BDS Comings and Goings

Catching up on a couple of BDS-related stories that have broken since I returned from vacation last weekend:

The latest BDS “victory” or another post-hoc fallacy?

The latest boast regarding BDS effectiveness comes from Europe (of course) and has to do with the private security company G4S failing to win a renewal of a security contract for European Parliamentary buildings a few weeks ago.

Apparently, a month before this announcement was made, a group of Parliamentarians sympathetic to the BDS cause wrote a letter to the European President condemning G4S for the business it does providing security services within Israel (no mention why the boycotters have not been effective getting similar decisions made by other countries the company does business with, such as those human rights paradises on earth Saudi Arabia and Yemen).

By now, we all know the formula that says if BDSers did anything before such a contracting decision was made, then their efforts must be the cause of such decisions (see post hoc ergo propter hoc).  After all, large, governmental purchasing bureaucracies are well known for turning on a dime the minute they receive complaints from politicians or constituents.  And there couldn’t be another explanation as to why G4S didn’t get their contract renewed in a competitive bid with other providers, could there?

Now I’m not saying that the boycotters protest didn’t cause the effect they claim.  I’m simply pointing out that after years of fraudulent announcements of BDS victories (many of them based on post hoc fallacies), it is incumbent on the boycotters to prove that their activity was the cause of this decision which should be a simple task for them if they speak true.  For example, they need only use their claimed influence to get the EU purchasing agency to explain the rationale behind their decision publically.  Absent that, we have yet another example of the cock taking credit for the sunrise.

Go and Leave

Well Jewish Voice for Peace/Young Jewish and Proud have scrubbed my hometown of Boston from their epic Go and Learn campaign, a program we’ve met before which will allegedly be teaching students across the country about the wonderfulness of BDS.

Interestingly enough, their listing for Boston (which retained a TBD date and time in their announcement of a meeting that was supposed to take place this Thursday) disappeared from the Go and Learn site less than twelve hours after I dropped them a note asking where and when the event would be taking place.

Now I’m not making the causal connection between one of the critics with whom JVP claims to crave debate showing interest in coming to an event they claim was open to those “actively opposed to [BDS].” That, after all, would be a post hoc fallacy.  But it is interesting to note that the whole JVP/YJP gang can’t seem to manage getting their events off the ground in one of America’s most progressive cities.

Then again, (as Ian Faith once put it) Boston’s not really a college town.

Methodist Redux

I’ve been remiss in covering what will likely be the two big BDS stories of the year: divestment votes taking place at the Methodist and Presbyterians General Assemblies between now and June.

As many readers know, divestment ballots (both pro- and anti-) have become mainstays at Mainline Protestant Church gatherings since 2004.  And while these have been voted down again and again, the fact that BDS was once considered by these churches means the Middle East conflict is now permanently on their agenda.

This time around, the boycotters have pulled out all the stops, cold calling delegates to these events at their homes, and even having their propaganda materials translated into multiple languages (including Swahili).

Why Swahili?  Well, a large contingent of people attending this week’s Methodist confab come from African churches which were a major constituent for anti-divestment votes that last time this issue came before the Methodists in 2008.  But this mass translation and distribution is just one example of the intense level of activity and investment the BDSers are making in these two key sets of votes.

Now the pro-Israel side is not being somnambulant about the issue (as attested by this letter signed by over 1200 rabbis, including mine).  And it’s not entirely clear that the Methodists are ready to turn from their unanimous rejection of divestment four years ago just because lots of partisans are writing them letters or calling them at home.

We’ll be tracking progress of the various BDS votes taking place among Methodist delegates gathering in Tampa this week.  And I promise to provide more detailed coverage of the General Assembly of the much smaller, but must further infected Presbyterian Church whose own rendez vous with divestment comes up in a few months.

Stay tuned…

Hagaddah

One of the few good things about the Web savviness of Israel’s opponents is that you sometimes get to see all of the hypocrisy and clownishness of the BDS “movement” by simply visiting a single Web site.  And nowhere is this efficiency more on display than at the site of my West Coast friends’ favorite organization: Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

JVP has been a subject on this site more than any other BDS organization, perhaps because they tend to show up whenever the letters B, D and S appear at any time and in any combination in order to throw in their “As Jews, we approve!” boilerplate, while simultaneously denouncing accusations of anti-Semitism (whether or not they are ever made) and wrapping their message in a kaffiyeh (which they claim to be a prayer shawl).

