Barometer

A few months back, I wrote about what an end to the BDS “movement” might look like.  And one of the telltale signs I identified was the marginalization of those individuals and organizations who continue to push the BDS tactic, whatever the costs.

In a way, Norman Finkelstein recent tirade (whether motivated by politics or whatever psychosis he chooses to manifest this week) demonstrated awareness that criticizing BDS as ineffective and cult-like is now fair game outside of this blog.

And the increasing number of Palestinians who are ignoring that supposed “Call from Palestinian Civil Society” for boycott and divestment, a program devised by a University of Tel Aviv graduate student who refuses to live by the creed he demands of others, also points to increasing recognition that maybe, just maybe, BDS is not “on the march” and racking up “spectacular successes.”  Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s such a political loser that even die-hard Israel haters are starting to wonder if they’re really obliged to double down on it for another decade or three.

Keep in mind that the historic precedent for BDS going away (or, at least going into remission) happened within recent memory.  In 2006, after a string of embarrassing defeats, advocates for the BDS tactic had trouble answering troublesome questions as to why a project they claimed would lead to success instead ended in failure time and time again.

More importantly, the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (or PSM), the moving force behind BDS activity (at least on college campus), fell apart right around this time.  And when evaluating the strength and weakness of a political “movement,” looking at the organizations that lead or make up that movement is a better barometer of strength than lapping up or picking apart Omar Barghouti’s latest bombast printed in the International Herald Tribune (or any of the other many papers he manages to get himself published in, despite perpetual BDS claims of victimization and censorship).

And if you look at the BDS project that that was resurrected in 2009, you can see how it inherited all of the contradictions and weaknesses of the original divestment campaign, with a number of additional flaws added to the mix.

In addition to Barghouti’s PACBI organization (which has accomplished little other than intimidating certain parts of Palestinian civil society so they could claim to speak for them), you’ve got the successor to the Palestinian Solidarity Movement – Student for Justice in Palestine (SJP) whose claim to fame is the hoax that they succeeded in getting Hampshire College to divest from Israel.  And as unpleasant as the PSM was during its heyday, it never relied on fraud to get into the headlines.  In contrast, those responsible for ensuring BDS stay in everyone’s face in the coming years base large parts of their effort on deception and lies, not just the usual lies about the Middle East, but easily checkable and debunked lies about their own success and failure.

So while they might be able to get the same bunch of Israel haters to spend a weekend in Philadelphia (just like they got them to show up at Hampshire two years ago), once those kids get back to campus they are likely to face the same wall of opposition that their predecessors faced over the last decade.  And if another academic year passes and SJP has nothing to show for itself other than failed hummus boycotts and increasingly ignored Israel Apartheid Week events, even the most hysterical or self-congratulatory letters to the editor cannot mask the fact that BDS seems to be going nowhere.

It was exactly three years ago that the Hampshire story broke, triggering the start of the current round of boycott and divestment activities across the country and around the world.  And if you look at the original divestment campaigns that began in 2002 and died out in 2006, it’s an open question as to whether BDS 2.0 is going to make it as long as the original.

Time, as it usually does, will tell.

More Traitors!

By now, many of you may have already read a pair of stories that shed some interesting light on the current state of the supposedly unstoppable BDS “movement.”

First off, this piece highlights that since 2010, when the Palestinian Authority passed a law (alright, a decree) barring Palestinians from working inside Jewish communities within the disputed territories, the number of Palestinian workers taking jobs within those dread “settlements” has dramatically increased by more than 20%.

A second piece describes how private Palestinian investors now invest nearly twice as much in Israel as they do in their own nescient “nation.”

Now if the BDSers amongst us don’t simply follow their usual M.O. of ignoring facts that inconveniently don’t fit their pre-conceptions and prejudices, I expect both of these stories will be interpreted as yet more proof of Israel’s guilt (of enslaving Palestinian laborers by hiring them vs. impoverishing them by not hiring them).

Admittedly, I’m speculating that the boycotters will continue to use any fact and its’ opposite to condemn the Jewish state, so any boycott and divestment supporters out there are free to pipe in and correct me. But while we wait, there are some interesting alternative interpretation to these stories that might inform those of us who dwell in a place known as reality.

