Wazzup BDS? – Part 2

If the BDS cru has anything to crow about after another year of being shown the door in North America, they can probably point to the UK to encourage the ranks.

Here in the US, student councils were thought to be fertile territory for getting divestment resolutions passed (a weak substitute for convincing schools to actually divest, but a desired booby prize given that real college divestment remains a fantasy after a decade of tireless divestment effort on campus).But alas for the boycotters, student councils refused to take the bait (especially after the Berkeley BDS fiasco last year).

Not so in the UK where divestment calls were recently passed at two major college unions: the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University of London Unions (ULU).

In a period where boycott is still on the agenda in the umbrella Trades Union Council (TUC), these wins have given a shot in the arm to BDS advocates working both the student and union “beats.”

Why such a difference between student and union groups in the UK (who seem to be giving a hearing to BDS) vs. the US (which continues to be barren territory for any type of boycott or divestment win)?No doubt the BDSers would point to Europe as the source of all enlightenment creating a path that we mouth-breathing Americans will eventually follow.Meanwhile, critics point to dynamics particular to Europe (where Jews have limited political clout vs. Muslims whose political strength is growing).The fact that Europe has become an uncomfortable place for Jews generally has caused many to highlight general European discomfort with people of the Hebrew persuasion (which, in England, is unrestrained by Holocaust guilt you find on the Continent).

Personally, I suspect that these particular votes can be explained with more pragmatic reasoning based on the general BDS strategy of: (1) finding civic organizations with a progressive bent, ready to make statements on international issues beyond their purview; (2) infiltrating said organizations in order to get them to subscribe to the narrow BDS political agenda; and (3) refusing to back down under any circumstance, regardless of how much BDS politics poisons the organization they are trying to subvert.

And, in truth, the NUS and ULU votes seem to be modeled on similar votes in Britain’s teacher’s union (the UCU) whose leaders continue to try to pass anti-Israel resolutions despite these being abhorred by the membership.At the student union events, decisions to brand Israel an Apartheid state were passed in the waning moments of long meetings by “majorities” of one and then declared the will of 120,000 student union members, most of whom had no idea these words were being voted into their mouths.

So these votes seem to say more about the inability of British civic organizations to avoid being manipulated than it does about England, Israel or the Middle East.

In fact, if you look at other BDS “successes” in the UK, they seem to be following a trajectory into deeply troubling, if not grotesque, territory.At Covent Garden, a group of thugs harass an Israeli shop into closure and this stormtrooper-like activity is declared a win for enlightened virtue.

In Scotland, a council representing a region whose child mortality rate is twenty points worse than Gaza’s is putting their energy into keeping Israeli products out of the region and then strutting with indignant rage when they’re accused of book banning (with the excuse that “we’re not banning Israeli books, just books printed in Israel”).

But you have to go back to the aforementioned UCU to see the ultimate endpoint of the BDS “consciousness.”

For, in addition to struggling to get an academic boycott passed in the face of members uncomfortable with their union leading an assault on academic freedom, UCU has also had to struggle with the fact that their boycott has been declared as potentially violating European anti-racism law.

What to do about this little inconvenience? Why simply reject the EU definition of “anti-Semitism” of course!In a vote that is sure to cause even more Jews to flee the organization, UCU declared that any definition of anti-Semitism that defines as bigotry even outlandish or pathological criticism of Israel must be declared null and void.

While anti-boycott activists may have made a tactical error in stressing the role of anti-Semitism in UCU shenanigans over the last few years, I can’t imagine anyone thought the organization would have the chutzpah to simply define modern manifestations of the phenomenon out of existence.

But that just goes to show you the effectiveness of trying to prick the conscience of BDS fanatics without understanding that, at the end of the day (and despite their pose as the ultimate examples of human-rights enlightenment), with regard to conscience the boycotters have none.

Love, Labor, Loss?

As I begin to segue into some international issues over the coming weeks, where better to start than with the international labor movement?

I’ve already pointed out the challenges BDS advocates have with regard to getting American unions to support their cause, given that (after Jews and Evangelical Christians), American labor is the most pro-Zionist community in the country. While BDSers may luck out with a fringe union here, or a local stunt there, the notion that the AFL-CIO is going to remove the bronze statue of Golda Meir in the lobby of their US headquarters (which reflects US labor’s appreciation of the role of American and Israeli Jews in the global union movement) is pretty fanciful.

