This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
and participants have expressed their desire for dialog and debate, the following pages provide a response to each and every item on their conference agenda. And because an event like PennBDS doesn’t provide a mechanism for ongoing discussion (beyond brief and carefully-controlled Q&A exchanges), I have provided a place where these issues can be discussed in a public forum on an ongoing basis. Each of the response that appear in this book is linked at www.pennbds-oy.com and each response provides a placeholder for BDS advocates to post their words on a Web site that, unlike the PennBDS site, provides a mechanism for comments and further discussion. Let the conversation begin!
partisan) communications of victory is that “BDS Fail” is actually based on a huge number of uncontroversial data points. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions program has been active on college campuses (including the University of Pennsylvania where the PennBDS conference is taking place) for over a decade and yet during that time not one college or university has divested a single share of stock on the BDS blacklist. The program has targeted churches (especially Mainline Protestant churches like the Presbyterians and Methodists) for just as long, and despite some brief initial success (especially among the Presbyterians who actually passed a divestment resolution in 2004 – a year before BDSers claim their “movement” was even born, by the way) it’s been all downhill since then with the Methodists rejecting divestment unanimously and the Presbyterians rescinding their 2004 divestment position by a margin of 95%-5% in 2006. In municipalities, unions, retailers, state pension funds, in fact every major institution where boycott and divestment has been advocated, the results have been the same: utter and complete rejection of BDS (usually by majorities at of 90-100%, as we’ve seen in the churches). This may explain why in recent years the boycotters have turned to hoaxes to give their program a sense of inevitability (starting with frauds like Hampshire College and TIAA-CREF appearing and being exposed in 2009) as well as “soft targets” such as food co-ops and aging rock stars (which seem to provide the only concrete examples of actual BDS victory in the BDSers various communications). But even here, the only food co-op victory the boycotters can boast about is the OlympiaFood Co-op, an institution that has been discussed on this blog extensively, where an overly eager board managed to get a boycott implemented behind the backs of the membership (some of which are now suing), a decision that created such mayhem that it helped inspire a rejection of boycotts by every other food co-op in the country where they were proposed. In terms of entertainers participating in what’s been called the “Cultural Boycott,” this started with a bang when Elvis Costello was convinced (or bullied) into cancelling his gig in Israel at the urging of boycott advocates, but soon devolved into loud but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to get other big stars (such as Elton John and Paul McCartney) to follow Costello’s lead. Absent cultural icons of any significance going down the boycott route, BDS press releases stress decisions by such cultural behemoths as Marc Almond and Tubba Skinny (I know, I don’t know who they are either) and even play the hoax game adding names like Roger Waters (who did play Israel)
BDS Success, Challenges, and Options for 2012: Response
I’ve been seeing an uptick in BDS news stories, blog entries and the like (especially towards the end of the year) that seem to be going out of their way to stress what they claim to be the success (sometimes the “colossal success”) of the BDS “movement.” In fact, one of the first talks at the PennBDS event (the one that inspired the piece you are reading) is entitled “BDS Successes, Challenges, and Options for 2012.” To a certain extent, this emphasis on victories just represents the understandable need of a political project to create an atmosphere of momentum, both too inspire activists and to create what is called the “Bandwagon Effect” in the hope that one BDS win might lead to another which would lead to another, eventually creating an dynamic where boycotting or divesting from Israel becomes a “normal” or default choice. At the same time, I can’t help but scratch my head over these boasts, given the sheer magnitude of BDS failure over the last 10-11 years, failure that I and others have been documenting and communicating under what has become by now a common phrase of “BDS Fail” (or “BDS Fail of the Day”). The difference between our (admittedly partisan) communication of BDS failure and the BDSers (even more
and Pete Seeger (who never planned to appear in Israel) to their list of cultural boycott “successes.” And while I’ve never been a big fan of using the support of music or film stars as a barometer of political success, if we use the boycotters own metrics of concerts = political victory then the long, long list of cultural icons that are increasingly putting Israel on their tour lists would translate to Israel being one of the most popular countries on the planet. The backdrop to all of these attempted (and indeed failed) efforts of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions project is that during the very decade when they have been working tirelessly to bring the Israeli economy to its knees and diminish its popularity (especially in the eyes of Americans), that economy has doubled in size and support for Israel in the US has shot up twenty percentage points. This likely explains why BDS supporters (like the folks behind PennBDS) have been reduced to using the existence of critics (including this site) as their latest (not to mention most selfserving and preposterous) metric for success.
by leveraging ambiguity. For example, the contrast between Israeli’s thriving democracy and the anti-democratic nature of Israel’s foes can be dealt with by defining “democracy” solely in terms of public votes in the case of the Palestinians (which allows them to claim Hamas is a “democratically elected” government, ignoring the coups, repression and end to voting since Hamas won one election years ago). In contrast, their analysis of Israel democracy consists solely of finding and harping on flaws or partisan excesses which they use to question the democractic credentials of the Jewish state as a whole. But the gap between Israel’s tolerance for gay rights and its foes’ repression and hatred of homosexuality and its practitioners is just too great for these techniques to work. Or, as a fellow blogger once put it, Israel’s progressive credentials with this regard this issue is “so true they [the BDSers] can’t stand it.” And so, to avoid the subject, they have done something rather clever (rhetorically speaking, anyway) by inventing a fake phenomena called “Pinkwashing” and insisting that any debate of gay rights in the Middle East be about that. I say “invent,” but in fact the BDS cru swiped this term from political advocates dealing with breast cancer, advocates who claim that certain companies “pinkwash” negative practices by investing in breast-cancer related research and education projects and using those investments to market themselves as virtuous. In the case of BDS, the “Pinkwashing” accusation claims that any mention of the yawning chasm between Israel’s positive record on gay rights and the appalling condition of gays elsewhere in the Middle East is not really about concern over gay individuals, but is actually part of a nefarious propaganda plot by Israel supporters who just want to score points and don’t really give a fig about actual gays people or genuine gay issues. Ignored in this faux controversy over a manufactured term is that regardless of whether or not the gay issue might be manipulated cynically by some of Israel’s defenders (a dubious proposition, at least when applied universally), there is no question regarding the truth of Israel’s superior record on this issue of importance to progressively minded audiences. Now if BDS was a “normal” political movement, it would simply accept Israel’s obvious superiority on this one matter but argue that the Jewish state’s tolerance for gays and lesbians shouldn’t give the country a free pass on every other matter (a very reasonable point). But when you are pushing the message that Israel is an “Apartheid state,” with the implication that it is the worst human rights abuser on the planet (or at least the only one worthy of getting the BDS treatment), then any acknowledgement of the country’s progressive credentials can never be uttered. And thus the debate must be about “Pinkwashing” and nothing else.
Pinkwashing to Pinkwatching: Queer Organizing and BDS: Response
BDS advocates, including nearly everyone who will be on stage and in the audience at the upcoming PennBDS conference, share a problem. For the overwhelming audience (and target list) for the BDS project are progressive institutions (such as colleges and universities, Mainline Protestant churches, municipalities and unions with a history of speaking up for human rights), which is why the BDS argument is cast entirely in the vocabulary of progressive politics. But these same institutions have evolved over the years to place issues regarding gay rights high on their agendas. Yes, churches are still hotly debating issues such as gay marriage and gay clergy, and you’ll occasionally hear about some nasty bit of gay bashing at some school out there. But on the whole, the right of homosexuals to feel welcomed, thrive and live free from ridicule and harm takes high priority within the very institutions anti-Israel boycotters are trying to reach. The problem arises (for BDSers, anyway) when you take a look at the target of their attacks (Israel) which by any standard is the most open society in the Middle East (if not the world) with regard to gay rights (with gay marriage legal, gays welcomes into the military, and a thriving gay culture). In contrast, the societies that are allied with the BDS project (including the Palestinians and the Arab states that support them) are the last remaining bastion of state-sponsored antigay repression and violence, places where the existence of homosexuality is denied, and its practitioners punished by imprisonment and violent death. Whenever a comparison like this rears its head, the first instinct of the boycotters is to ignore it and, if that fails, to befog the air
Connecting with Grassroots Palestine: Response
With Palestinian workers defying boycott calls from their leaders, with those leaders investing twice as much in the Jewish state as they do their own proto-state, and with even Hamas sneaking Israeli goods through the same tunnels it uses to smuggle missiles to fire at the makers of those goods (or at least their kids), mobilizing the Palestinian homefront around BDS is an increasingly difficult task. Putting aside the use of a military term like “mobilization” by an alleged “peace group” like PennBDS, one of the greatest challenges of making BDS a goal of the locals in the disputed territories (or anywhere else) is that it is not strictly a political goal. It’s fair to say that Palestinian society is already mobilized around something that can be defined as a goal. One can debate whether that goal is the destruction of the Jewish state, the creation of their own state, or the accomplishment of the second goal as a way to achieve the first. But it’s hard to dispute that the political institutions (be they PA or Hamas-led) know what they want and are ready to use the machinery of the state to achieve it. Even if within these societies there are individuals interested in other goals (such as peace and reconciliation with their Israeli neighbors and normal lives for their children), those with power (and guns) are more than ready to push those goals beyond the pale, either by branding those that advocate for them as collaborators and traitors or using the media and education system to teach the next generation that their “sacrifice” (i.e., dedication of more decades to needless war) will accomplish a goal that’s not been achieved by their parents or grandparents. Within this consensus there are debates over strategy, with groups like Hamas preferring armed violence whenever possible and other groups (such as the PA and international supporters like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement”) preferring political propaganda. But just as BDS is not a political goal, it’s not even a strategy. Rather, the strategy of the BDSers (the so-called “Apartheid Strategy” began at the 2001 Durban I conference, years before the BDS “movement” was allegedly even born), is to brand Israel an “Apartheid State,” implying that anything done to such a state (including its dismantling) is morally virtuous since Israel is alleged to be the global embodiment of the sin of racism as the successor to Apartheid South Africa. Within this strategic context, BDS is a tactic, i.e., a mechanism or technique chosen to further the aim of the Apartheid Strategy towards the achievement of some political end. And, as such, it’s a lot harder to mobilize or Unify or Synergize around than the achievement of a concrete goal. One of the reasons why it’s so hard to get Palestinian workers or investors or even militants to comply with BDS demands (even with coercion added to the mix) is that these individuals are not ready to put themselves and their families
through impoverishment (or even inconvenience) in support of a “movement,” the head of which leads a subsidized existence as a perpetual grad student at an Israeli university. Outside the region, it is not so much the hypocrisy of its practitioners that limits widespread acceptance of the BDS agenda as it is questions about its effectiveness. While diehard BDS adherents have been trying to gin up excitement over the endless “triumphs” of their project (going so far as to use the very existence of this humble blog as an example of their success), truth is the BDS tactic has not gone very well this last decade. In fact, if Israel’s supporters had to pick a tactic for their foes, they might very well choose to have them spend ten (going on eleven) years trying to gin up boycotts (that inevitably lead to wild sell-offs of Israeli goods) and divestment campaigns at places like US colleges and universities (which have yet to sell a single share of any stock based on the urging of divestment advocates).
BDS 101: Response
Fortunately, the next item on the PennBDS agenda is the topic BDS 101, something I’ve written about in the Divest This Manual, although not something that’s appeared as a separate piece on this site. No doubt the BDSers gathering at U Penn have their own run down of BDS basics, placing themselves at the center of a heroic struggle against titanic, sinister forces that are trying to suppress them. But here on planet earth, BDS has a specific origin, goals and track record, all of which are at odds with how this “movement” likes to portray itself. The following is actually an extract from a set of responses to frequently-asked questions (FAQ) regarding BDS. As ever, comments are open to anyone who disagrees with this assessment: What is the origin of BDS campaigns? While economic warfare (such as the Arab boycott of Israel which began in 1921) has been part of the Arab-Israeli conflict since before Israel became a state, the current Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) program pushed by antiIsrael groups to try to delegitimize the Jewish state began in 2001. The goal of BDS is to “brand” Israel as the new Apartheid South Africa (South Africa also having been the target of economic boycotts and sanction). While this strategy was used sporadically after the fall of Apartheid in the 1990s, it was only after the 2001 Durban I “anti-racism” conference (which degenerated into an orgy of Israel bashing) that various antiIsrael organizations focused on BDS as their tactic of choice. This, by the way, is the origin of the BDS "movement" (not the 2005 call from "Palestinian Civil Society" the BDSers will tell you inspired their political project). What are the goals of BDS campaigns?
Because the desire to punish Israel economically represents such a small minority of public opinion, the goal of BDS activists is to attach their message (that Israel is an “Apartheid state” worthy of economic punishment) to a well known institution such as a university, church or city. This allows them to “punch above their weight” by declaring their antiIsrael message is not simply emanating from a small, nonrepresentative minority, but rather represents the policy of a respected organization. Another goal is to infuse a campus or other institution with their Israel=Apartheid messaging, attempting to make this slander stick, even if boycott or divestment motions themselves get defeated (as they have been, time and time again). OK, I get that boycotts and sanctions always indicate political disapproval of someone, but what’s the story with divestment? Don’t people “invest” and “divest” (i.e., buy and sell) stock every day? This is an extremely important and relevant question since BDS activists are responsible for many false claims related to divestment. As you note, divestment is simply the selling of an investment, such as a stock, bond or mutual fund. Every time you see someone shouting “Sell!” on the floor of the stock exchange, for example, divestment is taking place. Divest-from-Israel campaigns fall into the category of political divestment. Rather than selling investments for economic reasons (such as fear that share price will go down in the future), political divestment involves selling an investment due to a political disagreement with the company or country the investment benefits. This is an important distinction since, without a public explanation or announcement that investments are being sold for political, rather than economic reasons, political divestment cannot be said to have taken place. I’ve heard that divestment campaigns are very big on college campuses. Have any schools divested from Israel? To date, no college or university has divested a single share of stock identified by BDS activists as targets for divestment. In addition, at schools where divestment has been driven by online petitions (such as Harvard and MIT), counter-petitions denouncing divestment have received more than ten times the number of signatures as pro-divestment petitions. In 2002, the leadership at Harvard University took a public stance against divestment, with the then President of Harvard criticizing divestment activity as potentially being “anti-Semitic in effect, if not intent.” While college divestment programs gained considerable media attention between 2001-2006, institutions of higher learning generally followed Harvard’s lead in rejecting divestment out of hand. Campus divestment campaigns made a comeback in 2009 and 2010. Background information is available here with regard to Hampshire College and UC Berkeley.
