Fallout

Catching up on some other BDS news taking place between the PennBDS brouhaha and upcoming BDS fights within the Methodist and Presbyterian churches:

While I refuse to leverage the alleged defection of Norman Finkelstein from the BDS cause, I’m happy to point out an interesting piece that appeared on Jewish Ideas Daily that analyzes part of the story I don’t get to talk about enough, namely what makes up this alleged “Palestinian Civil Society” that supposedly justifies everything the BDSers claim to be doing (from torturing food co-op members to screaming at the top of their lungs at ballet performances).  This is an interesting follow up to the BDS Sewer System Analysis performed by the indispensable NGO Monitor.  Both pieces are required reading to best understand the shop worn rationale behind the current iteration of the BDS “movement.”

And speaking of food co-ops, the Olympia Food Co-op case finally came before a judge last week.  As background, members of the Olympia Food Co-op sued the organization last Fall for implementing a boycott of Israeli products in violation of the co-ops rules.   And supporters of the boycott essentially counter-sued, claiming that the original lawsuit was an example of a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) violation, denying the co-op’s board its right of free speech.

In the interest of full disclosure, I provided expert testimony in the court case regarding whether BDS represents a “nationally recognized boycott” (something required according to the Co-ops rules) which essentially repeats what I said here (without the references to Sponge Bob Square Pants and the Pope).  In further interest of full disclosure, I will also repeat my strong preference for political vs. legal remedies to BDS situations (especially since we’ve been so successful in defeating the boycotters politically to date).

But a court case would be an interesting place for various questions that have floated around the Olympia story to get answered.  These include whether the board has full power to do whatever it wants (regardless of specifics in the co-ops own boycott rules); whether the board’s right of free speech extends to the right to make political statements on behalf of the membership (or, as plaintiff’s attorney put it: “Someone can’t write an article and sign my name to it, and claim free-speech protection”).

Before any of those questions can be answered, the initial anti-SLAPP counter-case must first be decided (which it will be next week) a decision that will likely be appealed whatever side wins.  While I suspect the SLAPP matter will be taken off the table (given the mushiness of the concept in this context – after all, can the Co-op now be hit with an anti-SLAPP lawsuit for using their own anti-SLAPP suit to silence their opponents?), there is still the possibility that this judge will simply tell the members to solve this problem for themselves.

Interestingly, BDSers nationwide are claiming a dismissal of the SLAAP  motion will represent a serious setback for their cause (recognizing what might happen if the case gets to the point where anti-BDS forces get the chance to perform discovery on how the co-op made their original boycott decision).

In the meantime (and just to put the whole thing into perspective), co-ops in Davis, Sacramento and even right up the street from Olympia in Port Townsend don’t seem to be suffering from any fallout whatsoever regarding their decision to give BDS the old heave ho (a point that I hope will not be missed by people making BDS decisions in Park Slope next month).

And as a final bit of news, it turns out that Israel represented the safest investor return in the world over the last ten years, despite war, terror, and endless attempts to isolate, vilify, boycott, divest from and sanction the Jewish state.  Now what else has been going on over the last ten years while Israel became the world’s safest haven for outside investment?  (I’ll give you a hint – it’s got D in the middle, but otherwise just spells BS.)

 

Thanks for Nothin’ Norman

Boy, when you start sounding like Norman Finkelstein (or, more specifically, when Norman Finkelstein starts sounding like you), it’s clearly time to retire.

By now, my regular reader will have heard that Finkelstein, the bad boy of the Israel-hating network, has lashed out against BDS, condemning it as a “cult” (more specifically, a dishonest, marginal cult that has no hope of swaying public opinion).

On one hand, I could hardly agree more than BDS is the biggest loser tactic anti-Israel advocates could pick (which kind of makes this site counter-productive since the best thing for the Jewish state would be to see the Israel dis-likers double down on this failed strategy for another decade or three).  And while I choose the word “fantasist” to describe those who dwell on Planet BDS, a land where some unknown food co-op on the other side of the country removing Israeli ice cream cones from their shelves represents imminent victory over the dreaded Zionist entity, the term “cult” (as well as Finkelstein’s overall description) certainly describes the BDS phenomenon adequately.