Overseas (particularly in the UK) the story is quite different. There, boycott advocates have been steadily increasing their penetration of British labor, beginning with some small skirmishes in places like the education (UCU) and journalist’s (NUJ) unions, which eventually percolated up to the national umbrella group, the Trade Unions Council (TUC). While actual UCU and NUJ boycotts never got off the ground (thanks largely to their unpopularity with rank-and-file union members vs. more radicalized leaders who push anti-Israel boycotts within their organizations), it’s safe to say that the big question regarding labor and BDS boils down to whether American unions will begin to look more like their European counterparts in the coming years, or vice versa.

Which gets me to an extraordinary speech given by Paul Howes, National Secretary of the Australian Worker’s Union, in which he outlines the reasons behind labor support for the Jewish state and the contribution his union, and unions in general, are making to bridge the divide between Jews and Arabs in the region by appealing to worker solidarity that transcends borders.

In normal times, such an appeal to the brotherhood of the working class in the name of peace and reconciliation would seem very ordinary, even commendable. But remember that it is this very type of cooperation that BDS seeks to undermine.

In this historic moment when labor’s role in international affairs (not to mention the very identity of labor vis-à-vis many issues domestic and international) is up for grabs, Howes’ speech (which should be read in its entirety) seems like a beacon of sanity shining through the thick fog separating the US labor movement and its counterparts abroad.

It’s All About Me!

A commenter at this site pointed the latest giggle-inducing “action” of our old friends Code Pink who struggled through most of 2009 trying to get anyone to notice them and their campaign against skin products from the Israeli firm Ahava. They recently claimed a new “success” in getting a Seattle Cosco to remove an Ahava Christmas display from the store. They apparently decided to not post this reader’s comment that such a “deshelving” might have something to do with the fact that it’s January.

This tale can be considered a cousin to a more serious one told by Rachel Giora, a tireless Israeli BDS activist who recently posted a 21-page document entitled “Milestones in the history of the Israeli BDS movement: A brief chronology.”

I lump these two stories together since they both share a common feature of relying almost exclusively on descriptions of activities by BDS activists themselves as proof of the momentum behind their “movement.” In the case of Giora’s piece, we are provided a pretty decent run down of petitions generated and signed calling for BDS projects within American and European universities, unions, churches and other civic institutions.

Putting aside the fact that these letters and petitions tend to re-circulate the same names over and over again (I’m often curious as to how Israelis like Ilan Pappe and Jeff Halper have time to do anything else beyond signing such documents), they all tend to be part of campaigns that either failed or never got noticed. For example (quoting Giora):

“In May 2006, the feminist organization, New Profile, sent a letter of support to the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), initiated by new Profile activist Dr. Dorothy Naor, for contemplating adopting a policy of selective divestment as a means of bringing peace to Palestinians and Israelis.”

Not mentioned (and, I suspect, not noticed) by Giora, is the fact that 2006 was the year when the Presbyterians voted down divestment by a margin of 95:5. In other words, New Profile’s letter was part of failed attempt to get PCUSA to maintain a divestment stance they took in 2004 but overwhelmingly rejected in ’06.

Again and again throughout her history, Giora talks about letters sent to organizations like the British teacher’s union AUT (now UCU), supporting a boycott of Israeli academics that never got made official union policy. The message in all of these cases seems to be that as long as you’ve got people like Giora and her friends and allies acting as busy bees to promote BDS across the globe then BDS is on the march, even if the author never points out a single actual success for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

I’ve well aware of the notion of politics acting as a surrogate for certain types of social bonding, and there is nothing wrong with agreement on important issues being the starting point of what turns into real friendships.

But in the case of the BDS movement, we seem to have a phenomenon where a decade of failure has created the need to posit a new metric for success: the enthusiasm of divestment adherents. After all, people like me who fight against BDS can expose divestment hoaxes at Hampshire, Motorola, TIAA-CREF and the like. We can point out that not one university has divested a single dollar from Israeli companies since the BDS project began in 2001. We can highlight the enormous reversals divestment has had in the few places where it briefly saw success (like the Mainline Protestant churches), or publish facts detailing the explosion of investment in Israel since the BDS project began.

But how can we argue with people like Giora when she makes the claim that she and her like-minded colleagues have put a lot of time and made a lot of noise over the last ten years promoting the case of boycott and divestment? We can’t since there is no disputing the time and energy they have invested into making BDS a reality. We can only point out that all of that effort has led to nothing but failure, and hope to God that they continue to put their chips down on this loser strategy for the next ten years.

