Park Slope Boycott Revisited

Given my proclivity for exposing BDS hoaxes, I guess this piece should touch on the latest bit of fraudulence (in this case a sports hoax) from our friends over at BDS Europe.  But since CAMERA has covered this story so well, the only thing I can add is this question: If the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is truly so awe-inspiring and unstoppable (especially in Europe), why must they resort to lies and potential forgery (yet again) regarding who is and who is not a supporter?

Feel free to ponder your own answer to that query (and if any friendly BDS lurkers out there care to join in, they can explain to us why a “movement” that has again been caught so many times trying to mislead the media and public should be taken seriously about anything).

In the meantime, I’d like to point out another example of general BDSholiness closer to home.

When I recently added the website of long-time commenter Barbara from Park Slope to the Divest This blogroll, I decided to see what was new with the Park Slope boycott by reading some of the co-op’s Linewaiter Gazette newsletters published since the boycotters mega defeat last Spring.

Imagine my surprise to discover that months after membership of the co-op told the boycotters they wanted no part of their ugly little project, that BDS proponents continue to shower the Gazette with letters to the editor listing the crimes of the evil Jews. (Whoops!  I meant “the Zionist Jews,” whoops, I mean “The Occupation.”)

Actually, it’s not that surprising.  And, to be fair, most of these letters seem to be coming from the same thoughtless fanatic (who no doubt considers herself a selfless champion of the oppressed – so long as they are Palestinian living under Israeli jurisdiction – the only candidates for human rights in the Middle East according to the BDSer’s demented and self-serving moral arithmetic).

The letters page of a self-published newsletter for members of a small community food retailer is one of those soft targets I’ve mentioned in the past, especially since the writer of these endless missives understands that leaders of the organization have made the decision to publish anything they’re sent, even if they know it’s irrelevant to the mission of the institution and likely to offend countless co-op members.

For just as the boycotters were willing to exploit loose rules the co-op had in place covering product boycotts motions (since the makers of those rules assumed good will on the part of members bringing such motions to the floor), the losers of last March’s boycott vote are ready to take advantage of the organizations unwillingness to leave anyone’s voices out, a policy again based on assumptions of good will.

Anyone familiar with the Park Slope Food Coop knows that many of its thousands of members are dedicated to a wide variety of political causes.  Yet all these dedicated activists are satisfied finding outlets for their political activism that do not require creating needless conflict in the community where they shop.

This is why organizations like the food co-op can live with less-than-airtight rules and regulations regarding boycotts and letters to the editor since the vast majority of the membership understands that they are part of a wider community that includes those who do not share a particular set of political opinions.

But the BDSers can only get their way by breaching that trust in order to remake the world in their own image, a world where everything is politicized to the point where anyone who either buys or eats food is “taking sides” and must therefore be forced to vote on the boycotter’s pet issue or read endless letters denouncing the Israel hater’s political enemies.  But this represents just one more example of BDS fanatics finding some justification to drag the Middle East conflict into every civic space in the land.

To their credit, the newsletter editors have recently taken to segregating BDS-related letters to their own section where members are free to ignore them and get on with their lives.  And to their even greater credit, Israel’s friends have not fought fire with fire by writing their own endless denunciations of Israel’s foes, but have responded to BDS taunts with appeals to the wider needs of the community, as well as hilarious send offs of the “movement” written by one Jesse Rosenfeld who demonstrates the power of humor to pierce the ludicrousness and hypocrisy of those who demand they be immediately and irrevocably be given a moral high ground they can never earn.

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).

Spin

I promised myself to give the whole Park Slope story (and those who participated in it) a rest, but not before commenting on the spin the BDSers predictably gravitated towards in the wake of last week’s significant defeat for their “movement.”

That spin is best articulated here and here (yes, I know, I’m linking to that Mondoweiss site people warned me about – forgive me) and can be organized into a set of familiar categories.

First, you have a demonstration of the boycotters’ uncanny ability to read the minds of the voters on both sides of the issue.  Those who voted “Yes” in the “Vote for a vote for a boycott,” for example, now apparently represent an unquestionable demonstration that support for the BDSers’ political project and positions tops 40% (in the heart of Brooklyn no less!).

Never mind the fact that the boycotters own campaign focused less on Middle East politics than on democracy at the co-op, as reflected in these bannersthat summed up a key theme of their campaign: that a boycott must be decided by a ballot of the total membership, and thus a vote for their motion was a referendum on democracy within the coop itself.

Now one can debate this risible proposition, but even accepting it in full demonstrates that last week’s ballot was presented – by the boycotters themselves – as something other than a simple up or down vote in support of BDS or a judgment on who is right and who is wrong in the Middle East conflict.  We have anecdotal evidence in the form of people who attended last week’s meeting who claimed that they would vote “Yes” on the ballot (in the name of what they felt was democratic principle) after which they would resign from the coop in protest of the whole mishagas.  Again, one can debate such a seemingly contradictory stance.  But one cannot debate the fact that some percentage of the people who voted “Yes”  did so based on what the boycotters said the vote stood for last week vs. this week.