But in all the years I’ve been visiting JVP-land, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them put all of their pathologies online as much as they have in the last few weeks.

First up, you’ve got to wonder “what were they thinking?” when you watch them celebrate their own success in getting someone censored (in this case, a group of visiting Israeli gay activists) smack in the middle of a list of other stories decrying their own alleged victimization from censorship.

This form of doublethink first came to my attention when I ran across the JVP site Muzzlewatch a few years back, a site supposedly dedicated to shining light on attempts to stifle free speech (JVP’s) in discussion of the Middle East conflict.  During a six month period of challenging their accusations in a freewheeling comments section, it became clear that for Muzzlewatch’s creators, “free speech” meant their own freedom to do and say anything they wanted without being criticized while “muzzling” meant other people using their own free speech rights to say something JVP didn’t like.

Back then, the Muzzlewatchers attempted to justify their own textbook censorship (in that case, of participating in a lawsuit designed to get the media to shut up about a local controversial issue), by artlessly trying to convince readers that their act of attempted censorship was designed to encourage (rather than discourage) discussion (huh?). You can see this same convoluted logic on display in their current characterization of visiting gay Israelis as not actually interested in “open dialog” (defined by JVP of course), thus making it reasonable to shut them up and down.

If you combine this with JVP’s support for like-minded allies who have started shouting and heckling Israeli speakers from the stage, you’ll quickly discover what I learned years ago: that JVP is simply a partisan organization dedicated to its own side’s victory and its opponent’s defeat.  And in this struggle to achieve their ends, all means are allowed, including bastardizing the language of free speech and open dialog (just like they turn words like “peace” and “justice” into weapons of war), knowing full well that it is their opponents who actually possess these virtues that JVP only feigns.

This contradictory behavior plays out particularly clearly when you look at the challenges JVP (and similar organizations) face in trying to portray themselves as open (and even starved) for dialog, while simultaneously doing everything in their power to ensure “dialog” only consists of them saying what they want (from any forum they demand) without challenge.

For example, a few months back JVP’s “Youth Wing” rolled out their Go and Learn campaign and proudly announced they would welcome any and all (including critics) who wanted to talk about their beloved BDS project.  Now as one of those opponents they claim to crave debate with, I swiftly provided them an invitation to begin this dialog immediately.  And to my surprise, they published my comment on their site (although the ability to submit further comments somehow disappeared in the process).

Well here we are months later and despite follow-up e-mails I’ve sent the group, all that’s happened is that my original comment has been disappeared from their site, continuing JVP’s unbroken track record of greedily controlling their own public spaces at all cost while simultaneously shrieking to Gaia whenever anyone else refuses to hand their platforms (and money) over to them.

Later this year, I’m hoping to focus on some of the rhetorical and argumentation techniques necessary to present this type of unquestionable hypocrisy as moral virtue.  But before we get there, it needs to be pointed out that the first victims of the flimflam JVP and other BDSers spend so much time selling are the boycotters themselves.

It would be easy to dismiss their behavior as simply cynical and manipulative.  But no amount of cynicism could possibly explain this latest release on the JVP hit parade: their own version of the Passover Hagaddah, complete with “The Israelis are the new Egyptian Pharos!” words and imagery, delivered with the same subtlety as having a cinder block dropped on your head.

One is first tempted to simply stare dumbfounded at the combination of historic ignorance and cultural contempt required to cast the Jews as the villains in their own foundation story.  Even in an era when Passover readings and rituals have been leveraged for every imaginable political purpose (featuring Hagaddah’s written specifically for those of the woman’s rights, civil rights, Zionist and transgender perspectives), JVP’s foray into this long-abused genre sets a new precedent for utter tastelessness and self indulgence.  It is truly a work that could only have been contemplated (much less executed) by those whose universe consists of nothing but themselves.

But fear not readers.  For even a bit of sober psychologizing has not prevented me from sicing the Divest This dumpster-diving crew on the task of unearthing material that might help us better grasp JVP’s latest groundbreaking work.

Stay tuned…

PennBDS – Hillel and Questions of JVP

This is part of a series of articles based on the program of the upcoming PennBDS conference.  Check out this landing page to find out more.
 
With a panel discussion entitled “BDS, Hillel and the Question of Anti-Semitism,” our old friends at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) finally take center stage on the PennBDS agenda.

As regulars reader know, JVP has been the topic of several seriousand not-so-serious discussions here at Divest This.  But since these PennBDS-related postings seem to be evolving towards capstone essays on subjects I’ve been writing about for several years, it’s worth taking time to highlight the significance of the JVP organization and the subjects it has chosen to talk about at the upcoming national BDS conference.

