In the short time this blog has been up, I’ve tried to document the struggles those calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) directed against Israel face in trying in reaching their goal. And that goal is to get large, respected institutions to publically support their program (allowing them to position BDS as the official position of Harvard, the Presbyterian Church or the City of Seattle, rather than the cause of a minority of obsessed cranks within those places).
Simply put, these institutions have told the BDSers “No” time and time again which is why the divestment crowd has had to turn to deception (as in the case of Hampshire College) or anti-democratic political maneuvering (as in the case of the British teacher’s union) to show any semblance of progress for their unwanted advances.
To the extent that such desperate tactics are the choices of losers, this could be considered good news. The more institutions (even tolerant-to-a-fault Hampshire College) are exposed to the extremism and dishonest behavior of divestment advocates, the more inoculated they become to the BDS-crowd’s pitch that they are simply “human rights advocates” seeing “peace and justice” in the Middle East.
That said, these initiatives, even if they fail to win official support, allow the sanctions crew to continue to crow their core message: that Israel is an apartheid state, alone in the world in deserving economic and other punishment, in hope that it will become the default position on college campuses and elsewhere. The fact that such activity poisons the atmosphere of a community, making reasonable dialog all but impossible, is irrelevant to divestment advocates. For at the end of the day, the campus, church or city is just a prop for the divestors, a useful tool which can go to hell (as far as the BDSers are concerned) as soon as it has served its purpose.
And now we must add a new element into the nasty mix: violence, or the threat of violence. US anti-Israel activists have already imported British political hooliganism into the US (such as the building takeover at NYU). And as ugly political events like Israel Apartheid Week unfurled at colleges across the country, intimidation of anyone objecting to these activities has become a staple of campus life.
Stories abound about students being surrounded and howled at when they protest against anti-Israel rallies on their campuses, and their own counter-programming can end up in attempts to crush free speech by shouting a pro-Israel speaker off the stage. The most recent example of this was U Mass in Boston where, after weeks of uninterrupted campus activity denouncing the Jewish state, Alan Dershowitz paid a visit to provide (God forbid) a different opinion. Now I know Dershowitz is a lightning rod, and no stranger to being hounded both on and off a podium. But the fact that a university would allow politically extremist students and faculty to have their say for day after day, week after week, but would then allow this same group to import Boston’s community of Israel-hating shrieking heads to ensure the other side can’t be heard is a sign of real danger ahead.
BDS, like much of the anti-Israel agenda, rests on assumptions that supporters of Israel will not match the boycotters tactics. For years, I’ve heard people say we should turn the tables on the divestors and try to get our schools, religious institutions and cities to publically denounce Israel’s foes. But are we really ready to treat the civic organizations we care about as tools for our own political ends? Are we ready to shred propriety and turn the classrooms, workplaces, houses of worship or homes into battlefields just to embarrass people we disagree with?
It is to our credit that we have not stooped to the vile tactics used by those whose only life purpose seems to be to denounce the Jewish state and its supporters, regardless of the consequences for peace, for Jews, for Palestinians or for civic harmony. Yet now that there is a determined effort to shut down dissenting voices on campuses through tactics that include threats and intimidation (while all the time claiming that the anti-Israel views they are currently shouting at the top of their lungs are somehow being “stifled” by an all-powerful Jewish cabal), we have to ask ourselves: what are we going to do about it?