Last week’s losers also seem to have the ability to read the minds of those who voted against them, claiming that they made their choice because, on this issue, their Jewishness trumped their liberalism.  Putting aside the fact that a vote took place in this particular fairly-Jewish and largely-liberal location specifically because the boycotters themselves forced one, how can they possibly know whether or not “No” voters saw one bit of contradiction between their progressive and Zionist principles?  Clearly the Israel haters feel these two positions are contradictory, but why should everyone else be forced to agree with them just because they keep shouting their opinion on the matter in everyone’s face?

A couple of weeks back, I asked a boycott supporter visiting this site whether he would be comfortable if Israel’s friends claimed a BDS loss in Park Slope represented a vote of enthusiastic support for the Jewish state at one of America’s most progressive institutions.  No, he politely explained.  It would simply demonstrate that a majority of coop members did not want to take part in a boycott.

And this is a position to which I wholeheartedly agree.  Which is why I find it absurd that the BDSers are now busy reading unlimited support for themselves into their minority share of the vote while dismissing the opinions of those who voted against them as little more than tribal identity trumping all other values.

And speaking of supporters vs. opponents, another standard meme that permeates the Mondoweiss piece is that defeat was not a rejection of BDS positions by members of the Park Slope Coop or the result of local grassroots efforts opposing them, but instead occurred due to the intervention of vast, powerful and wealthy forces arrayed against them.

It should come as no surprise that when you assault the Jewish state in the middle of a Jewish community, Jewish organizations will fulfill their mission to respond to such an assault.  And organizations and individuals who support Israel and/or fight against BDS did indeed offer help to those fighting against a Coop boycott.  Similarly, the BDSers did what they always do and reached out across New York, the country and the world to find allies who could support their campaign.

But the notion that one of these support networks overwhelmed the other due to their wealth and power would only make sense if wealth or power played a role in either side’s campaign.  But neither the BDSers nor their opponents ran TV ads, rented billboards or hired sky-writers to tout their positions and critique their opponents.  Instead, this was a retail, grassroots campaign that required clever message positioning (that both camps had), letters to the editor (free), blogging and social networking (also free) and some tabling, leafleting and the working phones and personal networks.  As usual, the fantasy that their opponents spent millions to defeat them is just a salve for the BDSers wounded pride when the members of an organization they have targeted tell them to take a hike.

Regarding the whole “when we lose, we actually win because we started the conversation” blather that routinely gets trotted out after a BDS loss, this amounts to little more than claiming “Victory!” based entirely on the BDSers own refusal to ever shut up.

As a final note before leaving the Park Slope story behind, I frequently criticize (constructively, I hope) our side’s inability to capitalize on our successes as well as the boycotters capitalize on theirs.  But this time around, I think the “BDS Loses Again” message traveled pretty well and pretty far (a stint on the Daily Show probably didn’t hurt in this regard).  But it dawned on me this weekend (as I look forward to moving onto other topics) why we will inevitably have to take a backseat to the Israel haters with regard to long-term capitalizing of our own victories.

For everyone I’ve talked to who was directly involved with this effort can’t wait for it to be over and for things to get back to normal – or, as normal as anything gets in Park Slope ;-).  They will not be creating web pages and making movies about their genuine victory (like the kids at Hampshire did about their fake one).  They won’t try to leverage their success to get other organizations to take a political position of any kind (even if their story helps other coops avoid falling into the traps being set for them by the BDSers).

In other words, even those of us who became activists specifically to fight the boycotters are not going to cause more division and misery in our communities in order to leverage recent sensible decisions to achieve wider political aims.  The owners at Park Slope voted to get BDS out of their system, and we respect their choice.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the partisans of BDS could put aside their selfishness and do the same?

Themes

Having been directly involved with or covered all of the big BDS fights over the years, the specific observations I can bring to last night’s victory in Park Slope have to do with the repetition of certain important themes.

First off, there is the high drama of the lead-up to a vote with an unknown outcome. In theory, last night’s vote should have been predictable (and thus anti-climactic).  After all, whenever BDSers have had to face scrutiny in the light of day (vs. skulking around at night to secretly manipulate others into doing their bidding), their arguments are always exposed as hollow and self serving.  And when these issues get subjected to a genuinely democratic vote, BDS’s loss rate is pretty much 100%.

But as with most votes, outcomes are never assured.  That’s why we stay up so late on Election night every four years, waiting for that last set of returns that will put one of the candidates over the top (even in years such as 1984, 1996 and 2008 when everyone knew by 8 o’clock who would be the next President of the United States).  For hope (and fear) spring eternal, and the behavior of voters can still surprise us, which is why Park Slope was such a nail biter until all the votes were counted (even if yet another defeat for BDS now seems to have been inevitable).

