Jew vs. Jew

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Jew vs. Jew

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?

Comments and Boycotts

A commenter at the end of this piece asked if I’d ever participated in a boycott. And someone responding to this one talked about an experience he had making a personal boycott choice in reaction to the BDS phenomenon.

Regarding the first question, looking back I don’t think that I ever have practiced or participated in any boycott of any kind. Previous to when I got into the fight against BDS, it actually never occurred to me to make boycotting part of my political life. But once I saw how the boycott weapon was being misused as a bludgeon to attack Israel, it definitely became a personal decision to avoid using that weapon myself, despite many understandable requests to do so in hope of taking the fight to Israel’s foes.

Alan, who left a story about his decision to boycott Arab shops in Jerusalem as a statement against BDS targeted at Israel, has made a different choice. And while he and I (or he and anyone else) are free to agree or disagree with that decision, it must be pointed out that his choice was personal and thus profoundly different than the choices BDS is asking others to make.

Alan has chosen to deprive himself of the goods he might have bought at the prices he might have received. He has also chosen to announce clearly that he made the economic decision that he did for political reasons. And, finally, he must be willing to accept the consequences for the choice he’s made. Those consequences might be good (word getting out that boycotts go both ways) or bad (increased hostility between Israeli Arabs and Jews). They can also be internal (from feelings of satisfaction to discomfort regarding the targets he chose for his boycott action). But they are consequences that he is prepared to bear.

Contrast that with the BDS “movement” that is all about getting other people to choose divestment and (although rarely mentioned by divestment advocates) bear the consequences.

Think about it. If Hampshire’s Students for Justice in Palestine sent out a press release saying that their members were divestment from Israel, that announcement would, at best, lead to a blog entry asking what they were divestment beyond their allowances. But if they can claim that Hampshire College itself is divesting, well now that’s news. Which is why they’ve worked so hard to make it happen and, failing to succeed, they have worked even harder to get others to join them in pretending that it did.

In terms of consequences, BDS leaves that to others as well. If their activity rubs ethnic and religious tension on US campuses raw, or puts UK unions in legal jeopardy, what do they care? All they want is the “brand” of one of these well-known organizations associated with their squalid little political program. And if Berkeley is turned into a war zone or a union gets sued over the position the boycotters forced into an institution’s mouth, it’s the institution (not the BDSers) who have to deal with the wreckage divestment has caused.

Considering the pose the divestment cru routinely strikes with regard to its supposed courage and boldness, just once I’d like to see them put anything of their own on the line. I recall a film where a father blasted some young people for playing at Third World radicalism with the statement “poverty is fine when you’ve got a return-trip ticket.” But if I were to craft a similar message for BDS it would be “boycotting is easy, so long as it’s other people doing it and other people paying the price.”

UC Divestment: Enough Already!

It will come as no surprise (at least to those of us who follow BDS’s constant noise and trouncing) to hear that attempts to resurrect the dead dog of divestment flopped again at UC San Diego last night.

Efforts to modify the original divestment bill to make it actually be about human rights unsurprisingly failed, since real human rights issues are the last things those proposing the original divestment bill had in mind. When attempts were made to try to breathe life into the original condemnation of Israel masquerading as a human rights proposal, student government chambers once again became sites for wrenching personal testimonials, accusations, and (as ever) sneers hurled at those who dared not toe the BDS party line. And once again, divestment went down to defeat.

As much as I enjoy typing that last sentence again and again, it must be becoming a real pain for students attending UC San Diego or UC Berkeley (not to mention the other places the BDS circus has tried to pitch its tents) to have to deal with this kind of tripe again and again. Given that the divestment cru was willing to accept the one vote that temporarily went in their favor at Berkeley and transmit it as a victory of historic proportions within seconds of it having been cast, it’s not clear why they seem so unable to take any of the many no votes they’ve been receiving over the last several weeks (or years, depending on how you’re measuring) as the final answer.

Actually, I’m wrong. It’s completely clear why they behave that way.

For starters, having been on the losing end of a decade worth of votes, the notion of being kicked down the stairs at places like Berkeley must be particularly galling for divestment advocates.

And let’s not forget the theater/fantasy factor. Remember that each of these votes has been accompanied by long (sometimes all-night) meetings where BDSers are allowed to take the stage, presenting their fact-free, emotional cases (complete with bloody photos and accusations of racism directed against their critics) before a captive audience.

Having sat through similar meetings in the past, you can almost feel an erotic energy emanating from the mobs of people who show up from campus and far beyond to take part in such events. In fact, it’s beginning to seem that the purpose behind the latest BDS projects is to create occasions for new performances of this type, politics be damned. In other words, rather than being about the university or the Middle East, in these debates UC students (as well as Israelis and even Palestinians) are simply props the boycotters are using in their own psychodramas. Inside this fantasy world, the boycotters are demonstrating their own virtue, courage and wit regardless of the fact that back here on earth the only thing on display is their ability to act like noisy, hypocritical doofuses.