Now if I followed BDS Rhetorical Strategy 101, I would scream across the Internet “BDS must be a loser – see even Norman Finkelstein say so!”  But as much emotional satisfaction there is to be had in seeing the gander getting the same sauce as the goose, I just can’t bring myself to score cheap points if it means drawing Norman Finkelstein even an inch closer.

You see, Mr. Finkelstein (or, should I say, Professor Finkelstein – well, Associate Professor anyway – meowwww) is probably best thought of as the ultimate anti-Israel hack.

Leveraging a legacy he in no way contributed to (as the son of Holocaust survivors) Finkelstein wanders the world, seeking to win for himself the mantle (given up by Israel Shahak upon his death) as the planet’s most Israel-loathing Jew.

In the early phase of his career, he hit upon a technique to generate headlines by turning himself from Dr. Norman Finkelstein to “the controversial Dr. Norman Finkelstein” by attacking the work of Harvard Professor Daniel Goldhagen whose 1996 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners fingered the German populace for active involvement in the Holocaust (vs. simple complicity or fellow victimhood at the hands of the Nazis).  As you can imagine, Finkelstein’s rebuttal tome-ette A Nation on Trial was a big hit in Deutschland, particularly among audiences who didn’t care much that Finkelstein’s “research” was conducted without review of any actual source material (given that Herr Professor is not only NOT an historian, but doesn’t’ read a word of German).

I bring up sources since Finkelstein’s one contribution to scholarly technique grew directly out of Microsoft’s decision to add the “Insert Table” command to Word, allowing him to grab a snippet of a quote from his victim’s work (ripped entirely out of context, of course), place it in a table column alongside an equally edited damning counter-quote, with Fink’s self-serving interpretation appearing in the third column.

Norman tried the same tricks on Alan Dershowitz years later, accusing him of plagiarism as well as bad scholarship and fraud.  Unfortunately for him, Mr. Dershowitz was unwilling to roll over and play dead and instead lashed right back, accurately tagging Finkelstein with terms that resonate with the brief bio I’ve provided on this blog.

Having failed to achieve tenure at any university, Norman now walks the earth, trying to find a home among just the right Israel-loathing community, an odyssey that has brought him to (among other places) Iran which hosted a conference dedicated to proving that the Holocaust that almost killed parents never occurred.

Maybe you begin to see why Dr. Finkelstein’s embrace of the Divest Thismessage of BDS as a loser warrants, at best, a “thanks but please go away.”  For (and apologies for using complex psychological terminology), whatever fucked up shit is going on in Norman Finkelstein’s head, the further away he is from the rest of us the better.

Back to the topic at hand, I strongly suspect that this lashing out at BDS as a “cult” (presuming it’s not driven by personal eccentricity) comes at the end of a “finger-in-the-wind” experiment that convinced Finkelstein of something those of us who dwell on Planet Reality have known for quite some time: that BDS bites as a political strategy and stands the chance of bringing the whole de-legitimization edifice down with it as it prepares to crash and burn for another ten years.

If this interpretation is correct, Norman hopes to be hailed as a seer when BDS goes into remission (as it did in 2006) or, preferably, disappears from the landscape altogether.  And despite what I said above regarding BDS being a gift from heaven to Israel’s supporters, I still can’t wait to see the end of it (if only because whatever tactic may replace it stands the chance of leaving other people – including my old neighbors in Somerville, MA – alone).

So even if BDS gets deeped sixed, and even if credit for its demolition flows to Norman Finkelstein’s “cult” death stroke, the only thing that deserves to be yanked off the world stage with a vaudeville hook more than the BDS “movement” is Professor Finkelstein himself.

Snark


First off, can anyone tell me what the logo for the BDS “movement” (pictured above) is supposed to represent?

But seriously folks, what shall we make of a “movement” that is trumpeting about its latest success, which as far as I can see consists of their failure to get DePaul university to stop selling Sabra Hummus?