A second theme derives from a quote Hussein Ibish made after divestment advocates failed to get their motion through the student council in Berkeley.  “…if you can’t get divestment through UC Berkeley, you’re done,” he said, indicating that with the number of potential targets for BDS activity so limited, if you can’t get that school to play along, what chance do you have in all of the parts of the country that don’t resemble Berkeley?

Remember that BDS only targets progressive communities who they hope have limited immune systems with regard to appeals to the manipulative exploitation of the language of human rights.  Which is why they don’t bother plying their wares to the thousands of colleges, cities, retailers or churches that don’t identify strongly with progressive politics.

In other words, places like the Park Slope Coop represent one of the few places in the country that might listen to what the BDSers have to say.  And even there, they had to game the system in order to force a vote the leaders and most members of the organization didn’t want.  And even after forcing such a vote, they still lost.  BIG (2:1 by the membership, and 5-0 by the Coop’s board that immediately ratified the membership’s decision).

This is why I’m not all that bothered by the fact that the pro-boycott forces received 500+ votes out of 1500+.  Some locals have looked at these numbers and wondered how so many of their neighbors could take a position that seems so ignorant and destructive.  And, naturally, BDS spin doctors are trying to present this number of votes as representing high levels of support (in the heart of New York, no less). 

But if you look at statistics representing general support for Israel vs. the Palestinians, this ratio tends to hover consistently at 3:1 (which is really an average of 2:1 support you find for Israel in many urban locations and a 4:1 ratio everywhere else).  So at the end of the day, last night’s 2:1 vote against a boycott simply means that even at one of the most progressive organizations in the country, support for Israel pretty much looks like it does everywhere else.

I’m sure there will be the chance to Fisk some of the aforementioned spinning that will be coming out of the BDS camp in the coming hours and days, starting with claims that last night’s vote was NOT democratic, despite the fact that the BDSers would have embraced the result and hailed it across the world had they won last night (defining democracy – as always – with them getting their way). 

But rather than go there now, I’d like to highlight one last trend that seems to repeat itself again and again in nearly every community I’ve worked with on this issue.  And that is the success that flows when people within an organization targeted by BDS take matters into their own hands.

One of the many ego-salving explanations as to why BDS loses all the time is the claim that vast and powerful Jewish institutional forces endlessly conspire against poor and pitiable BDSers who go into battle with nothing more than truth and justice on their side.  But, point of fact, whenever boycott or divestment has been trounced it has been because able leadership emerged from within the school, church, coop or other institution that understood BDS to be poisonous, regardless of the sweet rhetoric this poison pill was coated with.

Now just as BDS advocates tap into their own world-wide support networks, locals who oppose BDS will reach out to others for help, sometimes to individuals (such as myself), sometimes to organizations (such as local JCRCs or entrepreneurial groups like StandWithUs).  But success on our side has always come most easily when these groups followed the lead of people on the ground, rather than having to take the lead themselves. 

And how do these local leaders emerge?  They emerge spontaneously when people within a city (like Somerville), church (like the Presbyterians) or food coop (like Park Slope) realize that the institution is being asked to do something supremely unfair and supremely hurtful in their name.  That’s when something snaps and people who might have just been occasional pro-Israel activists (or done nothing Israel related) in the past, suddenly understand that they can no longer sit idly by and let the Israel haters own the discussion and dominate an institution with which they identify.

At Park Slope, ordinary people realized something needed to be done and did it.  And few things in politics are more powerful than that.

Gifts

With that “vote for a vote” on BDS taking place at the Park Slope Food Coop tonight, I thought I’d do a little news Googling to see how this particular circus is unfolding.

Given that this boycott story is happening in New York, it should come as no surprise that NY pols up to and including the Mayor are falling all over each other to condemn the Coop for its involvement with anti-Israel BDS activity.  Several media outlets have lined up in opposition to the vote, including some who have used the occasion to sneer and rain scorn on an organization several of them have clearly never liked.   And, unsurprisingly, conservative politicians are having a field day claiming no surprise that a progressive institution like the Park Slope Coop would choose to play footsie with those advocating for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Jewish state.

The trouble is, the Coop didn’t decide to go down any such route, but instead had a boycott vote (or vote for vote) stuffed down their throat by single-issue partisans within their ranks who clearly feel the organization is nothing more than a plaything for their own political pet peeves. 

Now I have no doubt that Park Slope (like any civic organization) has its strengths, deficiencies and quirks.  And if I lived in the neighborhood, it would take some time to determine if the advantages in terms of quality food at low prices balanced out time commitments as well as everything else that accompanies joining a cooperative enterprise. 

