Divest This!

- Strategy and Tactics
During the course of writing about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement,” as well as participating in more BDS battles than I care to name, I’ve learned some lessons regarding strategy and tactics that have appeared over the years at the Divest This web site. Because of the ephemeral nature of blogs, many of stories have gotten pushed so far down the blog list that they have become lost or disconnected. Which is why I wanted to consolidate them in one place and make use of this new blog-to-ebook tool that allows people to read these lessons as part of an integrated whole. So for those interested in some analysis of strategic and tactical choices that have historically proven successful against BDS, read on… Now I could be coy and point out that a military vocabulary used to describe a legitimate debate between opposing parties to a conflict masks the fact that such argumentation can be (and often is) a cooperative enterprise. Parties to an argument, after all, have agreed to engage with each other over a matter of importance and the give-and-take between the parties (which might seem adversarial, especially if described in terms of “attack” and “defense”) can nevertheless lead to a full or partial resolution that would satisfy both parties (or at least provide insight to an audience to such a discussion). In the case of the fight against BDS, however, claiming that both sides are engaged in an ultimately cooperative enterprise would be inaccurate. I can (and have) taken part in genuine (i.e., honest and mutually beneficial) arguments with people who support positions in the Middle East that I opposes, discussions that opened up new avenues for both of us to explore our own thinking. BDS, however, does not open dialog, but rather closes it. BDS asks you to accept their premise of Israel’s guilt, and only seeks discussion over when and how it punishment should be administered. BDS advocates are not open to new ideas or new information. In fact, they become enraged when information is presented that challenges their truncated view of history or self-serving definitions of human rights or international law. Intimidation and even threats of violence (on display so vividly within the University of California system these last few years) are clearly in the BDS toolkit, which alone makes their claims to being participants in an honest debate suspect. More importantly, there is a wider context into which the debate over BDS is being played out. To illustrate this by example: this weekend my son’s 5th grade Hebrew School class presented work they’ve been doing for the last several weeks to highlight various organizations in Israel trying to bring together Jews and Arabs via fields such as sports, children’s theater and medicine. Now there exists reasonable disagreement over how effective these grassroots mechanisms for building bridges can be, but I would never question the value of good faith efforts to exhaust all methods for bringing

Strategy: The Use of Language
When talking about a political clash between two opposing sides, it’s inevitable that language gets drawn from a military vocabulary. Offense and defense are indispensible terms, as are words and phrases that indicate opposing sides such as the other side, opponents, or even the most challenging term of all enemy. I acknowledge that this type of terminology makes many people feel uncomfortable, especially: (1) those whose ultimate goals are not militant; or (2) those whose ultimate goals are militant, but who seek to cover this up by using only neutral or positive terms (such as “human rights” or “international law”) to describe their motivations and actions. While my motivations put me squarely in group (1), I also prefer to use the best words possible to describe things accurately, including terms deriving from argumentation to discuss what is essentially a political debate (albeit a heated one).


people together in the ultimate hope that this will eventually lead to peace. BDS, however, takes an opposite view of such peace efforts, branding Israelis who participate in such activity as deceivers and Arabs who take part as collaborators or traitors. That is why they seek to shut down all cooperation between Arabs and Jews in the region. That is why they seek to end cooperation between Israelis and everyone else in the world by protesting not just Israel’s economic ties to other countries, but academic and cultural ties as well. In other words, for the efforts of real peace activists to be successful, BDS must be exposed for what it is and, ideally, swept from the battlefield if efforts to create a real peace are ever to take root. Thus the fight against BDS (even if is described in militarysounding language) turns out to be the true battle for peace, while BDS (which never hesitates to wrap itself in the mantle of peace-making and justice) is actually a form of unjust warfare that must lose in order for peace to win. Funny thing language.