Starting with the obvious, Jewish Voice for Peace is an organization made up primarily (although not entirely) of Jews who advocate for BDS and engage in other activities which are anathema not just to people like me but to the bulk of the American Jewish community (organized and disorganized).

Now some people I know get totally bent out of shape that in any BDS debate the leadership of both sides will likely be Jewish.  Personally, I simply take this as a fact of life and while I’ve touched on the subject of Jewish involvement (and even leadership) in anti-Israel activity, getting into a frenzy about the phenomena is about as effective as a Medieval general complaining that his enemy’s cavalry make use of horses.

Like any political group, JVP is free to organize, take positions on issues and engage in the age-old branding exercise of putting the words like “Peace” and “Justice” in their name and mission statements.  They are also free to advocate for thing like BDS and all kinds of other goals that other Jewish community members and organizations oppose, although they must live with the reality that as a group pushing a minority opinion, they are obliged to win over others via the force of their arguments and the willingness to engage with their critics.

But this is the very thing that makes JVP stand apart from what I would refer to as “normal politics,” and what makes them such a perfect representative of the BDS phenomenon as a whole.

For it you look at their track record, JVP is not willing to accept its role as representatives of minority opinion, but rather desperately seeks to speak in the name of people who do not share those opinions.  This is why they gate crash at events like San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival or the Federation’s Community Heroes Project (sometimes days or weeks after organizing disruptions at events sponsored by the same community they insist they be allowed to join).

This is why they complain endlessly that they are not given immediate membership and equal status to other Jewish groups I places like campus Hillels, despite taking positions that are diametrically opposed to what those groups have chosen to stand for.  Rather than live with the responsibility (and the freedom) of speaking just for themselves (which, as someone representing no one but himself, I can attest has plusses and minuses), their entire project is based on creating the illusion that they speak for a “silent majority,” knowledge of which is being repressed by sinister forces that snuff out all debate about the subjects JVP holds dear.

This is how JVP serves as such a good stand in for BDS as a whole.  For just as JVP is trying to barge into the broader Jewish community in order to get into a position to speak in the name of others, so too does BDS use any means necessarily (such as moral blackmail and back-room maneuvering) to try to get their Israel = Apartheid accusations to come out of the mouth of prominent institutions such as schools, churches and municipalities.  And when they fail (which is always), their response is not to reflect on how they might be able to actually win the argument, but rather to claim anyone who stands in their way (even by simply criticizing their positions) is guilty of censoring (or “muzzling”) them.

The irony is that just as JVP desperately covets everyone else’s civic space, no organization I can think of is more protective of its own.  Joining JVP requires signing of a pledge(which some have deemed a “loyalty oath”) requiring agreement with the overall JVP agenda (including BDS).  And while I have light heartedly played with the idea of doing to them what they try to do to everyone else (i.e., joining their group solely for the purpose of claiming to speak for them), the folks at JVP know full well that those of us who criticize them would never sign such a pledge with the sole purpose of subversion.

I’ve talked quite a bit about how JVP’s (like all BDS organizations) refuse to allow comments (i.e., free-flowing discussion) on their many Web sites (including their Muzzlewatch site which they claim was created specifically to open up dialog).  And even after they announced a programspecifically designed to engage in the conversations they claim Hillel is repressing, they remain stone silent when offered the chance to engage in a real dialog, as opposed to the type of conversation they would prefer in which they get to set themselves up as a rabbinic authority handing down wisdom to the uninformed.

Just like any BDS organization (including, or should I say, especially PennBDS), the last thing groups like JVP want is the discussion and debate they claim desperately to crave.  Rather, they demand that they unconditionally be handed the moral high ground based solely on their claim to stand for “Peace” just as they insist that they be given unquestioned access to community spaces and resources.

And when they don’t get what they want, they scream “censorship,” or claim that their opponents do nothing more than hurl empty accusations of anti-Semitism at them, knowing full well that it is their opponents who truly stand for the openness (not to mention commitment to peace and justice) that single-issue partisan groups like JVP only feign.

Interlocutor

Interlocutor – Definition

One who takes part in dialogue or conversation

Having blogged about BDS for close to three years now, one of my greatest disappointments is the lack of BDS advocates ready to engage in a serious discussion or debate over their political project.

Sites of organizations that advocate for BDS rarely allow comments, and even when they do, comments challenging their opinions tend to quickly disappear or get caught in moderation forever.