But who they are (and whatever strengths, deficiencies and quirks they possess) is their own business.  And it seems damned unfair that a group of people who came together to engage in a cooperative experience have had to endure ridicule and sanction, just because a small percentage of them refused to consider the needs of anyone but themselves.

Because BDS tends to only target progressive groups and organizations, and because I tend to work with people inside those organizations who are battling against BDS, most of the people I have worked with are progressive-minded folks who have never had to choose a side in the Middle East conflict.  Which is why seeing commentary that explains the boycott vote as nothing more than an expression of liberalism’s true face strikes me as both hyperbolic and incorrect.  After all, these very progressive organizations – be they colleges, churches or food coops – are the very people who have been rejecting BDS for over a decade. 

But having to endure nasty-grams from people who don’t know better is just one more gift the BDSers have bestowed upon the people of Park Slope (i.e., their neighbors).  Apparently, it’s a price the boycotters are more than willing to pay to get what they want.  Especially since they’re not the ones who have to pay it.

Abnormal

Every year or two, one BDS story becomes a major media three-ring circus.  Back during “The Old Days,” (i.e., 5-10 years ago), it was a petition-driven divestment campaign at Harvard and MIT that drew headlines and heated debate in 2002, followed by the first big municipal divestment fight in Somerville in 2004 and finally the Presbyterian Church’s 2006 debate to rescind an earlier (2004) divestment vote.

All three of these were defeats for divestment advocates, the last one being big enough to put BDS into remission for three years.  But once it metastasized again in 2009, the circus returned at Hampshire College (a 2009 BDS hoax), Berkeley (a 2010 BDS defeat) and this month, the Park Slope Food Coop (outcome TBD).

It’s not entirely clear why certain BDS stories vs. others receive this level of broad media attention.  The old adage that “Jews Make News” could be part of the story, at least for a New York locale like Park Slope, given the high percentage of both Jews and media outlets in the vicinity.  But I strongly suspect that it is the BDS PR machine (which is especially good at Web 2.0 media communication) which creates these kinds of periodic groundswells of news.  The BDSers aim, after all, is to make every one of their activities a major media event.  And given that their program consists of dozens (if not hundreds) of campaigns a year in different parts of the world, odds are in their favor that at least once every couple of years they’ll luck out and get a story into The Times.

Those who wonder why the boycotters go to such lengths to force things like a boycott fight/vote at the Park Slope Food Co-op (which both appalls huge number of members and bypasses the consensus-driven decision-making that has informed every other political boycott at the store), may gain some insight at this Tuesday’s meeting where the issue will be fought out among over a thousand co-op members.

For at that meeting, like similar meetings that took place at Harvard, Somerville and Berkeley (not to mention other similar locations that didn’t make the news), the BDSers will get to do what they love more than anything else on earth: gather in large numbers under the banner of someone else’s institutional brand and tear into Israel for hour after hour, wailing at the suffering of Palestinians they claim to uniquely care about, holding aloft pictures of bloody babies, pointing accusing fingers (both at Israel and anyone who disagrees with their diagnosis and demanded course of action), and insisting that morality and progressive thought requires that their personal political opinions be made the law of the land.

And while these accusations and wails and demands are being made, the digital cameras will be rolling, allowing this public testimony to live on at countless web sites where they will be used to prove that BDS is alive and well, even if (as with all other circus performances to date), the actual outcome of a vote goes against a boycott.

If one understands that creating a situation where they can act out in public is the goal of those pushing for boycotts (not winning a vote, not educating others, not advocating for peace, and not improving the lives of others here or in the Middle East), then their willingness to push for some kind of dramatic climax (even just a vote for a vote at a little-known food co-op in Brooklyn) makes sense.  And it also highlights a point I’ve been trying to wrap words around recently regarding how BDS stands outside the realm of what I call “normal” politics.

“Denormalization,” a word embraced by those in adhering to the “Israel is wrong about everything” school, describes an effort to make everything associated with being an Israeli feel strange or abnormal.  That is why Israelis (although just the Jewish ones) are targeted for academic boycotts, to politicize the normal activity of engaging in regular academic discourse.  That is why disruptions take place not just at political events that feature Israelis, but cultural events as well (to create the impression that the right to engage in free speech and perform art without interruption are allowed for everyone in the world except for Israelis and their supporters).  That is also why protestors take to the streets whenever Israeli exercises rights automatically granted to every other nation in the world (such as defend itself against military attacks across internationally recognized borders).

And in all these efforts, I would posit that Israel’s foes have successfully engaged in denormalization: of themselves.

Just looping back to the Park Slope story, from what I have heard, this organization is likely filled from top to bottom with people who hold passionate views about all kinds of political matters.  And given the infinite elasticity of notions such as “Food is Political” embraced by the BDSers, there is no doubt that many of these issues could be translated into the expulsion of one or more products from the store’s shelves in order to make a political statement in alignment a the political pet peeve of one or more particular co-op members.