While this dialog may be fanciful, the notion is not. As activists (and as human beings) we like to be able to measure our success and failure in numerical terms, and lacking many things to count when it comes to campus activism, we tend to fall back on counting heads at one and other’s events to see if we’re gaining or losing ground. This is one of the reasons why bringing in speakers and hosting Israel Days or Anti-Israel Days are so popular. Activist organizations (both on and off campus – on both sides) like to be able to present lists of their projects to members and funders, ideally with headcounts showing that their work is reaching people. And thus the need to generate numeric information drives a strategy based on maximizing the number of speaking events and maximizing the size of the audience at each event. But if you look at more meaningful numbers (which I have), you’ll discover interesting insights like the fact that pro- and anti-Israel camps at most universities never tops more than 5-10% of the student population, with the other 90%+ viewing activists on both sides as mostly engaged with talking to themselves or shouting at each other. Which means that efforts both sides are using to swing this undecided vast majority one way or another might actually be turning them off to the issue entirely. Remember also that hostility to Israel is most prominent on elite campuses, a small subset of American higher education as a whole. Now this subset is high profile and extremely influential, so should not be ignored. But we also shouldn’t lose site of the fact that on the vast majority of campuses, support for Israel looks a lot more like national trends where it outstrips hostility towards the Jewish state by 3:1. Even if we assume that at places like Berkeley, sentiment about Israel on campus is closer to 1:1 (i.e., supporters and detractors evenly matched), suddenly the question becomes why anti-Israel activism has such a high profile at these places, even without an overwhelming (or even clear-cut) numerical advantage. In this case, sheer numbers may make less of a difference than other factors. This should come as no surprise. After all, smaller armies have defeated much larger ones for centuries. Whether we’re talking about the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans held off a million invading Persians (or more historically likely figures of 7000 Greeks holding off 100,000+ invaders) or Israel’s numerous military victories against vastly numerically superior foes, the size of an army often takes a back seat to factors such as strategy, tactics, leadership, training, equipment, morale and the choice of terrain on which to fight.

Strategy: Thinking About Numbers
When dealing with a “movement” like BDS which thrives on anecdotes, numbers are a great way to pierce the fog and get to the real truth. After all, what tells us more about the success vs. failure of boycott and divestment: the story of a Danish retirement fund selling a few thousand dollars worth of Israeli stock for political reasons, or the numbers showing that the Israeli economy and exports have both doubled during the decade when BDS has been operating? At the same time, casting peripheral issues in numeric terms can make them seem more central than they really are, leading to poor decisions regarding strategy and tactics. For instance, this situation may ring a bell, particularly with campus activists: “SJP brought in an anti-Israel speaker and drew a crowd of 300 people and we had 10 protestors at their event. The next week, we had a pro-Israel event that drew 140 people and SJP showed up with 20 protestors. So it looks like we lost by 170.”


In the case of the Spartans, the choice of a narrow pass as the battlefield meant that even a million-man army would have to enter Greece just a few hundred at a time, which meant bettertrained and more disciplined troops protecting such a narrow space could hold the enemy at bay so long as the fight was taking place in one direction and the defender’s morale held firm. In the case of Israel’s victories, technically sophisticated weapons actually made less of a difference than the training and discipline needed to integrate this hardware into creative battle strategies. The fact that Israel’s attackers could always retreat to their home countries safely while Israel knew it was fighting for its existence also dictated the level of commitment of each side’s soldiers. Numbers provide us crucial information to make decisions, but we should beware of assessing our own strategic situation or making tactical decisions based on numeric factors (such as number of activists on each side) that might make less of a difference than strength of organization and tactical choices, discussions regarding each of which follow.