If BDS has failed at colleges and universities, has it been successful anywhere else? In 2004, a number of Mainline Protestant churches (notably the Presbyterians and Methodists) passed resolutions calling for divestment of their retirement portfolios from stocks identified by BDS activists as supporting the Jewish state. As with universities, however, support for divestment in the churches turned out to be extremely shallow. While some church leaders and regional churches supported divestment, the rank and file categorically rejected divestment calls, voting down divestment by margins of 95%-5% (the Presbyterians) or unanimously (the Methodists). During this period, divestment was also attempted in some US cities (notably Somerville, Massachusetts and Seattle, Washington), but lost badly in both places. When BDS made a comeback in 2009 after a three-year lull, new “soft targets” were chosen such as food co-ops and aging rock stars, demonstrating that (at least for now) BDS is all but dead at major institutions. If BDS has been so unsuccessful, is it really a threat? Despite its losing streak, calls for BDS have gained considerable momentum based on a single victory, such as the temporary support divestment had with the Presbyterian Church which was used to inspire hundreds of divestment projects between 2004 and 2006. BDS controversies also tend to distort debate on college campuses, creating a discussion over whether or not Israel should be punished for its “crimes,” rather than pointing out the inaccuracy and unfairness of these very accusations or the responsibility of Israel’s accusers for the situation in the Middle East. Finally, calls for boycott or divestment do tremendous damage to the institutions which embrace them, poisoning the atmosphere and creating hostile environments on campuses and elsewhere. For all these reasons, BDS needs to be fought whenever it rears its head within any civic institution. What kind of damage do BDS projects cause others? At its heart, BDS is an attempt to import the bitterness of the Arab-Israeli conflict into a civic institution such as a college, church, city or union in order to leverage that organization’s reputation for the narrow partisan gain of divestment advocates. Historically, attempts to win a well known organization into the divestment fold are accomplished by maneuvering behind the backs of members (and sometimes committing outright fraud). On several occasions, students, church members or citizens simply wake up one morning to discover their school, church or city is calling for a boycott of Israel in their name, causing bitter divisiveness (frequently along religious or racial lines), accusation and counteraccusation, leading to breaches and long-term damage to a civic institution. Divestment activists, with their single-minded objective to gain the support of a well-known organization – by any means
necessary – time and time again fail to reflect on the hurt they cause in an attempt to achieve their aims.
Lessons from the South African Struggle: Response
South Africais so central to the BDS narrative that it’s warranted considerable coverage onthis blog. While I’ll be consolidating themes written about elsewhere in this PennBDS-related entry, anyone interested in learning more can start out here. First off, remember that BDS is simply a tactic in the service of a wider strategy: to “brand” Israel as the new South Africa, the focal point of racism in the modern age which ultimately deserves the same fate as the Apartheid regime which ended in the early 1990s. BDS practitioners tend to fall into two categories: people old enough to have participated in anti-Apartheid campus activities in the 1980s (a history I share, at least with regard to age), and those who were too young to remember anything that happened back then. The former wear any political activity they may have participated in during that period (even if it consisted of nothing more than being on a campus when others were engaged in anti-Apartheid protests) as a badge of honor, entitling them to judge who is the inheritor of the Apartheid tradition they claim to have helped vanquish. Putting aside the questionable link between campus protests and ultimate political change in South Africa, and putting aside the question as to whether being right about the nature of one national regime entitles one to judge all others (well, one anyway), it has never been clear why past anti-Apartheid activists who attack Israel deserve any more consideration than former anti-Apartheid activists who support it. At the other end of the age spectrum, you have people attending college today who may not have even been born when Apartheid fell. For them, “Apartheid” is a catch-all term for racism as national policy, rather than an historical event (which is why you routinely see the term misspelled on signs at “Israel Aparthied” or “Israel Aparthide” themed rallies). The fact that the South Africa story is complex, with blacks and whites acting in the camps of both oppressors and liberators is lost on both of these groups, as is the true role of different states in supporting or protesting the Apartheid regime. This is why every aspect of the complex relationship between Israel and South Africa (no matter how marginal) is cast in the starkest terms as though these two states alone acted as brothers in bigotry. Meanwhile the fact that it was Israel’s political rivals (notably the Gulf States) who supplied Apartheid South Africa with all of the oil needed to fund its machinery of repression has been dumped down the memory hole. The supportof actual South Africans of the BDS program is the key to the Israel=Apartheid narrative, saying in effect that
if South Africans say Israel is an Apartheid state, then it must be true. This is why the name of Desmond Tutu (one of two South African names most Americans would recognize and a strong BDS supporter) is invoked on nearly every anti-Israel petition, on nearly every BDS web site and in every BDS letter to the editor, speech and article. The other universally recognized name is, of course, Nelson Mandela whose relationship with the Jewish state is more ambiguous than Tutu’s (which is why anti-Israel activists have gone so far as to create fraudulent anti-Israel quotes to stuff into Mandela’s mouth). Beyond these two, the names and activities of other South Africans (including the many South African Jews who formed the backbone of anti-Apartheid protest within South Africa) are lost on both young and old BDSers, as is the fact that Israel as a multi-racial society bears no resemblance to Apartheid, a term that would be much better applied to state policies regarding gender, sexuality, religion and even race practiced by Israel’s self-declared political enemies (including the ones who rule in Gaza). Underlying the need to wrap their anti-Israel branding exercise with South African flag is the assumption by BDSers that the political trials suffered by black South Africans has turned them into saints who cannot be criticized in any way, which is why any criticism of Desmond Tutu’s stance on Israel (for example) is used to support accusations of racism against Israel’s defenders. Interestingly, this formula of suffering = sainthood is not applied to anyone else, especially to Jews who also suffered murderous racism (in Europe in the 1930s and 40s, and in the Middle East today). Instead, many boycotters make the case that Jewish suffering created damaged souls whose suffering destroyed their empathy for others. Some go even farther, suggesting that rather than learning mercy from the Holocaus texperience, many Jews learned at the feet of their former tormentors, becoming Nazis (or Nazi-like) in the process. This apparent double moral standard makes sense only if you understand that theBDSers have no moral standards, and no actual concern for Jews, for South Africans or for Palestinians for that matter, despite endlessly repeating and tweeting their universal love for all mankind. For them, “Apartheid” (like racism generally) is not an actual thing suffered by actual people, but rather it is a slur and a weapon to be thrown at their political foes while ignoring it when practiced by their political allies.
Palestine in International Law: Response
I’ve been trying to write something new for each session onthe PennBDS agenda, but with regard to “Palestine in International Law,” I’vepretty much already said all I need to here.
The only thing I’d add is an observation from a few brief daysas a Twitterer (mostly a lurking Twitterer) where talk of “illegal this” and “illegalthat” fall like rain in any conversation regarding the Middle East. Why does Hamas do what it does? “Blame the illegal Occupation.” Why BDS? “To make Israel stop acting illegally.” Why protest Israel vs. other human rights abusers? “Because Israel is breaking international law.” Honestly (if such a word can beused in the same paragraph as BDS), is “illegal” actually a word to these types, or some kind of sacred talisman which (like the word “Occupation” )cleanses those who are allied with the BDS “movement” of all sin? Since this ended up a referring blog entry, I’ve got a little room to spare that I’d like to use to ask why no one involved with the PennBDS project has honored us with a visit since this series began? After all, the organizers of this event have publicly stated that they welcome criticism, and a member of their group did honor us with his presence before I started using their program schedule as an editorial calendar. In fact, one of their participants (Jewish Voice for Peace) has also stated that it plans to spend the Spring on college campuses (at an event called Go and Learn) where, again, they claim to crave debate with their critics. Yet now that someone is spending a fair amount of time talking about each and every topic that they find important enough to put onto their conference agenda, no one is willing to show up to defend the BDSposition. Perhaps I need to come up with some options that will make them feel safe and welcome. At the veryleast, I promise to not require them to accede to any demands before they can participate in a decent conversation (in contrast to the entrance requirements of certain political movements I could name). Ciao!
Minor deviations can be found in the writing of Noam Chomsky (for whom all roads lead to American imperialism) and Naomi Klein (whose eccentric views of economics, while wrong, at least seem like something written since the 19 century). But on the whole they all share the same narrow focus on Israel, the Palestinians and maybe the US, with every other economic player in the conflict erased from the boycotter’s spreadsheets. Now I could take on the aid issue by highlighting that money the US provides to Israel to defend itself should be compared to much higher sums Americans pay to defend Europe directly, or that no US foreign aid budget would get passed if not for the presence of Israel-related assistance in it (two topics taken up at length in the terrific book The $36 Billion Bargain ). Similarly, I could point out two Middle East peoples (the Egyptians and the Palestinians) who receive a least two dollars in foreign aid for everythree received by Israel (from the US in Egypt’s case, and from the US and Europe in the case of the Palestinians) and ask who’s gotten more or made more out of this largesse. And with regard to the narrow “Israel-imperialism” focused politica lmessaging masquerading as economic analysis, I could simply widen the lens to include other players with economic skin in the game (including close to two dozen Arab League states that control a majority of the world’s oil wealth) and ask Who Profits? in keeping the Arab-Israeli conflict at a perpetual boil. But for this piece, I’d like to spend time looking at a littlediscussed but important economic element: that of waste. For example, consider the amount of money and human capital Israel has to expend to ensure it can defeat any number of opponents who remain in a declared state of war against it. (Israel is often criticized for maintaining this level of military power, although, as Ruth Wisse has pointed out, if Israel wasn’t in this position we would not be having these conversations since the country would have ceased to exist long ago).Now it’s true that this need to focus on things military have had some spill-over positive effects in terms of national cohesion and a growing high-tech industry. But I suspect that nearly every Israeli would trade these all to put their money (not to mention their children) to other tasks. Comparable billions spent to “support” Palestinian refugees over thelast 60+ years can probably be characterized as something worse than wasteful since those dollars have gone into perpetuating conflict and misery, in contrast to money spent on every other refugee population on the planet which is directed towards solving rather than extending global problems. Looking at indirect costs, the terror industry requires two critical components:people ready to kill and people ready to apologize for the killers. And the first other industry that these
The Economics of Israeli Occupation: Response
Economic discussions by BDS supporters tend to focus on just twosubjects: (1) The amount of foreign aid received by Israel from the US (which, depending on which BDSers you talk to, ranges from three-billion to eleventy-jillion dollars per year), and; (2) A pigeon-Marxist analysis that begins with the assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute fits perfectly into the framework of European colonialism, and selects facts to interpret accordingly There is some slight variation in the analysis with groups like Who Profits? (whose head will be covering this topic at the PennBDS conference) pretty much offering Orthodox “class analysis” based on Israelis playing the role of “white” colonial power and Palestinians as the exploited “brown” natives.
two evils converged on was air travel where hijackings were pioneered by enemies of Israel and then elaborately justified by terror’s apologists in (among other places) the halls of the United Nations. So consider everything from the cost of airport security, to the time you spend checking through security, to the human and financial cost of 9/11 as a tax those dedicated to Israel’s defeat place on the world. Then there are opportunity costs, including joint projects that could marry the benefits of resources and know-how throughout the Middle East to solve problems in areas such as water, energy, the environment and health ,instead of squandering precious dollars and human effort on the perpetual wa ragainst the Jewish state. And let’s not begin to add up the costs of impoverished and embittered men, women and children across the Middle East who could be busy solving the world’s problems, rather than creating new ones. Taken together, the waste caused by this war against the Jews and thei rstate (whether a shooting war from Hamas or a propaganda war from the attendees at PennBDS) climbs into the trillions of dollars (which itself is small, compared to the value of a single human life). So please forgive me for not taking the self-serving economics of BDSproponents any more seriously than their moral pronouncements. In both cases, their cause comes at too high a price.
propaganda message known in advance). But if even a contrived, lopsided debate of this type is too much for the PennBDS cru to accept, I think we can all guess where they are coming from. And if someone was to give them a real debate over “The Academic Boycott,” it would have to begin by pointing out that of all the boycott, divestment and sanctions activities advocated by PennBDS speakers and organizers, none is more loathed and despised than calls for international academics to boycott their Israeli colleagues which would involve refusing to invite them to conferences (or to attend their conferences), refusing to publish their papers, engage in joint research projects or even talk to them (lest you be found guilty of “normalizing” the Jewish condition - whoops! I mean “The Occupation”). Consumer boycotts probably come in a close second with regard to the amount of disgust they generate, especially in the US where people don’t take kindly to being told what they can and cannot buy. But even if arguments have been found that take on product boycotts on principle (Davis Food Co-op’s highlighting that such boycotts would represent a betrayal of the Rochdale Principles upon which the co-op movement was founded springs to mind), the principle of academic freedom is woven into the fabric of every educational institution and (with a few exceptions) everyone who educates others for a living. To cite a few examples of how these principles have motivated action,when the leadership of a UK teacher’s union proposed a boycott of Israeli universities several years ago, the reaction of college and university presidents around the world was to declare that for the purpose of any boycott, their institutions should be considered Israeli universities and also boycotted. It was a noble gesture, but ultimately unnecessary since the union’s membership (which was never consulted on this boycott decision – par for the course with regard to BDS “victories”) revolted upon hearing what was being said in their name and the boycott resolution was quickly withdrawn. It’s interesting to note that it was Columbia University which spearheaded this campaign, the very Columbia that has been accused in the past of allowing teachers to inappropriately politic in the classroom, the Columbia that provided a platform for Iranian President Ahmadinejad to spew his bile to the community. But when the question of a boycott came up, academic freedom easily trumped all other considerations. Similarly, San Francisco State College has historically been one of the worst campuses in the country for pro-Israel activists, with an environment where this lovely poster (not tomention a near riot) didn’t rouse the administration to action. But when faced with calls for an academic boycott, the President of SF State issued a resounding denunciation. While BDS advocates highlight the few hundred American instructors who signed a petition calling their fellow academics to boycott their Israeli colleagues, they never mention that the 1.5 million strong American Federation of Teachers union that made it abundantly clear what they thought of calls for an academic boycott of Israel (which is not much, beyond hostility to it).
