Sanctions Go Global!

Emotions must be running high in BDS-land these days, given that their activity has finally triggered sanctions, that is, official government denunciation and punishment of someone or something those governments consider to be repugnant.  And not just in the US, but across the globe.

Sadly, the holy “S” of the BDS project is being directed at the BDSers themselves, rather than their hated Zionist enemy.

In the UK, the government has outlawed local councils from establishing their own foreign policy (which largely amounted to embracing the Israel = Apartheid propaganda agenda, while ignoring the suffering of anyone else in the world).  In France, a government which has shown far too much patience as an anti-Semitic cancer metastasized within their borders has decided to start the fight against anti-Jewish racism by lashing out against the racism of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement.”

While the government in Germany has similarly lashed out against the boycotters, a German bank has shut down the account of an organizations pushing BDS.

And this is on top of the increasing momentum we’ve seen in the US where state governments are now jumping on the bandwagon to pass anti-BDS sanctions legislation.

Keep in mind that these are the same governments the boycotters have been lobbying for over a decade to pass anti-Israel sanctions which could be used to convince the gullible that the campaign to slime the Jewish state has broad public support.

Given that BDS success at even one of these governing bodies would have been accompanied by fireworks over Omar Barghouti’s house coupled with demands that we all accept any win as evidence of the BDSers “unstoppable momentum,” how are they reacting to those same governments denouncing them?

Needless to say, they are not donning hair shirts and crying over their “losses,” any more than they treat the near tripling of the Israeli economy during the BDS decade as a setback for their project.  Rather, they are portraying attacks on them by elected bodies as more evidence that their “staggering success” is so staggering that “The Man” is now doing everything in its power to stop them.

The game of politics is largely a game of story creation, and every political candidate and campaign does its best to get a preferred storyline lodged into public consciousness before an opponent’s story gets stuck there first.

Now there is nothing wrong with the fact that everyone tries to “out-story” everyone else in any type of campaign.  You can see this unfolding during our current Presidential campaign season which includes a candidate who is responsible for criminal abuse of communication privilege or the victim of a “right-wing witch hunt” (depending on whose story you believe).

In exporting the Arab-Israeli conflict to the rest of the world, the Israel haters are trying to sell a story involving Israeli demons gleefully torturing pristine Palestinian innocents for the fun of it, one which – for better or for worse – does not compete with a similar pro-Israeli story-formation campaigns designed to smear their foes (or even tell the whole honest truth about them).

The reason why Israel and her friends are not blanketing the planet with anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab or anti-Muslim propaganda is that one doesn’t spend every waking hour condemning those you want to ultimately live in peace with and insisting everyone else join you in declaring your opponents to be the enemy of all mankind.

Fortunately, this hasn’t prevented Israel and its allies from telling the truth about the lying, callous and wholly hypocritical project called BDS, and for others (including the aforementioned national and state governments) from expressing outrage by formally condemning and even sanctioning the “movement.”

So it is our job to replace the story the BDSers prefer everyone believe (that everything represents victory for them – including defeat) with one that says the sanctions that boycotters have been begging governments to impose on Israel for decades, have finally been imposed on them.

BDS Breakthrough!

Having spent a decade and a half getting one food coop to stop selling Israeli ice cream cones (leading to every other coop in the land saying “No” to similar boycotts), getting a handful of student governments to vote for divestment that will never happen, and getting little known academic organizations to pass boycotts they’re too afraid to implement, the BDS “movement” has finally hit pay-dirt.

And not just some rinky-dink boycott or divestment measure, but the Holy Grail of the BDSers – Sanctions (i.e., elected governments taking action due to BDS activity).

The only trouble (for them, anyway) is that those governments have been passing resolutions condemning not Israel but the boycotters.  And if the recent unanimous passage of anti-BDS legislation in Illinois (inspired by and inspiring similar moves in Tennessee, Indiana and New York) is any indication, the Israel-disliking community is about to discover what genuine political momentum looks like.

If you add to these recent state-level initiatives to moves by the US Congress to tie trade with Europe to that continent’s steering clear of BDS blandishments, it seems as though three successful sanctions programs (against Iran, Sudan and now BDS) have all caught fire during 15 years when the boycotters have been struggling to get a spark from their increasingly damp book of matches.