I still hold out hope that Young Jewish and Proud will answer the invitations I’ve sent them to debate this issue publically (especially since they announced a plan to engage in dialog through their upcoming Go and Learn program).  But given historic refusal of Jewish Voicefor Peace’s (parent organization to Young, Jewish and Proud) to share their civic spaces, even as they demand entrance to everyone else’s, my hope to find a good set of interlocutor’s within that group is dimming.

Of course, this site has always been open to comments, and a number of BDS proponents have visited us over the years.  To date, however, these visitors have scrupulously avoided discussing any issues brought up on this blog, preferring instead to show up, hurl an accusation (or leave a link) completely unassociated with anything mentioned in my posting, and demand we debate that subject instead.  And even when we follow their lead, they tend to make themselves scarce once their accusations or opinions are effectively challenged.

We recently had an above-average visitation from a young man involved with the big BDS conference that will take place at the University ofPennsylvania in February.  On the plus side, he provided us interesting information on his new organization (PennBDS) and how it relates to at least one other pro-Palestinian group on campus.

Now a number of Divest This regulars came at him from a number of directions, but my biggest issue with him was the initial attempt he used to try to put me on the defensive.

As many of you know, I’m quite interested in the use of political language, and the rhetorical technique he attempted falls into the category of red-herring fallacy coupled with some judgmental language.  This combination is a fairly typical in any heated debate (especially online) and starts with finding some point in an opponent’s argument that is vague or ambiguous.  In this case, he fixed on a statement I made that Penn BDS advocates were working “morning, noon and night” to get U Penn to divest, which I claimed put into question statements of the conference organizers that they don’t care about the University distancing themselves from the event.

My opponent pointed out that his group, PennBDS, is new and is focused primarily on this upcoming conference, and thus the statement that they were working “morning, noon and night” on an actual Penn-based divestment effort was false.  More than that, he claimed that this was an outright lie, a lie he demanded I admit to (which would no doubt help him make the broader case that, as the author of this site, I am an admitted liar whose words cannot be trusted on any matter).

The loaded language comes in when insisting that a rhetorical flourish not necessarily meant to be taken literally (was I really claiming that he and his organization worked every morning, every afternoon and every evening on just one BDS-related effort?) was an act of deliberate dishonesty and refusing to accept other more-likely interpretations.

And when I pointed out that the broader point (that as a BDS organization at Penn, PennBDS does indeed care if the university shows interest or disinterest in the BDS agenda) is more than valid, he retreated to an unrelated argument (that BDS must be successful, otherwise why would I and other pro-Israel activists put so much time into fighting it?).

This is an argument we have heard before, especially from a “movement” that has so few actual victories to hang their hat on and must thus look to the existence of opponents to demonstrate their effectiveness.  While there are many plausible reasons why people like me do what I do that don’t necessarily require us to be frightened of the stupendous success of the boycott and divestment “movement,” his original argument is another example of an effective rhetorical strategy, given that it puts Israel’s defenders in a lose-lose situation of either staying silent and letting Israel’s defamers run wild, or challenging them (at which point we become the basis the BDSers use to demonstrate their success).

As usual when talking about rhetoric and argumentation, I am probably going on too long about too little.  Still, it would be nice to find an interlocutor ready to stay the course in what I promise will be a respectful, if challenging, dialog with someone whose passion on this subject is at least as great as that of any BDS champion. Absent that, we seem to be dealing with a “movement” that is willing to do anything to push forward their cause short of actually defending it.

Go and Learn – Take 2

Well this is weird. While my comment was posted last week at the Jewish Voice for Peace/Young Jewish and Proud/Go and Learn web site, not much else has happened there since. So I decided to post an opening question in order to get the conversation going. But then it seemed that the ability to post comments on their site was gone.

Continuing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I decided to send my comment directly to the e-mail address they have on their site. Here’s my note in its entirity and I’ll keep you posted regarding whether they respond.

Just an FYI – The comments section of your Go and Learn web page seems to have disappeared (at least on Internet Explorer). I’m assuming this is either a technical glitch, or some problematical (and possibly rude) commenters required you to screen polite (even if challenging) comments from inappropriate insults before posting them.

If that’s the case, I hope you’ll be able to post the message below on your site, hopefully with a response so we can get this conversation you are clearly eager to have started.