But that doesn’t happen, does it?  Oh sure, an uncontroversial boycott may be enacted once an issue achieves widespread consensus not just at the co-op but within the wider society (such as the fight against Apartheid).  But under most “normal” circumstances, co-op members (even those with strong political passions) are willing to channel those concerns and energies elsewhere, rather than forcing an organization based on cooperation and consensus to do something that would cause immense pain to hundreds if not thousands of people within the community.

But the boycotters do not operate in such a normal manner.  Rather, they look at the pain, anger and division they cause and simply conclude “Who Cares?” (presuming they ever consider the consequences of their selfish actions at all).  For their end goal is not to change minds, or change the world for the better, but to engage in self-indulgent political theatre, occasionally under the spotlight of the media, regardless of the cost to anyone else.

Such behavior and thoughtlessness, especially when their efforts – even if successful – will achieve absolutely nothing is the textbook definition of abnormal (or, if you prefer, denormal) politics.  Which is why sending the practitioners of such deformed, self-centered politics back to the dusty church basements from whence they came is a pre-requisite to getting life back to normal for everyone else.

What’s a Linewaiter?

For those following what’s expected to be this season’s big BDS co-op fight in Park Slope New York, it’s worth taking a good look at the latest issue of the co-op’s monthly newsletter, the Linewaiter’s Gazette.

The first reason to check it out is to read a piece by Joe Holtz, one of the organization’s founders, who (on page 5) makes an appeal to fellow members to reject the referendum being voted on at the group’s general meeting later in March.  Not since the leaders of the Davis Food Co-op published explanations as to why they were rejecting a boycott have I read anything so lucid and original.

Like the leaders at Davis, Holtz points out that a boycott vote would violate the very principles upon which the co-op movement was founded, which flies in the face of claims by boycott advocates that the co-op’s mission unquestionably requires it to take a stand on Middle East politics (because “food is political” ­– whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean).

But Holtz also points out that a referendum (in which the majority would prevail) makes no sense with regard to a vote on something that would be interpreted as representing the uniform belief of the membership of the entire organization.  Yet opinions regarding who is right and who is wrong in the Middle East are clearly NOT uniform in Park Slope, testified by the fact that over a thousand members of an organization bitterly divided over the issue will be getting together to fight it out in a few weeks time.

Under such circumstances, would a referendum (or any majority vote) on the subject mean that consensus had been reached that the co-op was ready to speak in one voice on a controversial political subject?  Or would it simply end up the means whereby a simple majority could try to win the right to speak in the name of every man, woman and child in the organization?

Holtz also points out those advocating for their political beliefs have the means to communicate their message, by publishing letters in the Gazette in which they can try to persuade fellow members to make individual decisions regarding what to buy (and not buy) that comports to the BDS (or any other) political agenda.  But convincing individuals to make individual choices is clearly not what the BDSers are after.  Rather, they desire to claim the name and reputation of the entire institution and all its memberships (past and present) as complying with their “Israel = Apartheid” propaganda message, the opinion of those who disagree with this political interpretation be damned.  And as Holtz implies, majority rule should not decide who gets to own the organization’s name and reputation.

Other articles on the same subject (especially the letters to the editor which start on page 12) are another reason for you to read this month’s Linewaiter’s Gazette since they help illustrate a phenomena that invariably visits an organization forced to host a BDS fight, a phenomena I dubbed “TheCircus.”

Did you know, for example, that those who oppose the boycott are guilty of violence and intimidation? (Or, to be more specific, the boycotters want to place their opponents on the defensive for the anti-social activity that may or may not have taken place by those who oppose the boycott.)

I say “may or may not” because this is not the first time BDS champions have accused their critics of using threats and violence to harass them.  After the Olympia Co-op boycott was stuffed down the throats of the membership, I heard similar accusations thrown into the faces of those who opposed this decision, accusations I took at face value when they were first made (assuming that there could very well be a deranged individual somewhere who thought he was doing the right thing by making harassing phone calls to the store).   But once these accusations escalated to where members of Olympia BDS were claiming to have received hundreds of death threats, I quickly realized that this was just another set of tactical lies designed to shut up the boycotter’s foes.

Keep in mind that the people trading accusations of harassment, violence, racism, cynicism and hypocrisy (on both sides of the issue) in the letters page are not strangers but neighbors, people who once came together in common cause to create and maintain a civic institution (in this case, a food co-op) designed to support and provide for the needs of all.

This degradation of civic life – all so a group of single issue partisans who refuse to take no for an answer – can claim to speak for everyone else gets at the heart of why I find BDS such a sickening phenomena.  My loathing of the lies behind the whole “Israel = Apartheid” propaganda message obviously plays a role, but the entire BDS “movement” would be far less contemptible if it didn’t prey on people with consciences (which the BDSers so clearly lack), just so they can leverage someone else’s reputation to try to punch above their own limited political weight.