As my regular reader knows, I’ve never been a big fan of government action (from legislators or judges) substituting for local political action when it comes to how to best win BDS battles.  But unlike previous attempts to directly intervene in specific boycott disputes (such as state sanctions directed against the American Studies Association that might have done more harm than good, or lawsuits that always go badly for those that bring them), these recent state and national votes just reflect the fact that elected bodies get to have a say on important political issues (which is actually what we elect them to do).

In fact, the last people who have a right to complain about sanctions legislation targeting BDS are the BDSers themselves who have been tirelessly lobbying local, state and federal government to support their cause for years.  And if they’re going to announce to the world that a one-month flirtation with divestment on the part of a single city (brought about by their behind-the-scenes machinations) is fraught with political meaning, who are they to claim that legislation targeting them – passed in the light of day – is meaningless?

The other thing that puts the Illinois (and similar) votes on the right side of the fine line I tend to draw in these matters is the fact that this legislation is prophylactic vs. punishing.

What I mean by that is that these bills announce to the world that any company engaging in BDS targeting Israel now has to take into account that such a decision requires them to sacrifice something tangible to do so (i.e., doing business in Illinois and – soon – elsewhere).  In other words, companies are still free to embrace the BDS agenda.  But if they choose to go down that path they need to really care about it enough to pay for the privilege, rather than assume that they can take a stance (or, more frequently, strike a pose) cost free.

An unstated assertion in almost every BDS campaign is that it costs nothing for an organization (be it the Presbyterian Church, the city of Somerville or some retirement fund in Scandinavia) to embrace the boycott or divestment cause.  Those of us who have seen divestment battles up close know the cost these organizations will ultimately pay in terms of poisoning civic life.  But when the BDSers show up screaming that everyone has no choice but to do what they say, issues of civic comity rarely get surfaced in time to make a difference.

But now that governments are getting onto the anti-BDS bandwagon, the unstated premise that joining the BDS movement comes with no practical price becomes more and more difficult to support (or keep hidden).

The reason that this is important is that, in many instances, those deciding whether to participate in a boycott or divestment project are looking for a reason to say “No” that avoids having to take sides in (or even fully understand) the fire pit of Middle East politics.

You saw this recently at the Greenstar Food Coop in Ithaca, NY where leaders who may have not had enough knowledge to accept or reject BDS claims were clearly looking for a way to get out of the whole mess the boycotters had gotten them into without seeming to choose between rival partisans.  So when the organization’s attorneys told them that passing a boycott (or even letting a vote go forward) might put Greenstar at odds with New York anti-discrimination law, those leaders were given grounds to tell the BDS cru “No Thanks” without having to adjudicate the Arab-Israeli conflict in the process.

US anti-boycott law (which few people were ever prosecuted under) provided a similar prophylactic for corporations looking to tell the Arab Boycott office in Damascus “I’d love to take your call, but…” followed by “No Thank You.”  And now that sanctions targeting BDS are poised to start running wild across the land (and with Damascus kind of preoccupied these days), these are phrases we can hope the boycotters start hearing even more today than they have since their program began at the turn of the Millennium.

Sanction What?

While this site has been pretty busy tracking the failures of Divestment and the success of counter-Boycott, the S of BDS (“sanctions”) seems to have gotten short shrift. Partly, this is because no institution that could apply sanctions (economic or otherwise) against Israel is even remotely considering doing so. But it’s also because an analysis of what sanctions could include leads to some discomforting facts for BDS advocates.

The holy grail of the “Israel is Always Guilty” crowd would be the US ending financial support for the Jewish state. Before divestment became such a fad, ending US military and economic aid to the Jewish state was considered top priority since – according to Israel’s critics – US military aid was the only thing that gave Israel an edge over its neighbors and US economic aid was all that kept Israel from financial ruin.

This analysis ignores the fact that Israel’s most impressive period of nation building, between its founding in 1948 through the late 1960s, was during a period when Israel received little to no aid (financial or military) from the US. During this period Israel managed (without Uncle Sam’s help) to build its national institutions, integrate millions of citizens (including over a million Jews expelled from the Arab world), and win three major wars in ’48, ’56 and ’67.