As some of you may remember, DePaul was once home to Norman Finklestein, the tenth-rate pseudo-scholar vying to play a four-generation photocopy of the 160-year-old Noam Chomsky on the well-paying “Israel Sucks” circuit. But sadly Mr. Finkelstein was not granted tenure at that institution (the greatest crime since the Holocaust, according to his supporters) which means that the next time you visit DePaul, you’ll be able to enjoy a nice Sabra roll-up but, alas, you will not be able to hear the ravings of Norman F.

But seriously folks (really this time), I think we have now found the defining “victory” for the BDS project: the decision by some Scottish towns to ban Israeli books from their libraries as well as brand Israeli products with a distinguishing mark so that they can be more easily boycotted. Hmmm, does that ring a bell in anyone else’s head?

Jew vs. Jew

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Jew vs. Jew

One of the more challenging aspects of dealing with BDS is the number of Jews (including Israelis) who seem to be highly involved on both sides of the issue. “Another Jew/Israeli for Divestment” read stickers worn by several BDSers who crammed the Senate meetings at Berkeley (and elsewhere), reflecting that many divestment groups not only include Jewish members, but also have Jewish and even Israeli leaders.

Now I have many activist buddies who are driven to distraction by the phenomena of Jewish involvement in organized attacks on Israel and its supporters. And put a few beers into them (or even some mild tea) and you’ll soon know the whole history of Jewish anti-Semitism (called “self-hatred”), court-Jews, turncoats and treachery that dates back to before Josephus threw his lot in with the Romans, and continues to this day with academic “Wandering Jews” like Norman Finkelstein.

While this history is interesting, I tend to take a more pragmatic approach to the presence of my fellow tribesmen in the ranks of both sides of the BDS debate. After all, historic precedent would be useful if it provided an opening to educate (or at least shame) Israel’s Jewish critics regarding the historic baggage they carry. But given the current company Jewish anti-Israel activists keep, I don’t anticipate historic context would have much resonance for them. And as for shaming, as I’ve been documenting here for over a year, BDSers (Jew and Gentile alike) seem to have no shame.

In fact, Jewish and non-Jewish Israel-dislikers have far more in common with one another than they do with me (despite all of their speeches which begin “As a Jew…”). And what they share is the one element that permeates all aspects of the divestment debate: fantasy politics.

I’ve talked about fantasy vs. reality with regard to anti-Israel politics in the past, and while most divestment advocates share a common general fantasy (one where they are intrepid and virtuous heroes, fighting against an all-powerful enemy which represses them), flavors of that fantasy vary from group to group. At its most extreme, the jihadi Israel-hater is trying to re-create a fallen Islamic empire purely through acts of will and violence, just as Mussolini thought he could resurrect the Roman Empire via fearsome will coupled with pageantry and tanks.

Christian divestment activists (like those in the Presbyterian Church) do not go nearly to this extreme. But they still dwell in a fantasy world where they and only they are in possession of “the truth” in which they liken the Palestinians to Christ on the cross and thus see themselves as martyred saints who are always about to be thrown to the lions. The fact that this political myth-making has become its own form of superstitious faith (with Israel Apartheid Week taking the place of a dustier Easter they don’t really celebrate anymore) is lost on such people who lack, along with a sense of shame, any sense of irony.

For the Jewish member or leader of Students for Justice in Palestine (or whatever), the fantasy takes the form of being a truly enlightened, morally superior being whose distance from or rejection of the burdens of Jewish life (whether religious obligations or a willingness to fight for the political rights of the Jewish people) are proof positive of this courageous identity. Like the Christian BDSer whose anti-Israel animus demonstrates his or her Christ-like nature, the Jewish divestnik’s fantasy-self is just the latest iteration of a Jewish identity built on chosen-ness. The irony that this anti-Israel Jewish identity shows more assurance in its own correctness than the self-image of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi is again lost on those who dwell in BDS fantasy-land.

And while Jews have excelled at anti-Israel organization just as they excel at so many things, let’s not lose site of the fact that there is a market for Jews of any level of intelligence and political skill within the “I Hate Israel” movement. Which is why any Jew willing to join such a movement “as a Jew” (regardless of whether or not they have had a single Jewish moment in their life up to that point) is welcome to sign up and wear a sticker or sign a petition specifically pointing out the one quality that supposedly gives their voice weight: their Jewishness.