described by divestment advocate Abraham Greenhouse , the PSM eventually succumbed to dynamics which tend to befall such groups whenever they begin to reach critical mass: “Ultimately, the PSM collapsed under its own weight. Internal disagreements over the coalition's political platform, particularly a statement explicitly refusing to condemn Palestinian attacks on civilians, prevented the group from realizing its ambition to develop an elaborate support structure to nurture and sustain the broader movement. Further, the Palestine solidarity community in the U.S. has often been divided along sectarian lines, and it was not unheard of for elements within a group to seize control through undemocratic means. After a series of incidents widely perceived within PSM as comprising such an attempted takeover, the coalition, intent on foiling further attempts, became increasingly bureaucratic. Eventually, it became nearly impossible to remain substantially engaged with PSM while continuing to be active in local organizing.” This story is typical of anti-Israel organizational life which is fraught with the sectarian divisions along political, ethnic and religious lines that characterize the Middle East itself. Also, the BDS movement’s experience with infiltrating other organizations to bring them on board the divestment bandwagon has a destructive impact when these infiltration skills are turned onto organized elements of the movement itself. Radical politics – whatever cause they embrace – tends to be unstable, characterized by loyalty tests, browbeating of the rank and file by the leadership and, frequently, purges. My hometown of Boston, where the same anti-Israel activists have organized under a half a dozen banners in the last twenty years, is typical of this dynamic. Jewish political life faces all the ups and downs of the opposite problem: too much, rather than too little, stability. Many brand-name Jewish activist groups are entering their second century and along with momentum, resources and name-recognition, such longevity creates bureaucratic inertia, blurred missions and networks of obligations (notably to partners and donors) that can limit organizational effectiveness. While newer entrepreneurial groups are emerging to focus on specific Israel-activism related missions, they too eventually become institutionalized and must divide their time between tending to their institutions (via fund raising, working with boards of directors, etc.) and connecting with the grass roots. One ironic advantage the BDSers institutional instability is that it provides them a perpetually new face to present to their audience. If the excesses of the PSM still leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, no worries: it’s now the brand new SJP that’s taking the lead on campus divestment efforts. Turnover on college campuses already creates a dynamic of

Strategy: Organization
What do the French, Russian and Iranian revolutions have in common? Among other things, they each involved world historical changes that came about due to the activities of small but highly organized, highly disciplined minorities of motivated individuals. One doesn’t need to pick such charged examples to see that strength of organization has much more impact than sheer numbers when it comes to political effectiveness. Campaigns against slavery, the Civil Rights movement, Women’s suffrage, even the creation of Israel all began with tiny cadres who used effective organization as a force multiplier. In the US, elements of an organized Jewish community (AIPAC, ADL, et al) are well known to the point of generating their own mythology (and even demonology). But the country also contains an organized anti-Israel community which, while numerically smaller than its Jewish counterpart, makes up for size through (1) organization; and (2) ties to the wider Arab, Muslim and broader anti-Israel world which dwarfs by an order of magnitude the global Jewish world in terms of numbers and resources. The organizational face of BDS reflects one of the key elements of anti-Israel grassroots politics: instability. When BDS first came on the scene after the 2001 Durban conference and 9/11 attacks, the first generation activists was led the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) which emerged when divestment gained initial traction on US campuses. As


limited institutional memory, so once SJP falls apart (which it inevitably will) a new TLA will take its place, perpetually drawing students to an old idea that keeps being repackaged as new and fresh. Jewish organizational stability creates a different set of opportunities and challenges. The sheer number of such organizations gives many grassroots activists the feeling that “doing something” at universities or elsewhere is simply a matter of connecting the right Jewish institution to the right people on campus. While this can be successful, it creates a disconnect between those on the ground that understand the local scene and culture, and national (or even international) organizations that tend to get called for help only when a crisis (such as a divestment battle) comes to town. When pro-Israel activism has been most successful, it has been when strong, creative, local leadership takes the driver’s seat, reaching out to external resources when necessary. Ironically, it is when such local leadership is strong and stable that very little news is generated since anti-Israel activists (who follow Lenin’s maxim to “probe with bayonets”) tend to retreat when they encounter steel and advance only when they encounter mush.

