel’s supporters, and within the wider world.

And when these two issues (BDS and the politics of the territories) become conflated, it’s much easier to present a boycott of certain Israelis as the “moderate” option located halfway between “doing nothing” (which is deemed unacceptable) and broad-based BDS (which is deemed equally unacceptable).  This is the argument that was used (successfully) in the UK where decision makers thought they were actually being supportive of Israel by seeking this “moderate” option as an alternative to the blanket boycott that was being requested of them by anti-Israel partisans (who are quite strong in Europe).

Sometime in the next few weeks, I’m planning to start a series on the use of rhetoric in the Middle East/BDS conflict.  But just to give you a taste, what is described above is something called the fallacy of moderation which is often employed by partisans who want to convince you to do what they really want by presenting their preferred option as a compromise between “extremes” contrived for the sole purpose of locating their real goal in the mid-point between them.

To take a simple (fictional) example, a candidate who wants to raise the tax rate to 45% by insisting that this represents the moderate option between extremists in his own party who want to raise the rate to 90% and the opposing party that wants to eliminate taxes altogether, is intentionally using the fallacy of moderation to present what is really a major tax increase as the moderate choice located exactly between two extremes.  The fallacy comes in when you realize that the two extremes he is describing are not genuine, real-world options, but exist solely to locate his desired tax rate between them.

In the case of “partial BDS,” this too is an example of a moderation fallacy since there are any number of alternatives to “doing nothing” (defined as not having any boycott or divestment policy) and implementing a total boycott of all things Israeli.  You could, for example, pass a policy urging positive investment (as did the Methodists), which may not have pleased the BDSers but is certainly one of many alternatives to the false choices that frame an argument which says “well since you must do something, a boycott of settlements is better than nothing.”

When settlement boycotts are debated within the Jewish community, they are generally framed as an alternative to what is sometimes called “Full BDS” (meaning a boycott of companies within Israel proper).  But this analysis (like all analysis of which Israeli companies to boycott) misses the bigger picture.

For as I’ve noted ad nauseum on this site, the goal of BDS is NOT to hurt Israel economically, but to stuff the political positions of the BDSers into the mouth of a well-known, respected institution.  And once a boycott or divestment resolution of any size based on any target gets passed by one of these institutions, the message sent to the world is not “The such-and-such organization has passed a highly limited boycott of just a certain subset of Israelis…”  Rather, the message is “Such-and-such organization agrees with we the BDSers that Israeli is an Apartheid State.  And so should you!”

I titled this piece “The Beinart Effect” in honor of writer Peter Beinart who first proposed a Jewish version of BDS, not targeted Israel’s foes but targeted fellow Jews on the “wrong” side of the Green Line.  This was Beinart’s too-clever-by-half attempt to both subvert a BDS movement (which he claims to loath) by using their own tactics to allow some Jews (who think like him) to demonstrate their dislike of other Jews (who don’t think link him), thus proving their righteousness while showing what a virtuous version of BDS might look like in the hands of people as moral and forward thinking as Beinart himself.

But as anyone who knows anything about BDS could have told him, his complex and somewhat convoluted strategy was doomed to be boiled by the BDSers into a much simpler message: “Progressive Jews (like Beinart and those he claims to represent) want you to engage in a boycott of Israel, and we’re the ones to tell you how to do it.”

With a couple of settlement boycott wins under their belt, it’s just a matter of time before the BDSers re-align their strategy to push for more of these kinds of votes (as opposed to the general divestment measures that have been such a bust for them) and begin to claim any wins they receive regarding such measures (and not their many losses elsewhere) as the only metric with which the rest of us should judge their success.

Having seen BDS tactics morph time and time again, I’ve never been much for whining when they eventually stumble onto something that works.  Rather, those of us who fight against boycotts and divestment activities need to be just as flexible in finding tactics that can counter this new offensive, and let the world know that the success of both Israel and its supporters is not something to be measured by the embrace of a new gimmick by a bunch of narrow-minded, self-righteous partisans who (like their new-found accidental ally Peter Beinart) cannot think beyond themselves.