First, the obvious takeaway from these two tales is that despite what people do with their mouths, it’s what they do with the money that demonstrates their true beliefs. And here is one more example of people who condemn the Jewish state in public while funneling their dollars into it in private (similar to Europe which now invests more venture capital in Israel than it does in any single European country). Similarly, Palestinian laborers seem much more interested in putting in a hard day’s work at an Israeli venture (even one run by E-V-I-L “Settlers”) than in being ripped off and exploited by their own Palestinian brethren.

A more intriguing take on these numbers has to do with the notion of civil society. After all, the BDS movement’s primary claim to legitimacy is that it represents the will of the Palestinian people, with the 2005 “Palestinian Civil Society Calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel” declaration held up as the reason why alleged “human rights activists” abroad focus on Israel to the exclusion of nearly every other human rights issue on the planet.

When BDS groups in the US and Europe approach a university, a church or even a food co-op insisting that everyone get on board the boycotter’s Israel=Apartheid bandwagon, they rarely if ever do so in their own name. Rather, they claim (again and again) that they are humbly following the will of the Palestinian people who have declared their commitment to BDS via documents like the aforementioned Civil Society declaration, and insisting that others do the same.

But as has already been noted, this alleged call by Civil Society was really a call by a group of civil organizations, with violent political groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine taking the lead and less influential groups like the Palestinian Dentists Association following behind. So does the 2005 BDS declaration truly represent the will of the Palestinian people or is it simply the will of a bunch of militant and/or coerced leaders of a hundred-odd organizations? Are we required to take Omar Barghouti’s word for it when he claims to speak for the Palestinian masses, or do we have other data to work form?

Well we do, in fact, have other data consider. For example, there are the Arab citizens of Israel terrified that the land they live on might be traded in a peace deal, requiring them to live under the benevolent dictatorship of the Palestinian Authority (or the not-so benevolent dictatorship of Hamas). We’ve got denizens of the Palestinian Authority doing whatever they can to get into Israel for healthcare, for jobs, even for citizenship (despite being told that the “Zionist entity” exists for the sole purpose of murdering them and swiping their kidneys).

And now we’ve got Palestinian workers and investors putting their money where the mouth isn’t and doubling down on Israeli investments and Israeli employers. And, as the BDS “movement” itself never tires of telling us, Investment = Political Support (which is why they advocate tirelessly, if unsuccessfully for Divestment which they claim equals an end to such political support).

So by the very math used by the BDSers themselves, Palestinian support for the Jewish state is on the increase. Keep this in mind the next time Omar Barghouti or Jewish Voice for Peace or this or that BDS organization shows up at your door insisting you do what they say because they and they alone speak for the Palestinian people.

BDS – Beginning of the End?

As I was planning to say before last week’s interruption, it may be getting to the point where we want to think about what a “final” defeat for BDS might look like.

After all, a “movement” that manages to turn the entire Australian political system and Noam Chomsky against them, a political project capable of creating 6000 Israel supporters in a single night (in Britain no less) must at some point come under the scrutiny of even the most fantasy-laden anti-Israel activists as something less than productive to their cause.

To understand whether BDS is on its way out, it is important to first remember what it is. Despite claims to be some sort of a “peace movement,” BDS is neither peaceful (being little more than a propaganda adjunct to more violent warriors who get to do the trigger pulling) nor, technically, a “movement.” Rather, BDS is simply a tactic that’s been used on and off for the last decade by the same anti-Israel crowd that has traveled under different names using different tactics.

Now this tactic has been successful in generating headlines and giving Israel dislikers a simple message to organize around and recruit new members. But outside such inside baseball, the tactic has proven to be a bust in its key mission of getting well known civic institutions to tie their name and reputation to the “Israel = Apartheid” message. In fact, given how successful anti-Israel forces have been in dragging international organizations (such as human rights NGOs and the United Nations) into their propaganda web, it’s a testament to the schools, churches, cities and other organizations that have resisted the BDS lure for close to a decade that they have kept themselves un-befouled by similar corruption.

Keep in mind that we have been exactly at this same point twice before. In 2004, advocates for divestment faced a serious credibility crisis after two years of zero success trying to get colleges and universities to divest from Israel. Had the Presbyterian Church not thrown them a lifeline in ‘04, they might not have lasted past that year and even church support simply put off the ultimate defeat of divestment in 2006 when the Presbyterians gave “the movement” the boot.

