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.

Statements

Last week, I talked about what a genuine BDS victory might look like, and how we would know when it had come about.

This has become an important issue since, in most instances when the BDSers sent out a press release announcing their most recent “triumph” (certainly any one that involved boycott or divestment decisions with a financial impact climbing above three figures), these announcements tended to be maddeningly ambiguous (read MSCI and the Quakers) or outright frauds (read Blackrock and HampshireCollege).

Fortunately, there is precedent for what a genuine divestment victory looks like.  For instance, if you think back to the actual Anti-Apartheid movement from the 1980s (the one the boycotters insist we accept them as a successor to), when colleges and universities, churches and even state governments pulled the plug on their South African investments, this involved:

1. Selling off thousands or even millions of dollars worth of equities – sometimes at a loss – in order to take a moral stand; and

2. Accompanying that moral stand with a clear, unambiguous statement from the leader or leaders of the institution doing the divesting which made it crystal clear what they were doing and why

To cite one example, in 1986 the state of New Jersey (following the lead of other states) pulled $4.3 billion of their pension fund out of companies that maintained ties with Apartheid South Africa (that’s billion with a “B”).   And this decision was accompanied by a proud and public statement by then Governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean, in which he said: ”We will not countenance the brutality that is apartheid by nourishing it with our investments.”

Notice the total lack of need to have anyone interpret the political and financial decision of the State of New Jersey in this instance of genuine divestment.  No single-issue partisan hacks were required to “explain” to us how we should interpret New Jersey’s action.  And no spin doctors had to be on hand to read us the tea leaves regarding why the institution (in this case, the state) was doing what it was doing.

For when genuine, political divestment takes place, it is accompanied by a clear moral pronouncement by those actually doing the divesting which leaves no ambiguity whatsoever.  In fact, since the type of divestment we’re talking about (selling stock for political vs. financial reasons) is a political act, the lack of an unambiguous announcement means such a political divestment act has not taken place.

You don’t even need to go back two-and-a-half decades to see what I’m talking about.  For during the BDS era, there have been other divestment projects (notably ones targeting Sudan and Iran) that have been wildly successful, even as anti-Israel BDSers ricocheted between defeat and fiasco.

To again cite just one example, when in 2007 the University of Massachusetts pulled the plug on Sudan-related investment (in this case to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars), the head of the school’s Investment Committee stated “We are taking this action because we believe that it is the right thing to do.” And the school’s President celebrated the decision as “consistent with the University’s traditions and values.”

Contrast this to BDS hoax at Hampshire College in 2009 when the boycotters were firing off one press release after another claiming that Hampshire had become the first US college in the country to divest from “Apartheid Israel,” even as the President of the college and Chair of its Board of Trustees were announcing that “No other college or university should use Hampshire as a precedent for divesting from Israel, since Hampshire has refused to divest from Israel. Anyone who claims otherwise is deliberately misrepresenting Hampshire’s decision and has no right to speak for the college.”

And this is just one example of statements just as clear as those made in the New Jersey or UMass cases noted above, except that this time they unambiguously state that the school has done nothing like what is being claimed by the BDSers.

Keep these quotes and dollar figures in mind the next time the forces of boycott and divestment insist that votes taken by a student council somewhere (often taken in the dead of night behind the backs of students, which are immediately condemned or ignored by financial decision makers) mean victory is within their grasp.

And keep it especially in mind when you are confronted by a BDS press release filled with unattributed quotes and ambiguous wording regarding what someone else was supposed to have done.  And if said press release lacks a statement as clear as what we’ve seen with every genuine boycott or divestment victory in history, you can safely assume that this “win” exists only in the BDSers own heated fantasies.

Prove It!

Well things seem to be a bit quiet on Planet BDS land these days.

The last big announcement I can see on the BDS Central web site has to do with the Quakers, and (as noted here), we have yet to hear from any of those crowing boycotters as to why – if their victory is so absolute – they needed to wrap it in the vaguest (and seemingly misleadingest) wording imaginable.

You know, at this point I think it might be time to formalize criteria for success of a boycott, divestment or a sanctions activity, just so everyone involve with either fighting for or fighting against such an action will know what they are dealing with.

And the best and simplest standard I can think of (one I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, albeit informally) would be as follows: we will all agree that a boycott, divestment or sanctions decision has been made when the people who are allegedly making this decision stand up and say that they (1) are boycotting, divesting from or sanctioning Israel and (2) are doing so specifically in protest of Israel or its policies (also specified).

This standard really shouldn’t be considered extraordinary in any way.  After all, in every boycott and divestment campaign that has ever existed (from the Montgomery bus boycott to the protests against Apartheid South Africa), it was the people doing the boycotting or divesting that took center stage, announcing what they had done and why.

Certainly activists from inside and outside those communities (be they colleges, churches or other institutions) played a role in getting those organizations to join in a boycott or divestment campaign.  But when it came time to announce success, it was the President of the College, the governing board of the church, or some other person actually responsible for the decisions that were being claimed to get up on stage, tell the world what they did, and announce in no uncertain terms that those boycott and divestment decisions were taken for specific political reasons.

In fact, the anti-Israel BDS program seems to be the only example I can think of where people who did not make these decisions insist on the right to make claims regarding someone else.  Whether we’re talking about Students for Justice in Palestine pretending to speak for Hampshire College (while the real decision-makers at Hampshire were saying something completely different) or BDS Central interpreting for us a series of unrelated decisions made by the Quakers, time and time again we’ve been faced with self-serving external groups telling us what we should believe another institution has done while the institution itself is remains mum on the subject or is saying something that completely contradicts what the boycotters are saying.

So the next time you see a BDS press release announcing this or that retailer has kicked this or that hummus off their shelves, or this or that church or government council has cancelled a contract at the urging of boycott and divestment forces, everyone’s first response should be: Prove It.  And in this case, proof can only come from one place: from a spokesperson from the organization allegedly doing this boycotting saying in no uncertain terms that they have done so for the specific political reasons assigned to them by the BDSers.

This new standard is really in everyone’s interest (including the Israel haters).  For Israel’s supporters, it provides an objective standard to ascertain the real progress (or lack thereof) of the BDS campaign so that resources to fight it can be applied appropriately.  For institutions being targeted by the BDSers, it provides them a way to clearly state what they are doing and not doing (to avoid being criticized for something they didn’t do, for instance).  And for the public, it ensures they are getting honest and accurate information.

Even inhabitants of Planet BDS will benefit from such a standard since it would help them avoid another decade of being exposed as liars and frauds attempting to pass off one BDS hoax after another or trying to flummox the public through manipulative wording regarding other people’s choices.  With such a standard in place, they will know exactly when an institution has joined their movement and will no longer need to hide their faces when their hoaxes are exposed (since there will no longer be any).

So what do you say, world?  Shall we all agree that the only way we’ll know when Harvard or the Quakers or the sandwich shop down the street has BDSed is when they tell us they did?  Seems an obvious choice for me.

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.