The Academic Boycott/BDS on Campus II: Academic Freedom: Response
On a couple of previous occasions, I’ve mentioned some name changes to items in the PennBDS agenda, mostly as by-theby asides. But in this instance, it’s worth highlighting the fact that a session once entitled “Debate on the Academic Boycott” is now simply called “The Academic Boycott.” Now it may be that this is a simple name change and that the speakers for this event represent the strongest voices the PennBDS folks could find on either side of the issue, which means the audience will be exposed to a genuine debate over what the conference organizers consider to be a subject of great importance. But if this name change represents a decision by these organizers to eliminate any part of their program that would even pretend that two sides of an issue existed, that would fit their choice to avoid debate at all cost, despite their constant assertions that they are dying for dialog with their opponents. When BDS advocates have organized “debates” in the past, their preference is to choose choose both sides (usually recruiting a Jewish “anti-BDS” speaker who can be assured to laud the goals of the BDS “movement” but simply question their methods, with general agreement over the “Israel = Apartheid”
Those in favor of academic boycotts like to highlight the plight of students at Palestinian universities to make arguments that it is their position that represents true calls for academic freedom. Needless to say, the fact that these very universities were built by Israel during the dreaded “Occupation” and only faced problems once they had been turned into cesspools of propaganda and violence after they came under PA administration during the Oslo years will never cross the boycotter’s lips. But even with this history all but forgotten, the vast majority of academics react viscerally to the notion of shunning their Israeli colleagues,even with BDS advocates incessantly claiming that this is their only moral choice. With Israeli academics winning Nobel Prizes and American and European colleges and universities fighting to create joint programs with Israeli institutions, it’s curious why the BDSers continue to press for academic boycotts, rather than putting their energy into efforts like their TIAA-CREF divestment campaignnthat (while failing) at least don’t come tinged with an assault on academic freedom. The reason for this has to do with boycotters’ insistence that anyone joining their “movement” must sacrifice all to prove their devotion. In the case of the churches, it’s not good enough for the Presbyterians or Methodists to make moral statements on secular political issues. Rather they are asked to stake their positions on “Christian Witness,” declaring (in effect) that their political statements represent the will of God. Academic boycotts follow a similar pattern, asking educators to place what they hold most sacred (academic freedom) on the sacrificial alter. And this makes sense once you realize that someone making a simple political decision can always change his or her mind. But someone who has been maneuvered to sacrifice all they believe in for the sake of someone else’s cause can never turn back. Now that’s something worth debating!
strands of Christianity (Catholicism, Evangelicalism and Mainline Protestantism) with Jews and the Jewish state. Poupko succinctly describes the key stories behind the evolving relationship between the Catholic Church, Israel and Jews in the Diaspora, highlighting the important period between Pope Paul VI’s visit to Israel in 1964 and John Paul II’s visit in 2000 which capped off a 36 year period of theological reconciliation between Catholics and Jews. And his section of Evangelical Christianity helps color a complex theological and political relationship that is too often characterized by cartoonish imagesof knuckle-dragging Bible thumpers whose support for Israel is based on little more than End-of-Days mythology. But it is his section on Mainline Protestantism that really answers questions about why churches, particularly Mainline Protestant churches likethe Presbyterians and Methodists, feature so prominently in BDS and other anti-Israel propaganda programs. This story revolves around a number of themes, starting with churches that once were the backbone of institutional America. Christianity thrived in early America due to an entrepreneurial spirit in which someone who got fed up with his local church or church doctrine was free to set up not only his own house of worship but his own denomination. And until less than a century ago, virtually every political leader in the country (not to mention leaders in every other field such as industry and academia) would have been a member of one of these churches. But in the post-WWII era, as these churches faced pressures from the growth of both Evangelical Christianity and secularism, they made a decision to put aside doctrinal differences to pursue an ecumenical approach to Mainline faith. And who can fault their logic for pursuing this idea? For in an era where more modern or energetic approaches to faith or non-faith beckoned the young, why waste time debating over the Presbyterian Book of Order when something deeper clearly bound Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians and other so-called “Mainliners” together? The problem was, what was this “thing” around which they could all rally? For if these groups would no longer be interested in arguing about what divided them, what was it that actually united them and made them different than the Evangelicals with whom they were competing for souls? The answer turned out to be secular politics, and secular politics increasingly defined as taking positions that were the opposite of secular political positions Evangelical Christians supported. And as Poupko points out, in the realm of protest against American foreign policy (including support for Israel) it is not college campuses or labor unions, but Mainline Protestant churches that are the epicenter and primary driver for dissent in the area of foreign affairs. These decisions to set aside doctrine and instead embrace the worldly political realm have had consequences, the most significant being the increasing the rate of decline of Mainline Protestants, many of which have lost more than 40% of
A Faith Based Approach to BDS: Response
Generally, I like posts (or series of posts) to have selfcontained arguments with links providing access to referenced information and sources,and an occasional link to a longer essay or book meant just for those interested in learning more. But to understand the kind of BDS campaigns and other church-centered political activity being discussed at PennBDS’s workshop entitled “A Faith Based Approach to BDS,” this monograph written by Rabbi Yehiel Poupko and published by the Jewish Center for Public Affairs is required reading. While containing less than 40 pages of material, Poupko’s Looking at Them Looking at Us does a remarkable job summarizing the relationship between the three major
their membership since ecumenicalism became cornerstone policy. For as these churches replaced thei rtheological distinctiveness for a common (and largely secular) political agenda, what was left to explain the uniqueness of being a Presbyterian vs.joining the Lutherans? And why join these churches at all when you could get a political fix by participating in secular politics directly or fulfill your spiritual needs in an Evangelical church that did not have a problem explaining what it stood for spiritually? The fact that these very churches once produced nearly 100% of the country’s leaders makes their struggle to survive and remain relevant all the more acute. For who can fill the void when the people who once ran the country are not even called to provide a spiritual, moral or religious voice when the Sunday morning TV talk shows do one of their semi-regular “Faith and Politics” features? With regard to the Middle East, it’s been the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Palestinian Christian group dedicated to casting the Arab-Israeli dispute in Christian terms (with Palestinians representing Christ on the cross), and getting this narrative lodged into mainstream Mainline Protestant discourse. Unlike unmoored leaders of these Protestant denominations, Sabeel (like other people and groups making up the BDS “movement”) know exactly what they want, and are not the least bit hesitant in insisting that a church which does not support BDS and similar campaigns is not living up to either its progressive political or Christian identity. Lacking manpower, direction or a strong-enough self identity, Mainline Protestant leaders have become easy prey for partisans insisting that Christians must devote themselves to the Palestinian cause (while also ignoring the plight of nonPalestinian Christians elsewhere in the Middle East – including Christians facing increasing threats from militant Islam) to be considered “authentic” and “committed.” Until now, it’s actually been the people in the pews who have kept the excesses of the church’s co-opted leadership in check. This has played out most spectacularly with the Presbyterians whose 2004 divestment resolution anchored the early BDS “movement,” just as a rejection of that divestment stance in 2006 by 95% of members put the BDS virus into remission until quite recently. But even as new divestment resolutions become a semiannual ritual at national church gatherings, the big question is becoming not what efforts like those that will be discussed at the PennBDS conference mean for Israel and ChristianJewish relations, but whether these churches will go to the grave grasping a Sabeel-authored anti-Israel animus that is at odds with not just the vast majority of Americans but a majority of the very people who remain in any Mainline Protestant church.
BDS, Hillel, and Questions of Anti-Semitism: Response
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 serious and 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 BDSdebate the leadership of both sides will likely be Jewish. Personally, I simply take this as a fact oflife and while I’ve touched on the subject of Jewish involvement (and evenleadership) in anti-Israel activity, getting into a frenzy about the phenomenais about as effective as a Medieval general complaining that his enemy’scavalry 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 in 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 siniste rforces 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., freeflowing 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 program specifically designed to engage in the conversations they claim Hillel is suppressing, 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.
BDS and the Black Community: Response
While any discussion involving race in America can trigger some heat, debate over subject such as “BDS and the Black Community” (the next item on the PenBDS agenda), can be particularly problematical given that BDS proponents have a tendency to accuse their opponents of racism at the slightest (or even non-existent) provocation. This phenomenon is particularly interesting, given BDSers tendency to claim that any criticism of their “movement” consists of nothing more than insincere accusations of antiSemitism designed to shut them up (or in JVPparlance: to “muzzle” them from speaking truth to power). So, once again, we seem to be in a situation of anti-Israel advocates projecting their own faults onto their critics. One way to avoid such conflict is to focus on statistical information. Unfortunately, while African Americans (and Hispanics) are appropriately represented in this professional survey, they are not broken out as a separate demographic. However, there is some insight we can glean from aggregate data. For example, general support for Israel in the US tends to run at around 60%, sometimes dipping a bit below, sometimes climbing to as high as 70%. This is in contrast to support for the Palestinians which tends to rattle around the 20-25% range. This general 3:1 ratio of support between the parties to the conflict is actually an average with Republicans falling in the 4:1 ratio range and Democrats hovering around 2:1. If we assume that African American attitudes tend to clump around the same numbers as Democrats (or are even responsible for pulling Democratic numbers down), even numbers low enough to move the Democratic ratio from the 3:1 national average down to 2:1 imply parity of support between Israelis and Palestinians. While partisans will occasionally try to make hay of the overall disparity between Democrats and Republicans, a more neutral observer would marvel at how this issue (unlike nearly any other political issue one could name) demonstrates such widespread levels of support for one side in a heated controversy (even if the level of intensity for this support might vary). I’m at a loss to name any other single domestic or international issue where all parties and nearly all demographics agree at levels of 2:1 or higher. Absent statistical evidence of support one way or another, we are left with anecdotal information and certainly the speakers who will be participating in this PennBDS panel will be making the case that certain African Americans (including, one expects, most of the ones participating in the conference) share the BDS view that Israel is the successor to Apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow American South.
The trouble is, I could provide equally compelling anecdotal evidence of black support for Israel, such as this speech by Cory Booker, the African American Mayor of Newark (and the man who gave the single most powerful speech in support of Israel I’ve ever heard). Naturally, participants at the PennBDS event are free to ignore the existence of people such as Booker, or try to dismiss them as some kind of “sell out.” But as with so many issues, the ignoring of inconvenient evidence is no substitute for proof of the BDSers claim that African Americans are generally in alignment with their political goals. The reason it is so important for BDS advocates to allege such an alignment (with or without evidence) is the nature of their target audience: political progressives. For such an audience, accusations of racism and Apartheid – especially coming from black Americans – would be particularly resonant, especially since black supporters of Israel are less likely to (1) hurl similar accusations of bigotry against Israel’s international foes; and (2) claim to speak on behalf of a black majority as a whole. The desire to claim ownership of “black opinion” would help explain the extreme hostility that greeted news that Jewish organizations would be reaching out to the black community (a community anti-Israel activists would prefer to outreach to without competition). In researching this topic, the most interesting quote I found was on this article where the speaker questioned what dog African Americans might have in this particular fight. While this argument might seem self-centered, it actually demonstrates important wisdom, especially in light of how African nations have historically been asked to join in on Arab League condemnations of Israel (funneled through the UN and other organizations), only to see their own concerns (such as stopping the oil-for-gold trade between the Arab states and Apartheid South Africa) ignored. Given this history, it seems wise indeed for a community to focus on its own issues before agreeing to allow its history (and its voice) serve one side or the other in someone else’s political battles.
to get actual retailers to remove Israeli products from their store shelves vs. asking individual consumers to engage in personal boycotts. The reason for this is obvious once you realize that a boycott consisting solely of individuals choosing to not buy Israeli food or wine simply represents unremarkable (and, more importantly, un-newsworthy) personal choices. But there is one group of people whose consumer choices do make news: celebrities. After all, we buy the shoes they wear (and tout), follow their home and luxury purchases on cable TV, and analyze the gowns they show off at the Oscars and Emmy’s. So why wouldn’t their choices vis-à-vis whether or not to come to Israel make news? Efforts to get celebrities to shun performing in the Jewish state got a boost in 2010 when Elvis Costello chose to cancel the Israel leg of a tour after being subjected to protests by antiIsrael activists at his concerts (as well as online). This followed similarly successful harangues of the older (and recently deceased) Gil Scot-Heron who had previously bagged out on his Israeli fans at the behest of BDS advocates. As I’ve discussed before, what these two (and other pop stars fingered by the boycotters, including the 92-year-old Pete Seeger) have in common is that they are all well into or well past the end of their careers. And given a choice between watching their last tours turn into public protests against their alleged immorality vs. a peaceful retirement, a few of them took the easy way out and caved into BDSers demands, turning into poster-children for the anti-Israel crusaders in the process. The key word in the above paragraph is “few,” for while the actions of Scot-Heron and Costello in particular briefly made news headlines (and continue to be touted in BDS press releases), efforts to capitalize on these “successes,” were all for naught. Loud demands that heavy hitters like Elton John and Paul Simon (also in the aging rock star class) similarly cancel their Israel gigs were met with simple rejection or, in Elton John’s case, ridicule from the stage while playing before packed Israeli concert halls. In fact, defying boycott calls has become a sort of badge of cool since Costello let down his fans (and tried to explain himself by posting hundreds of mealy-mouthed words on his Web site). It’s one thing when Johnny Lydon (former Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) gives you the finger for your cowardice in refusing to play Israel. But when participating in BDS gets you dissed by Deep Purple you know the jig is up. I've heard that a group of Hollywood impresarios has decided to counter the cultural boycott threat by creating an organization designed to bring celebrities to Israel and help dispel myths being peddled by BDS propagandistas. And, as much as I applaud their efforts (or any efforts to expose more people to the truth), the main impetus driving defeat of the cultural boycott is that Israel is a pretty appealing place to visit and perform, which is why thousands of artists, musicians, theater and film stars visit the country annually, a number that’s been growing and growing year upon year. Absent the ability to get all but the most obscure “stars” to follow their lead, the BDSers had one more resource to
The Cultural Boycott: Response
When BDS first came on the scene at the beginning of the last decade, it primarily focused on divestment (notably, on five years of failed efforts to get prominent colleges and universities, churches and municipalities to divest form the Jewish state). Later, it added boycotts to the mix and rebranded itself to “BDS.” This not only gave anti-Israel advocates a catchy TLA to pop into their mouths. It also provided them a much wider range of targets they were ready to ask to participate in academic, consumer and cultural boycotts. Academic and consumer boycotts are discussed elsewhere, but before leaving them to the side, it’s worth noting that consumer boycotts have generally been focused on trying
draw upon in their efforts to impact cultural events: their own limitless ability to act like assholes. For it you can’t get American or European celebrities to bend to your will, why not show up at Israeli cultural events held in the US or Europe (such as performances by ballet dancers and concert musicians) and start shouting or blowing air horns? Such “cultural boycott” protests did achieve one major goal of the BDS movement: the production of digital video of their naughty (I mean edgy) behavior to post on BDS YouTube channels. But in terms of turning public opinion away from support for Israel, as Britain’s Cultural Minister tweeted during the disruption of a concert of the Israeli Philharmonic in London, “Demonstrators seem to have turned [the] entire audience pro-Israel.” As we saw when discussing academic and consumer boycotts, it is very difficult to get people to abandon their principles (by rejecting academic freedom in the case of academic boycotts) or their ability to make personal choices (in the case of consumer boycotts) simply because partisan activists insist that this is their only moral choice. And even celebrities, many of whom spend their lives insulated from the result of the choices they make, know to avoid the BDS like the rotting dead-fish that it is.