Today’s BDS project is simply a third generation photocopy of this earlier effort, one which is barely bothering any longer to recruit major institutions into the fold, sufficing instead with marginal organizations such as food co-ops and community radio stations for supposed momentum-building victories. And even with such limited ambitions, they still lose almost every single time.

So a first sign that BDS is on the wane would be a transition to a new tactic or set of tactics, with BDS allowed to quietly fade into the background. To a certain extent, we’re already seeing this with campaigns such as this bizarre set of bus ads which are a throwback to pre-BDS campaigns built around getting US aid to Israel curtailed or eliminated. If the wild, counterproductive excesses of the current BDS advocates continue to turn off more and more people (including anti-Israel partisans interested in winning the public over to their side rather than disgusting them), expect to see this transition to new tactics accelerate over the coming academic year.

Another important sign will be the marginalization of leaders and possible disintegration of organizations who continue to push the BDS agenda regardless of the cost.

Remember that the bulk of pre-2006 BDS activity was led by a now-defunct organization called the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (or PSM), a group that fell to pieces at the peak of its “success.” Without getting to deep into anthropology, anti-Israel political life tends to be built around small, unstable organizations that tend to come together, fall apart, and reform under different names and leaders on an approximate 5-7 year cycle. Paraphrasing a well-known cliché: “Anti-Israel politics ain’t beanbag” and no matter how powerful or prominent a particular leader or organization may be at any given time, there is always someone more fervent and ruthless in the wings ready to infiltrate and/or split a given organization to achieve his or her own ends.

Today, it is Omar Barghouti’s PACBI that seems to be on the ascendant. But there may come a time soon that this group’s inability to achieve anything other than keeping Palestinian civic organizations paying lip service to this cause (with the help of threatening powers like Hamas to keep them in line) may be outweighed by the sheer weight the unpopularity of BDS and its ability to give Israel supporters something easy to rally around and defeat.

So an end to BDS (or, at least, a repeat of the remission it went into between 2006-2009) will likely be accompanies by the diminishment, marginalization or even elimination of PACBI as a major force in Palestinian and general anti-Israel politics.

Back during my early years as an Internet debater, I remember an ally once describing an Israel hater who had lost his umpteenth argument as resembling a crab that bears its claws while walking backwards, digging himself into the sand before disappearing completely. Given that a cornerstone of anti-Israel politics is to never admit error (much less defeat), keep this image in mind as we watch what happens to the BDS movement over the coming months to determine if we have, in fact, beaten back this propaganda project one more time.

Who Pays?

So how ‘bout that flotilla?

At a time when the staggeringly incompetent leadership of Code Pink et al has left yet another group of political tourists stranded in a foreign land, it’s easy to poke fun at one more BDSer fiasco (which thankfully didn’t get anyone killed this time).

But as I’ve noted before, for those who find themselves in the boycotter’s cross-hairs, BDS is no joke. In the case of groups like the Methodists, attempted manipulation by Israel-hating “activists” has routinely led to needless divisiveness and rancor. But there is one place where boycott and divestment activity has an even nastier impact: in the Middle East itself.

This makes sense when you consider that outside that region, BDSers have to make do with manipulation and moral blackmail to get their way (tools which, at best, have only ever led to a rare temporary or marginal success). But in Israel and the Palestinian territories, those pushing boycott can fall back on threats, intimidation and even violence to get their way.

This message was summed up pretty openly in this recent statement by our old friends at PACBI (fathers of the most recent incarnation of the 10-year-old BDS “movement”). In it, they make it clear what they think of Palestinians trying to work with Israelis on projects based on common understanding and mutual benefit; accusing such people of acting as “fig leafs,” i.e., collaborators and traitors who cynically sell out the Palestinian “collective” for their own personal benefit.

Given what tends to happen to “collaborators,” once singled out in Palestinian society, the price to pay for trying to make a go at peaceful co-existence has become high indeed for those who still harbor hope of living a peaceful life (something clearly not on the agenda of the “de-normalizers” of PACBI).

As the PACBI statement boasts, organizations committed to peaceful co-existence have already shut down thanks to pressure put on Palestinian partners in such endeavors. And given that PACBI has organizations like Hamas and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine among its ranks to enforce what it has decided is the “general will,” it’s hard to imagine what a Palestinian looking to live cooperatively with his or her Israeli neighbors has to fall back on (other than their own courage).