COMMENT:

It’s been close to a week since I posted my invitation to debate the plusses and minuses of BDS with folks at JVP/YJP. Given the holidays (and the time it might take to pull together a response from all the material you are gathering for your March program), I thought it might be easiest to post something on a relatively simple specific BDS-related issue to start the conversation you so clearly desire. Until I hear otherwise, I’ll keep posting things here and my http://www.divestthis.com/ web site.

For the first topic, let’s start with something small and seemingly clear cut: when did the BDS project begin? Yours and similar BDS sites trace the origin of your movement to the July 9, 2005 “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS,” indicating that BDS efforts in the US and abroad represent a response to this 2005 event.

But if you do a little Googling, you will see that divestment was first making headlines not in 2005 but in 2002 when BDS efforts were underway at many US college campuses (with a petition-driven divestment campaign at Harvard and MIT putting the program on the media landscape). In fact, my own involvement in fighting against BDS began in 2004 when a divestment campaign came to Somerville, MA right after a successful effort by your predecessors to get the US Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) to pass a divestment resolution that same year.

Unfortunately, a factual timeline traces BDS back not to the 2005 Civil Society call but to the now-notorious Durban Conference in 2001 when (at an associated NGO conference) anti-Israel NGOs met to launch a coordinated “Apartheid Strategy” campaign with BDS as its prime tactic. I say “unfortunately,” because this would create an origin for your efforts not in a call from Palestinian civil society but in a constellation of organizations originating in the US and Europe (as well as in the states of the Middle East).

Claims that BDS began years after its actual 2001 start date also allow you to ignore what happened after 2004 when BDS was nearly unanimously rejected across civil society, including every college campus as well as by other members of the country’s most progressive institutions (including PCUSA which rescinded its 2004 divestment resolution in 2006 by a margin of 95%-5%).

A 5-6 year vs. 10-11 year time horizon also lets BDS advocates claim a degree of newness to their program which makes the near complete lack of actual tangible boycott or divestment successes seem more the result of this still being an early stage of your campaign. It also helps obscure the fact that during the actual BDS decade (not half decade), other divestment campaigns (notably against Iran and Sudan) were both launched and succeeded. Finally, it helps avoid the fact that the Israeli economy doubled in size and the popularity of Israel in the US shot up 20 percentage points during the very years boycott and divestment champions were trying to get both numbers to go down.

I look forward to hearing your perspective on seemingly simple, but actually quite informative issue.

Jon

Veterans

One brief note to start this piece: My invitation to debate BDS published here and on Jewish Voice for Peace/Young Jewish and Proud’s new Go and Learn site was recently released from moderation. I eagerly await their first response, which will give them the chance to participate in that discussions the rest of the Go and Learn site indicates JVP desires above all else. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, my mind recently began wandering to the subject of veterans.

In our modern age, we tend to think of the outcome of warfare being decided primarily by technology and logistics, with armies able to deploy and utilize complex weapons systems in the land, sea and air being superior to those who cannot. And even when you look at asymmetrical warfare, which tends to utilize roadside bombs, terror tactics and propaganda instead of aircraft carriers and robot drones, success in this field requires mastery of technical and political skill, rather than fighting experience.

But if you look back throughout the thousands of years of history when war was conducted primarily with the same hardware (swords, spears, bows, shields, armor and the like), the factor marking the difference between a successful and unsuccessful army was the experience of the soldiery.

Troops loyal to Julius Caesar, for example, were not referred to as “Caesar’s Soldiers” or “Caeser’s Legions,” but “Caesar’s Veterans,” highlighting the fact that soldiers who spend decades fighting side by side provided the edge in battle even against far larger armies.

Even the strategic genius of a commander is frequently the result of a general himself being the veteran of numerous campaigns, providing him the chance to try different things at different times and experience both victory and defeat.

I bring this up since another strength BDS warriors bring to battle (along with Web 2.0 communication skill and complete indifference to the needs of others) is their experience waging their propaganda campaigns over many years and even decades. For most of us, the thought of engaging in a divestment debate in our student union or town hall is appalling not just because of the nature of the subject matter, but because few of us have experience engaging with (in this case) aggressive political warfare that is likely to create tension and conflict (the very things many of us spend our lives trying to avoid).

But years of experience battling against the boycotters eventually provides us the veteran’s perspective, helping turn what might have originally felt like distasteful conflict into a battle we eagerly anticipate for the thrill it provides (especially in victory – the familiar result for pro-Israel activists engaged in a BDS fight).