of 2008. And CREF's decision to sell off shares had everything to do with the company's financial woes, and nothing to do with politics. The story behind subsequent divestment hoaxes was that in 2010 Israel emerged as a First World economy, exemplified by the country joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD (over the protests of the usual suspects). The Israel economy, you see, has nearly doubled in size over the last decade (i.e., during the very years the boycotters were working tirelessly to bring that economy to its knees). This fast growth, coupled with sound governmental financial management, transitioned Israel from a developing to developed economy, similar to the transition the so-called “Asian Tiger” economies went through in the 80s and 90s. This transition had counter-intuitive consequences in the financial markets since many institutional investors have funds specifically chartered to only invest in developing economies. And once Israel left that developing category by joining the OECD, those funds were legally required to sell their Israelbased assets. Now there is always a lag between when such required/automatic sell-offs take place and when investors chartered to buy stock in developed economies get around to doing so. And so, ironically, First World economic status led to a transition period where more selling (i.e., “divestment”) than buying (i.e., “investment”) of Israeli equities took place. In the case of sell-offs related to the Africa-Israel's financial crisis and OECD-related financial-timing issues, the BDS brigade took advantage of ambiguity regarding the word “divestment” to claim that these sell-offs were a result of their work and should be seen as acknowledgement of their Israel = Apartheid message by the financial community. You see, there is “divestment,” the selling of stock for any reason (the usual one being expectation that it will down in price), and “divestment” the deliberate action by an institution to sell shares in certain companies purely as a political statement (something I refer to as “political divestment” to avoid the aforementioned ambiguity). Now we all know what real, genuine political divestment looks like. We saw it with regard to SouthAfrican during the Apartheid years, and we see it now in connection with countries like Sudan and Iran. In each and every case, it is the people actually performing political divestment that explicitly tell the world they are doing so. Political divestment done in secret is utterly meaningless, so the one and only way you know that divestment is political in nature is that the organization doing this type of divestment (be it TIAA-CREF, Hampshire College or some else) say so themselves. And just as Students for Justice in Palestine cannot speak in the name of Hampshire College, so too BDS advocates don’t get to project their own political motivations onto the actions of financial institutions. To state the obvious, neither TIAA-CREF or other organizations claimed by BDSers as political divestors did anything of the kind. And they were none-too-amused that partisan political organizations were trying to stuff propaganda into their mouths by claiming purely financial decisions were
The TIAA-CREF Campaign: Response
In some language (probably Yiddish) there exists a word that combines the notions of chutzpah and clownishness. And if one needed an example to illustrate this concept, one need look no further than the biggest campaign on the BDS agenda: the one asking the massive educational retirement fund TIAACREF to divest from the Jewish state. What makes this campaign so absurd is that, according to the BDSers themselves, TIAA-CREF already complied with their wishes and divested from Israel back in 2009! If the chronological paradox of a group launching a major campaign to get CREF to do what the boycotters claimed they have already done sounds like a badly written Doctor Who episode, you need to understand that 2009 was what I refer to as the Year of the BDS Hoax. The hoax that Hampshire College divested in 2009 was exposed years ago (and confirmed with absolute certainty just a few weeks back). But in that same year, the BDS presses were running hot with stories of major investment firms following their wishes and pulling funds from the dreaded Zionist entity. The story behind the original TIAA-CREF hoax was that the retirement fund sold off shares in a company called AfricaIsrael, a company headed by a controversial figure who had been targeted by anti-Israel activists. But more importantly, it was a highly leveraged company heavily invested in real estate that was struggling with massive debt after the financial crisis
actually political. So within a few days of the BDS press releases going out, claims of divestment by TIAA-CREF and others were thoroughly debunked. Now most normal people would either own up to such dishonest behavior (if they want to act ethically and morally) or shut their mouths, pretend the whole thing never happened and never mention TIAA-CREF again (if they’d rather avoid the whole ethics and morality thing). But what are we to make of the fact that less than a year after getting their hand caught in the cookie jar the BDS “movement” announced that their brand new, biggest campaign yet was going to consist of getting TIAA-CREF to actually do what the boycotters just pretended they did the year before? I actually played with the whole time-travel notion in this epic time waster (which you are free to read during the PennBDS/ Jewish Voice for Peace session on this topic). But herein the purely linear temporal space you and I call reality, the idea of fraudulently claiming an organization like TIAA-CREF as your ally one year only to turn around and campaign to get them to really do what you claimed they had already done qualifies as positively weird. Beyond this weirdness, this story also raises the question of whether one should trust anything (including claims about Middle East realities) coming from the mouth of a “movement” that would lie about something so blatantly. And given that the facts noted above are just a .13 second Google search away, it makes you wonder when they decided that everyone but them is a complete and total idiot.
Freddy (Student for Justice in Palestine leader) : OK gang, we've got to start this conference off with a bang. Now we're still hoping Omar Barghouti can give the opening speech addressing the compelling need for a comprehensive boycott of Israeli academia. But in case he's still taking his finals at Tel Aviv University, I thought we could begin with a stemwinder about the outstanding successes BDS has had this year. Unknown Student (Female) : Yeah! We could talk about the Norwegian government's decision to pull out of Elbit! Unknown Student (Male) : Norway! Give me a break. They've already got squishy on us, highlighting the fact that they continue to invest in over 40 Israeli companies. Besides, who gives a sh*t what Norway thinks. Whoever heard of Norway? Sven : I have. I was born there. Unknown Student (Male) : You know what I mean. Yakov : As I Jew, I understand where you're coming from. So why don't we skip Norway for now and focus on university divestment. After all, most of the attendees will be college undergrads, and many of them - like me - will be Jewish. Freddy : Yakov's right. So who's got the list of colleges that have divested from the Zionist Entity? Carlos - you're head of the academic subcommittee of the action committee of the steering committee. What's the number of wins have we had on the college front? Carlos : [Sound of shuffling papers]. Well, according my latest research and calculations, the number of schools that have heeded our call and divested from Israel stands at [coughs]. Unknown Student [Female] : What was that Carlos? I didn't hear you. Carlos : [Coughs a few more times.] Well, zero actually. Freddy : You mean after eight years of BDS committees working tirelessly on every college in the nation, not one school has actually divested a single dollar from the NaZionist Colonial Power? Carlos : Well it sounds bad when you put it that way. [Unintelligible arguing. Sounds of papers being thrown in the air and doors slamming.] Freddy : OK, OK so we know what to say if the subject of academic divestment comes up. Here on the EastCoast, we would have won a series of unending triumphs except for the ugly intervention of Lawrence Summers who tried to muzzle us at Harvard by calling us anti-Semites. Sven : Actually, I am an anti-Semite. Freddy : Sorry, Sven. I was just making a point. OK, so by invoking knee-jerk accusations of bigotry, that tired old misogynist "Sexism Summers" censored us by having the gall to state his opinion about what Harvard should or shouldn't do, just because he was the college's President at the time. And then his lackey Alan Dershowitz forced our own President here at Hampshire to say he'd never divest from Israel.
BDS on Campus I: Divestment Workshop: Response (sort of)
I’ve been attempting to generate all new material in this month’s series of postings paralleling the PennBDS conference agenda, rather than fallback on a “clip show” of previous postings. But the next item up on their program (entitled “BDS On Campus I:Divestment Workshop”) didn’t really provide an issue to which I could hook a response. But it did remind me of a more light-hearted parody piece I wrote right before the last big BDS conference at Hampshire College in 2009. Now the piece below was originally posted on a friend’s site, so technically I’m keeping to my original plan of only adding things now that have never appeared at Divest This before. So with apologies to people who’ve seen this previously, I now give you what our divestment friends might call an example of “BDS and Literary Expression,” the secret transcript of the planning meeting for Hampshire BDS: Hampshire BDSConference Planning Meeting (2009) A friend from Northampton slipped me a transcript of a recent planning meeting for the divestment conference at Hampshire College. Apparently some of the original audio recording was garbled,so forgive any dead patches.
Carlos : Actually, the President of Hampshire said he'd never divest a year before Dershowitz showed up. Freddy : That's beside the point. After all, who gets to decide the school's investment policies, the administration and investment managers, or us? Of course they're going to use the excuse that we're just a bunch of undergraduates who don't speak on behalf of the college. But do any of them even know how to Tweet? Yakov : I've got to agree with Freddy's interpretation of events. While we may not have won any actual "victories," I think it's fair to say we've already won the war on campus. Oh, and did I mention I'm Jewish? Freddy : OK, we have ourstoryline. While we may not have won any actual "victories" in the campus BDS wars, that's just because of the stranglehold on discourse by the You-KnowWhos. And besides, it's just a matter of time before some Left Coast college goes our way. After all, look how successful we've been at San Francisco State where we get to shout our message from the rooftops as well as shout down (I mean disrupt the Zionist narrative) whenever any ZioNazis dare to express their point of view. Carlos : Actually, the President of S.F. State just condemned BDS as a "campaign to limit other's free speech and reign in the free exchange of ideas [that] runs counter to everything S.F. State stands for." Unidentified Male Student : Carlos, can you please stop being such a killjoy. As we just discussed, it doesn't matter if no colleges or universities actually divested. If a group of undergraduates like us just pretend they did, shouts loud enough and sends out enough press releases, then we can call it victory. Yakov : Exactly. In fact,I just wrote a paper for my Physics and Class Conflict in the Middle East course entitled "Objective Reality is Whatever I Say it is" which clarifies this very topic. I brought some copies if anyone wants to read it now [sound of papers being pulled out of a knapsack]. Freddy : We'd better take that offline Comrade Yakov. We've still got a lot of ground to cover. OK, we have our storyline for declaring victory on campus, and - as usual - our friends at Sabeel have been working tirelessly to bring the Mainline Protestant churches in our camp. Sven : Religion is the opiate of the masses! Unidentified Female Student : That's true Sven, but we should keep that to ourselves, especially since the Presbyterians and Methodists are just about the only major organizations that have squarely come out in favor of divestment. Carlos - has anyone else been added to this list in the last couple of years? I heard that the United Church of Lasertag has been flirting with a BDS resolution. Carlos : Can I go to thebathroom? [Door slams.] Freddy : OK Carlos, come clean. Before you can take a biobreak, what are you trying to avoid telling us?
Carlos : Well, it's just that... Sven : Out with it. Carlos : OK, the Presbyterians rejected their 2004 divestment vote in 2006. And they reiterated that choice in 2008, the same year that the Methodists rejected divestmen tunanimously. And with all due respect for our comrades at Sabeel, just this summer,the United Church of Canada voted down divestment, even after Sabeel made a passionate plea to stay on the BDS bandwagon. So basically, we've got nothing in the churches either. [Long silence.] All : Religion is the opiate of the masses! Unidentified Female : To hell with those Bible thumping Presbyterian rednecks. Freddy : OK, calm down everyone. Now we can't start next month's meeting just pretending that we've won on colleges that have rejected us, or shitting on the churches we were celebrating just two years ago. We've got to have some real victory to boast about, or everything will think we're a bunch of ineffectual losers holding celebratory meetings as a substitute for real wins. Yakov : Well we can't talk about municipalities. Somerville and Seattle are the closest we ever got, and BDS was rejected unanimously in the former, and didn't even get onto the ballot on the latter. Unidentified Female Student : And US unions are out, they're the most Zionis tinstitution in the country outside of Jews and Evangelicals (unless you want to count the Lawyer's Guild). Yakov : My Dad told methat the last member of the Lawyer's Guild just resigned. Freddy : OK, scratch the Lawyer's Guild. But come on guys, we've got to have one victory to talk about,just one. Is that too much to ask for by a movement like ours which has been on the march and in the ascendency for the last eight years? [More silence.] Unidentified Female Student : Norway? [More silence.] Unidentified Male Student : How's this: Our brave Scandinavian comrades have boldly stoodup to the Zionist pressure from the massive, all-powerful Norwegian Jewish lobby, creating a bold vanguard which will soon sweep that brave nation, and then the world! [Sound of cheers, loud whoops and singing of Abbasongs.] Sven : Guys! Guys. First thing, Abba is Swedish. And second thing, I've got a little more bad news... End of transcript.
Launching a Successful Consumer Boycott: Response
I’ve written a number of times on the subject of consumer boycotts, and anyone interested in more information and case studies can read about them in the Divest This Guide. To start off, boycotts were rather slow in coming to the US where BDS campaigns focused on divestment for most of the last decade, specifically trying to get well known institutions such as colleges and churches to buy into their Israel = Apartheid propaganda program. Consumer boycotts played out much more in Canada during this period, bu tthey traveled south and got built into the overall BDS target set, especially once divestment proved to be such a bust. An irony of consumer boycotts directed at Israel is that the only reasonthe BDSers have so many products to target is the very success of the Israeli economy the boycotters working for over ten years to undermine. Twenty or even ten years ago, an Israel hater would have to drive for hours to find an Israeli product not to buy, and even then they would struggle to locate anything beyond wine and oranges. Today, however, not only is Israeli technology behind the scenes in virtually every computer the boycotters use to build their web pages and write their press releases hailing the latest tuba player and puppet troupe to boycott the Jewish state, but Israeli brands are starting to find an established home on the store shelves of major retailers. Some of these continue to be food items (such as the Israeli couscous you’ll find at Trader Joe’s), but brands such as Ahava and SodaStream have been increasingly finding premium positions at upscale retailers such as Williams Sonoma, Macys and Best Buy. As mentioned previously, consumer boycotts can be either personal or institutional. In the case of personal boycotts, consumers are encouraged to not buy particular brands of products for political reasons. Generally, this is not a direction the BDS folks tend to go, not least because announcements that an individual or group of Israel haters is no longer buying Israeli products would elicit a “so what else is new” response, rather than a headline. And this makes sense since one person making individual decisions not to buy Israeli couscous for political reasons is no more remarkable (although certainly no less so) than ten Israeli supporters deciding to buy the same couscous for opposite political reasons. But since BDS is essentially a tactic to try to make news, the targets of consumer boycotts have been retailers, such as Bed Bath and Beyond (which sells Ahava beauty products) and Trader Joe’s (which sells the aforementioned couscous). The trouble for BDSers begins with the fact that these retailers are sophisticated institutions with their own legal and marketing departments who understand full well that they are being asked to affix their name (i.e., their brand) to someone else’s political agenda. Which is why the rejection rate of boycott requests directed at such retailers currently stands at 100%.