Methodist Fini

It’s time to wrap up with last week’s Methodist story and move onto other topics.  Before doing so, however, it’s best to take a pause and reflect on exactly what the Methodists did and did not do during their most recent General Conference vis-à-vis Israel and the Middle East.

At the highest level, what they did is easy to demonstrate since it’s the same thing they did four years ago.  Indeed, it’s the same thing every Mainline Protestant Church has done for the last two decades which is declare their devotion to peacemaking, call for reconciliation between the opposing sides in the conflict, and ask members to work and pray for an end to war in the region (and the world).

If you look at any of the resolutions regarding the Middle East that were presented at the Methodist Conference, discussed in committees and/or brought to the floor for a vote, you will find language that either began as calls for prayer for reconciliation or ended up speaking that language when the majority of committee members or plenary voters decided to align various proposals to their overarching message of peacemaking.

The only reason why this sentiment had to be processed through dozens of divestment and various other anti-Israeli resolutions is that those resolutions were brought into the organization by a small minority within the church whose top priority is to get the Methodists to put their overall brand on this or that partisan proposal condemning Israeli for that or this “crime” (or calling on the church to move directly to the punishment phase by reconsider divestment proposals already rejected over and over in the past).

Because the only barrier to bringing forth a resolution is self control (i.e., a willingness on the part of issue advocates to think through the consequences of pushing an issue within the wider church before submitting one or twelve resolutions), nothing prevented anti-Israel partisans from clogging the agendas of various committees with calls to condemn Israel for building a security barrier, Apartheid, settlements or any other accusation.  This low barrier to entry also explains why you saw a number of pro-Israel resolutions brought before these same church councils, as supporters of Israel within the church decided two could play the game of partisanship at the Methodists’ quadrennial conclave.

Now I’m ready to concede that within the Mainline Protestant churches, support for Israel probably falls below the recent all-time high of 70% within the US as a whole.  But the other key percentage to keep in mind is that 100% of delegates to the Methodist General Conference are passionate in their concern about the Methodist Church.  Which is why Middle East passions cooled as various partisan resolutions made their way through committees and onto the plenary floor, eventually playing out as a set of votes that confirmed the church’s long-standing principles of “Yes” to peace and “No” to taking sides in a conflict that is nowhere near as black and white as BDS partisans insist it is on their blogs and Twitter feeds.

Which is why BDSers spinning that one or two resolutions squeaking through committee with enough anti-Israel language intact (while ignoring votes that went against them, other than their one big divestment loss which they had played up too much to pretend never took place) is so disingenuous, if not preposterous.  For if the Methodists put their brand on any message last week, it was a message that negotiation and reconciliation should win out over conflict and blame – i.e., the very opposite of the principles motivating BDS.

As a final thought on the subject, when BDS got all of that momentum in 2004 after the Presbyterians passed their one and only divestment motion (one they promptly rescinded in 2006), very few people were aware of the efforts Israel’s foes were putting into lobbying (or conniving) to get churches and other well known civic organizations to join their campaigns.  Given this lack of awareness, it was easier to convince a broader public that a divestment vote by a well-known church represented the true sentiment of the organization (providing – it was hoped – an example that other institutions should emulate).

But that was eight years and at least five General Assemblies and Conferences ago (and that’s just counting the Methodists and Presbyterians – never mind the other churches that have met during this period and also rejected BDS).  And during this period, partisan lobbying (on both sides) taking place in church debates was well known and highly publicized.  Which means that even among those who do not follow these issues closely, claims that the aspirations and goals of the Methodist Church align with those of the BDS movement ring empty and false, for the very reason that they are just that.

The one other downside of presenting the Methodists, Presbyterians, or other Mainline Protestant churches as taking sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict (based on selective interpretation or outright fraud) is that this no longer lets the BDSers bathe in the warm glow of these church’s centuries-long names and reputations.  Rather, it taints those centuries-old institutions with the dishonesty, negativity and hypocrisy of the BDS “movement,” making it that much more difficult to take these churches seriously when they make moral pronouncements on any subject.  Which is why it is in the interest of the churches (never mind Israel and its friends) to get the BDS virus out of its system once and for all.

