Whazzup BDS? – Part 1

Because BDS activity tends to follow the academic calendar, I thought it might be useful to determine how the “movement” is doing as it finishes up Year 10 of its ignoble existence.

First off, good news seems to be coming in from North America where BDS hoped to replicate last year’s student government “victory” at Berkeley (otherwise known as a defeat) with similar student council resolutions across the country this year.

Now divestment proponents have long ago given up on getting colleges and universities to actually divest (which is why they had to rely on fraud to just get one school in their “win” column – even if only to fool themselves). But with student governments, they at least stood a chance of convincing a dozen or so undergraduates to strike a pose, rather than getting grown-ups who manage a major institution and its investments to do their bidding.

Unsurprisingly, BDS student government resolutions have turned out to be as big a flop as anything else they’ve tried in North America. UVM said no, as did Carleton and UC San Diego. In fact, the latter was one place where BDSers (who had high hopes for their cause last year) couldn’t even maintain the momentum needed for a vote this time around. One student petition seems to have passed (at Evergreen College in Olympia Washington), but other petitions (which targeted American-made hummus based on some typically convoluted BDS logic) flopped in Princeton and DePaul.

As we have discovered again and again, BDS just doesn’t do well when exposed to daylight. And after last year’s Berkeley fiasco, student governments seem to now know how to avoid being manipulated for someone else’s gain.

On the retail front, it’s been surprising that boycotts (mostly a Canadian phenomenon, which have found little traction in the US) have nevertheless made it to the lower 48 over the last year. But as in Canada, the Buycott phenomena means that anytime an anti-Israel boycott is even threatened, it leads to an immediate massive selloff of the Israeli goods in question.

Food co-ops (still considered the “great green hope” for boycotters) have but one taker for the BDS program (once again, in Olympia Washington). But Olympia too proved to be a Pyrrhic victory since anyone fighting similar boycotts at other co-ops need only point out the misery such a boycott created in Olympia to demonstrate why similar decisions should be avoided at all costs.

While I could go tit for tat on celebrity boycotts (actually tit for tat-tat-tat-a-tat since celebrities are now not just keeping their commitments to play Israel, but dissing those that cave to the boycotters loudly from the stage), or point out that BDSers have decided to substitute temper tantrums for political activity, I think the most positive sign this year comes from within the Jewish community itself.

As anyone familiar with the multi-faceted (and multi-alphabetical) Jewish organizations knows, one thing that characterizes them is their near universal inability to claim that someone is outside the tent.

As controversy here in Boston demonstrates, the ability to not give someone a seat at the table (much less to kick someone out) is something people who inhabit this world can barely conceive of, much less act upon. And yet, for the first time since I can remember, this highly diverse community has been willing to draw a line with BDS.

I’ve speculated in the past about what makes BDS so loathsome that it has managed to unite parties across the political and religious spectrum against it. But suffice to say, it’s good to see the notion of “Don’t Panic, Don’t be Complacent,” turning into a description of what is happening, rather than simple hope or advice.

Now all news is not good news in the land of BDS and, as I’ve described previously, Europe is a continent where ideas that would be rejected out of hand in North America have managed to convince some. And no country on that continent has been more infected by the BDS virus than the United Kingdom, the subject of the second part of this “state of the union” run down on the fate of BDS at the end of its first decade.


First, some housekeeping. My friend and fellow blogger Jimrecently alerted me to Blogger’s helpful spam comment catcher which apparently stopped 18 legitimate comments from being posted on this site over the last year. About a half a dozen of these were mine, which will give you an indication of the sophistication of Google’s spam algorithm, as well as how closely I pay attention to comments on earlier posts. So if anyone feels like an old conversation was terminated prematurely, please restart it here or on future postings.

Secondly, some readers have been recently asking about the lack of breaking BDS news on this site (often in conjunction with requests to stop yammering on about Aristotleand get back to business). It’s a fair criticism, one which can only partially be answered by the fact that big BDS stories have been a bit hard to come by this year (at least here in North America).

There have been no university divestment stories like last year’s blowup at Berkeley, for example, or even any food co-op boycotts like Olympia making headlines in months. And stories like BDS being rejected by UVM, or the Sacramento Food Co-opgiving boycott the heave ho yet again are simply repeats of that decade-long meta-story: “BDS Loses Again”.

It’s also worth mentioning that lots of other peoplehave caught on to the lameness of boycott, divestment and sanctions, which means these defeats are getting coverage in a wider range of places than ever before. And that’s as it should be, now that the nakedness of the BDS emperor has been exposed for all to see for over ten years.

Abroad things are different, and some goings on in Europe and South Africawill require coverage over the coming days and weeks (promise). But in the meantime, it is worth exploring one other reason why anti-BDS activists may no longer need to tap into outside resources (like this one) as much as they used to: the concept of immunization.

I’ve frequently compared BDS to a virus that preys upon civic organizations unfamiliar with its tactics and ultimate propaganda goals. But like a virus, BDS has created its own antibodies that contribute to its rejection within whole categories of civic institution after a troubling infection breaks out and is then cured.

Take colleges and universities for example. In the early 2000s, BDS campaigns were big news when they were cropping up at schools around the country. But once these campaigns existed, so did counter-campaigns which provided sound arguments for rejecting divestment, arguments accepted universally by college administrations. And after student council votes created mayhem at places like Berkeley, that taught other student government organizations (like the one at UVM) to steer clear of the divestmet whole mess.

Food co-ops provide almost perfect laboratory conditions for studying this immunization process at work. For until co-ops were targeted by BDSers looking to get Israeli products stripped from the shelves, they had little reason to really scrutinize their organization procedures for beginning and ending boycotts. After all, until last year boycott calls were relatively rare and could be implemented or rejected even if the policies used to begin a boycott were flawed and potentially subject to abuse.

It was only when the BDSers began to abuse the loopholes in these policies that co-ops were forced to look at them more closely, to the point where at least one co-op finally threw up their hands and realized that the only way to get the boycotters to back off from continuing their eternal campaign after having been rejected again and again was to get out of the boycott business altogether.

But why do we now know that divisive boycotts are in contravention to the Rochdale Principles upon which the co-op movement was founded? Or that BDS hands decision making to a third party (BDS) that has no fiduciary responsibility to a co-op or its members? Or that the script BDSers read from every chance they get can only be seen as interpretation and not fact upon which to base a boycott decision? Because BDSers forced the issue (notably at Daviswhere these questions were asked and answered), creating a framework for rejecting BDS within similar organizations. Coupled with the fiasco caused when one co-op (Olympia) decided to reject this advice (voting in a boycott motion behind the backs of the membership), we are now at a point where boycotts are being spontaneously rejected at every other co-op where they are introduced.

And thus anti-bodies are born which prevent the BDS infection from spreading, antibodies in the form of people of courage and good will unwilling to cave to BDSers demands, simply because those boycotters insist we must.