With retailers unwilling to play along, the boycotters have chosen a strategy of protests and stuntwork to try to draw people’s attention to their cause, organizing pickets and song-and-dance protests outside of retail shops or taking their clothes off and smearing themselves with mud inside department stores. The problem with this approac h(in addition to bewildering or appalling the public) is that it is easily countered by the effective tactic of Buycott (i.e., Israeli supporters shopping en mass to buy out Israeli goods targeted for boycott). The beauty of the Buycott tactic is that it allows Israel supporters to undermine a boycott protest through the simple and low-risk tactic of asking people to go shopping (vs. the effort the boycotters have to go through to organize an event and the risks they take if they decide to become disruptive or even break the law). Nowhere was this contrast more apparent than in downtown Toronto in 2009 where an attempt to picket a liquor store selling Israeli wines turned into a street party where Israel’s supporters danced in the streets drinking “boycotted” wine they had just purchased en mass while the BDS types were forced to slink out into the night in defeat. With direct and indirect attacks on major retailers proving so problematical, the boycotters did stumble upon one subset of food sellers they could try to work their will upon: food coops. These are smaller, cooperatively owned retailers, many of whom serve and are run by the type of progressive-minded thinkers for whom the BDS message has been crafted. But even here, efforts to get food co-ops to strip Israeli productsfrom their shelves has been rejected again and again by co-ops in places like Seattle, Sacramento and Davis, California (i.e., by the very progressive communities the BDSers insist must support their boycott agenda). In fact, the only co-op that ever enacted a boycott (the Olympia Food Coop in Olympia, Washington) did so only because the BDS cru managed to get the organization's leadership to pass a boycott vote behind the backs of the co-op’s membership. We will be talking more about Olympia once we get to a PennBDS session dedicated to that community. But the final take-away from that boycott (which is still in place) is that it has served as an iconic example to other co-ops throughout the nation of what not to do when BDScomes knocking at the door.
Talking to Beginners About BDS, Israel and Zionism: Response
Regular readers may have picked up on my fondness for words. And while I’ve sometimes been (legitimately) teased for using more words than may be necessary to make a point, it’s often the case that a single word is all that’s needed to clarify an importan tissue. And for the PennBDS program event entitled “Talking to Beginners About BDS, Israel and Zionism,” the key wordworth discussing is “Beginners.”
It’s easy to understand why college campuses are the places that BDS (and similar propaganda efforts) are so easy to create, revive or continue. For unlike institutions such as Mainline Protestant churches (where the same people tend to hear the same arguments year in and year out), in college and universities at least 25% of the population is turning over each year, and 100% will come and go within 4-5years (generally). This perpetual turnover means there will always be a new group of“Beginners” towards whom local BDSers can target their message (that Israel is an“Apartheid State,” alone in the world at deserving economic punishment). And while kids coming out of high school and entering higher ed are quite sharp and accomplished, they are not likely to be as worldly at the beginning of their college career as they will be by the end of it. It is exactly this kind of “Beginner” audience that the boycotters hope will be attracted to their simple-minded, black-and-white storylines of Israeli villainy and pristine Palestinian innocence. And while pro-Israel groups are increasingly trying to counter anti-Israel propaganda with accurate portrayals of the Middle East, they are limited by their (appropriate) choice to tell the truth. And since the truth is more complicated than an immorality tale of Israeli witches and Palestinian virgins, there will always be some “Beginners” who prefer a simple falsehood to a complex and morally ambiguous reality. But while willingness to ruthlessly push a simplistic, easilyabsorbed storyline works to the boycotters’ advantage in some cases, the BDSers run intoproblems elsewhere when trying to recruit “Beginners” into their fold (even if they only plan to use them as “loose change”). One of their biggest challenges is that among the 90% of students who enter college without strong opinions (or any opinions) regarding the Middle East conflict, there is a general feeling that dialog is good, with those perceived as being interested in dialog looked upon more favorably than those who are not. This raises a challenge for those pushing BDS who – as the PennBDS conference proves – are ready to talk at anaudience, but not particularly interested in talking with them. I harp a lot about the fact that pro-BDS organizations scrupulously avoid allowing comments on their Web sites, even as the people who run those sites routinely comment at places like Divest This where comments are open and uncensored. In fact, I’ve even provided a place at this site where the PennBDS folks (or their supporters from anywherein the world) are free to post a response to each and every one of my critiques of the items on their agenda. Now I understand that people are not obliged to maintain comments on their web sites, and I certainly don’t feel that PennBDS (or anyone else) owes me a debate (or even a response). But it is telling that even when given open access to take on someone who has made the effort to discuss each and every issue they have identified as important –point by point – that their response is to simply pretend that such arguments do not exist.
The obvious reason behind this type of behavior is that, despite claims by groups such as PennBDS or Jewish Voice for Peace that they hunger for dialog (especially with their critics) in fact they will go to almost any length to avoid genuine discussion, preferring instead to talk just to each other, and to find “Beginners” who may not be aware that alternative opinions are out there. Interestingly, even pretending to be in favor of dialog rubs a numberof BDS-types the wrong way, as attested by this weird comic in which the Israel-dislikers take it upon themselves to depict both sides of the “debate,” drawing and writing themselves as dedicated, thoughtful and thin (natch) and their opponents as bloated, doltish and manipulative. Putting aside the infantilism such a “work” represents, it certainlyhighlights the BDSers strong preference to be allowed to select or represent both sides of what they consider to be a “genuine” discussion or debate. This dynamic reached absurd heights in this list of “normalization” demands which translates roughly to “only after you agree to everything we have said, say, or will say in advance will we consider you ‘pure’ enough to engage with in ‘normal’ dialog with us.” Back to the original point of how to “Talk to Beginners about BDS, Zionism and Israel,” (why do I suspect the word “Israel” is going to disappear from that title before the conference begins), if history is any guide, the way attendees at PennBDS will be directed to engage in such “Talk” is to: (1) Accuse Israel of every imaginable (or simply imagined) crime; (2) Pretend alternative viewpoints and arguments don’t exist; (3) Accuse Israel’s supporters of trying to stifle or “muzzle” debate whenever they try to contribute to it; (4) Flush all information that contradicts the BDS world view down the memory hole; (5) Accuse student or university leaders who don’t agree with you of being in the back pocket of the Zionists; (6) Ignore or deflect any efforts dedicated to genuine (vs. faux) dialog;and (7) Accuse, accuse, accuse. The gang at PennBDS (and any of the BDS luminaries who will be speaking at their event) are more than welcome to tell me if I got anything wrong. And given that they have ample opportunitiesto respond to this analysis directly, let’s all assume that silence =assent.
BDS as a Community-Wide Political Campaign: Response
The PennBDS talk entitled “BDS as a Community-Wide Political Campaign” originally had the word “Winning” or “Victory” in the title (I can’t remember which). I can only guess why a word indicating progress was removed from the
talk’s name, but as with this discussion that hung on the word “Beginners,” the key term in the newly crafted title mentioned above is “Community.” And by “Community,” I’m talking about a very specific, very unique community: Olympia Washington. To provide some background, as I’ve noted before support for Israel tends to hover at around 60-70% in the US and wherever it lands in that range on any particular day, it tends to outpoll support for Israel’s foes by a factor of 3:1. But this does not mean tha ttwo-thirds of the US population (which would add up to 200,000,000 people) is active in pro-Israel organizations or that a third of this number supportsBDS. While these numbers indicate general support levels, the number of Americans actively involved with fighting (politically) for one side or the other in the Middle East conflict can probably be measured in the tens of thousands. And these activists are not spread out evenly across the country. In fact, they tend to bunch up in cities (notably places like Boston, New York and San Francisco), especially cities with large university populations (colleges and universities being places where supporters and defamers of Israel are fairly evenly matched). In most of these places, Israel’s supporters still tend to outnumber their opposition and even if we are less aggressive in our political activism than are BDS proponents, when we decide to get off our duffs and do something, the result tends to be defeat and humiliation for anti-Israel forces. But there are a few isolated places where anti-Israel activists are in the clear majority (or at least have the unquestioned upper hand). These places tend to be college towns where Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) types easily outnumber their opponents AND such college activists can count on heavy support from the broader community. In fact, I can think of only two places that fit this description: Western Massachusetts (home of Hampshire College, which may explain why Hampshire’s SJP group feels entitled to run amok) and Olympia, Washington. In the case of Olympia, this formula of a strong anti-Israel presence on campus (in this case, the campus of Evergreen College) plus well-organizedanti-Israel activists outside of campus is supplemented by the “Great Big Thing” that comes up whenever one discusses Olympia: Rachel Corrie. Corrie was an Evergreen student recruited by a group called the International Solidarity Movement (or ISM) to enter Israel for the purpose of staging militant protests. And while in Israel, she placed herself between a Caterpillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian house built on top of a tunnel used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip. And while standing in this position, she was hit by the bulldozer and killed. Now whenever the issue of Rachel Corrie comes up, one must maneuver carefully to avoid the trap being laid by supporters of her cause. For the ISM (and like-minded individuals and organizations) make endless political use of Corrie’s “martyrdom,” making all kinds of political statements and judgments based on her tragic death. But if one responds
by making political statements the BDSers disagree with, you quickly find yourself staring at photos of Corrie as an infant or young teen and accused of gross insensitivity to the death of a young girl and her family. I’ve actually mixed it up with one of the people on this PennBDS panelover this very issue, and to avoid the whole thing becoming a focal point for debate again, suffice to say that there are various people and organizations to which you can apportion responsibility for Corrie’s death including: Israel,the Caterpillar bulldozer company, the International Solidarity Movement which brought her to Israel and convinced her to put herself in harm’s way, Corrie herself (who agreed to go this route) and the Palestinians (who decided to build weapons tunnels under civilian structures and ally themselves with folks like the ISM). Corrie’s supporters assign 100% of the blame to the first two members of this list, while the rest of us tend to spread the numbers out a bit more broadly. But getting back to Olympia, this is one of the few places where a mix of numbers, aggressiveness and (in Olympia’s case) the Corrie factor (in the form of a foundation named after her and run by her parents) means that you can’t walk down the street without condemnation of Israel staring you in the face (literally). Anti-Israel films and cultural events are almost weekly occurrences in the town and Evergreen College (even more than Hampshire) is a school so unwelcoming to people not willing to toe the anti-Israel line that students have actually transferred out to avoid harassment. But the straw that broke the camel’s back happened in 2010 when the local food co-op decided to become the first (and, so far, only) co-op to pass a boycott motion stripping Israelproduced products from their shelves. Now I’ve written about Olympia so many times that I won’t dwell in the details here (although feel free to punch "Olympia Co-op" into the search box to the right or just look at “Tale of Two Co-ops” in the Divest This manual to read a synthesis of the discussion of how boycotts have played out in the co-op community). But in the case of Olympia, the result was not a “CommunityWidePolitical Campaign” but an assault on the community (in this case members of the co-op) which woke up one morning to discover that a bunch of partisan activists had worked behind their backs in order to speak in their name. This was followed by a revolt of that same community against the co-op featuring resignations, a vigil of protest and, now,a lawsuit. We’ll be joined by a guest writer to talk aboutanother coop impacted by BDS partisans. But for now, its worth remembering that in one of the few places wherethe BDSers have the muscle to get their way, they were more than ready to shaft their neighbors in order to create and maintain a trivial victory, regardlessof the pain it has caused to everyone around them.
Community Radio: Media Opportunity of a Lifetime for the Palestine Solidarity Movement: Response
I’m frequently asked what will be the next “target of opportunity” for the BDS “movement.” After years of alienating decision-makers and members of colleges and universities, Mainline Protestant churches, municipalities and unions, they have been left, after all, with only “soft targets” to pursue -such as aging rock stars and food co-ops. Regarding the former, while a couple of once-hipsters like Elvis Costello heeded the boycott-Israel call, this simply left them exposed as uncool enough to be dissed by Deep Purple (ouch). As for the co-ops , a string of boycott failures indicates that this category is also nearly immunized from the BDS virus. Since it is the BDSers who have the initiative to continually prowl for new civic organizations to exploit, it’s tough guessing where they might strike next. Although it’s a pretty sure guess that their target will be an institution with a progressive political bent, a vulnerability to pathos-based presentations and arguments , with either a weak governing structure regarding subjects like boycotts (a la food co-ops) or leaders somewhat at a distance from those they are supposed to represent (a la European unions). Well now it’s safe to say that they have found their opening with (wait for it…): radio stations! Not major commercial radio stations or public stations such as NPR mind you. These organizations, after all, understand that formally embracing a political propaganda program is not compatible with their core mission (otherwise known as journalism). In fact, a few years back the leadership of one of those aforementioned European unions (Britain’s National Union of Journalists or NUJ) voted in an Israel boycott only to see members revolt stating that they couldn’t enter the Middle East carrying a BBC ID claiming they were professional journalists as well as an NUJ card claiming they were allied to a party to the conflict. No, in this case, it is community radio stations, those small local stations such as… Well, I can’t think of any right now. But the important thing is that the World Association of Community Broadcasters (whose acronym is AMARC – which makes sense in Spanish) voted to embrace the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement at their annual conference in Argentina. Now if BDS follows its usual pattern (which can be counted on with the same confidence as expecting night to follow day), it will just be a matter of time before small stations around the world are recruited by their local “Israel-is-always-wrong-and-
now-shouldn’t-even-be-heard” community to shun their Israeli colleagues in the name of solidarity (based on a decision by an organization almost no one ever heard of, participated in by almost no one being asked to implement it). In the case of radio, however, BDS has those pesky little problems of journalistic integrity and editorial freedom to contend with. To begin with, community radio (having not previously been infected by the BDS virus) many not understand that the moment they sign their name on the BDSer’s simple “human-rights-solidarity” document, it will just be a matter of minutes before boycott supporters fan out across the globe to announce that “Radio Station XYZ is all aboard the Israel = Apartheid bandwagon, so you should boycott too.” To cite another problem, (and the resolution rejecting a boycott by the Davis Food Co-op puts it best), signing up to the BDS program means that the signing organization “ accept the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestine (BDS) Campaign's characterization and judgment of Israeli actions as fact.” But the point of a media organization is to question such facts and assumptions, rather than accept someone else’s opinion as “The Truth.” Yet to follow the advice of the aforementioned AMARC group, a station is being asked to officially agree with one view regarding what is true and what is not in a highly contested political situation. And if the station signs up to such a program and later decides to air the voices of people who don’t share these views, the boycotters would have a legitimate complaint regarding why the station was allowing voices on the air to talk about things that the station itself has formally agreed to proclaim untrue. And what of editorial freedom? To pick a few scenarios, if a publicly funded radio station in Israel produces a program regarding a subject of scientific or environmental importance, who gets to decide whether or not it is aired, the radio station or the boycotters? And who gets to decide if Israel has changed its behavior sufficiently for the boycott to end? Apparently, to take part in this boycott all stations must supplement their existing editorial policies with a new test, (the BDS test) before allowing certain voices over the airwaves. As I have discussed before, it is no accident BDS asks participants to sacrifice their most sacred assets in order to participate in a boycott. When BDS came knocking at the door of the UCU (the British teacher’s union), they didn’t call on this group to divest their pension funds from Israeli companies. Rather, they asked the teachers and professors making up the union to officially boycott their Israeli colleagues, putting the sacred principle of academic freedom into the fire in the process. And when the Presbyterian Church was asked to divest from Israel, this was presented not as a political decision but as something demanded of them by “Christian Witness,” i.e., a decision that was being made in the name of God himself.
