There are a number of approaches one could take when dealing with media-related issues regarding Israel and the Middle East.
The most obvious is an analysis of the way Israel and the Middle East conflict are treated in newspapers, television, radio and other media sources, both in the US and abroad. Such analyses can be extremely eye-opening, but they are also conducted every day by people far more experienced at it than I (notably CAMERA in the US and CIFWatch in the UK).
Alternatively, this piece could focus on how BDS activists try to use the media as a force multiplier for their campaigns, especially since pushing BDS events into the headlines is really the raison d’etre for a “movement” dedicated to convincing the world that the desire to punish Israel economically for alleged “crimes” represents the opinion of more than just a tiny, marginal fringe.
A recent discussion of how boycott and divestment forces skillfully utilize Web 2.0 communication to bypass or augment traditional news sources discusses this phenomenon in detail. And the only thing I could add specifically regarding the PennBDS conference is that organizers of that event never really seemed to get the hang of whole Web 2.0 thing, waiting until just this week to start tweeting frantically, with most of their comments the result of scouring the Internet for weak arguments to pounce on while all the time avoiding strong arguments at all cost.
Given that these two obvious angles are pretty well covered in the linked sources above, I’d like to use the media as an example of one of the key themes of this blog: the corrupting influence of BDS and allied propaganda efforts on important elements of our civil society.
Few readers will remember this, but one of the first unions to officially pass a BDS resolution was Britain’s National Union of Journalists(or NUJ). The resolution came about as most boycott and divestment “victories” do (especially within UK unions) when a radicalized union leadership with its own agenda passed a boycott vote before members had the slightest understanding that a discussion on the matter was even taking place.
The 2007 resolution committed the union to a boycott of Israeli goods “similar to those boycotts in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.” And given the negative disposition of many British journalists towards the Jewish state, it was unclear whether such a resolution would be accepted and remain union policy. But instead, a revolt broke out among the membership that had not been consulted about the decision and who resented being put in the position of participants in a political conflict they were supposed to be able to cover impartially.
The spirit of objections was summed up by one journalist who asked how he could be expected to be treated as a neutral observer when he carried his press card in one pocket declaring him to be a professional journalist, and an NUJ card in the other declaring him to be a participating in the conflict he was writing about.
As with similar instances, this whole mishagas represented over-reach by BDS forces with rank-and-file objections overcoming leadership power-plays and the NUJ boycott was quickly withdrawn. And while I couldn’t imagine a similar situation playing out within the mainstream media in the US, the BDSers have found tiny media niches where they have tried to ply their wares (so far unsuccessfully, at least in the US).
But step back for a moment and consider that the original NUJ was explicitly asking members of the journalistic profession to place their most sacred asset (journalistic integrity) on the sacrificial alter in order to be considered “right-thinking” by those pushing a BDS agenda within the union.
We’ve seen this level of sacrifice requested before by divestment partisans lucky enough to receive an audience (preferably private), in front of academic and religious groups. In the case of an academic boycott (the subject of two talks at the PennBDS conference), educators are not being asked to move money from one retirement fund investment to another as a political statement but to throw their greatest treasure, academic freedom, out the window in order to participate in “the movement” and show themselves to be on the side of the angels.
And speaking of angels, when BDS gets injected into church discourse (as it’s been for almost a decade within Mainline Protestant churches in particular), they are not being asked to divest their considerable retirement portfolios of Israel-related assets to take a political position on a secular matter. Rather, they are told that such action would represent the purest act of “Christian Witness,” implying that who is right and who is wrong in the Middle East conflict is so blindingly obvious that even God can see it (or, at least, that the church can confidently speak in God’s name when making statements to that effect).
A couple of months back, I read Robin Sheperd’s excellent book A State Beyond the Pale which discusses the reasons behind Europe’s deteriorating behavior vis-à-vis Israel. The whole book is worth reading, but I wanted to end with a quote I found so resonant I decided to save it for just this purpose:
“Whatever it touches, the anti-Israel agenda always brings out the worst. It brings out the worst in journalists who cast aside their principles of balance and objectivity. It brings out the worst in seasoned commentators who substitute hysteria and foot stomping for calm analysis and enlightened discussion.
It brings out the worst in trade unions which put a hateful agenda above the interest of their members. It brings out the worst in diplomats who debase themselves by pandering to tyrannies against a democracy. It brings out the worst in artists and writers who submerge their commitment to beauty and truth in ugliness and lies. It brings out the worst of the great traditions of Left and Right which default back to their shabbiest instincts and their darkest prejudices.”
Truer words were never spoken.