As I’ve said in the past, Israel will do just fine regardless of how the Methodists or Presbyterians vote this time or next.  But for churches fighting decline and other crises, the last thing they need is to tie the BDS anchor around their neck just to please a bunch of activists who are boycotters first, Methodists or Presbyterians second (if at all).

Tantrum

It’s astounding how rapidly the mask comes off the minute the divestment brigade doesn’t get what it wants.

For weeks, the BDSers invested countless hours into writing, phoning and pressing the flesh with delegates to the soon-to-be-finished 2012 Methodist General Conference, quoting scripture, telling teary (and context-free) tales of Arab suffering, and generally playing their traditional pre-BDS-vote role of Dr. Jeckyl.

But once the vote was taken and BDS lost yet again, out came snarling Mr. Hyde, storming the stage at the conference and marching up and down in an impotent rage, resembling nothing so much as a collective four-year-old throwing a temper tantrum after discovering he really wasn’t going to get his way.

You actually didn’t have to wait until the vote was cast to begin to get a sense of what would happen the minute the Methodists didn’t do as they were told. On blogs, on Twitter, and on countless Web pages it was all smiles in the run-up to the conference, and even through committee hearings (which ended up transforming the original anti-Israel divestment petition into a neutral pro-peace, pro-investment initiative).

But once divestment became the minority opinion (requiring the plenary to reject the majority anti-divestment position in order for BDS to pass), suddenly panic laced with hostility began to creep into the online conversation.  The quotes from scripture and John Wesley were still there, but they were attached to finger wagging and threats of holy retribution if the Methodists didn’t do what the boycotters were telling them was the only choice God himself would permit.

Years ago, a friend and I used to collect videos (on VHS!) of wacky television preachers from various Evangelical denominations pouring forth threats of fire and brimstone which would strike down all non-believers unless they repented immediately.  But none of this prepared me for the holy fury that enwrapped the Internet during the hour-long final plenary debate when actual voting Methodists finally put the whole divestment mishagas to rest (at least for another four years).

Suddenly Methodists and non-Methodists BDSers were ratcheting up their holy hysteria up to 11,000, insisting that only a vote to reject the majority opinion and immediately embrace divestment would have any meaning, with options for investment and peace-making condemned as a betrayal of everything the Methodists stood for (at least as far as the BDSers were concerned).  And when the vote finally went against them they marched, both literally in the halls of the Tampa Convention Center and across the Web, demonstrating to all (including, one hopes, the Presbyterians scheduled to ringlead the same circus in a few months time) the true face of BDS.

Given this video and paper trail, it’s kind of amazing that the boycotters are even trying to put a brave face on the conference results, highlighting a few pebbles they can pick from the rubble (notably, routine and toothless condemnations of Israeli settlements that have been repeated at various Mainline conferences for years – along with similar votes condemning Hamas and other forms of Palestinian militancy such as suicide bombings).  Given that none of this impressed Team BDS when they were claiming that the divestment vote was the only genuine issue, I’m not entirely sure why they should be taken seriously now that they are trying declare victory after losing the one fight they had already insisted was the only one that mattered.

But, then again, it’s never been clear to me why the divestniks should be taken seriously about anything, especially since their behavior clearly indicates that to them the Methodist (and Presbyterian) churches are not centuries-old institutions with a wide range of critical issues to deal with, but rather are simply playthings that exist only to pass BDS resolutions and – failing that – to absorb the level of abuse usually reserved solely for the Jewish state and its supporters.

The Methodists Say No

Only if you understand the centrality of the Mainline Protestant churches to the BDS strategy can you begin to grasp why the BDSers put so much time, energy and resource into yesterday’s Methodist vote, and why they will be doing just as much (if not more) to get the Presbyterians to vote yes on divestment in a few months.

The role the Presbyterians played between 2004 and 2006 (when divestment was briefly church policy) in anchoring the entire BDS “movement” is one reason why regaining church support continues to be such a high priority for the boycotters.

The year 2004 resembles 2011 very much in terms of a divestment “movement” making lots of noise, but having little to show for its efforts.  In ’04, the Presbyterians threw BDS organizations a lifeline, giving them at least one major example of institutional support they could capitalize on, which they did for the next two years before the Presbyterians rescinded their divestment stance in 2006.  Given this history, today’s BDSers (whose bombast of impending victory stands in such sharp contrast to the triviality of the actual results they’ve received after more than a decade of effort) are starved to repeat this briefly successful past.