In a sense, the type of McCarthy-ite search for traitors we are now seeing in the West Bank and elsewhere is the result of BDS having so little to show for it after a decade of effort outside the region. For if you cannot hurt your enemies, your own people are always there to threaten, ostracize, and generally screw.

Now it’s one thing if Israel-dislikers abroad decide to flush their own hard-earned cash down the toilet so that the Code Pinkians can blog and tweet about their failure to sail across the Mediterranean. While I can imagine far better uses for the millions of dollars these “Friends of the Palestinian People” spent on such a junket, I can also think of far worse things that money could go towards.

But given that the latest (and only successful target) of BDS seems to now be Jews and Arabs seeking to live alongside one another in hope of achieving something approaching a normal life, can we at long last stop pretending that BDS is the tactic of anything resembling a “peace movement?”

Barghouti

If you’ve been on either side of the BDS debates over the last couple of years, you can’t help stumbling over Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

I’ve discussed PACBI before, and despite a name which implies that the organization’s focus is on academic and cultural boycotts (the least successful variant of BDS), the PACBI name – and Barghouti’s – tend to get invoked by participants in any BDS project (university and union divestment battles, product boycotts at US food co-ops, etc.) regardless of whether they fall into PACBI’s alleged mandate.

When the Irish trade union movement met to discuss their controversial boycott resolutions against Israel, Barghouti was on the agenda. When the San Francisco Jewish Federation was debating how to prevent BDS activists from subsidizing their project with community money, local Jewish leaders were denounced for not debating Barghouti on the subject.

Even within the Israel-de-legitimization movement, where the efficacy of BDS vs. other tactics are debated (usually behind the scenes), Berghouti’s name is used as a show-stopper, an attempt to end disputes over the subject by claiming PACBI’s 2005 academic boycott call means the BDS movement wells up purely from Palestinian civil society and is thus beyond discussion. (The fact that PACBI and Barghouti himself are late-comers to the BDS campaign, which began in 2001, seems to have fled the consciousness of anti-Israel campaigners.)

So who is Mr. Barghouti?

If the name rings a bell, Omar Barghouti is related to a pair of older Barghouti’s, Mustafa Barghouti (the man who ran against current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) and the more notorious Marwan Barghouti who is currently serving five consecutive life sentences for his involvement in terror attacks against Israeli civilians. Like the Husseini’s, a clan which includes PA negotiator Faisal Husseini, the late Yassir Arafat (whose real name is Abd al-Rahman abd al-Bauf Arafat al-Qud al-Husseini), and the infamous Haj Amin al-Husseini (the George Washington of Palestinian nationalism who spent World War working for the Nazis in the Middle East), the Berghouti’s are major players in regional Arab politics.

Like a number of “professional Palestinians,” Omar Barghouti’s role as stand-in for the suffering local masses is a bit of a stretch. He was born in Qatar, but grew up in Egypt, the land that produced two of the most famous names in “pro-Pal” politics: Yassir Arafat and Edward Said (Arafat’s Egyptian accent was always a bit of an embarrassment for his allies, and Said had to admit to his Egyptian origins towards the end of a life of Palestinian identity politics).

Deeply ensconced in the higher end of the local upper Middle Class, Barghouti lived abroad and attended Columbia University before moving to Ramallah after college and, most recently, enrolling in a graduate program in philosophy at Israel’s Tel Aviv University. It is from this perch within Israeli academia that Barghouti runs his global campaign to have all academics everywhere shun their Israeli colleagues until all Arab demands against Israel are met in full.

The do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do nature of a leader supporting (and supported by) an Israeli university calling for academics (and everyone else) to boycott Israeli universities is a touchy subject within the BDS movement. When asked directly about the contradiction, Barghouti dismisses questions as a personal matter over which he does not wish to comment. When one critic refused to ignore the issue, Barghouti stated that “oppressed people don’t have a choice of where they go to school” (an interesting statement for someone who got into New York’s Columbia University, an honor denied to 90% of the “non-oppressed” people who apply).

When thousands of people signed a petition calling for Barghouti to be kicked out of Tel Aviv university for his tireless attempts to shut down Israeli schools, the humble Barghouti claimed kinship with Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King (all of which attended university within countries they criticized and fought against). And when the head of that university refused to punish him for his political activism, Barghouti became even more enraged, fearing that this act of Isreali academic liberalism would be used to besmirch his campaign to have Israeli acadamia globally condemned and boycotted for its alleged illiberalism.