Finally, there is the rank hostility directed at anyone who dares present a differing opinion. Along with the usual jeers and catcalls directed at Israel supporters, Berkeley’s latest debate featured something new, but typical. When the debate was organized to alternate between supporters and opponents of divestment based on people signing up to represent their position on two separate lists, BDS advocates immediately signed up on both lists so they could dominate the conversation, demonstrating both their maturity and commitment to fair play.

Why behave in such an absurd fashion? Well at California universities, particularly this year, the answer seems to be that the anti-Israel crowd is completely certain that it owns the campus. And anyone who dares say otherwise (by holding an event or an opinion that opposes the sacred anti-Israel cause) must be chased from the land by manipulation, shouting or (in a trend likely to accelerate next year) violence.

My hats off to the students who have successfully turned back these divestment efforts again and again, both for winning and for keeping their cool in the face of constant provocation. As long as the BDSers and their allies insist on making every campus in America a war zone, it’s good to know that those opposed to their efforts have what it takes to win the battle they never wanted. (Sound familiar?)

Fear Not: Goldberg is in the House

Tonight students at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego (UCSD) will be each taking a stand on the divestment resolutions that have plagued both campuses this semester. I hope to report on any results tomorrow, but in the meantime I was trying to think of what might inspire students at both universities, as well as all of those who have been battling BDS so successfully through the entire academic year.

And then it came to me. Who was the man who inspired me when I was fighting these same BDS heels in Somerville? Who was the man who defeated 173 gigantic 200-400 lb. opponents in succession? Who is now deservedly being inducted into The National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame? The WCW professional wrestling demi-god, the all-time and always heavyweight champion of the world (at least in my heart), one name is all that’s needed: Goldberg!

Bill Goldberg (now, simply “Goldberg”), once a linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, later became one of the few Jews to obtain superstardom in the pro wrestling circuit (yes, I know Dean Malenko was a lansman, but who cares).

Joining the WCW (Ted Turner’s aborted attempt to take on the World Wide Wrestling Federation dynasty of the McMahon family), Goldberg became not just a champion, but a phenomenon. “The Streak,” still spoken about in hush whispers among wrestling fans, was Goldberg’s uninterrupted string of 173 victories between 1997 and 1999.

Each victory unfurled with the predictability of a Japanese Noh drama: some poor sap would enter the ring, land a few ineffective punches on the Hebrew behemoth, only to end up flattened by Goldberg’s trademark closing moves, “The Spear” (in which the 285 pound former linebacker would nail his foe in the midsection with a high-velocity head butt) followed by the Jackhammer (don’t ask). After that, the three count was just a formality, with Goldberg once again victorious.

Caught up in the frenzy of Goldbergmania, I began to understand how my father must have felt watching Jewish baseball champions like Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. Different perhaps, since he was a fan of sports heroes, and I a fanatic for a champion of “Sports Entertainment.” But there was also something unique to the nation’s Goldberg fascination.

For there on display, week after week, emerging from a shower of sparks with neck muscles resembling a dorsal fin was the rawest example of Jewish strength any of us had ever seen. And fans from across the nation, from around the world, loved it. Nothing exemplified this more than a bout in Alabama when Goldberg single handedly took apart a now-forgotten team of hillbilly-themed wrestlers, with the hillbillies in the audience screaming their heads off… for Goldberg!

And now to the point.

When the usual suspects try to blame each of their endless BDS defeats on “organized Jewish power” this is only partly because they need to salve their wounded pride with fantasies of an all-powerful enemy as conspiratorial as themselves. But another reason for this storyline is their sly understanding of historic Jewish discomfort with power.

When American blacks transformed themselves from a disenfranchised minority to a major political force, effective enough to lobby against domestic racism, and for aid and assistance to black Africa, this accumulation of power through organization is rightly hailed as one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. Yet American Jews, who spend 95% of their philanthropy and political energy on causes that benefit others (including blacks and other minorities) are frequently vilified for the efforts we expend on our own behalf, even efforts to turn back attempts to smear the Jewish nation we hold dear.

Well Goldberg taught me how to deal with such attacks by a tag-team of ruthless hypocrites: The Spear, followed by the Jackhammer (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Defending the honor of the Jewish state against attack from some of the greatest human rights violators on the planet (and their apologists), fighting for our right to spread the truth against their lies is not just our right, it is our responsibility. As Mark Twain once said when writing to a man bewildered by mob attacks on a supposedly powerless Jewish community in Vienna in the 19th century:

“Who gives the Jew the right, who gives any race the right, to sit still, in a free country, and let someone else look after his safety?”

Over the last few weeks, Berkeley has delivered “The Spear” to BDS trying to muscle its way into college campus politics. Let’s hope tonight that UCSD delivers The Jackhammer.