It’s also hard to minimize the significance role churches like the Presbyterians and Methodists play in defining the boundaries of progressive political positions, especially with regard to foreign policy issues.  As Rabbi Poupko points out in Looking at Them Looking at Us (which I continue to urge everyone to read), within the US it is the Mainline Protestant Churches (not the universities, not the unions, and not secular grassroots organizations) that provide the support, funding and foot soldiers for dissent on issues of foreign policy.  Thus, church support is absolutely vital if the BDSers are to be successful in their efforts to define their issue as central to a progressive political agenda.

Which makes yesterday’s rejection of BDS by the largest progressive Mainline church (the fifth such rejection by the Methodists and Presbyterians in the last six years – never mind the other Mainline churches that either rejected divestment or never gave it the time of day) so significant.  For if the BDSers themselves insist that support for their efforts within Mainline Protestantism legitimizes their claims to representing progressive values, the overwhelming rejecting of BDS by those very institutions illustrates that boycott and divestment continue to be embraced by nothing more than a small (albeit noisy) unrepresentative minority.

It was intriguing to watch the run-up to yesterday’s vote (as well as coverage of the vote itself) play out on Twitter.  Like most online BDS debates, the boycotters dominated the airwaves; spending weeks quoting scripture, painting pictures of unvarnished Palestinians suffering, making their usual comparisons to Selma and Apartheid South Africa, and insisting that divestment was an obvious (indeed, the only) moral choice the Methodists could possibly make.

As the vote got closer, language turned harsher, with pleas for charity and witness soon replaced by an insistence that any vote against the BDS position would represent a betrayal of both man and God, punishable by fire and brimstone.  And when their calls to reject the majority opinion (which replaced divestment language with language of positive investment and engagement) and embrace a minority opinion (that left the original divestment language intact) went unheeded, up popped the familiar tweet of someone who was stunned when all votes turned against divestment (having followed one-sided Twitter feeds that seemed to imply an impending BDS victory).

This lopsided online coverage had an equivalent in the physical world (leading to even more surprise and anger when the Methodists simply did what they and every other Mainline church chose to do before: say no to BDS).  For while the boycotters pulled out all the stops to lobby for their cause in Tampa this week (flying down speakers and arm twisters, distributing expensive materials in multiple languages, and bombarding delegates with calls and letters in the run-up to the event), I can’t seem to find any equivalent level activity from Israel’s supporters.

Certainly the letter signed by over 1000 rabbis helped counteract BDS claims that Jews, rabbis and Israelis (outside of a marginal fringe) support BDS resolutions.  And I know Jewish organizations have maintained good relations with members within the UMC who oppose not just divestment but the general anti-Israel animus they find within the church.  But our side’s lobbying and even commentary seems to have been kept to a minimum (which may mean we simply counted on church members to show the same common sense they’ve shown with previous votes on the matter).

In the case of this blog, I gave the Methodists a wide berth largely because I’m not that familiar with them and their governing procedures, having only lived through their last General Conference in ’08, during which I did little more than comment on their overwhelming no vote.  But the Presbyterians are another story, one we’ll be returning to many times over the next several months, both to cover the next major BDS battle of the year, but also to provide a powerful illustration of what an organization does to itself when it lets boycott, divestment and sanctions in through the front door.

Methodist Divestment – This Just In!

Well the votes are in from the Methodist General Conference in Tampa.  And (what’s that phrase I’m looking for?), oh yes… BDS loses again.

At the end of the day, the votes weren’t even close.  I say “votes” because there were actually a set of ballots that made up the biggest defeat for divestment this year.

As mentioned earlier, a large number of divestment resolutions (both pro- and anti-) came before appropriate committees last week where some were kept, some jettisoned and others combined and modified with one main divestment resolution brought to the floor.  And that resolution was substantially amended to remove language targeting Israel and replace it with calls for positive investment and peacemaking.

