One of the more challenging aspects of dealing with BDS is the number of Jews (including Israelis) who seem to be highly involved on both sides of the issue. “Another Jew/Israeli for Divestment” read stickers worn by several BDSers who crammed the Senate meetings at Berkeley (and elsewhere), reflecting that many divestment groups not only include Jewish members, but also have Jewish and even Israeli leaders.
Now I have many activist buddies who are driven to distraction by the phenomena of Jewish involvement in organized attacks on Israel and its supporters. And put a few beers into them (or even some mild tea) and you’ll soon know the whole history of Jewish anti-Semitism (called “self-hatred”), court-Jews, turncoats and treachery that dates back to before Josephus threw his lot in with the Romans, and continues to this day with academic “Wandering Jews” like Norman Finkelstein.
While this history is interesting, I tend to take a more pragmatic approach to the presence of my fellow tribesmen in the ranks of both sides of the BDS debate. After all, historic precedent would be useful if it provided an opening to educate (or at least shame) Israel’s Jewish critics regarding the historic baggage they carry. But given the current company Jewish anti-Israel activists keep, I don’t anticipate historic context would have much resonance for them. And as for shaming, as I’ve been documenting here for over a year, BDSers (Jew and Gentile alike) seem to have no shame.
In fact, Jewish and non-Jewish Israel-dislikers have far more in common with one another than they do with me (despite all of their speeches which begin “As a Jew…”). And what they share is the one element that permeates all aspects of the divestment debate: fantasy politics.
I’ve talked about fantasy vs. reality with regard to anti-Israel politics in the past, and while most divestment advocates share a common general fantasy (one where they are intrepid and virtuous heroes, fighting against an all-powerful enemy which represses them), flavors of that fantasy vary from group to group. At its most extreme, the jihadi Israel-hater is trying to re-create a fallen Islamic empire purely through acts of will and violence, just as Mussolini thought he could resurrect the Roman Empire via fearsome will coupled with pageantry and tanks.
Christian divestment activists (like those in the Presbyterian Church) do not go nearly to this extreme. But they still dwell in a fantasy world where they and only they are in possession of “the truth” in which they liken the Palestinians to Christ on the cross and thus see themselves as martyred saints who are always about to be thrown to the lions. The fact that this political myth-making has become its own form of superstitious faith (with Israel Apartheid Week taking the place of a dustier Easter they don’t really celebrate anymore) is lost on such people who lack, along with a sense of shame, any sense of irony.
For the Jewish member or leader of Students for Justice in Palestine (or whatever), the fantasy takes the form of being a truly enlightened, morally superior being whose distance from or rejection of the burdens of Jewish life (whether religious obligations or a willingness to fight for the political rights of the Jewish people) are proof positive of this courageous identity. Like the Christian BDSer whose anti-Israel animus demonstrates his or her Christ-like nature, the Jewish divestnik’s fantasy-self is just the latest iteration of a Jewish identity built on chosen-ness. The irony that this anti-Israel Jewish identity shows more assurance in its own correctness than the self-image of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi is again lost on those who dwell in BDS fantasy-land.
And while Jews have excelled at anti-Israel organization just as they excel at so many things, let’s not lose site of the fact that there is a market for Jews of any level of intelligence and political skill within the “I Hate Israel” movement. Which is why any Jew willing to join such a movement “as a Jew” (regardless of whether or not they have had a single Jewish moment in their life up to that point) is welcome to sign up and wear a sticker or sign a petition specifically pointing out the one quality that supposedly gives their voice weight: their Jewishness.
Taking part in such activity also allows the fantasist to celebrate his or her courage while actually not taking a single risk. For taking on “The Jewish Establishment” is not like publishing a cartoon of Mohammed or (if you live in Gaza) criticizing the government – an act that carries real risk of actual harm. In fact, the most these “Jewish Critics of Israel” can expect from their activity is to be criticized by people like me. And as much as they try to present such criticism as a form of censorship or repression, they must forever inflate the alleged power and villainy of their critics, lest reality penetrate a single ray of light into the fantasy world in which they dwell.
So my attitude towards the many Jews who flaunt their Jewishness solely for the purposes of attacking other Jews is the same as my attitude towards non-Jews who have turned lack of principle into virtue, ignorance into wisdom and cowardice into courage. To them I would say: the next time you decide you would rather live in fantasyland, could you please take up Dungeon’s and Dragons, rather than embrace a persona that asks me to be a prop in your fantasy and requires others (including Jews and Palestinians) to die in order to maintain your self-image?