US ally via a campaign of de-legitimization) which require offensive tactics such as BDS to implement. But if your ultimate goals are NOT destructive, then it becomes more difficult to build or sustain a strategy designed around perpetual attack. For example, despite fantasies that Israel is a genocidal, expansionist power eager to kill every Arab it can reach as it expand its borders from the Nile to the Euphrates (really a description of Israel’s foes which they project onto Israel), the goal of the vast majority of Israelis and their supporters is to find a way to live in peace with not just the Palestinians but the entire Arab world. Given this, efforts to build a strategy that will involve perpetual attack on those you ultimately want to live in peace with invariably fail to find enough support to become widely used. And even aggressive individual campaigns invariably become impossible to sustain, not because those who initiate them are lazy or lose their nerve, but because they inevitably run into the contradiction of maintaining a non-stop assault on those with whom most of us desire to live alongside without conflict. The other issue I have with this “offense vs. defense” reasoning derives from what I know as an extremely amateur student of classical battle strategy. For prior to the age of air power, shock and awe, and asymmetrical warfare, the vocabulary of battle was as much about the garrison and the siege as it was about the clash of armies in the field engaged in offensive vs. defensive tactics. To take one historic example , when the Byzantine army attempted to win back the Italian peninsula from the Ostragoths who had captured it after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantines managed to lay siege to several major cities, capturing some and garrisoning them in the process. These Byzantine-garrisoned cities later came under siege from Ostragothic forces attempting to win them back. In this example, where the same army may be laying siege to one city, while defending against another siege at a different city a few miles up the road, which side is on the offense and which is playing defense? In a war that involves recapturing territory that may have been lost recently in a previous war, even being an invader does not necessarily put an army in the attacker vs. defender role. I mention this because the metaphor that best describes Israel’s situation (and by extension the situation of its supporters abroad) is that of the siege. This was the title of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s fabulous history of Israel (the book I recommend to anyone who wants a crash course in the Middle East conflict), and it was no accident that this eloquent man of letters chose the term “siege” as the title of his one work on this subject.

Strategy: Offense vs. Defense
Whenever I hang out with fellow activists, either officially or socially, a subject that inevitably comes up is offense and defense. “Why are we always on the defensive?” “We can’t win if we just play defense!” “It’s time to go on the attack!” “Even if we win a particular fight, we can’t win long-term if we simply defend while the other side is allowed to always take the initiative.” are just some of the ways the same argument is brought to bear again and again. Having watched or taken part in various BDS battles for more than half a decade, fights that require our side to turn back or reverse a divestment vote at some university or church (i.e., play defense) that the other side has initiated (offensively), I can understand the frustration behind the offense vs. defense argument in its various guises. At the same time, the terms “offense” and “defense” only describe tactics, and tactics must be dictated by strategy which, in turn, are supposed to support specific goals. And if your ultimate goals are militant (such as destroying the Jewish state or weakening it to the point where it becomes more vulnerable to destruction), then it is easier to devise strategies to achieve these destructive ends (such as the “Apartheid strategy” designed to weaken support for Israel with its crucial


For Israel’s military doctrine is based on fending off an attack from any possible combination of hostile forces that surround it. In other words, they are defending their city (really their nation) against someone else’s attack, which according to the arguments mentioned at the top of this piece would put them in the category of playing perpetual defense. Yet no one would describe the IDF, which maintains the siege walls, as lacking courage for not going on the attack more often. In fact, one of the most frequent reasons for a besieged city being lost was military leaders inside the city getting restless for a pitched battle and leaving the safety of the city walls to engage the enemy unnecessarily in the field. I say unnecessarily because, historically speaking, the siege is just as hard (sometimes harder) on the besieger than the besieged. While it’s certainly no fun to have your city surrounded by soldiers firing arrows and building battering rams and catapults, it’s also no fun building those siege engines while defenders in the city pelt you with rocks, hot oil, dung and arrows. Besieging armies must survive in camps and forage for food (further and further from home base, the longer the siege goes on), while defenders can live in relative comfort and safety within their walls, presuming they have enough supplies to outlast the army at the gates. Again, Middle East history bears out this siege parallel. For after 62 years, Israel behind its walls is more prosperous than ever, enjoying six decades of constitutional government. But during that same period, those who have maintained their siege against the Jewish state have watched their societies come apart at the seams with oligarchs and kings giving way to military dictatorships which are now fighting civil wars against religious fanatics, all the while sinking further and further into poverty and despair (despite God’s having planted half the world’s oil reserves under their feet). The instability of the anti-Israel community described previously is another example where organizations dedicated to laying siege to Israel by proxy are perpetually falling apart while organizations dedicated to defending the Jewish state have gone from strength to strength. Now fighting siege warfare does not simply involve cowering behind walls hoping your enemy will go away. Clashes at the walls are always part of the picture, as are skirmishes and even (ideally well-thought-out) battles that involve leaving the city to engage the enemy. But we should never lose site of the fact that the metaphor that describes our condition is not the standing army with its offensive and defensive strategies, but the siege which has its own logic, and its own legacy of strategy and tactics which can lead to victory.