Needless to say, positive investment (nor peacemaking for that matter) is not something on the agenda of any self-respecting BDSer.  And so they put all their eggs into getting the majority opinion (the amended resolution) voted down and their own minority opinion (their original resolution) passed from the conference floor.  These are the votes where they lost big, with their minority report rejected and the amended (non-divestment) resolution passing by margins of 2-3:1.

I’ll have more details in the coming hours/days, but before logging out I wanted to highlight how difficult it will be for TeamBDS to spin today’s failure (for them) in any positive direction, given that they’ve been spending the last week declaring the majority opinion that passed an act of cowardice and complicity that flew in the face of human rights, Methodist doctrine and the opinions of God him/herself.  Having spent so much time painting today’s vote in such stark (and dark) colors, it will be a challenging task for them to suddenly find a silver lining.

But I wouldn’t put it past them.

More soon.

What I meant to say…

Apologies if my last write up on the Methodist divestment debate left people feeling like the cause was lost (or if I simply left people bewildered).  Realizing my mistake in referring people to 50-page documents to understand the background of what I was talking about, I’m going to try to sum up the debate so that everyone has some context regarding what’s going on this week at the Methodist’s Tampa Conference.

While I still recommend you read Rabbi Poupko’s Looking at Them Looking at Us in full (or at least Section II on Mainline Protestantism), the relevant general points to remember regarding Mainline Protestant churches in America (which includes the Methodists and Presbyterians, as well as Episcopalians, Lutherans and the UCC) are that all these churches face the same twin crises:

* Attempts to put aside their doctrinal differences and join together in Ecumenical communion (which began in the 1950s), while sensible if you think about church perception that they were threatened by rising tides of secularism and competition from growing evangelical churches, left them washing away their spiritual distinctions and gravitating towards secular politics as a means of finding something to unite around.

* Despite these drift towards Ecumenicalism and secular politics (or possibly because of them), church membership has dropped by 20-40% during this period, much of this drop involving new members not joining the churches (which means decline will continue to accelerate as the current Mainline cohort continues to age and too few young people join).

Keep in mind that in addition to grappling with spiritual and political matters, these churches are also huge corporations with substantial land holdings and multi-billion dollar investment and retirement accounts under management.  So as dues-paying members and contributors decline, these churches face financial and organizations crises.  Sometimes this plays out in the form of ongoing financial and organizational restructuring (a major component of this week’s Methodist discussions and debates), although in other cases you can see ugly fights over property and assets unfold when a church decides to leave the umbrella organization over spiritual or political disagreements.

Within this broader Mainline story, the Methodists have some unique characteristics, notably:

* They are, by far, the biggest Mainline denomination with 8.2 million US members in 2005 (down from 10.6 in 1960) vs. 2.4 million Presbyterians (down from 4.2 million 1960 members)

* The church also has a substantial international population, most notably 1.2 million members from African churches

This latter group has always been a wild card in church debates, especially since they tend to think (and vote) more conservatively than their US colleagues on issues such as gay marriage.  They also tended to break largely against divestment when the church voted on this issue in 2008.  Which is why BDS advocates have put so much resource into winning them over, translating their literature into African languages and making every effort to play up the angle of race and racism, hoping Africans will fall into line through such an appeal.

Divestment (and all other issues) come to the floor of the conference through an resolution process with resolutions on all matters being submitted by individuals or churches, then passing through subcommittees and committees for recommendation and amendment before moving to the conference floor for a final vote.  If you look here, for example, you will see dozens of resolutions coming before the group on Middle East issues which include implementing divestment, rejecting it, supporting Israel, condemning it, or condemning Israel’s enemies (such as Hamas).

Most of these resolutions get combined, consolidated or eliminated before a single (often largely amended) compromise resolution is passed onto the Conference as a whole with a positive or negative committee recommendation.  And the major divestment resolution left standing after this process is 21071, originally a stark call to divest from Israel immediately, which (if you look at the amendments listed in the Legislative Committee Report) seems to have been transformed into a more general call for positive investment and prayers for peace.

To a certain extent, this is already a good sign (best testified by the negative reaction by BDSers to amendments made in committee).  But, as we have seen in the past, anything can happen once a resolution comes before voters.