It was only in 1973 that the US realized that Israel (which repeatedly defeated the Soviet Union’s Middle East clients) was an asset rather than a liability and began investing accordingly. Eventually, the US Foreign Aid budget included an annual $3 billion line item for Israel, one which critics pointed out meant the largest recipient of US foreign assistance was a modern thriving nation. But, as A. F. K. Organski’s intriguing book The 36 Billion Dollar Bargain pointed out:

* Aid to Israel was primarily directed at giving it a qualitative military advantage to make up for its numerical inferiority (much as our $50 billion per year NATO investment was designed to give Europe the edge over the Soviets). But by putting its annual donation to Israel in the Foreign Aid budget, the US could maintain the fiction with key Arab allies (such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States) that they did not have a military alliance with the Jewish state

* Because foreign aid has historically been unpopular with the US Congress, putting Israeli aid into Foreign Aid bills helped get those bills passed. In other words, far from taking money out of the mouths of starving Bangladeshis, Israel defense aid (disguised as general foreign aid) was the only way to ensure those Bangladeshis got anything at all.

Fast forward to today and the notion that cutting Israel off from US aid is the key to the Jewish state’s collapse is even more fanciful. For, over the years, US military aid has been earmarked for spending in the US (creating a domestic constituency for such spending). With the vast sharing of security-related intelligence and know-how between the two countries, during a period of war with common enemies, US money put into Israeli security channels continues to look like a wise investment indeed.

As for economic aid, this was generally used by Israeli governments to mask their own economic failings and would probably have begun a phase out years ago, but for the fact that US aid to Egypt (which is in dire need of such financial support) is directly tied to grants to Israel.

The changing financial relationship between the US and Israel has only become more stark in the last year when the Israeli economy continued to surge while the US continued to accumulate more and more debt. Just recently, talk of using US loan guarantees to put pressure on Israel induced giggles between Israeli and US negotiators who realized that today it is Israel that is helping to support US deficit spending, rather than the other way around.

So, as with so many things, those who talk of sanctions or US financial pressure on Israel are demonstrating nothing more than their ignorance, as well as their wishful thinking that an Israeli economy that today receives more venture capital from Europe than any European country is in imminent danger of financial destruction due to the noisy, but increasingly irrelevant, efforts of BDS.

BDS Countdown! – Be Still My Heart

According to their countdown clock, the 8th Annual Organizer’s Conference will be taking place in downtown Chicago in ten days, three hours and 43 minutes (whoops! make that 42 minutes). While the innocuous title is likely to have been chosen in the hope that the group won’t get thrown out of their venue before this gig begins on September 12, the Annual Organizer’s Conference promises to be THE place where the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) “movement” targeting Israel will coordinate their activity for the year.

Scuttlebutt on campuses seems to indicate that BDS will be the chosen tactic for the “Israel is wrong about everything, always” crowd this academic year. In some ways, this is a pain (who wants to fight the same battles over and over again, after all). At the same time, it’s nice that Israel’s foes have chosen to revisit the only thing I know of that is more unpopular among the American public than Israel’s political rivals: the tactics of boycott, divestment and sanction.

Given how little the divest-niks have to show for themselves after eight years of trying to hijack respected institutions, the noise level at this year’s conference is sure to be high-decibel and shrill. After all, colleges and universities have already given divestment the heave-ho, and last year’s Hampshire hoax is not likely to endear the “movement” to college administrators. The closest the BDS crew got to success in cities and towns was five years ago in Somerville, MA, after which municipal leaders pretty much had their number. Despite boasts of union support, the US labor movement continues to rival Evangelical Christians in their devotion to the Jewish state. And speaking of Christians, the final holdouts among Mainline Churches calling for Israel divestment have spent the last two weeks reversing those positions by overwhelming majorities.