Strategy: Tactic (Theirs and Ours)
With the sides in the BDS conflict outlined in terms of numbers and organization , I’d like to turn the conversation over to the tactics used by those seeking Boycott, Divestment and Sanction against Israel. Even through “tactics” appears in the plural, in fact the entire BDS project seems to be built around a single tactic with multiple manifestations. This tactic includes the following steps: (1) Find an organization or individual that is self-identified with progressive or human-rights causes, preferably one with a history of taking stands on international matters. Ideally, these targets should have a track record of taking such stances after they hit “critical mass” in the media, rather than as the result of deep knowledge about the subject within the organization. (2) Present the targeted group with the BDS case in stark black-and-white terms in which any information not directly related to Israeli villainy and Palestinian pristine innocence is removed from consideration. (3) Push for the organization to take some kind of boycott or divestment stance, however small. Insist that the institution’s professed progressive and human-rights credentials leave them no choice but to do as the BDSers say. (4) If an individual or institution says “Yes” to a boycott or divestment call (even in the tiniest way), broadcast across the planet that the group is now squarely in the BDS camp and is in full agreement that Israel is an Apartheid State alone in the world at deserving economic punishment (5) Use the success obtained in steps (1)-(4) above to try to get similar organizations to take a similar stance in hopes that this will give the BDS project “momentum.” The details change from case to case. Sometimes (as in the case of municipalities and churches), the BDS appeal has been made directly to leaders behind the backs of citizens and church members. In the case of institutions with low thresholds for public petitioning (like food co-ops) attempts are made to get around the leadership to put boycott questions onto a public ballot. But whether the target is a university, church, city, union, co-op or over-the-hill rocker , the steps outlined above are pretty much always the same. The divestniks know their demographic, which is why you’ll never see them take their roadshow to conservative or even moderate audiences, or even progressive audiences with a


track record of careful consideration before taking stances on controversial issues. And steps 4-5 are crucial since, knowing how unpopular anti-Israel stances are among the general public, BDSers must create the appearance of institutional hostility towards the Jewish state from a well-known person or organization in order to try to create a reality that does not exist. Now most political movements are about changing attitudes and dynamics, which is all about changing the “reality” of a particular approach to controversial topics. But this betrays the thin line between political action and political fantasy (a subject I’ve discussed in the past). For if you look at where BDS has been temporarily successful (such as the Presbyterian Church), the divestors have been so fast to move onto the next target that they immediately abandon the very people they’ve recently won over, leaving these groups to discover the consequences of the decision they were bullied into taking which often leads them to reverse course. The widespread use of BDS hoaxes in 2009 is symptomatic of the fact that the five-step tactic noted above, while effective, hits a roadblock when it encounters an institution that knows what it’s dealing with when divestment comes knocking at the door. And after a decade of failed divestment and boycott efforts, the number of college administrations, student governments, church groups, etc. that are completely unfamiliar with BDS tactics and history becomes shorter. Which is why many anti-Israel groups decided to skip steps 1-3 entirely and simply publicize “victories” that never happened. That observation aside, tactics involving presenting the complex Middle East as an oversimplified, emotionally driven morality play present a challenge to those of us who fight against BDS who are not inclined to counter their simplified, inaccurate storyline with a simple, untrue storyline of our own. Which is why we often find ourselves on the defensive, providing background and context to counter gut-wrenching images and ardent accusations. Issues of offense vs. defense have been discussed before, so for now I just want to note that the BDSers themselves provide an example of how their own tactics can be countered. For if you’ve ever been in a debate with them, watch how quickly they’ll dismiss any accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, corruption and totalitarian violence against themselves, the Palestinians or Israel’s Arab neighbors by either ignoring it, dismissing it with a scoffing laugh or insincerely accepting such challenges then immediately spinning them into another condemnation of the Jewish state which they insist must continue to be the only topic of discussion.