I can attest to this personally as someone addicted to the rush of watching a BDS vote (even on Twitter– which I still barely know how to use) go down to defeat. And my eagerness to mix it up with folks like Young, Jewish and Proud derives from longing to engage in arguments I’ve been writing about for years with no interlocutors ready to engage in some serious intellectual jousting.

But the veteran’s experience can also be seen in the wider Jewish community, best exemplified by this report from the Reut Institute on how 2011 was the year Israel’s supporters fought back (successfully and unapologetically) against the still-more-experienced defamers of the Jewish state. As time goes on, more experience should drive more success and success will drive our desire to obtain more experience, creating new generations of vets capable of continuing to stare down the BDS threat, regardless of the ruthlessness of our adversaries.

As a final note, I’d like to pay a brief tribute to a veteran of many wars who finally lost out to the one enemy none of us can avoid forever. Christopher Hitchens may have never been a great friend to the Jewish state. But he was a great friend to others who earned his sympathy (such as the people of Iraq) and Hitchens fought for their cause, regardless of what previous friends and allies had to say on the matter. While I am sad that this iconoclast of great wit and letters passed away without embracing the justice of Israel’s cause (or the Jewish world of which he was a part), I shall miss him and his words, even (or especially) the ones with which I disagreed.

Go and Learn

As regular (and even irregular) readers may know, I have been a harsh critic of the organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), one of the main proponents of BDS (at least in certain parts of the US). And I have been particularly harsh on them for their insistence on having access to other people’s public forums while simultaneously controlling or eliminating discussion in thier own civic spaces where debate over BDS and other issues could occur in public.

Well good news! It looks like the youth wing of JVP (named Young, Jewish and Proud) has decided to engage with critics (and supporters) of BDS in a new program they entitle Go and Learn. Now this program is scheduled to begin in March, but given the clear importance JVP/YJP put on this issue, I have invited them to begin the debate immediately on their new Web site and just posted the following invitation in this comments section:

Why Wait?

I’m thrilled to learn that you are interested in an open discussion and education project surrounding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) project.

As some of you may know, I represent one of those people “actively opposed to [BDS]” your invitation above is asking to engage with you. As the creator of the web site www.divestthis.com, I have been eager to discuss and debate with people like yourselves who are supportive of BDS. Until now, however, there have been very few supporters of BDS ready to engage directly on this subject in a sustained and constructive manner.

I’m glad to discover that JVP is interested in remedying this situation and recommend that we begin this debate right now on the Internet (where the world has access to our exchanges), rather than wait until March to discuss what the Young, Jewish and Proud organization obviously considers to be such a pressing topic.

I will post information on your invitation and my own at Divest This (along with any follow ups), but I recommend we have this public discussion right here since, unlike the forums you claim to not have access to, your organization is in full control of this online space. And using it to provide a globally public forum for our conversation would not just provide everyone with the discussion you clearly crave, but would also demonstrate JVP’s openness (in contrast with those places you feel you have been excluded from).

I look forward to hearing back from you and let the conversation begin!

This invite is awaiting moderation, but given the eagerness they are showing to have an open conversation on the subject we will no doubt hear from them soon.

I’ll keep you posted.

Tactics – Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Tactics

One of the things that continually surprised me about BDS battles within a university or other institution is how unsurprising they are.

BDS itself generally has but one tactic: to find a progressive institution and (often working behind the scenes) to convince them that their principles leave them no choice other than the embrace the BDS agenda. So no surprise there. But it’s kind of startling to see how debate tends to unfold thereafter with the regularity of a Noh drama.

This déjà vu is most pronounced when a boycott or divestment battle comes to a head, often unfolding in a series of intense meetings (always three in number for some reason). Whether those meetings take place within Berkeley’s student government chambers, Somerville City Hall or the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, all parties immediately assume their assigned roles.

In the case of the boycotters, this involves presenting an endless stream of gut-wrenching (and context-free) images of Palestinian suffering with an unwavering accusation of the one and only party responsible for this presented woe: Israel (and/or “The Occupation” or “The Settlements” presented as near metaphysical entities).

The performance of Israel’s defenders also tends towards the familiar, even if it’s a familiarity of inconsistency. For unlike the boycotters, Israel’s friends are not united on their goals or approach. Some want to lash out and attack their critics (bringing up the human rights catastrophe that is Gaza and the Arab world, for example). Some want to focus on peace, reconciliation and ways to work together. Still others zero in on the pain an divisiveness that BDS battles always cause, with everyone frequently invoking the “complexity” of the Arab-Israeli conflict (in contrast to the simple-minded storyline that characterizes Israel’s accusers).