If all of this makes your head spin, the key to understanding Barghouti is to see him as an academic vs. a political phenomenon. Like many (if not most) of the people who fuel the BDS “movement,” Omar Barghouti does so from within the ultimate safe environment: the womb of the university. There, his middle-class lifestyle is subsidized, his graduate school workload as light or as heavy as he chooses to make it, his position at the university protected by those he condemns, just as his body is protected by the Israeli security forces he claims are homicidal maniacs.

Like the many student activists around the world who look to him for leadership, Barghouti gets to pose as a risk taker knowing full well that his political activity will never be punished. The opposite, in fact, since his role within PACBI has provided him global celebrity status complete with endless speaking opportunities and trips around the world which don’t seem to be getting in the way of his preparation for final exams.

Like students at Berkeley and elsewhere, Barghouti gets to endlessly complain about his movement being silenced, even as jets around the planet delivering his message and penning articles that routinely get published in major newspapers. Like the BDSers who endlessly claim to be showing great courage by standing up to “Jewish power,” he rails against fantasy threats knowing full well that a late night knock on the door by his alleged oppressors will never materialize.

If the global leadership of the BDS movement resides anywhere, it resides at Tel Aviv University where a graduate student who does not seem to engage in any academic activities gets to dwell in highly-subsidized perpetual adolescence, jetting around the planet in luxury condemning the very institutions that support a comfortable lifestyle. In this role he takes no risks while claiming great courage, the ultimate middle class warrior acting as a stand-in for the repressed of the world.

Given all this, is it any wonder that Omar Barghouti is the poseur-child for BDS, leading ranks of the privileged all playing the role of repressed victim at someone else’s expense?

Results

Apologies to my reader for the quiet around here the last week. In addition to vacation, I’ve been working on a little project that should be of interest to the anti-BDS community which I’ll be writing about sometime next week.

In the meantime, some quick thoughts about a topic I’ve mentioned here before: how to best measure the success (or failure) of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) “movement.”

In thinking about this subject, I was reminded of the one and only performance review I ever received at work. Having led my own company for 20+ years, I was anxious to be on the receiving end of one of the external reviews I had been giving others for so long once I sold my company and now had a (what’s the word for it?) oh yes, a “boss.”

It helped that I was growing fond of this relatively new supervisor, and was sure she’d be impressed by the fact that my division was the only one in the company that had managed to hit its numbers in the midst of the 2008 economic meltdown.

Imagine my surprise when that achievement was met with a grade of “Meets Expectations.” Her explanation was simple: we had promised to hit a certain threshold of revenue, we accomplished that goal, and thus we met the expectation we had set for ourselves. The fact that we had done so under extremely challenging economic conditions, and were the only group to have accomplished this goal in the company did not change the fact that the results we had obtained were no more than what we had set out to do at the start of the year.

I think about this lesson in consistency and the importance of measureable results when looking at how the BDS movement not only asks it be graded on a steep curve, but also demands that it be allowed to constantly change the terms under which its’ success is to be judged.

After all, the BDS “movement” started close to ten years ago at the now notorious Durban I conference. And during that period, it certainly achieved some early successes (raising the profile of BDS on college campuses and getting divestment passed within Mainline Protestant churches), only to see those successes collapse as colleges across the country rejected their divestment calls, and churches voted down divestment by margins of 95-100%.

So what did divestment advocates do? They simply erased those troubling first five years of their project, and now claim that all of their activity was inspired by “a request from Palestinian Civic Society,” by which they mean the PACBI organization which began in 2005. Now I’ve have issues with PACBI which I’ve discussed in detail here and here, but even putting those aside, a restart of BDS in the second half of the last decade turns out to be an ideal way to flush half a decade of failure down the memory hole.

Divest-niks also seem to want to be given not an E, but an A+++ for effort rather than be graded based on any actual success.

They spend a decade calling for colleges and universities to divest. None do. But then the BDSers insist their movement be judged by the fact that they still have people on the ground pushing their project after so many years of failure.