If they feel that they’re allowed to draw the boundaries around what can and cannot be discussed in a conversation about Israel, the Middle East or BDS, then why can’t we?

Tactics: Language
Continuing on the topic of tactics, one of the main elements of the “even-when-we-lose-we-win” tactic of the BDS “movement” is their declaration that even when they lose (which is always), they have actually “won” because the subject of their choice (Israel’s guilt) has become a topic of conversation within the community or organization upon which they have inflicted themselves. Putting aside any value judgments one might make about such behavior, as a political tactic this way of operating has some merit. For if the long-term propaganda goal of BDS is to brand Israel the new Apartheid South Africa, what better way to accomplish this than refusing to talk about anything else? Anti-boycotters have seen the effectiveness of this tactic whenever they have tried to put BDSers on the defensive by bringing up issues such as Hamas rocket fire, repression, or the general human rights quagmire of Israel’s neighbors, especially with regard to the treatment of minorities (both religious and racial), women and homosexuals. But hopes to use such accusations to put the divestniks on notice that two can play the accusation game inevitably runs into the problem of the BDS cru absolutely refusing to listen to matters outside their agenda, much less respond to them. Thus, accusations against Hamas, the PA or the Arab states are either ignored, dismissed with a scoffing laugh or insincerely accepted and then immediately met with another broadside of accusations against the Jewish state. This same tactic is used when Israel’s friends and supporters, or even just people seeking reconciliation between conflicting parties, try to find common ground between warring factions in a BDS war dragged into a college campus or other civic institution. This behavior reached a perverse highlight at Columbia University where petitions calling for dialog were met with a refusal by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (CSJP) to engage in any dialog that does not begin with an acceptance of all of their arguments regarding who is right and who is wrong in the Middle East conflict. In one sense, it is a risk for organizations like CSJP to be perceived (accurately) as refusing to participate in attempts to find common ground. But the value of maintaining control of the language is so valuable that BDS advocates will go to


almost any length to avoid having to acknowledge that another point of view even exists, much less has merit. This leaves us with an interesting challenge of what tactics to pursue that must take into account that BDS champions, as part of their founding principles, will never allow other opinions into the conversation. Is there a way to gain control of the language in such a situation? Perhaps…

lo and behold, all it took was one round of communication to get these BDS “successes” exposed or reversed. To a certain extent, the recent Hummus Wars at Princeton, as ridiculous as they were in some respects, represents a new willingness to challenge BDS wherever it rears its ugly head. The Princeton Tigers for Israel group could have easily sat out the debate and lived with the consequences (which were always destined to be small). But instead, they picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the boycotters at their school and – lo and behold – won what turned out to have been an easy victory. The dirty little secret of battling against BDS is that it’s not all that hard. For a “movement” built on frauds and shouting and dancing and smearing mud on one another is just not that difficult to defeat with a little initiative, occasional ridicule, calm presentation of our side of the story (i.e., the truth) and an unwillingness to take the ongoing challenges posed by the boycotters sitting down. As more and more people are catching on that the divestment emperor has no clothes, the pleasure some of us have been hogging of exposing this nakedness seems to be going mainstream. And what could be a better gift than that?

Tactics: Just Do Something!
Continuing on the subject of tactics, it’s clear that boycott, divestment and sanctions remains top priority for the “Israeldisliking” community. At nearly every Israel-related event I’ve gone to that’s been big enough to draw protestors, signs blaring “BDS” are held aloft (interesting in and of itself since it implies a tactic so well known – at least to the protestors – that the acronym alone is all that is needed to identify it). Despite its continuation as a high priority, however, a lack of potential targets seems to be making it difficult for the BDSers to choose appropriate tactics for getting their way. After the Hampshire hoax, school administrators are no longer taking their phone calls, and Israel-supporting students on campuses are on high alert for divestment resolutions getting snuck into student councils as they were at Berkeley last year. Attempts to spread boycotts at food co-ops fell flat before the Autumn kicked in, and even attempts at boycott hoaxes are being called out within hours, preventing them from turning into major media stories. Perhaps this is why prominent BDS organizations are calling for repeats of boycotts that have already failed (yet another Ahava protest for example) or asking supporters to “dance for Palestine” (which indicates that the only area where BDS remains strong is as a project designed to generate social bonding among the protestors themselves). On our side, the happiest trend seems to be the growing awareness that BDS is not an existential or even overwhelming threat, but simply just another tactic for smearing the Jewish state (and not a particularly successful on at that) that needs to be dealt with. A recent exposure of the Dutch retirement fund BDS hoax or the reversal of the Strauss Group’s temporary erasure of support for the Golani Brigade from its web site share something in common: they both occurred because a single activist decided to pick up the phone and do something. And