Those Crazy Brits

One of the themes I’ve written about (notably here) is the corrupting effects divestment has on any institution that decides to take up this issue. I dubbed this phenomenon “The Vampire’s Kiss” after the legend which says that a vampire can only enter your house if invited, but once invited in you are doomed. As organizations like the Presbyterian Church and Hampshire College have discovered, even giving the divestment crew the courtesy of a hearing can often result in untold damage to an organization’s reputation that can take years to repair (assuming the patient wants to get better).

There is probably no better illustration and parody of this process than the UCU, the major teacher’s union in Great Britain. I’ve written about them before (as have many others on the terrific site www.engageonline.org.uk). And sure enough the UCU Congress (which is meeting right now) has decided to take up the academic boycott issue for a fifth year running.
Keep in mind that every year this issue has been broached it has either been (1) shot down by voting members who loath the idea of their union being used as a cudgel against fellow academics; or (2) declared to be in violation of British anti-racism law. And each year, the fanatics who dominate the UCU Congress and hold the importance of this issue above every other matter (including real issues of concern to union members such as job security and salary), breathe life into the controversy again, usually by passing resolutions that ask the union to embrace a boycott of Israel academics and voting down any resolutions asking for this controversial matter to be put to a vote of members.

The anti-democratic nature of the UCU legislative body has been on display for over a decade, but this year they face a more difficult issue of how to try to pass some kind of boycott vote while passing the legal consequences off to someone else. The result has been to loudly pass a motion whose impotence is pre-determined since the union leadership has already declared it will not act on any motion already declared to be illegal.

And there you have boycott, divestment and sanction in a nutshell. A group of self-centered political hacks who have taken time to dominate a union, passing a motion they know will never get implemented, driving out members (including many Jewish members) in the process, corrupting both the membership and reputation of the union, all so they can play the role of wannabe revolutionary. And who suffers? Israel? Maybe. But not nearly as much as Jewish members of the teaching profession in Great Britain, and the union itself which is now a laughingstock whose reputation as champions of academic freedom lies in ruins at just the point when teachers need respected union representation the most.

Let this be a lesson to any institution that thinks divestment (or boycott, or sanction) is just a simple human rights question being brought to them by innocent Ghandi-esque voices fighting for justice. No, BDS should be looked at more like a parasite which, as one UCU member illustrates, tends to hollow out the host, leaving a ruined shell before moving on.

Belly of the Bust

Well I attended last week’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) support group last Thursday. While the notion of sitting in a room full of people on “the other side” disagrees with me more than it does activists with more of a taste for conflict, I must admit to looking forward to being with a group of people who share with me an involvement with the divestment “subculture” (albeit from a very different perspective).

Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the first 45 minutes of the event due to a scheduling conflict (a date with my wife, as a matter of fact), and thus had to leave when one of the leaders of the pro-divestment event was just getting warmed up. Still, even this half-attended meeting provided some important perspective.

To begin with, the room was “packed” with sixteen people, and other than a moderately youthful bobble-head sitting next to me whose noggin started gyrating whenever Israel’s “crimes” were mentioned, I seemed to be the youngest person in attendance. The event also included well-thumbed signs falling off the walls and a shortage of handouts (which indicates that the organizers expected even fewer people to show).

The talk I had to leave during showed off the one strength of the “divest-nista” crowd: an ability to stay on message. And that message was, plain and simple: Israel = South Africa. Thus, most of her talk was about how Israel was similar and different to Apartheid South Africa, with a heavy emphasis on the former and mere lip service to the latter. “Evidence” of this connection was pretty standard fare (including the ubiquitous recitation of Israeli trade ties with SA during the Apartheid years, with nary a mention of the clandestine Arab oil-for-gold trade that kept Apartheid afloat for decades).

The organizers kept coming back to South Africa again and again, highlighting the importance of anti-Apartheid leaders like Desmond Tutu and John Dugard in their divestment “movement” with an argument that basically boils down to the suffering of South African blacks during the Apartheid movement rendering their comments on Israel (or any other matter) unassailable. That made me wonder when Israel’s critics would automatically award Jewish victims of similar or greater levels of suffering (like, oh say, the Holocaust) the same level of unquestioned moral authority, until I remembered that – according to them – the Holocaust did little more than turn Israelis (and their Jewish supporters) into pathological, unsympathetic monsters.