A Call to Battle

In general, it’s the battles you don’t have to fight to win that are the most productive.

For example, the reason we’ve not seen any serious consideration of divestment by colleges or cities over the last ten years is that the leaders of schools and municipalities have taken a measure of BDS activists over the last decade and know enough to not be snookered by them.

Similarly, the reason no divestment bill has gotten past the gate at university student unions is that such bills only tend to get passed in the dead of night which means Israel’s supporters need only make sure the light of day continues to shine on student government activities to ensure BDS activists don’t get the chance to hijack the university for their own gain.

But there come times when a fight is necessary, and two such fights loom on the horizon over the next six months.

A big one (which I’ll be getting into over the next few weeks) will take place at the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches which meet every two years in national conventions to let Israel-bashers within the denomination run amok (whoops! I mean to discuss vital issues of church policy).  Despite being rejected by members in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and despite promises to those members that the Israel obsession would stop, BDS marches on regardless of what it means for the church (or for peace in the Middle East).

But before those battles (which will be taking place in April and June), we face something closer to the grassroots at the Park Slope Food Co-opin New York.  Yes, after years of letters to the editor, appeals to the co-op’s board, and other maneuvering, a vote on whether or not to hold a referendum on a co-op boycott of Israel goods is set for March 27th.

Now keep in mind that this vote is not taking place because local BDSers convinced anyone of anything.  Rather, they pushed for an Israel boycott referenda (similar to failed boycott appeals at places like Davis and Sacramento California), and when told that such a referenda would sicken and appall huge numbers of members they said, in effect, “So what?”  And since the rules of most co-ops are rather loose, presuming as they do that members will act in good faith and not try to manipulate the organization for their own ends (at the expense of other members), the only way to close out a matter the BDSers will continue to push (regardless of the cost to others) was to let a vote on the referenda go forward.

Apparently, the usual meeting place for co-op votes (a synagogue, ironically) will not be big enough to hold the vote so the co-op is looking for a venue that will hold the 1000+ members likely to attend the March 27thgathering.  And, as luck will have it, anti-BDS forces at Park Slope are organized, have able leadership who are doing the spadework necessary to wage a grassroots political campaign (including communication and get-out-the-vote advocacy).

As an alumni of several similar campaigns, I envy the local boycott-fighters’ chance to watch their own hard work and resoluteness hand BDS yet another defeat.  At the same time, I don’t envy them the effort they have to put into getting this squalid little propaganda campaign masquerading as a human rights movement out of their food co-op’s bloodstream.

In addition to the work involved (energy that could be put to more productive use improving the co-op or fighting for actual peace in the Middle East), these types of campaigns always end in meetings like the huge gathering that will take place in March.  In the run-up to such a meeting, a phenomena I refer to as “The Circus” will descend upon Park Slope where every pro- and anti-Israel individual and organization within a thousand mile radius will try to have their say on the matter while neighbors who once waved and smiled at each other, instead accusing one another of racism, anti-Semitism and indifference to human rights.

And at the meeting itself, both sides will take their assigned roles, with disciplined BDSers never wavering in their message of Palestinian suffering and Israeli villainy, with Israel’s supporters more fragmented in their messaging, but no less firm in their resolve.  Park Slopians can look forward to a number of anti-Israel harangues that start with “As a Jew…” deploring the Jewish state and insisting (with tears in their eyes) that a boycott is the organization’s only moral choice.

Needless to say, attempts to prick the conscience of the BDSers over issues such as terrorist murders of Israelis or Arab deaths at the hands of Hamas or Assad will fall on deaf ears since the BDSers are indifferent to Israeli life and even Palestinian lives are only measured in terms of their usefulness to “the movement”.  But arguments directed over the boycotters heads to the general membership can be as effective in Park Slope as they have been everywhere else.

And that message is: why the hell should a group of single-issue partisans be allowed to speak on behalf of the thousands of members of an institution that BDS had no role in building?  After all, the boycotters are free as individuals to not buy all the Israeli products they like.  And they’re even free to start their own co-op and build into its charter the refusal to ever let an Israeli orange or seltzer dispenser stain their shelves.

Ah, but that’s not what they want, is it?  They want to be able to claim that their minority opinion represents the will of thousands of members of a respected organization, and thus give their propaganda message unearned weight.

On March 27th, the first real BDS battle of the year will be fought.  Israel’s friends didn’t want it.  Leaders and members of the Park Slope Food Co-op didn’t want it.  But the boycotters insisted on it.  And while they may get their jollies railing about Israeli in front of an audience of over a thousand (and video tape the whole thing for their YouTube channel and Facebook pages), our friends on the ground should never waver in their commitment to get the job done, add Park Slope to the long list of progressive institutions that have rejected the boycotter’s blandishments, and announce to the world the real message that we all hope comes out of New York this March: that BDS Loses Again!