If radio stations get offered the same deal rejected by the British National Union of Journalists (NUJ) of whether to link arms with the partisan campaigners selling Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, they are in effect being asked to throw editorial independence and journalistic integrity out the window in the name of some alleged, but ill-defined higher virtue. No doubt Israel would survive the addition of one more weak-willed organization to the ranks of institutions that have immolated themselves on the sacrificial fires of BDS. One cannot necessarily make the same claim for any radio station foolish enough to fall into the trap that’s been set for them.
they “hand you another victory” by publically opposing you) while all the time allowing the BDSers to do whatever they like, whenever they like. This conundrum says more about the psychology of provs. anti-Israel activists than it does about the actual political issues being debated. For if you pointed out to members of PennBDS that, by their own standards, the fact that they are holding a BDS conference just demonstrates the success of Israel and the effectiveness of its supporters (otherwise, why run a conference against them?), they will do what they do with every challenging question and simply ignore it. Similarly, highlighting the many reasons why Jewish organizations openly condemn BDS that have nothing to do with th eprogram’s alleged effectiveness is greeted with total silence. Now I’m happy to admit that there have been excesses in Israel’s response to the alleged BDS “threat,” (some grandstanding anti-boycott legislation being the best example). And even here in the US ,I’m not a big fan of some of the legal or governmental remedies people have flirted with regarding dealing with anti-Israel political activities (particularly on college campuses). Not that these actions can’t be justified, but it’s not entirely clear why they are needed, given how well we seem to be doing countering the BDS “movement” politically. And, the Internet being what it is, it’s always just a matter of time before someone posts something complaining about this BDS activist or event and says something incorrect or inappropriate. But here we get to the biggest challenge facing divestniks who want to use criticism by their opponents as a demonstration of their own strength. To illustrate this challenge, take a look at this hysterical response to the fact that people who don't agree with the BDS agenda have organized their own modest counter-program. Or the anger that greeted this obscure blog where the writer mistakenly claimed that the PennBDS conference was sponsored by the organization Penn for Palestine vs. a different anti-Israel group on campus called PennBDS. Rather than take this as a simple,understandable error (along the lines of Brian’s mistaking the Judean People’s Front for the People’s Front of Judea), it is treated as proof the dishonest nature of the Zionists. And naturally, the BDSers will blog, tweet and Facebook these and other accusations over and over for days, claiming them as proof of the impact they are having. At the same time, when presented with a series of specific arguments that respond point-by-point to every item on the PennBDS agenda, these same indignant poseurs have clearly made the decision to pretend that these arguments do not exist. And I’m not just being self serving here. I’ve mixed it up with an organizer of the conference here and here, so they clearly know someone has been giving them the debate they claim to crave. And they are obviously Googling “PennBDS” on a regular basis so that they can post comments on other sites that do no more than mention them in an unflattering light.
The Zionist Response to BDS: Response
Building momentum from small victories is a time-honored tactic for political activist groups. And BDS proponents have been more effective at this than most, anchoring two years of heavy-duty campaigning on their 2004 victory in getting the Presbyterian Church to pass a divestment resolution (an admittedly not small, but ultimately ephemeral win). The trouble is that defeat also creates momentum, and as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement” closes in on twelve years without being accepted by a single major institution they have been courting for over a decade (indeed,with massive rejections by previous supporters, including the aforementioned Presbyterian Church, in their wake), the need to redefine what victory looks like becomes paramount. This is what’s behind all those “by losing the vote, we actually won” -type statements that accompany each boycott or divestment rejection, whether high profile (like Berkeley) or lower profile (like every food co-op, save the one in Olympia). While claiming that “lack of concrete victory is incidental to the movement’s success” may seem idiotic or self serving on the surface, it allows the BDSers to claim nothing more than their continuing existence as a form of victory (with BDS campaigns positioned as simply the means to an end, the end being the injection of the Israel =Apartheid propaganda message into public discourse). Absent “concrete victory,” the other metric the boycotters have gravitated towards to prove their importance is the reaction of Israel and its supporters to their program. This is the focus of the PennBDS session entitled “The Zionist Response to BDS.” At one level, this choice for defining victory seems to resemble a bad pickup artist using his rejection by every woman at a bar and being laughed at on their Facebook pages as “proof” he’s making progress (“Hey, at least they’re talking about me!”) But at another level, redefining anything done by your political opponents as another example your own accomplishments serves two important purpose: (1) giving the “movement” something (anything) upon which to hang claims of success; and (2) getting your political foes to question what they do (lest
Given that DivestThis postings vie for position with PennBDS’s own public statements on Google,it is painfully obvious that the this allegedly triumphal “movement” – a “movement” that claims a monopoly on truth, virtue and courage – has decided to avoid addressing any genuine criticism while simultaneously striking an indignant pose and jumping at every mild error or sloppy condemnation they find anywhere else on the Internet. And this demonstrates the greatest problem with using your opponents’ political activityas the basis for proving your own success. For only if you are actually engaging with those opponents and challenging their strongest arguments (rather than just hunting down and jumping on the weakest ones you can find) can this tactic be effective. Absent this, the folks gathering in Philadelphia next week come off looking cowardly and hypocritical, two adjectivesa “movement” trying to build a reputation for strength and devotion to justice cannot afford.
quick and easy way of communicating with them, it becomes almost impossible to resist the urge of typing something into the RSS, WordPress, Twitter or Facebook feed and hitting the Send button, even if it might end generating little more than embarrassment. All this said, it really is a crime that we in the pro-Israel/antiBDScamp have been so slow in picking up the techniques needed to get our own(true) stories out into the world at least as fast as our opponents spread their trivialities and lies. I’ll admit to being one of the worst offenders of not utilizing tools and techniques I know work to get the word out beyond a core audience. For example, it was just in the last month (after more than two years of blogging), that I started Tweeting and commenting on third party sites (hopefully with relevant comments) in order to draw people to arguments collected at this PennBDS-Oy landing page, a page I set upspecifically to present responses appearing on this blog in the same order these subjects will appear on the PennBDS agenda. Simple techniques, such as posting early and often about a subject, and utilizing key text (such as “PennBDS”) in blog titles has helped with search engine rankings (especially given that the conference is a “small-news” topic,generating little media that is not written by parties involved with the conference itself). Probably the one question I’m asked more often than any other is where the BDSers are getting the money they use to fund their campaigns. In response, I usually point out that the things they do (at least in the US) don’t require a lot of money, just time, acertain level of Web savvy, and a willingness to commit yourself to (among other things) running around the Web a certain amount of time per day “Liking”and linking things that support your cause. While it would be nice to have the Netherlands fund a paid staff for DivestThis (and I can think of good uses to put the kind of money needed to sail fleets of ships across the Mediterranean), I can attest that you can accomplish quite a bit with nothing more than some simple effort, combined with the most important thing any online content creator can do for their cause: create material worth reading.
BDS 2.0: Palestine Activism in the Digital Age: Response
As with many of the topics being covered at the upcoming PennBDSconference, I’ve written previously on the subject of BDS in the context of the Web 2.0communications revolution. I’ve also written about some of the unintended consequences of the ability of BDS advocates to successfully leverage these new technologies to spread their message. While you should probably read both stories linked above to get a full sense of the phenomenon, in summary: Web 2.0 communications is one of the few areas where Israel’s foes have a leg up over the Jewish state’s supporters. This may be a result of age and associated comfort level with sites such as Facebook and Twitter, or it may derive from differing goals and strategies between the two sides (BDSers, for example, do all they can to smear the Jewishstate in as many forums as possible, while Israel’s supporters are not waking up every morning trying to figure out new ways and places to sling mud at their adversaries). Wherever the phenomena originates, it’s safe to say that if a BDS storybreaks anywhere, it will quickly travel across the globe and shoot up the Google rankings by the time the rest of us are getting our shoes tied. The unintended consequences mentioned above derive from having a welldeveloped channel of communications coupled with virtually no real news to push through it. This leads to things like breathless announcements that some French academic no one ever heard of has decided to not visit Israel for political reasons (even though, in looking at him, I suspect he decided to skip the trip so he can take a nap). I suspect it is also the reason why the boycotters continued to push BDS hoaxes into the pipeline, even knowing that people are out there ready to expose their fraud within hours. For when if you’ve got an audience that has been promised (and is hungry for) any sign of progress and you’ve got a
Palestine and the Media: Response
There are a number of approaches one could take when dealing with media-related issues regarding Israel and the Middle East. The most obvious is an analysis of the way Israel and the Middle East conflict are treated in newspapers, television, radio and other media sources, both in the US and abroad. Such analyses can be extremely eye-opening, but they are also conducted every day by people far more experienced at it than I (notably CAMERA in the US and CIFWatch in the UK).
Alternatively, this piece could focus on how BDS activists try to use the media as a force multiplier for their campaigns, especially since pushing BDS events into the headlines is really the raison d’etre for a “movement” dedicated to convincing the world that the desire to punish Israel economically for alleged “crimes” represents the opinion of more than just a tiny, marginal fringe. A recent discussion of how boycott and divestment forces skillfully utilize Web 2.0 communication to bypass or augment traditional news sources discusses this phenomenon in detail. And the only thing I could add specifically regarding the PennBDS conference is that organizers of that event never really seemed to get the hang of whole Web 2.0 thing, waiting until just this week to start tweeting frantically, with most of their comments the result of scouring the Internet for weak arguments to pounce on while all the time avoiding strong arguments at all cost. Given that these two obvious angles are pretty well covered in the linked sources above, I’d like to use the media as an example of one of the key themes of this blog: the corrupting influence of BDS and allied propagandaefforts on important elements of our civil society. Few readers will remember this, but one of the first unions to officially pass a BDS resolution was Britain’s National Union of Journalists (or NUJ). The resolution came about as most boycott and divestment “victories” do (especially within UK unions) when a radicalized union leadership with its own agenda passed a boycott vote before members had the slightest understanding that a discussion on the matter was even taking place. The 2007 resolution committed the union to a boycott of Israeli goods “similar to those boycotts in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.” And given the negative disposition of many British journalists towards the Jewish state, it was unclear whether such a resolution would be accepted and remain union policy. But instead, a revolt broke out among the membership that had not been consulted about the decision and who resented being put in the position of participants in a political conflict they were supposed to be able to cover impartially. The spirit of objections was summed up by one journalist who asked how he could be expected to be treated as a neutral observer when he carried his press card in one pocket declaring him to be a professional journalist, and an NUJ card in the other declaring him to be a participating in the conflict he was writing about. As with similar instances, this whole mishagas represented over-reach byBDS forces with rank-and-file objections overcoming leadership power-plays and the NUJ boycott was quickly withdrawn. And while I couldn’t imagine a similar situation playing out within the mainstream media in the US, the BDSers have found tiny media niches where they have tried to ply their wares (so far unsuccessfully, at least in the US).
But step back for a moment and consider that the original NUJ was explicitly asking members of the journalistic profession to place their most sacred asset (journalistic integrity) on the sacrificial alter in order to be considered “right-thinking” by those pushing a BDS agenda within the union. We’ve seen this level of sacrifice requested before by divestment partisans lucky enough to receive an audience (preferably private), in front of academic and religious groups. In the case of an academic boycott (the subject of two talks at the PennBDS conference), educators are not just being asked to move money from one retirement fund investment to another as a political statement but to also throw their greatest treasure: academic freedom, out the window in order to participate in “the movement” and show themselves to be on the side of the angels. And speaking of angels, when BDS gets injected into church discourse (as it’s been for almost a decade within Mainline Protestant churches in particular), they are not being asked to divest their considerable retirement portfolios of Israel-related assets to take a political position on a secular matter. Rather, they are told that such action would represent the purest act of “Christian Witness,” implying that who is right and who is wrong in the Middle East conflict is so blindingly obvious that even God can see it (or, at least, that the church can confidently speak in God’s name when making statements to that effect). A couple of months back, I read Robin Sheperd’s excellent book A State Beyond the Pale which discusses the reasons behind Europe’s deteriorating behavior vis-à-vis Israel. The whole book is worth reading, but I wanted to end with a quote I found so resonant I decided to save it for just this purpose: “Whatever it touches, the anti-Israel agenda always brings out the worst. It brings out the worst in journalists who cast aside their principles of balance and objectivity. It brings out the worst in seasoned commentators who substitute hysteria and foot stomping for calm analysis and enlightened discussion. It brings out the worst in trade unions which put a hateful agenda above the interest of their members. It brings out the worst in diplomats who debase themselves by pandering to tyrannies against a democracy. It brings out the worst in artists and writers who submerge their commitment to beauty and truth in ugliness and lies. It brings out the worst of the great traditions of Left and Right which default back to their shabbiest instincts and their darkest prejudices.” Truer words were never spoken.
BDS and Literary Expression: Response
This entry will be brief since, for the life of me, I don’t have the slightest idea what a talk on “BDS and Literacy Expression” (the next item on the PennBDS hit parade) is supposed to cover. Especially since (as far as I know), I’m the
only person who has ever generated a literary corpus based on the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment “movement.” You may have already seen this piece which provides fictional coverage of preparation for the last national BDS conference at Hampshire College in 2009. That parody actually followed an earlier mock news story on the Hampshire brouhaha that left a few Hampshire SJP types none-too-amused. But by far the work I’m most proud of in terms of sheer time wasted when there was something useful and productive to get done goes to these two works which, while not quite Chaucer, at least let me use that “Hitler in the bathroom” joke I was sitting on for years: Hampshire and the Brain Sydney and Omar’s BDS Journey And while I only have one song written for the BDS musical I hope to publish some day, dreams of Broadway will always spring eternal.
