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.