At the very least, this will give individuals and groups within the church who have been driving divestment debates (and their allies) the chance to grandstand on the issue before a large audience.  But it also gives Methodists who don’t care for church anti-Israel policies the chance to air their opinions and concerns.

The question remains what will happen with those delegates (which I suspect includes a majority of American and international representatives) who have concerns about suffering in the Middle East (as do most of us), who do not automatically feel those concerns must be translated into a divestment policy which – no matter how much you sugar coat it – comes down to the Methodist Church putting its name and reputation behind public condemnation and blame directed against just one party to the conflict.

As committee work wraps up, general conference votes will begin to be taken this week.  So stay tuned to see if the Methodist church manages to avoid the trap that’s been set for them, or if they will have to suffer through the same upheaval that visited the Presbyterians when they flirted with BDS (and the BDSers) in 2004 before eventually coming to their senses.

Methodism Madness

I must admit to being somewhat stunned by the amount of effort Team BDS is putting into the whole Methodist vote taking place this month in Tampa and the likely equal amount of resources they plan to put into the Presbyterians during their upcoming June meeting in Pittsburgh.

Anyone who has followed BDS activity for more than a few years understands the centrality of the Mainline Protestant churches to the BDS story.  For back in 2004, when divestment advocates were struggling to get any traction (given that their project was not making any headway in their primary target of colleges and universities), their “movement” gained new momentum when the US Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) passed a divestment resolution at their bi-annual General Assembly.  And with that victory, divestment spread like a virus to cities and towns, unions and gained renewed energy on college campuses.

But if the Presbyterians can giveth, they can also taketh away.  Which is why when church members met again in 2006 and voted down their previous divestment stance by a margin of 95%-5%, the air went out of the BDS balloon (which led to the divestment virus lying dormant until 2009).

Why the Presbyterians (as well as other Mainline churches like the Methodists) flirt with these anti-Israel divestment motions in the first place is a long and involved affair.  And a Website I set up two years ago to deal with this issue when it came up (again) with the Presbyterians in 2010 contains a number of documents worth reading for anyone who wants to be fully briefed on this complicated and intriguing tale.  (I especially recommend Rabbi Puopko’s Looking at Them Looking at Us and Will Spotts’ Pride and Prejudice – both longer, but hugely worthwhile reads.)

While these monographs explain why the churches got started down the divestment road in the first place, they don’t explain why divestment continues to be on their agenda every two years (for the Presbyterians) and every four (for the Methodists) ever since.  For the reasons behind this ongoing drama has less to do with the churches themselves and more to do with the nature of BDS.

You see, in addition to their skill in utilizing new media communication techniques, BDS advocates also have one other important talent: the inability to ever take no for an answer.

If the Methodists rejected BDS unanimously in 2008 and the Presbyterians reiterated their anti-divestment position in votes taken in 2008 and 2010, what does that matters to the boycotters?  In their minds, their only goal is to keep bringing this issue back to the churches again and again until they vote “correctly.”

And what if this causes enormous rifts within these churches, creating division and rancor inside institutions struggling with hosts of other issues (some of them potentially existential)?  To a BDSer, mentioning such matters would trigger nothing but blank stares.

For in the mind of divestment champions, the Methodist and Presbyterian churches are not organizations made up of human beings with their own needs, history and hopes for the future.  Rather, they are simply stepping stones to a hoped-for re-energized BDS “movement,” one which can try to sell its wares to a new group of institutions by starting each conversation with the claim that “The Methodists and Presbyterians agree with us that Israel is an Apartheid state, which is why you should divest as well!”

The sad thing is, if divestment gets voted in at either of these churches, that will be the last any Methodist or Presbyterian sees of those “friends” currently wining a dining them, handing them slick literature printed in multiple languages, or inundating them with calls and letters.  For if a church ever passes such a vote, the BDSers will immediately fan out across the globe using the name and reputation of the Methodist or Presbyterian Church (claiming to speak in the name of every man, woman and child who has ever been part of either church) to push an agenda that bears no resemblance to what they were saying when divestment was being sold in Tampa or Pittsburgh.

And once that happens, the churches will be left behind to deal with the wreckage their votes have caused in terms of ongoing conflict under their own roofs and increased alienation from a Jewish community that’s been asked to put up with these ongoing (and seemingly endless) slaps in the face every two or four years.

