Burden of Proof

As some of you know, I’ve become interested in the philosophy of argumentation over the last few years, with a particular interest in the fallacies people use to try to “prove” points that can’t be demonstrated using standard techniques (such as providing accurate and relevant evidence organized into proper and logical arguments).

I suppose interacting with BDSers has given me the experience needed to see this type of fallacious argumentation in action, since the boycotters seem to tap every fallacy in the book to push forward their storyline of momentum and victory (despite all evidence pointing to a starker reality of catastrophe and defeat).

Regarding calls in this piece making the humble request that BDSers actually prove their claims, and this one providing them examples for how comparable claims of divestment victory have been presented historically, my simple (and perfectly reasonable) request is motivated by the boycotters’ tendency to fall back on demands that the burden of proof falls on others to demonstrate the a BDS victory did not occur (vs. on the BDSers to prove that it did).

I could be a pretentious dweeb and provide the Latin name for this particular fallacy (okay, it’s called onus probandi).  But the key point is that if a company (like Blackrock) or retirement fund (like TIAA-CREF) or college (like Hampshire) has supposedly divested from the Jewish state, is it too much to ask that the actual organizations allegedly doing all this divesting tell everyone this is what they’re doing (and why)?

It seems like a straightforward enough request.  And, as noted previously, it consists of nothing more (but also nothing less) than the evidence provided by any other political boycott or divestment campaign in history.

But instead of such clear-cut, unambiguous statements, we get convoluted explanations that are supposed to be telling us why an institution that has never said anything on the subject of divesting from Israel (or who have explicitly said they are not divesting) have, in fact, joined the BDS “movement” wholeheartedly.  Or (as with the Quakers) we get unattributed quotes strung together with statements by people who had nothing to do with the decisions being described, all packaged together to create a press release claiming a divestment “win” that cannot be discerned without “helpful” assistance of BDS tea-leaf readers.

The latest example of this phenomena is this extended “analysis” from yet another Palestinian Solidarity Activist with a really Jewish name who spends over 2000 words trying to get around the fact that the companies his fellow activists have targeted for years and years have yet to even mention BDS as even being on their radar with regard to business risk.

As far as I can tell, the argument the author is presenting is that the fact that BDS bogeymen like SodaStream, Veolia and Caterpillar are not talking about the impact BDS  has had on their bottom line is itself evidence of the boycotter’s “impact” (which is so impactful that large powerful companies are afraid to even mention it).

The piece is littered with “evidence” of BDS “victories” that are supposed to be harming these companies as we speak, even though most of those victory tales (such as Veolia) have been exposed as fraudulent or irrelevant long ago.

Which means we are left with the fact that the only genuine controversies these companies face are controversies generated by the BDSers themselves.   In other words, the 2000+ words the author has written on the subject boils down a tantrum over why these companies don’t admit that they are suffering from the artificial controversies the author and his allies have manufactured.

I supposed these companies can simply be hiding their boycott decisions for fear of retribution from an all-powerful “The Jewish Lobby.”  But in the inductive logic game there is an old saying of “If you hear hoof beats behind you, assume it’s horses and not zebras.”

Which, in this case, the horse translates to: “Companies face business risks – including boycott threats based on bogus information – all the time, from partisans on all kinds of issues.  And if they’re not acknowledging the alleged importance of your particular boycott call, perhaps it’s because they haven’t even noticed you, much less thought about doing what you insist is their only choice.”

If and when BDS-land actually lands a big win, believe me we will all know about it.  For just as with “real” divestment projects (like those targeting genuine human rights catastrophes like South Africa, Sudan and Iran), the companies and universities and churches and municipalities and unions taking part in these boycotts and divestment decision will loudly and proudly tell the world what they’re doing.

But in the absence of such clear-cut, unambiguous evidence, the burden of proof remains on the boycotters to show us that BDS has taken place, rather than on us to prove that it hasn’t.

Quaker Quotes


Sorry about the graphic (I couldn’t resist).

Anyway, one of those friendly BDSers who regularly visits the comment section showed up last week to announce, yet again, a new stunning victory which I and everyone else is in complete denial over (since said victory means BDS is just inches from bringing the Zionist entity to its knees).