PennBDS – Sleds with Wheels

The next item on the PennBDS agenda is another discussion of academic boycotts. Given that I’ve said everything I want to say on that subject here, I thought I’d step off the agenda just this once to talk about something inspired by Nycerbarb’s thoughtslast weekend regarding community.

Those thoughts came to mind last weekend during which my son’s Boy Scout troop was participating in the Klondike Derby (stick with me for a bit, since this will hopefully add up to something before the end).

You need to understand two things about this particular scouting trip. First off, my kid’s Scout troop is way bigger than any troop I’ve ever heard of (more than 100 kids), which means that any trip requires moving upwards of 50 people to another town and into the woods. Second, the Klondike includes the use of sleds to race and to move kids and gear, and this year’s dry winter meant there was no snow to push the sleds over.

And so for the last several weeks, dozens of boys (with a healthy dose of participation from parents) had to figure out a way to build wheels onto those aforementioned sleds. And when the day of the trip (Saturday) came around, we needed to borrow trailers to haul sleds and gear, get 50+ people from point A to point B, schlep hundreds of pounds of equipment up hills and over rocky terrain Hannibal style, and do the whole thing in reverse the following day.

Such an endeavor required the participation of dozens of people contributing their time, their cars, their power tools and their backs in order to make a trip like this a success. And the Klondike was actually a council-wide event, meaning troops from around the region were sharing our experience, requiring yet another group of volunteers to organize the program, prepare the campground, judge events – in short, to spend weeks and months ensuring that my son enjoyed 48 hours in the woods eating stew.

The thing is that none of these volunteers, none of the parents, none of the troop’s adult and teenage leaders, none of the 11-14 year olds hauling backpacks, tents and gas stoves derived their biggest satisfaction out of what they got out of the experience. Rather, our pleasure was derived from what we put in.

During four hours of pushing sleds with ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful steering systems, we didn’t think about what was in it for us, or horse-trade this much sled pushing for that much cleaning duty. Even the kids didn’t have to bribe each other to pitch in, they just got on with it, creating a community, or more specifically building on a community that’s been in existence for decades.

Now contrast this with Nycerbarb’s experience of BDS advocates turning to her community (in this case, the co-op community) specifically to get something out of them. You heard her describe how people in her co-op don’t just shop but contribute their time and volunteer effort to keep open an institution that provides value (in that case, healthy food and reasonable prices) to members. And those members, in turn, derive satisfaction from shopping at a place that is truly their own creation.

But the BDSers perceive the co-op differently. For them, it’s a high-profile place filled with caring individuals who might be able to be convinced to put the name and reputation of the institution behind the narrow, political propaganda message that is the heart and soul of BDS.

Barb talked about the space members know to afford each other, since even the tightest community needs to allow for diversity coupled with privacy. But the BDS programs hammers at what they perceive to be trivial nicities, insisting that their political message becomes the law of the land (or, at least the co-op) and the topic of rancorous arguments, regardless of who such a program appalls and offends along the way.

Now the Boy Scouts go back pretty far and are institutionalized enough that no one would try to leverage their rep for partisan gain (certainly not on international issues). But I look across all of the civic organizations I belong to (including a synagogue and other secular and Jewish community organizations) and realize just how easy it would be to subvert them in order to score points against my political rivals.

The only thing protecting them from this fate is that this is something I would never consider doing in a million years.  For these organizations, be they a co-op, a Scout troop, a city, a church or a major university like U Penn are the sacred cornerstones of our civic society. And they can be fragile, as the bitterness and rancor that have visited BDS targets demonstrates.

No doubt the boycotters trying to take advantage of the good nature of other people and leverage the reputation of an institution they had no role in building justify their thoughtlessness by claiming it is motivated by a higher good.

But if they are willing to ravage other people’s communities for their own political gain, might they also be willing to ravage these “higher-goods” to create such justifications? If they’re ready to step on the face of their neighbors in order to get their way (while all the time declaring their devotion to the neighborhood), why should we take them at their word that they (and they alone) represent the values of an even larger community, including values such as human rights, international law and justice?

PennBDS – Community Coalition Building

Today, we’re blessed with a guest article by someone on the BDS front lines.  Nycerbarb organized successful opposition to boycott efforts at her Park Slope food coop, and blogs at the site Stop BDS Park Slope.  She’s also a frequent visitor and commenter at Divest This and an all around cool person.  Today, she provides her take on the next item on the PennBDS agenda, BDS and Community Coalition Building.

I have learned much about communities, coalition building and BDS in the last year.

For more than 22 years I have been a member of the Park Slope Food Coop, in Brooklyn, New York. About one year ago, a small group within our Coop began an effort to have the Coop remove from the shelves the 4 or 5 Israeli products the store carries, and more importantly, to publicly endorse the BDS movement. I began an effort to oppose this, forming an anti-boycott group More Hummus Please, as well as the blog Stop BDS ParkSlope.