Boycotts target Israeli products in the US and Canada. Counter-boycott activities drive up sales of Israeli goods by hundreds of thousands of percentage points. And yet the Internet is strewn with stories, photos and videos of boycotters hailing not any achievement, but simply their own existence. And whenever they do announce (or, more frequently, thunder) a “triumph” (like Hampshire College), more often than not this turns out to be a complete fraud.

When you add it all up, the BDS crowd seems to want to be given credit for simply talking, writing and doing stuff, in hopes that no one will peer behind their curtain of words and hand-waving and notice what a bust their “movement” has been, even after a decade of intense effort.

So here’s a challenge the divestment crew can take up if they want to prove the potency of their squalid little project. In December of last year, Israeli exports were up 30%, representing billions of dollars in new income for the Jewish state. Now by the boycotters own standards (which says economic activity translates to political support), the world loves Israel several billion dollars more than it did in November of last year (when the BDS movement was telling us all their support was exploding worldwide). That being the case, perhaps the divestment crew can tell us what they accomplished in December to match this figure. Comments remain open for their input.

Palestinians say NO to BDS!

While the British union movement contorts itself over the issue of BDS, an interesting item just came by my desk written by the organization TULIP (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine) which indicates that Palestinian workers and unions do not support the boycott campaign.

Now admittedly, this revelation came from a brief fact-finding mission by an organization dedicated to cooperation vs. confrontation. At the same time, as I’ve stated before the Palestinian union movement has never indicated support for economic sanctions against Israeli companies or industry.

The dynamics surrounding the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel suffer from a number of issues (notably the likelihood of coercion), but as the name of the coalition itself implies, the organization has never announced support of the kind of economic boycotts and divestment projects that are most popular within some European unions.

Given that whenever boycotters are asked why they are demanding economic punishment of Israel vs. other far worse human rights abusers, they point to the alleged support for their policies by Palestinian unions (or civil society as a whole) they are actually talking about PACBI, it’s interesting to note that this institution has NOT thrown its support against a boycott of Israeli products (for example), especially since they well understand that their members are the ones who would suffer from such a policy.

Given this context, the TULIP report certainly passes the intuition test. Like unions anywhere, Palestinian unions must balance their desire to take political stands against the need to focus on policies that help their members. And unlike the Fireman’s Union in the UK (the force behind the recent TUC boycott vote), members of Palestinian unions will face actual hardships related to boycotts that represent little more than political poses to the radical cells committed to turning European unions (or other civic organizations) into their mouthpieces, regardless of the cost to their own unions, and regardless of the cost to Palestinian workers.

Unpacking the PACBI Excuse

In my last entry, I pointed out the various excuses the boycott-Israel crowd uses when forced to confront their clear double-standard on human rights stances (i.e., Israel deserves to be boycotted for building a separate fence to keep suicide bombers from its cities, but Syria and China should not be boycotted since they merely killed 50,000 or 70,000,000 of their own people).

As noted, most of these excuses have the distinction of being both transparently self serving and unbelievably lame. But one “reason,” the one claiming that the call to boycott Israel wells up from Palestinian civil society and is thus unique, begs for a more careful review.

The claim that BDS is a response to boycott calls originating from people in the region is based on the 2004 Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (or PACBI). Whenever Naomi Klein or the UCU boycotters talk about a boycott call endorsed by over 200 Palestinian civic organizations, these are the organizations to which they refer.

Before getting to more meatier issues, allow me a couple of lawyer’s points regarding the claim that PACBI represents the will of the Palestinian people to comprehensively boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.

First off, if you look this list over, between 10-15% of the signatories whose origins are identified are from outside Israel, the West Bank or Gaza, including over 20 organizations from surrounding countries (13 from Syria, 6 from Lebanon and 2 from Jordan) and another 9 from Europe or North America. Now it may be that some of these (as well as some of the organizations not identified by location) are refugee or Diaspora groups, but given the large Syrian contingent in PACBI’s roster, the notion that we’re talking entirely about un-coerced volunteers becomes shaky.

Second, as the name implies PACBI stands for an academic and cultural boycott (the least popular form of BDS, by the way), not for the wholesale economic isolation of the Jewish state. So those claiming that PACBI is the origin for all of their BDS activities may be putting words into the mouths of Palestinian agricultural, medical and industrial unions/organizations, many of whom may not be that excited about economic boycotts that punish them as well as Israel.