Interestingly, the behaviors required to participate in these types of BDS activities are the very ones I have been busy teaching my nine-year-old to avoid. This includes interrupting, wallowing in mud, and being rude during public events. It’s intriguing to discover that at the same time I am trying to get my 3 grader to learn proper manners, the PennBDS cru is running a course on how to unlearn them (and then celebrating the results). There is a logic to this behavior once you realize that, unlike getting schools, churches or cities to embrace your political program, making a spectacle of yourself only requires acting up in public and thus success or failure is under the full control of the boycotters. Sure, they’relikely to get kicked out of a store or concert for being public nuisances, but even if their “direct action” winds up with them sitting on the pavement, the ability to initiative these actions requires nothing more than their own rudeness and exhibitionism. And we should not forget that between the start of a flashdance or interruption-fest,the digital cameras will be rolling (do digital cameras roll?), capturing every minute of the “big event” on film (well, bits, anyway). This video footage is a crucial component for understanding why folks like Code Pink put such a stake in spectacle. Given how much BDSers brag of their flash mobs, de-shelving, and similar “direct actions,” you might be surprised to discover that no more than a couple ofdozen these types of events have ever taken place. Each one lives on, however, on BDS web sites, Facebook pages, YouTube channels and even the occasional DVD which are then talked about in mailing lists, RSS feeds, tweets and BDS conferences, with participants hailed for their edginess and “courage.”. Once you realize that these stunts are not played out to convince an external audience, but to impress an internal one, everything makes perfect sense. Other questions get answered as well,including why the BDSers disrupt talks put on by their political opponents when this is guaranteed to turn the uncommitted against their cause. It explains why they perpetuate fraud and hoaxes, knowing full well they’ll get caught. It explains why they use corrupt tactics to win one battle, which all but guarantees they will lose the war. For a full explanation, we must again return to our old friend fantasy politics; a set of activities that on the surface seem political, but in reality are designed to create a self-image among participants in a collective fantasy where they (and they alone) represent a noble, courageous, vanguard of all-seeing seers who battle alone against unspeakable evil. Why should such fantasists care about how the public reacts to their flash dances and catcalls since, for them, this public does not actually exist except as props in a drama going on in their own heads. In fact, all of us are props for the fantasist: Israel, it’s friends and supporters, even the Palestinians in whose names the boycotters claim to speak are just things, not people, a backdrop for YouTube videos designed to demonstrate to the world that by acting naughty in front of
Direct Action and Spectacle: Response
Back in thelate ‘80s and early ‘90s, when 3.5 inch floppy disks were considered cutting edge, I attended some of the big computing tradeshows that defined that pre-Internet era (PC Expo, Mac World and – the big one – Comdex), as both a journalist and an exhibitor. It was while acting as a journalist that I learned an important lesson: that the level of violence a salesperson has to do to his or her own character in order to attract people into their booth is directly proportional to the crappiness of their product (or the likelihood that it would never be released). Said violence frequently involved apes (including dressing up in a gorilla suit or,in some cases, having an actual live chimpanzee in the booth – usually under asign that bore some variation on “Don’t Monkey Around with Data Security!”). Other acts of “spectacle” included the use of celebrity impersonators (poor imitations of Robin Williams and Cher ring a dim bell) and, at one MacWorld, Leonard Nimoy wearing a grey turtleneck sweater yamming on about Wingz!, a Mac spreadsheet that never saw the light of day. Such behavior came to mind as I started thinking about the type of “spectacle” that is important enough to merit its own session at the now-so-close-I-can-smell-it PennBDS conference. Like the aforementioned chimp shows, BDS performances have the tendency to bewilder and appall their target audience, rather than attract and inspire them. In fact, given that BDS public performances have tended to be either bizarre (such as attempts at creating a “flashmob,”),gross (queue the Code Pink bikini squad) or hostile (including blowing airhorns and shouting through megaphones at concerts and ballet performances), BDS spectacle seems to represent an evolutionary step downward from the good old days of PC Expo monkey-business.
grownups that the BDS “movement” is more than what they are. And what are they? Well here in reality, BDS is just a tactic used by the same tired Israeli haters who have been gathering in church basements for decades to show each other clichéridden 16mm films and talk about how horrible the Jews (whoops! I mean the Zionists) are. And while the names and faces may change, the only genuine difference is that today those films are distributed via Internet download and the basement has been briefly extended to an unknown location on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
your own political view upon the membership is a violation of that respect. Our pro-BDS members could not care less about boundaries, respect or the needs of anyone beyond themselves. With their constant letters to our biweekly newspaper (many of which abuse those who disagree with them) and their unwillingness to take no for an answer, they have turned the Coop into a battleground, trying to import the Middle East conflict into our community. They have made it clear that they don’t care if members quit the Coop because of BDS and - in a supreme twist of logic – they blamethose who want to get their selfcentered politics out of the organization as being responsible for tearing at the fabric of our community. But their movement is responsible for successful community building, specifically a community of people dedicated to ensuring that the co-opting ofthe Coop does not take place. So far,over 200 Coop members have added their names to our calls for the BDS group to leave the Coop alone. But while BDS advocates have succeeded in creating communities opposing them, do they know anything about genuine community building themselves? Genuine peace makers demonstrate the commitment to peace and justice by working to "normalize" the relationships between people previously in conflict. They encourage people to participate in joint projects and cultural exchanges, thereby opening channels of communication with the hope that these efforts will result in opponents becoming reconciled to mutual co-existence and tolerance. This represents the polar opposite of what BDS champions. Time after time, the leadership of the BDS movements has made it clear that it opposes any normalization of relations between Palestinians and Israelis. And those fighting against normalization (which means communication and reconciliation) are fighting against peace. Food coops, like ours, engage in community building by providing a shared neutral civic space for diverse groups to obtain local, organic, healthy foods. Members benefit from lower costs for items that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Through shared investments contribution of labor, and cooperative effort directed towards a single goal, our community is created and sustained This is not the type of community building BDS is interested in. Across the country, BDS activists have tried to get food coops to participate in their boycott and while they have been rejected time and time again these efforts have torn communities apart, as their members can attest. Universities also engage in community building. In an environment of mutual respect and acceptance, young people from diverse backgrounds come together to pursue knowledge, to investigate and to exchange ideas. BDS is not interested in this type of community building, either. When BDS activists - whether via divestment campaigns or ugly, dishonest propaganda programs like Israel Apartheid Week, come to campus they create hostile environments.
Community Coalition Building Response I
For this entry, we're blessed with a guest article by someone on the BDS frontlines. Nycerbarb organized successful opposition to boycott efforts at her Park Slope food coop, and blogs at thesite Stop BDS Park Slope. She's also afrequent visitor and commenter at Divest This and an all around cool person. Today, she provides her take on the last item on the PennBDS agenda, BDS and Community Coalition Building. I have learned much about communities, coalition building and BDS in the last year. For more than 22 years I have been a member of the Park Slope Food Coop, in Brooklyn, New York. About one year ago, a small group within our Coop began an effort to have the Coop remove from the shelves the 4 or 5 Israeli products the store carries, and more importantly, to publicly endorse the BDSmovement. I began an effort to oppose this, forming an anti-boycott group More Hummus Please, as well as the blog Stop BDS ParkSlope. People join food coops for the food. They want to buy healthy, fresh, local food at excellent prices. People do not join the Coop to have their politics decided for them. While some members may want to use the Coop to promote their pet political project, the vast majority of members ignore those efforts, including efforts to have the Coop participate in a boycott of the Jewish state. Like most people, members of the Park Slope Coop just want to finish their shopping, go home and take care of their lives. And if the Coop’s political capital is to be used for anything, the general feeling is that it should be used to support local issues that affect the food supply (such as opposition to fracking for natural gas in New York State). Our food coop requires all members to contribute labor. This keeps our operating costs and mark-up extremely low. I estimate my family saves over $3000 a year by shopping and working at our food coop. The work requirement also contributes to the coop’s friendly and accepting atmosphere. Our collective involvement in our unique grocery store makes it possible to walk up to someone and begin discussing recipes, cold remedies or baby carriers. At the same time, the Coop’s cooperative spirit depends upon respect for people’s boundaries, which includes political boundaries. Imposing
Apart from the harassmentof Jewish students on a number of campuses (which has led to students transferring from some colleges), the noisy and dishonest arguments that form the backbone of BDS or Apartheid Week propaganda campaigns represent the opposite of what college and the college community are all about. Awareness movements, such as LGBT or Occupy Wall Street, also build communities. Relationships are created not only between their participant members, but between themselves and the general public. By raising awareness of their situation and concerns, they invoke sympathy and understanding. BDS, in contrast, doesn’t build a movement so much as it tries to hijack the movements of others, injecting themselves into real communities (such as the LGBT or Occupy) in order to bend it to their agenda. In addition to drawing attention away from important causes such as gay rights, this type of subversion ends up alienating many who might otherwise support grassroots political organizations dedicated to other issues. But for BDS champions, there is only one issue of importance, and if important political projects need to suffer so that the BDS message can be stuffed into their mouths, that’s a sacrifice the boycotters are willing to make. The BDS community is built on a rigid ideology and does not tolerate dissent. Read any pro-BDS literature and you will find the same logic-defying talking points repeated over and over. Introduce any fact to counter a BDS assertion, and it will be dismissed. Any respected voice showing less than full support for the BDS program will be ostracized from the movement. It is a community obsessed with Israel. They work full-time and overtime to find ways to vilify the Jewish State. They have no compulsion about abusing organizations built on trust (such as our coop) to promote their cause. Yet, for all those efforts, they have failed to convince any organization to endorse them. So ultimately, BDS is a community of losers.
And so for the last several weeks, dozens of boys (with a healthy dose of participation from parents) had to figure out a way to build wheels onto those aforementioned sleds. And when the day of the trip (Saturday) came around, we needed to borrow trailers to haul sleds and gear, get 50+ people from point A to point B, schlep hundreds of pounds of equipment up hills and over rocky terrain Hannibal style, and do the whole thing in reverse the following day. Such an endeavor required the participation of dozens of people contributing their time, their cars, their power tools and their backs in order to make a trip like this a success. And the Klondike was actually a council-wide event, meaning troops from around the region were sharing our experience, requiring yet another group of volunteers to organize the program, prepare the campground, judge events - in short, to spend weeks and months ensuring that my son enjoyed 48 hours in the woods eating stew. The thing is that none of these volunteers, none of the parents, none of the troop’s adult and teenage leaders, none of the 11-14 year olds hauling backpacks, tents and gas stoves derived their biggest satisfaction out of what they got out of the experience. Rather, our pleasure was derived from what we put in. During four hours of pushing sleds with ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful steering systems, we didn’t think about what was in it for us, or horse-trade this much sled pushing for that much cleaning duty. Even the kids didn’t have to bribe each other to pitch in, they just got on with it, creating a community, or more specifically building on a community that’s been in existence for decades. Now contrast this with Nycerbarb’s experience of BDS advocates turning to her community (in this case, the co-op community) specifically to get something out of them. You heard her describe how people in her co-op don’t just shop but contribute their time and volunteer effort to keep open an institution that provides value (in that case, healthy food at reasonable prices) to members. And those members, in turn, derive satisfaction from shopping at a place that is truly their own creation. But the BDSers perceive the co-op differently. For them, it’s a high-profile place filled with caring individuals who might be able to be convinced to put the name and reputation of the institution behind the narrow, political propaganda message that is the heart and soul of BDS. Barb talked about the space members know to afford each other, since even the tightest community needs to allow for diversity coupled with privacy. But the BDSprograms hammers at what they perceive to be trivial nicities, insisting that their political message becomes the law of the land (or, at least the co-op) and the topic of rancorous arguments, regardless of who such a program appalls and offends along the way. Now the Boy Scouts go back pretty far and are institutionalized enough that no one would try to leverage their rep for partisan gain (certainly not on international issues). But I look across all of the civic organizations I belong to (including a synagogue
Community Coalition Building: Response II
For this close-to-land response to the PennBDS agenda, I wanted to talk about something inspired by Nycerbarb’s thoughts regarding community. Those thoughts came to mind last weekend during which my son’s BoyScout troop was participating in the Klondike Derby (stick with me for a bit, since this will hopefully add up to something before the end). You need to understand two things about this particular scouting trip. First off, my kid’s Scout troop is way bigger than any troop I’ve ever heard of (more than 100 kids), which means that any trip requires moving upwards of 50 people to another town and into the woods. Second, the Klondike includes the use of sleds to race and to move kids and gear, and this year’s dry winter meant there was no snow to push the sleds over.
and other secular and Jewish community organizations) and realize just how easy it would be to subvert them in order to score points against my political rivals. The only thing protecting them from this fate is that this is something I would never consider doing in a million years. For these organizations, be they a co-op, a Scout troop, a city, a church or a major university like U Penn are the sacred cornerstones of our civic society. And they can be fragile, as the bitterness and rancor that have visited BDS targets demonstrates. No doubt the boycotters trying to take advantage of the good nature of other people and leverage the reputation of an institution they had no role in building justify their thoughtlessness by claiming it is motivated by a higher good. But if they are willing to ravage other people’s communities for their own political gain, might they also be willing to ravage these “higher-goods” to create such justifications? If they’re ready to step on the face of their neighbors in order to get their way (while all the time declaring their devotion to the neighborhood), why should we take them at their word that they (and they alone) represent the values of an even larger community, including values such as human rights, international law and justice?