This time, the triumph in question has to do with the Quakers who allegedly sold off their shares in Hewlett Packard and Veolia, two divestment targets that the boycotters can’t seem to get anyone else to divest from.  Which left most of us panic-stricken Israel supporters asking some obvious questions, namely: “You mean to tell me there are still Quakers out there?” and “If they are out there, what are they doing in the financial services business?

Apparently, the Quakers also divested from every BDSer’s favorite boogeyman, Caterpillar Tractor (or Caterpillar Killdozer, if you prefer) at the beginning of the year (which makes you wonder why this precedent wasn’t even noticed, much less mentioned during the summer’s Methodist and Presbyterian divestment fights).

News of the Quakers, HP, Veolia (and Caterpillar) have been doing the usual circuit on the Israel-hating web sites (and will no doubt be showing up on their handwritten posters and mimeographed fliers soon – BDS being the only movement left that still uses mimeograph machines).  And it may very well be that the Quakers (who do indeed exist outside of oatmeal boxes and actually do maintain various investment funds for members) did everything the boycotters claim they did.

But if that’s the case, one wonders why the way these decisions were described in the boycotter’s own breathless press releases leaves so much room for alternative explanations.

Perhaps I’m just splitting linguistic hairs, but let’s tour the wording of the Quaker announcement as it appeared on the main BDS web site and see if we can determine what represents fact vs. self-serving interpretation. (Quotes from said press release appear in italics.)

Hewlett Packard was removed from Friends Fiduciary’s investments because they provide information technology consulting services to the Israeli Navy, said Jeffery W. Perkins, the Executive Director of Friends Fiduciary. 

Given that Jeffery W. Perkins was supposed to have said this, one wonders why this statement does not appear in quotations?  After all (and as I’ve said many times), the only way to know for certain that an institution has divested for specific political reasons (in this case, in protest of Israel vs. protest of military-related investment generally) would be for the organization to explicitly state that this is what they did.

So, in this case, the quote we are looking for from Perkins would not be one that says they have sold off their HP stock because HP is partially in the weapons business (since weapons manufacturing of any kind is anathema to the pacifist Quakers), but that they were specifically divesting from this company because of its relationship with Israel.

Veolia Environment, the world’s largest water privatization company, was removed because of “environmental and social concerns.” According to Global Exchange, Veolia provides segregated water services to Israeli settlers in the Palestinian Territories and runs a large landfill in the occupied Jordan River valley.

In the first sentence of this paragraph, we are told that the Quakers divested from Veolia for reasons that had nothing to do with Israel (i.e., they did so because of “environmental and social concerns” – with the statement in quotes this time).  But in the BDSers second sentence, they’re talking about an entirely different organization (Global Exchange) condemning Veolia over Israel and settlements and segregated water, and yadda, yadda,  yadda.

Now it may be the case that the Global Exchange organization feels that way (or at least some sub-group within it has made such a statement).  But even if they did, this does not make those accusations true.  More importantly, it provides no link whatsoever with financial decisions made by the Quakers.  So why quote one organization (Global Exchange) to explain a choice allegedly made by another organization (the Quakers), unless such a juxtaposition is the only way to present a decision that had nothing to do with the Middle East as being Israel/BDS related?

Friends’ Fiduciary’s decision to drop Hewlett Packard and Veolia follows on the heels of another important action, says Anne Remley of the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, which initiated the divestment requests. In April, 2012, Friends Fiduciary’s removed Caterpillar Corporation from their list of socially responsible corporations based on the 360-year old Quaker Peace Testimony, which disavows support for war.

This paragraph strongly resembles the first one on HP in that (1) it provides no quotes from any actual decision makers within the Quaker’s financial organization (instead it gives us a statement by someone within a particular Quaker community who advocates for divestment); and (2) it gives us nothing to indicate that this decision was Israel related vs. general defense/military related (in fact, the statement seems to indicate the latter).

Again, our friends on Planet BDS may show up tomorrow providing direct quotes from the Quaker financial establishment (I never thought I’d be typing that phrase) which explains in uncontestable language that these divestment decisions (1) occurred; and (2) were specifically taken in protest of Israel (not just as part of a general policy to avoid any investments in companies doing business with any military whatsoever).

As we wait for more detail, I think I’m going to find out if the Shakers also run their own retirement and investment funds.   If so, I’m joining.