Taking part in such activity also allows the fantasist to celebrate his or her courage while actually not taking a single risk. For taking on “The Jewish Establishment” is not like publishing a cartoon of Mohammed or (if you live in Gaza) criticizing the government – an act that carries real risk of actual harm. In fact, the most these “Jewish Critics of Israel” can expect from their activity is to be criticized by people like me. And as much as they try to present such criticism as a form of censorship or repression, they must forever inflate the alleged power and villainy of their critics, lest reality penetrate a single ray of light into the fantasy world in which they dwell.

So my attitude towards the many Jews who flaunt their Jewishness solely for the purposes of attacking other Jews is the same as my attitude towards non-Jews who have turned lack of principle into virtue, ignorance into wisdom and cowardice into courage. To them I would say: the next time you decide you would rather live in fantasyland, could you please take up Dungeon’s and Dragons, rather than embrace a persona that asks me to be a prop in your fantasy and requires others (including Jews and Palestinians) to die in order to maintain your self-image?

Neve Us Alone

I must have missed the teacup tempest that erupted back while I was on vacation when the Los Angeles Times (are they still publishing a print edition?) decided to give editorial space to Neve Gordon, a professor of politics at Ben-Gurion University in Israel which urged the world to boycott his country.

I will admit to never having heard of Mr. Gordon, although that has more to do with my lack of “readidness” regarding books with titles like Torture: Human Rights, Medical Ethics and the Case of Israel (an interesting topic for someone who lives in a region where Israel’s neighbors maintain budget line-items for medieval torture chambers for political dissidents, and a leading cause of hospital fatalities in nearby Gaza is being dragged from your bed by Hamas and beaten to death).

Anyway, it was not abundantly clear why this Israeli politics professor, as opposed to all of the other Israeli politics professors, got space in the LA Times until I read his piece and realized that the paper still considers an Israeli condemning his own country a “man-bites-dog” story. Honestly, where have they been for the last hundred years?

After all, the parade of Jews ready to condemn their fellow lansmen for the “crimes” of Zionism goes back to the beginning of the Zionist movement itself. Many of my fellow activists get apoplectic over the phenomenon, tracing it back to this Jewish religious tradition or that historic psychological aberration. But there’s always been a simpler explanation as to why “Jewish critics of Israel” are guaranteed attention, one provided by Adam Smith over 200 years ago: market demand.

Every organization pushing for BDS, for example, has its Jewish face (often people whose only connection to Jewish tradition is their readiness to blast other Jews for doing things that embarrass them). And by joining such organizations, these “courageous” souls get showered with praise for their fearlessness in standing up to a solid wall of pro-Israel sentiment that they know full-well does not exist.

In academia, the benefits of striking such a pose are even more alluring. Take Norman Finkelstein (please!). (Sorry – I couldn’t resist.) For two decades, Dr. Finkelstein has built a career based on being the “exposer” of other academics such as Harvard German scholar Daniel Goldhagen and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, substituting vitriol for scholarship (given that he knows nothing of the German language, US or international law). Despite the fact that each book was more farcically footnoted than the last, Finkelstein earned a huge raft of followers, not because of the quality of his work, but because of whom his choice of targets. In any other field, such crackpot pseudo-scholarship would earn a one-way ticket to a career in comic book store, but when the field is condemnation of Israel, fame, fortune and even a documentary film are the rewards.

Consider Mr. Gordon’s strange situation whereby he is calling for the world to boycott the very institution where he teaches, yet when people criticize this urging of academic censorship those critics are accused of “muzzling” and attempting to get Gordon shunned. The notion that a professor calling for his institution and colleagues to be boycotted crying foul when some suggest such a boycott begins with him demonstrates BDS as fashion statement (i.e., – “do what I say to them, but don’t touch my salary!”) than politics.

Other Israeli academics have protested Neve Gordon’s editorial and – needless to say – these Israeli voices are not being hailed by “Fans of Gordon” (i.e., people who also never heard of him until he became politically useful as the latest “courageous Jew poster child” for a boycott of the Jewish state).