speak and even shriek “Apartheid! Apartheid! Apartheid!” at every possible opportunity. If you understand BDS to be a branding exercise, you will also understand why it is difficult – if not impossible – to get BDS advocates to respond to any arguments that claim Israel is nothing like an Apartheid state or why places like Hamas-ruled Gaza are (at least with regard to attitudes towards women, gays, and religious minorities – including Jews). For expecting BDSers to defend their opinions with facts and arguments (as opposed to cherry-picked links and shouted accusations) is like expecting the Coca Cola Company to give Pepsico a spacefor rebuttal at the end of every Coke commercial. Simply put, discussion and debate, which are part of any legitimate political process, have no home in the type of political branding exercise that is BDS, an exercise more commonly referred to as “propaganda.” If you read this statement by the person who will be speaking on thissubject at the PennBDS event, you will see that “Apartheid” is not the only word in his vocabulary (although it is the one he seems to use most frequently). In addition to the “A-word” (and “Jim Crow” which is also in his session title), you have a whole panoply of terminology and names meant to associate the Israel-Palestinian situation with the repression of darker-skinned people by lighter-skinned ones. The speaker’s credentials as a union leader,an activist against Apartheid South Africa and – yes – an African American who has been involved with both African American and anti-Israel organizations also helps to cement the link between the struggle for justice for blacks in the US and South Africa with the Palestinian cause. We will get to the subject of BDS and the Black community in a few days when we get to the Penn agenda item with that title. But for now, I’d like to analyze this linkage with the context of another marketing concept: market segmentation. Not just the article linked above, but virtually the entire BDS vocabulary is designed to reach a very specific section of the political marketplace: progressive audiences. In fact, the reason why anyone choosing to defend Israel and counter these accusations (including this blog) is frequently condemned as “right wing” is because the BDSers want to claim full ownership of the left end of the political spectrum. Beyond just trying to gain adherents to their cause among progressive individuals and organizations, the boycotters make it very clear that their agenda item is not just one among many but is the single defining issue fo rleft-leaning audiences with anyone who disagrees cast out as a member of the “racist right.” Now I have friends and colleagues that are driven to distraction by the fact that anti-Israel polemics are cast entirely in progressive terminology, including actual progressives bitter at the hijacking of their vocabulary and conservatives who use this phenomenon to prove that the left is intrinsically anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic. I tend to avoid these two extremes of bitterness, knowing somethingabout the history of how anti-Israel politics nested
Supplement: Packaging BDS (removed from the original PennBDS program)
While the session at the PennBDS program entitled “Packaging the Movement – Apartheid or Jim Crow” will likely focus on the “Apartheid” and “JimCrow” parts of that title, I’d like to zero in on the “Packaging” portion for a moment. As I’ve described a number of times before, BDS is essentially a branding exercise, marketing-speak for a program designed to associate one thing with another. When you reach for a Kleenex to blow your nose, buy a Coke to quench your thirst or use the browser you’re currently reading this blog on to Google for more information, your use of brand names (instead of “tissue,” “cola,” or “search engine”) is the result of successful efforts over the years to get you to use the name of a company’s specific brand instead of a generic noun. While techniques for getting you to associate one name with another can be sophisticated and expensive, one of the simplest and cheapest methods for achieving this goal is constant repetition. This is why the branding exercise associated with the BDS “movement,” to get you to associate the words “Israel” and “Apartheid,” consists first and foremost with never writing a sentence that includes one of those words without the other. If you look at some of the back-and-forth on the PennBDS conference that took place in the comments section of this article, you’ll notice this marketing trick playing out with near perfect discipline. Regardless of the quality of thought put into any posting by a BDS proponent, they will never fail to write,
itself in progressive circles, but also knowing about the damage caused by using the Middle East conflic tand Peace Process as surrogates for other partisan political issues (especiallyin the US and Israel itself). It’s also worth noting that because boycott and divestment advocates have chosen to sink their talons into progressive organizations (colleges and universities, Mainline Protestant churches, unions, etc.), that this is where the BDSers have fought and lost all of their major battles, meaning that their message has been actively looked at and rejected almost entirely by left-leaning audiences. These marketing tricks (repetition, staying on message and ignoring responses, market-segmentation, etc.) work for products that actually do what they are supposed to do. Kleenex effectively wipes tears and mucous, Coke refreshes a parched throat, and Google will find what you’re looking for (based on just tying a few letters – a gift of Israelitechnology, BTW). But no matter how frequently or effectively they are employed, these techniques can’t convince most people that a sow’s ear is actually a silk purse. Simply put, they are not that helpful when trying to sell a lie (such as the “Israel = Apartheid” formulation). Given the rejection of BDS by virtually every audience to which it has been targeted, it’s safe to say (so far at least) that the BDSer’s belief in Barnum’s adage that “a sucker is born every minute” has yet to be proven true.
burning need to “do something,” especially in the face of what they perceive to be an injustice. The fact that anti-Israel rallies can attract hundreds or thousands during a period of conflict, but shrink back down to dozens between crises is that during a shooting war ranks temporarily swell with people disturbed by suffering and desirous to “do something,” – anything – to make a difference. On the whole, these passions are a good thing (even if we might not all agree on the causes the passionate flock to). But this frustration tends to be directionless – much like the directionless-ness that was frequently commented upon by those trying to figure out what Occupy stood for or wanted. In fact, the Occupy project’s attempt to build their movement around principles of political anarchism (in which every man and woman was a leader) made it difficultfor them to figure out for themselves what the point was of their program, other than to symbolize a general frustration with inequity in our society. The Israel-haters who pitched their tents within the Occupy camps had no time for such murkiness and ambiguity. They knew what they wanted – to get the Occupy “brand” wedded to their “movement.” And they knew how to get it: by insistingthat any organization or institution that claims to represent progressive values must buy 100% into the antiIsrael cause (which today includes an embrace of BDS) or be “exposed” as traitors to their own principles. This is why it was only a matter of time before a subset of protestors left their camp in Boston and stormed the Israeli Consulate, all in the name ofthe “Occupy” movement as a whole. Never mind complains and protests within the Occupy group that these decisions were being made by a narrow few (rather than by consensus). Never mind the symbolism of alleged global activists storming just one consulate (the Jewish state’s) and leaving the rest of the world alone. Never mind that such an incident helped alienate potential supporters from the Occupy project and provided ammunition to enemies ready to cast it in a dark light. The BDS crowd couldn’t care less about any of that since, at the end ofthe day, they got exactly what they wanted: YouTube videos showing off their edgy “direct action,” and the ability to say that they get to speak in the name of the Occupy movement in its entirity. Remember that this is what the BDS “movement” is all about: not peace, not justice, not human rights, but (1) the ability to use those virtuous concepts as weapons against a political enemy and (2) the attempt to get those words to come out of the mouth of an institution more well known and respected than BDS itself (which pretty much includes everyone). This is why BDSers sneak around in the dead of night to try to get their divestment and boycott motions passed by institutional leaders behind the backs of the membership (as in Somerville , Olympia and the Presbyterian Church), regardless of the cost to communities. This is why drag their
Supplement: Palestine and the Occupy Movement (removed from the original PennBDS agenda)
They recently added a new session to the PennBDS program on “Palestine and the Occupy Movement” (speaker still TBD). So what is there to add to this short piece I wrote on the subject of the interaction between the Occupy Wall Street purposeful un-organization and the highly-organized, highlymotivated and totally ruthless anti-Israel “movement” that today travels under the BDS banner? Now that “Occupy’s” tents have been un-pitched, it’s worth asking what chance any political project that dedicated itself to avoiding hierarchy had against not just “The Man,” but against ostensible political allies with a far more highly focused set of priorities? Movements like BDS have a term for people like last year’s Occupy protestors: “Loose Change.” Generally, this refers to people who show up at a political march or rally, not because they are life-long members of an organization dedicated to that issue, but because they feel a
squalid little divestment resolutions before college Presidents and student councils again and again, regardless of how many times they say no. This is why they boast of big names like Hampshire College and TIAA-CREF as divestment successes, even though stories of boycott and divestment by those institutions were exposed as fraudulent years ago. Occupy is not the first progressive movement that’s been co-opted by anti-Israel forces ready to bend other people’s missions to their will. Look at the Green Party which once managed to field a successful Presidential candidate, now reduced to endlessly trying to shove Israel boycott policies down the throats of an increasingly diminishing membership. Or the Lawyer’s Guild which, when not acting as consigliere to BDS groups, resembles little more than a rotting corpse with ruthless Israel haters working its skeletal mouth like a hand puppet. In theory, you can have an organization in which everyone is the leader and everyone the follower. But in practice there usually ends up being someone ready to insist that their priorities take precedent over everyone else’s. In those latter cases, what term best describes those who “hang in there” hoping that the virtues upon which their political project was founded will overcome the ruthlessness of those trying to coopt and manipulate them? “Optimist” would be generous, and “loose change,” a bit obscure. But the word “sucker” certainly (and sadly) comes to mind.
(OIC), giving Islamic states with an anti-Israel agenda a 50:1 advantage over the one Jewish nation they have targeted politically, diplomatically, economically and (in some cases) militarily. This ratio is important because of the role played by international organizations such as the United Nations and various non-governmental organizations (NGO) in furthering this delegitimization agenda. For while there exist a large number of trans-national organizations (the most prominent being the UN), the independent nation state is still the primary actor on the world stage. And if you don’t believe me, just stop and think about how much easier it is for Saudi Arabia to get the United Nations to do what it wants rather than vice versa. And what these 50 nation states (which between them control most of the world’s oil wealth) and their allies (notably members of the former “non-aligned” bloc) want is for these international organizations to rain condemnation on their political enemy, all in the name of noble principles such as “international law,” and “human rights.” The fact that the nations who use organizations like the UN to target the Jewish state are themselves the worst human rights abusers on the planet is actually an important component of the equation. For in focusing the attention of these global agencies (agencies originally developed to keep the peace and protect the weak) on their political enemy, the Arab League states and their friends both benefit from a propaganda victory while also taking the human rights spotlight off their own abhorrent behavior. Specific anti-Israel groups like those who will be represented at the PennBDS conference are the beneficiaries activity that originates above them, using the condemnations that come out of institutions like the ghastly UN Human Rights Council to launder their own choices and activities through what NGO Monitor cleverly (if depressingly) illustrated as the BDS Sewer System. This laundering allows anti-Israel groups (whether they prioritize the BDS tactic or not) to claim that they are fighting for noble causes like human rights, or targeting Israel (and only Israel) because it is in violation of “international law,” which avoids having to admit that they are simply partisan advocates in one side of a political and military conflict. And it is when the conflict turns military that these “Friends of the Palestinian People” show their true colors. For during the months or years when groups like Hezbollah and Hamas are making war all but inevitable (by kidnapping Israelis or firing hundreds or thousands of rockets into Israeli territory, an act of war by any possible definition of the term), these groups are completely somnambulant. Yes, if you back them into a corner, they will make a grudging condemnation of Hamas rocket fire and the like (usually with a “big but” as in “Yes, rocket fire is inexcusable, BUT it wouldn’t occur if not for “The Occupation”). But once Israel does the inevitable and returns fire, these once silent organizations roar to life and take to the streets demanding an immediate ceasefire coupled with more political condemnation
Supplement: Delegitimization (removed from the PennBDS agenda)
“Deligitimization” is an ungainly word, one which even Israel’s defenders don’t much enjoy using. Descriptively, the term does the job in summing up a set of activities designed to deny to the Jewish state the rights to perform the same legitimate activities that are automatically granted to any other nation (including the right to its very existence). But to get a better understanding of what this word means, it’s best to look at the role of each player in the delegitmization hierarchy. At the top of that hierarchy are the 20+ states of the Arab League, nearly all of which have refused to politically recognize Israel since its birth, nations that have also enacted economic blockades and boycotts of the Jewish state they surround for even longer. In fact, with a few exceptions, the only political relationship they maintain with their Israeli neighbor is a formal state of war which many of these nations have acted upon more than once in the last 60+ years. These Arab League states are further aligned with over 50 countries in the Organization of the Islamic Conference
of a Jewish state that has dared do what any other nation in the world would do if hit with endless volleys of munitions for weeks and months on end. As I’ve discussed before, the inevitability of massive street protests (coupled with demands for international intervention) when (and only when) shooting goes in two directions in Gaza, Lebanon or elsewhere becomes a component of the conflict itself. In addition to providing a platform for the creation and propagation of propaganda (the primary role of third parties such as PennBDS in the Middle East Conflict), it’s also a factor that any military leader (in Gaza, Lebanon or elsewhere) must take into consideration when they decide how far they can push before triggering Israeli reprisals, or how long they have to hold on before international pressure forces Israel to cease military operations. So in many ways, the term “delegitimization” really describes what the BDSers and their friends and allies do to themselves. For while they would like to portray themselves as purehearted, human-rights champions fighting for what’s right against overwhelming odds, the truth is that they are simply partisan players allied with one side in a political (and sometimes military) campaign, a cog in militant machinery whose role is to provide crucial propaganda support for allies who represent many of the most wealthy, powerful and nasty political regimes on the face of planet earth.
to PennBDS seems to have kicked off a Zionist renaissance on campus. The school’s administration, which has always been supportive of its relationship the Jewish state, was given the opportunity to speak out on the value of that relationship and to look at ways to strengthen and extend it. Jewish students who might have put their energies into other religious or secular extra-curriculars are instead raising funds PennIsrael programs, talking to their friends about the real Israel (not the wicked witch Israel of BDS fairy tales) and marching en mass to buy out the very products the BDSers insisted be boycotted. All in all, not a bad set of outcomes for a three-day event that has yet to happen. Oh sure, I know that the attendees of the PennBDS event come from a number of campuses, and they are likely to take what they learn this weekend and use it to try to gin up enthusiasm for boycott and divestment campaigns when they get back home. But it’s not like anything new is going on. In fact, such campaigns have been a cornerstone of campus life for more than a decade and today Israel’s relationship with American colleges and universities (like its economy and popularity among the US population) are stronger than they’ve ever been. With that as backdrop, it’s time to take care of some housekeeping. First, here is an editorial I was lucky to have been given the opportunity to pen for the Philadelphia Jewish exponent. While this will no doubt be used by BDS proponents as more evidence of their wild success (Look! Someone else is criticizing us! We must be powerful!), the fact that the PennBDSers have done everything in their power to avoid acknowledging (much less confronting) a month-long effort to take on their arguments just demonstrates that they are willing to do everything for their cause except defend it. In short, as my editorial makes clear: the big news story about PennBDS specifically is the same decade-old news story about BDS in general, that it’s a L-O-S-E-R. Second, I’ve rearranged and re-titled items on the PennBDSOy landing page so that they better conform to the final agenda for the actual PennBDS program. Third (and most exciting), I figured out a way to turn all of the material that’s appeared on this site over the last month into an ebook in a variety of formats. So if you’re looking for something to read while the PennBDS program is going on (ideally from within the conference itself), go to this page to download your book free of charge. As this series closes up (and please forgive me if things slow down here starting tomorrow), I wanted to wrap with an answer to a question that’s come up a few times since this series started, namely why do this at all? After all, the PennBDS event is not that big a deal (other similar programs have come and gone without this level of response). And even if I were whoring for blog hits (as a PennBDS organizer once accused in the comments section on this story), historically the one sure way of reducing readership has been to write a multi-
Well I returned from a brief visit to the University of Pennsylvania campus and I’m happy to report that – at least as far as I can tell – the sky is not falling. Signs of the impending big-bad-BDS event were non-existent (although I did see Alan Dershowitz’s punim staring me in the face on multiple locations). And while PennBDS organizers were busy working themselves into an indignant snit over one less-than-elegant article responding to their event (such faux outrage serving as an excuse to continue pretending that other and stronger arguments against their cause do not exist), other people have been busy on the U Penn campus as well. I mentioned Dersowitz who was invited by the local Jewish community to speak on the subject of “Why Israel Matters to You, Me and Penn” (although I suspect he’ll work a few words on what he thinks about the BDS “movement” into his talk). And, at last count, over 900 people have signed up to attend the event. On the surface, this seems like just three times the number of people who will be going to PennBDS, but when you realize that the number of actual Penn students involved with and attending the BDS program is between two and three dozen, you’re looking at a pro-Israel to anti-Israel campus attendance ratio of closer to 30:1. And the response to PennBDS doesn’t stop there. Just as the Somerville divestment battles of 2004-2006 created a Zionist enclave alongside Boston and Cambridge, leaving no other BDS footprints beyond the city (except, perhaps, this blog), so
part series (like this one and this one that are actually points of pride). Now I’ve provided lofty explanations regarding my choice to blog about this subject generally. And while I stick by those explanations, the reasons for the last 29 pieces in 29 days is far more mundane and simple: I like to write, I like a challenge, and I don’t like bullies. The rest is commentary. Cheers!
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