Now the endless failure of BDS would seem to indicate that this is a winning presentation, even if it is seems somewhat confused and predictable. Which presents the question of why criticize a winning tactic? To which I would respond that in any type of conflict (from a political battle to an actual war) it’s never the best idea to be in a position where you opponents know exactly what to expect from you well in advance.

Two stories provide some perspective on what happens when people don’t act according to their assigned roles. Starting in the US, a group of San Francisco pro-Israel activists decided to use the tactics of the BDS organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) against them.

You may recall that JVP was the group that chose to disrupt a speech Prime Minister Netenyahu gave in New Orleans last month, using a tactic of repeated interruptions that’s become popular within West Coast universities as a means of muzzling pro-Israel speakers. This time, however, it was JVP’s turn to be on the receiving end of their own medicine (at a meeting celebrating the Young, Jewish and Proud Netenyahu-interrupters no less) where pro-Israel forces jumped up repeatedly to read from Hertzl and other Zionist texts.

Now some of you may wonder why this “sauce for the gander” approach is not taken more often (a subject for another time), but in the case of the Young Jewish and Proud event the JVP crowd was caught completely off guard. So stunned were they at the very notion that their tactics could be used against them that violence ensued, starting with a JVP assault on an elderly activist, leading to a pepper spraying, leading to JVP calling the cops on their opponents. Putting aside attempts to propagandize this kerfuffle to advantage, the real lesson is how disorienting it can be to Israel’s foes when its friends do not act in ways they are told they must.

The other story did not involve pepper spray or cops, but was no less educational with regard to the effectiveness of surprise. By now, many of you will have read about the student who took part in the umpteenth Oxford Union debate over the Middle East, this one set up to debate the subject of whether or not “Israel is a rogue state.”

Usually when these events take place, everyone lines up along predictable patterns, each party plays its assigned role, a vote takes place and no one remembers the results. But in this case, Gabriel Latner (in support of the assertion that Israel IS a rogue state) brilliantly redefined “rogue” to provide an accurate illustration of why Israel is unique among the nations.

Needless to say, Israel’s critics cried foul that the sides did not line up as they were supposed to. But in this case there was no “cheating” involved. For the Oxford Union is meant to challenge people, to address a particular issue given the full range of rhetoric tools at the disposal of opponents to an issue. And unlike the many now-forgotten debates over Israel’s perfidity (debates designed to package the same dreary propaganda message in the garb of Oxford robes), this story has lived on to become the stuff of lore, simply because one bold individual decided to surprise the world by not doing exactly what was expected of him (a lesson we would all do well to learn).

Icke Likes Them

Like many bloggers, I occasionally engage in “Ego-Searching,” especially after writing about a relatively obscure topic that stands a chance of winning a slot on the first page of Google. Given that the ultimate audience (both pro- and anti-) interested in “Young, Jewish and Proud,” (the latest and most peculiar campaign by the BDS-worshiping organization Jewish Voice for Peace) is pretty tiny, it seemed worth the seconds it would take to type this phrase into the bare Google screen and see what happened.

Imagine my surprise to find my parody of JVP’s YJP project going neck-and-neck with support the campaign has received by David Icke, the man who has torn the mask off the Reptilian Shape-shifters who secretly rule the world.

I discovered Icke about two-and-a-half lifetimes ago when a friend and I competed to see who could unearth the most obscure and bizarre things the world had to offer. This project started mostly with movies with the thrust of a Batman musical produced in the Philippines being parried by the work of “He-of-the-long-fingernails” Horror-film-maker/potential Messiah Coffin Joe. Once the advent of the Internet ruined the thrill of that hunt, we turned our attention to crackpots like Wilhelm Reich and his Orgone Accumulator, a quest that eventually led to the discovery of David Icke.

Icke’s own lifestory has been a bit of a questing saga, starting in the slums of Leicester England and moving from a soccer career cut short by ailments into minor celebrity-hood as a TV sportscaster on the BBC and eventually leadership within the UK’s Green Party. It was during this period that he began a spiritual quest that started with faith healing but eventually grew to combine nearly every known form of conspiracy theory with whatever New Age spiritualism entered his range of view.