To date, the membership of these churches have always ended up doing the right thing (often against the wishes of church leaders), voting down divestment by overwhelming margins and pleading with BDS champions within their ranks to take into consideration the needs of someone other than themselves.

Time will tell if this year’s story ends up so positive.

BDS Comings and Goings

Catching up on a couple of BDS-related stories that have broken since I returned from vacation last weekend:

The latest BDS “victory” or another post-hoc fallacy?

The latest boast regarding BDS effectiveness comes from Europe (of course) and has to do with the private security company G4S failing to win a renewal of a security contract for European Parliamentary buildings a few weeks ago.

Apparently, a month before this announcement was made, a group of Parliamentarians sympathetic to the BDS cause wrote a letter to the European President condemning G4S for the business it does providing security services within Israel (no mention why the boycotters have not been effective getting similar decisions made by other countries the company does business with, such as those human rights paradises on earth Saudi Arabia and Yemen).

By now, we all know the formula that says if BDSers did anything before such a contracting decision was made, then their efforts must be the cause of such decisions (see post hoc ergo propter hoc).  After all, large, governmental purchasing bureaucracies are well known for turning on a dime the minute they receive complaints from politicians or constituents.  And there couldn’t be another explanation as to why G4S didn’t get their contract renewed in a competitive bid with other providers, could there?

Now I’m not saying that the boycotters protest didn’t cause the effect they claim.  I’m simply pointing out that after years of fraudulent announcements of BDS victories (many of them based on post hoc fallacies), it is incumbent on the boycotters to prove that their activity was the cause of this decision which should be a simple task for them if they speak true.  For example, they need only use their claimed influence to get the EU purchasing agency to explain the rationale behind their decision publically.  Absent that, we have yet another example of the cock taking credit for the sunrise.

Go and Leave

Well Jewish Voice for Peace/Young Jewish and Proud have scrubbed my hometown of Boston from their epic Go and Learn campaign, a program we’ve met before which will allegedly be teaching students across the country about the wonderfulness of BDS.

Interestingly enough, their listing for Boston (which retained a TBD date and time in their announcement of a meeting that was supposed to take place this Thursday) disappeared from the Go and Learn site less than twelve hours after I dropped them a note asking where and when the event would be taking place.

Now I’m not making the causal connection between one of the critics with whom JVP claims to crave debate showing interest in coming to an event they claim was open to those “actively opposed to [BDS].” That, after all, would be a post hoc fallacy.  But it is interesting to note that the whole JVP/YJP gang can’t seem to manage getting their events off the ground in one of America’s most progressive cities.

Then again, (as Ian Faith once put it) Boston’s not really a college town.

Methodist Redux

I’ve been remiss in covering what will likely be the two big BDS stories of the year: divestment votes taking place at the Methodist and Presbyterians General Assemblies between now and June.

As many readers know, divestment ballots (both pro- and anti-) have become mainstays at Mainline Protestant Church gatherings since 2004.  And while these have been voted down again and again, the fact that BDS was once considered by these churches means the Middle East conflict is now permanently on their agenda.

This time around, the boycotters have pulled out all the stops, cold calling delegates to these events at their homes, and even having their propaganda materials translated into multiple languages (including Swahili).

Why Swahili?  Well, a large contingent of people attending this week’s Methodist confab come from African churches which were a major constituent for anti-divestment votes that last time this issue came before the Methodists in 2008.  But this mass translation and distribution is just one example of the intense level of activity and investment the BDSers are making in these two key sets of votes.

Now the pro-Israel side is not being somnambulant about the issue (as attested by this letter signed by over 1200 rabbis, including mine).  And it’s not entirely clear that the Methodists are ready to turn from their unanimous rejection of divestment four years ago just because lots of partisans are writing them letters or calling them at home.

We’ll be tracking progress of the various BDS votes taking place among Methodist delegates gathering in Tampa this week.  And I promise to provide more detailed coverage of the General Assembly of the much smaller, but must further infected Presbyterian Church whose own rendez vous with divestment comes up in a few months.

Stay tuned…