So where does that leave BDS in ’09? I could continue to make fun of their feeble attempts to turn normal business transactions (i.e., Motorola) or corporate presidents telling them to screw themselves (i.e., Caterpillar) into “victories,” but that misses a larger point that today BDS mostly represents a way for anti-Israel activists to create cohesion among themselves, a human-to-human “social network” of individuals blinded by their own self-righteous fury, impervious to any truths that contradict a vision of the world that is endlessly re-enforced by spending time only with the like-minded.

Of course, the last several years have taught us that the BDS crew does have one skill: the ability to turn even shallow victories (such as the Presbyterian Church’s two-year flirtation with divestment) into media-driven “momentum” that can require months or years agita to turn around. Still, while it’s always hard to pull an apathetic public into any political project, it’s particularly difficult when that project has proven to be as big a loser as divestment.

Anyway, it’s now ten days, three hours and twenty-eight minutes until those who know better than the rest of us gather in Chicago. If anyone is interested in attending and sending me back material I can broadcast, I’ll be happy to pick up the $35 entrance fee.

Street Theater

A buddy took some video of the Boston chapter of “Israel is Wrong About Everything Always Forever” brigade as they “took to the streets” to picket a Motorola retail store in Harvard Square (an action somehow related to the fact that Motorola is one of the companies that commonly comes up as targets for Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS).

The most common company on this target list is Caterpillar Tractor, and my friend inquired why the protestors had seemed to move from this familiar target to a cell phone manufacturer. He suspected that it was because Palestinians had recently made use of tractors as murder weapons, which limited the BDSers interest in minimizing the number of pieces of Caterpillar equipment in Israel (and thus deprive Palestinians of the vehicles they have recently been driving into bus stops). But I would like to suggest a few alternatives.

First off, as has been stated here frequently, the job of BDS is to get an institution that is more well known and respected that the organizations pushing divestment (which pretty much includes everyone) to attach their name (willingly or unwillingly) to the protestor’s real agenda (i.e., to stuff their message that Israel is an Apartheid state into the mouth of a university, church or cub scout troop). With this in mind, both Caterpillar and Motorola are useful since these stocks are so widely held in nearly everyone’s portfolio that protesting these companies gives BDSers the right (at least in their own minds) to target any civic organization with any type of endowment (from universities to cities to unions to churches) for their nasty and dishonest little program.

The other reason can be gleaned from looking at the people who take part in these protests close up. Simply put, they haven’t looked well for years and every year I see them out on the streets, their decline (physical, intellectual and spiritual) seems to have accelerated. Unlike the “happy warriors” who tend to be on our side of the ramparts, the BDS crew seems to consist of oldsters whose eternally burning rage and hatred has taken its toll, and new recruits who are either struck dumb when their lies are confronted, or raging political or religious fanatics who are destined to appear as wretched as their older “comrades” as they approach their twenties.

For folks in such decline, who have seen Israel’s popularity among the American public soar (in direct proportion to the plummeting popularity of Israel’s Arab foes), it is critical to nurture a robust fantasy life to provide meaning to otherwise meaningless lives. After all, neither Caterpillar (which has voted down shareholder nuisance complaints over the Israel by margins of 98-2 for years) or Motorola are ever going to pull out of Israel because of complainers like the ones who appeared in Harvard Square. In addition to knowing where investment dollars are best spent in the region, these companies also have legal staffs that are fully aware of US anti-boycott regulations, which makes it even less likely they will ever take action against the Jewish state for political reasons, even if they wanted to (which, they have stated over and over again they don’t).

So why protest against a company that will never do what you want (worse, protest against a retail store where customers and employees won’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about)? Well if you live in the real world, you would realize that your political efforts (no matter how misguided) would best be put elsewhere. But if you live in a fantasy world where you are part of a righteous vanguard informing the ignorant masses of the wickedness of your political enemies (no matter how much those masses consider you a strange bunch of cranks), then these protests make all the sense in the world!

An aging gaggle of middle-class radicals consumed with hatred of the only state in the Middle East that honors the progressive values (tolerance of women, gays and religious minorities, for example) the BDS-niks claim to represent is a peculiar thing to watch. One can’t really accuse them of hypocrisy since that implies that they live in the same universe as those of us who actually embody the virtues (tolerance, dedication to truth, honesty) they merely pose at.