Although there were not enough handouts for everyone (including me), I did manage to read through their most important information flyer, a four-page, single-spaced listing of divestment “victories” over the last 5-6 years. Had my schedule allowed me to stay until the end of the event, I would have brought up the obvious question as to why their list of divestment “supporters” consisted almost entirely of organizations that had showed divestment the door years ago. Yes – as their flier states – the New England Methodists have revisited divestment again and again. But wasn’t it worth a brief mention that the Methodist Church as a whole voted down divestment UNANIMOUSLY less than a year ago? And why do they continue to describe the UCU (the British Teacher’s Union) and NUJ (the British National Union of Journalists) as advocates for divestment when members overturned divestment votes almost immediately after hyper-partisan leaders rammed them through packed committees? The Hampshire hoax was even highlighted, making me wonder about the location of the dividing line between the need to inflate small victories (a standard and respectable tool in political organization) and the organizers need to dwell in a fantasy world where their failing BDS “movement” was racking up one imaginary victory after another.

But the real question the event made me think about was what people who had dedicated most of their adult lives to the propaganda war against the Jewish state felt about the results of their contribution to the conflict. After all, I’ve seen the people at the podium (and many members of the audience) at every anti-Israel event I’ve attended in the last twenty years (and they were already old-timers in the “movement” then!). And what do the Palestinians in whose name they claim to speak have to show for themselves since the boycotters started? After decades of, in effect, telling the Palestinians that “help was on the way,” that if they just waited a bit longer, just rejected the next peace offer, that Israel would soon be rendered helpless as an international pariah, the BDS-niks can now survey a Middle East landscape where half the Palestinians are under the rule of a corrupt Fatah dictatorship (that the divestment crowd once demanded were the “sole, legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people”)and a Hamas death-cult that only takes breaks from repressing women and murdering homosexuals in order to fire rockets at Jews Israeli nursery schools from Palestinian ones.

The Queen in Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland prided herself on believing “as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Yet this feat pales in comparison before the attitudes of the people in the room last Thursday. For how can they respond to the FACT that their efforts have contributed more to the suffering of Palestinians than I or any of my fellow activists ever could? Beyond a scoffing laugh at the mere mention that their program represents anything other than Gandhi-esque virtue, what answer could they possibly provide?

And so, once again, I was confronted with a tiny “hoard” of people whose only defenses and motivations was self-righteousness, fantasy and fury. If the Alpha and Omega of your existence is your own unquestionable virtue, what other response can there be to the observation that divestment – like so many preceding anti-Israel propaganda efforts – has only helped to dramatically increase the amount of misery in the world, mostly among the very Palestinians who they claim as their lives’ moral loadstone.

In a word: foreshame.

The Union Label

When divestment began to get its hooks into UK labor unions 5-6 years ago, local BDSers crowed that it would only be a matter of time before American labor took up their anti-Israel calls. “Good luck with that,” I recall thinking at the time, remembering my visit to AFL-CIO headquarters back in college where I was greeted in the lobby by a gigantic bronze statue of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Because of their self-image as warriors attacking Israel from the left-end of the political spectrum, the boycott brigade spends much time gnashing its teeth about the support the Jewish state receives from Evangelical Christians. Lost in this posing and positioning is the fact that there is one group even more dedicated to Israel’s success and survival than religious Christians: the US labor movement. The AFL-CIO continues to be the nation’s large holder of Israeli bonds, labor leaders are routinely on the speaker’s list at national and local pro-Israel events, and the missing variable explaining why both the Democratic and Republican parties remain equally supportive of the Jewish state is that both parties have key constituencies (unionized workers for the Democrats, Evangelicals for Republicans) solidly friendly to Israel.

The friendship between US labor and Israel is longstanding, dating back to the years when Israel’s founders (primarily Labor Zionists) created a nation devoted just as much to labor as to Zionist principles. The fact that the US union movement (unlike their equivalents in Europe) never succumbed to the lure of radical politics also immunized them from far-left influence once the Soviet Union decided to become the key sponsor of Israel’s foes in the propaganda wars that heated up in the 1960s and 70s. When US unions have briefly entered the divestment camp, they’ve tended to come from “alternative” professional unions (like the Lawyer’s Guild, a left-wing alternative to the more mainstream American Bar Association).

This brings up an interesting issue, given that divestment activity tends to also be strongest abroad among professional unions (notably academics, such as the British University and College Union or UCU) vs. traditional workers groups. While I’m no class warrior (given that I represent the middlest of the middle class myself), it’s hard not to notice that divestment (and anti-Israel agitation in general) tends to primarily be a bourgeois affair.