Icke’s theory, developed over the last two decades in several books, is that the world is secretly ruled by a race of Reptilian shape-shifters from a star-system in the Constellation of Draco (although really inhabitants of one of the lower thresholds of the 4th dimension which comes closest to our own). The world is divided into colors, including “Red People” who are part of the conspiracy: inbred alien-reptile/human hybrids that include some of the world’s most powerful families (such as the Windsors, the Bushes and the Rothschilds), we masses of dupes (without color assignment, as far as I can tell) and “Turquoise People” like himself who see the world – Matrix like – as it really is.

Because of his infatuation with the Protocols of Zion and the role of various races in the bloodlines of the Anunnaki (the name of the reptile race that secretly rules us), there is debate as to whether Icke is an anti-Semite/bigot or simply a prolific nutter who has spent his adult life weaving together all of the world’s conspiracy theories into an incoherent whole. Suffice to say that his endorsement is not necessarily something a group hoping to become mainstream would necessarily desire.

Now I’ve never been big on the whole “guilt by association” shtick, especially when it involves accusations around incoming and outgoing Internet links and comments. But the fact that Icke’s fondness for Young Jewish and Proud gives not just my parody but support for JVP’s latest campaign itself a run for its money in the quasi-scientific popularity contest otherwise known as Google is telling. For who else but the man who can believe anything could take seriously the notion that groups like Jewish Voice for Peace speak for anyone but themselves?

Young, Jewish and Proud – Oy!

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series More Silliness

My good friends at Jewish Voice for Peace have unleashed their most fearsome campaign yet: Young Jewish and Proud, the declaration of young Jews that they are mad dag-nabbit, and they don’t plan to take it anymore.

Fortunately, an intrepid dumpster diver who is also a Divest This fan stumbled across an earlier version of their manifesto which I thought I’d post for those who can’t get enough of those intrepid schmendricks of JVP. And so, we bring you:

The Young Jewish Declaration (original draft)

I. we interrupt.

We shout, we yell, we interrupt when other people are speaking. Publically. We wear necklaces made of olives and have slightly creepy smiles. One of our grandparents was Jewish. Or not. You must take us seriously. We are. We be. We do. Do-be-do-be-do. We post photos of ourselves misbehaving on our Facebook pages. And thus, we exist. We are everywhere. And nowhere. Although we are mostly in Northern California, with about a dozen of us in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Including that doofus who tried picking me up at the last Jewish Voice for Peace square dance (yuck!). We speak in sentence fragments and mix our metaphors, fattening our tongues on the rubble of your nephews. We must do what we do. For if we didn’t tweet after we act naughty in front of grown ups, we would cease to be.

II. we remember.

Or, at least, I remembered to tilt my head slightly so that the picture doesn’t cut off the top of my hair (even if it makes me look a little dorky). I’m sorry, where was I? Oh yes! I (I mean we) remember. We remember slavery in Egypt, the persecutions in Europe, the resistance fighters in Warsaw, the camps. OK, we don’t actually remember any of those things since they happened decades before we were born and the names of the actual people involved are difficult to remember and pronounce. But we mention them to give our incoherent words unearned weight. We remember those who suffer, especially if they have their own YouTube channel. Our stories are older than history, older than time, older than even Wii. We are proud. We feel pain. Speaking of which, who are you calling a doofus? And what’s that thing on your head? Did a sumo wrestler lend you his diaper?

III. we refuse.

Will the two of you knock it off? Some of us are trying to be earnest here! Now I can’t remember what I was going to say. Thanks a lot guys. OK, I’ll wing it. We refuse. We refuse to stop speaking. We refuse to let other speak. You must give us a platform and never criticize what we say. We send out fifty press releases a day. We run a dozen Web sites. We show up at every event shouting at the top of our lungs. We are muzzled. We all say in unison: we are individuals! We will not be fluffed, folded and shrinkwrapped. We will not be stacked, spindled or mutilated. I am a not a number, I am a free man! Speaking of which, I’m free on Friday night if the girl below me isn’t doing anything. Can someone say Harry Potter 7 tickets?

IV. we dream.

As in, “in your dreams buddy!” Besides, I reserve Friday nights for matters of the spirit (i.e., my Tantric Yoga class at the JCC). But I (I mean we) also dream of peace. We pray for peace. We march for peace. We jump up and down demanding peace. Especially when those with whom we disagree return fire. We put our bodies, our words, our bread and our beverages on the line to stand with those who have no beverages, who have no bread, no words and no bodies of their own. We demand you listen to us. We demand the right to not listen to you, to speak (or yell loudly) when you are speaking, to accuse you of censorship for criticizing us in any way. We are your children. And we will not stop acting like them until you give us everything we want.