People join food coops for the food. They want to buy healthy, fresh, local food at excellent prices. People do not join the Coop to have their politics decided for them. While some members may want to use the Coop to promote their pet political project, the vast majority of members ignore those efforts, including efforts to have the Coop participate in a boycott of the Jewish state.  Like most people, members of the Park Slope Coop just want to finish their shopping, go home and take care of their lives. And if the Coop’s political capital is to be used for anything, the general feeling is that it should be used to support local issues that affect the food supply (such as opposition to fracking for natural gas in New York State).

Our food coop requires all members to contribute labor. This keeps our operating costs and mark-up extremely low. I estimate my family saves over $3000 a year by shopping and working at our food coop. The work requirement also contributes to the coop’s friendly and accepting atmosphere. Our collective involvement in our unique grocery store makes it possible to walk up to someone and begin discussing recipes, cold remedies or baby carriers. At the same time, the Coop’s cooperative spirit depends upon respect for people’s boundaries, which includes political boundaries. Imposing your own political view upon the membership is a violation of that respect.

Our pro-BDS members could not care less about boundaries, respect or the needs of anyone beyond themselves.  With their constant letters to our biweekly newspaper (many of which abuse those who disagree with them) and their unwillingness to take no for an answer, they have turned the Coop into a battleground, trying to import the Middle East conflict into our community. They have made it clear that they don’t care if members quit the Coop because of BDS and – in a supreme twist of logic – they blame those who want to get their self-centered politics out of the organization as being responsible for tearing at the fabric of our community.

But their movement is responsible for successful community building, specifically a community of people dedicated to ensuring that the co-opting of the Coop does not take place.  So far, over 200 Coop members have added their names to our calls for the BDS group to leave the Coop alone.

But while BDS advocates have succeeded in creating communities opposing them, do they know anything about genuine community building themselves?

Genuine peace makers demonstrate the commitment to peace and justice by working to “normalize” the relationships between people previously in conflict. They encourage people to participate in joint projects and cultural exchanges, thereby opening channels of communication with the hope that these efforts will result in opponents becoming reconciled to mutual co-existence and tolerance.

This represents the polar opposite of what BDS champions.  Time after time, the leadership of the BDS movements has made it clear that it opposes any normalization of relations between Palestinians and Israelis.  And those fighting against normalization (which means communication and reconciliation) are fighting against peace.

Food coops, like ours, engage in community building by providing a shared neutral civic space for diverse groups to obtain local, organic, healthy foods. Members benefit from lower costs for items that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Through shared investments contribution of labor, and cooperative effort directed towards a single goal, our community is created and sustained

This is not the type of community building BDS is interested in.  Across the country, BDS activists have tried to get food coops to participate in their boycott and while they have been rejected time and time again these efforts have torn communities apart, as their members can attest.

Universities also engage in community building. In an environment of mutual respect and acceptance, young people from diverse backgrounds come together to pursue knowledge, to investigate and to exchange ideas.

BDS is not interested in this type of community building, either. When BDS activists – whether via divestment campaigns or ugly, dishonest propaganda programs like Israel Apartheid Week, come to campus they create hostile environments.  Apart from the harassment of Jewish students on a number of campuses (which has led to students transferring from some colleges), the noisy and dishonest arguments that form the backbone of BDS or Apartheid Week propaganda campaigns represent the opposite of what college and the college community are all about.

Awareness movements, such as LGBT or Occupy Wall Street, also build communities. Relationships are created not only between their participant members, but between themselves and the general public. By raising awareness of their situation and concerns, they invoke sympathy and understanding.

BDS, in contrast, doesn’t build a movement so much as it tries to hijack the movements of others, injecting themselves into real communities (such as the LGBT or Occupy) in order to bend it to their agenda.  In addition to drawing attention away from important causes such as gay rights, this type of subversion ends up alienating many who might otherwise support grassroots political organizations dedicated to other issues.   But for BDS champions, there is only one issue of importance, and if important political projects need to suffer so that the BDS message can be stuffed into their mouths, that’s a sacrifice the boycotters are willing to make.

The BDS community is built on a rigid ideology and does not tolerate dissent. Read any pro-BDS literature and you will find the same logic-defying talking points repeated over and over. Introduce any fact to counter a BDS assertion, and it will be dismissed. Any respected voice showing less than full support for the BDS program will be ostracized from the movement.

It is a community obsessed with Israel. They work full-time and overtime to find ways to vilify the Jewish State. They have no compulsion about abusing organizations built on trust (such as our coop) to promote their cause. Yet, for all those efforts, they have failed to convince any organization to endorse them.  So ultimately, BDS is a communityof losers.