In a way this makes sense since radical politics in the 21st century tends to be strongest in middle class institutions (notably expensive universities or East and West Coast “high” Protestant churches). Noam Chomsky (a neighbor of mine in the Massachusetts suburbs), the late Edward Said (whose pro-Palestinian politics always took a back seat to his comfortable New York life), and the rest of the Israel-bashing professorate represent the ultimate example of the “bourgeois jihidi:” highly-paid, highly-comfortable loudmouths whose every utterance is protected behind the blast shield of tenure (a life employment deal that even the most powerful unionized American auto worker would envy).

Having more than a passing familiarity with the stability that the growth of a middle class brings to a society, I am in no way dissing the class into which I was brought up and where I firmly remain. And yet, having lived all my life in a middle class milieu, I also recognize that some of the worst ideas I’ve ever encountered (ranging from simply wrong-, to full-fledged dick-headed) tend to emanate from my fellow suburbanites. Perhaps the comfort we (or, more accurately, our predecessors) achieved gives many of us the free time or lack of perspective to demand others (such as Israelis) take risks that we would never think of putting ourselves (or our families) in. Or perhaps we have forgotten the lessons taught by those who came before us (like our grandparents who started the US labor movement), assuming instead that our current blessed state is something we achieved by our own righteousness, an amnesia that allows a small subset of us to dedicate its considerable free time to politics based on attacking those who would defend themselves, simply to work themselves into the ignorant self-righteous fury that is the alpha and omega of their political self image.

Clearly the labor movement in America, Israel, Europe or anywhere else in the world is startlingly different at the beginning of the 21st century than it was throughout most of the 20th. And yet even when faced with challenges and decline, even when tempted by those who still dangle revolutionary baubles in their faces, American labor continues to be part of the vast majority of Americans whose support for the Jewish state is deeply embedded in both their heads and hearts.

One of my favorite moments during a five-year battle against divestment took place at a meeting in City Hall at Somerville, MA where the aldermen were debating a municipal divestment motion. Along with various other pro- and anti- divestment speakers, the group that stood out consisted of a half-dozen burly pipe-fitters, carpenters and machinists from a local labor federation who expressed in the clearest possible words the monstrosity of the divestment resolution the city was debating. While I didn’t know it at the time, the jig was clearly up the moment the only people in the room who worked with their hands for a living told divestment advocates to stuff their resolution where the sun never shines (except perhaps on those nude beaches where divestment’s academic backers occasionally vacation during six- or twelve-month sabbatical breaks from work).

Academic Boycott Reaches These Shores (sort of…)

I have to admit a grudging fondness for Great Britain, having lived there for quite some time after college, even if London is one of the two cities (Portland Oregon being the other) where I had the displeasure to hear two anti-Semitic cracks in a single day.

Continuing on that dark note, for a variety of reasons the UK seems to have become of the least hospitable places for Jews who dare to speak up for themselves and the Jewish state in all of Europe these days. And many of the most disgraceful tactics of Israel’s attackers seem to be emanating from Britain and, sadly, crossing “the pond” to arrive here in the US.

Violent or threatening behavior, such as campus building takeovers – the goal of which is to bring attention to divestment demands – began in Britain, inspiring imitators at NYU earlier this year. Both efforts ended with universities ejecting students from the buildings they occupied without acceding to divestment or other demands. And it may be that this effort was nothing more than another attempt at “Fantasy Politics.” Still, it set a tone that is troublesome, especially given the violent reception that has accompanied pro-Israel speakers on college campuses in Canada and elsewhere.

But if you have to find the single worst idea in all of Boycott-Divestment-Sanction-land, it would have to be the academic boycott. For five years, a cadre of single-minded partisans who had secured leadership positions in Britain’s largest teacher’s union (the UCU) tried to force the union to take a stand on boycotting Israeli academics. At some times, this took the form of boycott calls for specific Israeli universities. On other occasions, the call was to force Israeli professors to swear a “loyalty oath,” denouncing the actions of their country before they would be given the same opportunities offered to every other academic in the world (invitations to conferences, acceptance of research papers in academic journals, etc.) automatically.

As noted previously, these efforts have all ended in one spectacular failure after another. But in the course of pushing an agenda so at odds with academic freedom (the core purpose and principle of academia), these top-down, anti-democratic efforts have ended up leaving UCU a far more unpleasant place. Jewish members, fed up with their concerns being marginalized, their people and motives being maligned, have left in droves, and the union itself is viewed with suspicion (rightly so, given its willingness to flirt with abandoning the very principles of academic freedom upon which it is founded) by a public whose support any union desperately needs.