On more meatier matters, the first group that tops the list of “Unions, Associations, Campaigns” supporting the PACBI boycott call is the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, a coalition that includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and some of the more violent sub-sets of Fatah. Call me crazy, but I suspect that it’s much easier for this Council to get the Palestinian Dentist’s Association to agree to its requests that vice versa.

The potential that the PACBI boycott call arises from coercion within Palestinian society (vs. being a consensus welling up from the grass roots) also points out an interesting paradox. The claim that Israel uniquely deserves the BDS treatment is, to a certain extent, based on Israel supposedly being exceptional with regard to its level of human rights abuses (vs. Iran, China, North Korea, etc.). And yet the members making up PACBI can only be seen as legitimately representing Palestinian civic society if Israel’s “repression” does not extend to eliminating such civic space in both Israel and the West Bank.

Like the claim that Israel is inflicting a “Holocaust” on a Palestinian population that is simultaneously experiencing a population explosion, the very existence of PACBI demonstrates that the level of repression found in countries ignored by BDS activists (Sudan, Saudi Arabia, etc.) does not exist in Israel. And thus we are led back to the conclusion that the best way to avoid being a target of alleged “human rights” activists pushing boycott, divestment and sanction is to actually be a repressive dictatorship that crushes civic society rather than letting it exist to sign boycott petitions.

Finally, a note on dates. PACBI, as stated on their own Web site, made its “plea” for academic BDS in 2004, years after divestment programs originating at the 2001 Durban conference were well underway in North American and European universities, unions, churches and municipalities. In other words, the PACBI call was the result of the success BDS was seeing between 2001-2004, and being the result it could not have simultaneously been the cause.

Time travel underlies much of the BDS project, as is underlies much of what passes for analysis of the Middle East. My favorite example of this is the projection of today’s US support for Israel (which didn’t really kick into high gear until the 1970s) back to 1948 and beyond in hopes of finding a US-Zionist conspiracy going back to before the founding of the Jewish state.

If ignorance is bliss, then the folks behind the PACBI excuse for BDS are either the happiest people on earth, or at least the most manipulative.

The BDS Double Standard

One of the most common challenges to the Divest-nista crowd is why they don’t call and march for divestment against Sudan, China, Libya or any of the totalitarian dictatorships whose daily human rights abuses dwarf anything Israel could have possibly done over the course of 60 years.

Generally, their first response is to ignore the question and move onto their next accusations (real or imagined) against Israel, hoping that no one will peek behind the curtain. While such stonewalling can work for a while, those trying to sell BDS to the general public must eventually explain the apparent double standard whereby Israel must be punished while its dictatorial critics are left alone. Some of the more easily dismissed excuses I’ve seen from US-based divestniks include:

  • Israel is a democracy and thus our protests can have an impact there (ignoring the obvious corollary that the best way to avoid the wrath of these alleged “human rights” champions is to be a dictatorship)
  • Israel is an ally of the US, and thus as Americans we are obliged to criticize our friends more than our foes (ignoring the obvious question as to why this hostility does not extend to other US allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt)
  • “Israel receives [pick your sum, ranging from three-billion to eleventy-jillion dollars] in US aid so as a US citizen it’s the use of my tax dollars I’m protesting” (never specifying why a country like Egypt, which receives 2/3 as much US aid as Israel – a formula calculated at Camp David decades ago – receives 0% rather than 66% of the hostility the boycotters direct against Israel).

Clearly, these are just excuses or rationalizations for people who have a political agenda (hostility towards the Jewish state) who feel a need to dress up their attitudes in the ill-fitting garments of legitimate principle. Yet even if such hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, the excuses BDSers use to explain their obvious double standards only stretches so thin, often with embarrassing results.

My favorite example of over-reach in an effort to explain away the double standard was the UK academic boycotters who claimed their effort to sanction Israeli universities would be particularly effective because of the Jews unique love and respect for learning. Needless to say, this implied dissing of the scholarly passions of non-Jewish societies did not go over well with the boycotters third-worlder constituency.

Within this rickety pile of excuses, the only one that is backed by enough fact to not be immediately dismissed as a smoke screen is the claim that the call for boycotting Israel welled up from the Palestinians themselves in the form of a 2002 boycott call from the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (or PACBI). Because the PACBI BDS call (unlike Hampshire College or TIAA-CREF divestment hoaxes) actually exists, poking holes in this argument takes a little more effort. But not much…

Stay tuned.