Given the track record of academic boycott as a harbinger of ugliness and failure, it was with some surprise that I discovered a subset of the American professorate was launching a similar campaign in the US. Admittedly the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel consists of little more than a WordPress blog and a petition signed by a couple of hundred (out of tens of thousands) American professors.

One major difference between the UK and the US academic boycott efforts is the role played by union leadership in each country (represented by the UCU leadership in Britain and their American counterparts the American Federation of Teachers or AFT, in the US). While UCU leaders were either complicit in boycott efforts (in conflict with a membership who overwhelmingly loathed boycott calls), in the US the AFT has taken a clear and unequivocal stand against moves to single out for punishment academics from Israel or any other nation.

American academic leaders actually took a bold stand against UCU boycott calls, informing potential European boycotters that they should consider American academics Israelis (and boycott them as well) if they proceeded with their mendacious and misguided agenda. And once word got out that academic BDS was opening up an American branch, the AFT made this statement clearly stating that such politicization of academia was nothing less than an unwelcome assault on academic freedom everywhere.

Despite that little dust-up we had in 1776, America has learned a great deal from Great Britain over the centuries. Perhaps it is now time to return the favor.

By Way of Deception

Some readers may recognize the title of this piece from the 1990 book of the same name by Victor Ostrovsky (someone with whom I had one of my first online debates on UseNet lo those many years ago – a story for another time).

Ostrovsky’s book purported to be about the nefarious activities of the Israeli Mossad, but the title could equally apply to the 2009 strategic plan for the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaign currently being waged against Israel.

Hampshire’s faux divestment “triumph” is Exhibit A for this deception stratagem, and from the “other side of the pond” comes Exhibit B. The story will be pretty convoluted and meaningless for anyone who has not followed academic boycott politics in the UK, so let me provide a quick recap.

From 2004 until the present day, the main teacher’s union in the UK has been wracked by debate over whether or not British teachers should boycott their Israeli counterparts: refusing to invite them to conferences, denying them access to their publications, or otherwise disallowing them into the community of scholars. At some times, calls came for specific boycotts of teachers at certain universities in Israel. In other cases, it was a blanket boycott against all Israeli academics that refused to swear a “loyalty oath,” by publically renouncing the actions of their country before being allowed back into the academic family.

A series of controversial votes on the matter were always taken within various governing bodies of the union, a union with far more members than voters whose leadership included a small but dominating clique whose top priority has been to get the union to sign onto their political anti-Israel BDS agenda. As those involved with unions or other civic organizations know, the single minded individual or group often has the ability to push through measure that may be noxious, or at least outside the scope of an organization’s mission. In this case, anti-Israel activists (partnered with members of the Socialist Workers Party or SWP) managed to hijack the union’s leadership bodies on several occasions, getting the organizations name attached to a series of boycott proposals.

Remember that the mission of divestment and boycott programs is to get a respected institution (like a school or union) to attach its name and reputation to the boycotters anti-Israel agenda. And in order to achieve this goal, any tactic is considered legitimate, even if it damages the institution in the process.

The problem for BDS leaders in Britain is that the rank and file of the union hated these motions, forcing the boycotters to struggle just as hard to keep the issue from coming to a vote among members (which they knew they would lose) as they did to get boycott motions passed in the first place. After a string of embarrassing defeats, the boycott campaign had to satisfy itself with a generic promise from the union to study the matter.

But, as union leader John Pike describes, this compromise was not good enough for Israel’s detractors who chose – like the SJP at Hampshire College – to mischaracterize the union’s decision (which made no judgment about Israel or the Middle East in general) as another example of the union’s alleged support for their political positions. It was this mischaracterization that John Pike dismantled, partly to ensure honesty, partly to ensure that the union he loved was no longer being manipulated by those who only saw the institution as a way to punch above their own negligible political weight.

After all, the Socialist Worker’s Party calling for a boycott of Israel is what we used to call in the news business a “dog sniffs another dog’s anus story” (i.e., unremarkable and unnewsworthy, if somewhat gross). But the University and College Union (UCU) adding their weight to the subject: well that’s a story BDS activists felt worth pushing, never mind the damage it would cause the organization, and never mind the fact that it’s not true.

In a way, it’s good to know that divestment has gotten so unpopular that those pushing for BDS have to rely on pretend divestment or boycott “successes” to get any traction at all. At the same time, it’s good to know there are people like John Pike (and even old Alan Dershowitz) out there to keep these institutions honest.