Tactics: Surprise
One of the things that continually surprised me about BDS battles within a university or other institution is how unsurprising they are. BDS itself generally has but one tactic: to find a progressive institution and (often working behind the scenes) to convince them that their principles leave them no choice other than the embrace the BDS agenda. So no surprise there. But it’s kind of startling to see how debate tends to unfold thereafter with the regularity of a Noh drama. This déjà vu is most pronounced when a boycott or divestment battle comes to a head, often unfolding in a series of intense meetings (always three in number for some reason). Whether those meetings take place within Berkeley’s student government chambers, Somerville City Hall or the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, all parties immediately assume their assigned roles. In the case of the boycotters, this involves presenting an endless stream of gut-wrenching (and context-free) images of Palestinian suffering with an unwavering accusation of the one and only party responsible for this presented woe: Israel (and/ or “The Occupation” or “The Settlements” presented as near metaphysical entities).


The performance of Israel’s defenders also tends towards the familiar, even if it’s a familiarity of inconsistency. For unlike the boycotters, Israel’s friends are not united on their goals or approach. Some want to lash out and attack their critics (bringing up the human rights catastrophe that is Gaza and the Arab world, for example). Some want to focus on peace, reconciliation and ways to work together. Still others zero in on the pain an divisiveness that BDS battles always cause, with everyone frequently invoking the “complexity” of the ArabIsraeli conflict (in contrast to the simple-minded storyline that characterizes Israel’s accusers). Now the endless failure of BDS would seem to indicate that this is a winning presentation, even if it is seems somewhat confused and predictable. Which presents the question of why criticize a winning tactic? To which I would respond that in any type of conflict (from a political battle to an actual war) it’s never the best idea to be in a position where you opponents know exactly what to expect from you well in advance. Two stories provide some perspective on what happens when people don’t act according to their assigned roles. Starting in the US, a group of San Francisco pro-Israel activists decided to use the tactics of the BDS organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) against them. You may recall that JVP was the group that chose to disrupt a speech Prime Minister Netenyahu gave in New Orleans, using a tactic of repeated interruptions that’s become popular within West Coast universities as a means of muzzling pro-Israel speakers. This time, however, it was JVP’s turn to be on the receiving end of their own medicine (at a meeting celebrating the Young, Jewish and Proud Netenyahu-interrupters no less) where pro-Israel forces jumped up repeatedly to read from Hertzl and other Zionist texts. Now some of you may wonder why this “sauce for the gander” approach is not taken more often (a subject for another time), but in the case of the Young Jewish and Proud event the JVP crowd was caught completely off guard. So stunned were they at the very notion that their tactics could be used against them that violence ensued, starting with a JVP assault on an elderly activist, leading to a pepper spraying, leading to JVP calling the cops on their opponents. Putting aside attempts to propagandize this kerfuffle to advantage, the real lesson is how disorienting it can be to Israel’s foes when its friends do not act in ways they are told they must.

The other story did not involve pepper spray or cops, but was no less educational with regard to the effectiveness of surprise. By now, many of you will have read about the student who took part in the umpteenth Oxford Union debate over the Middle East, this one set up to debate the subject of whether or not “Israel is a rogue state.” Usually when these events take place, everyone lines up along predictable patterns, each party plays its assigned role, a vote takes place and no one remembers the results. But in this case, Gabriel Latner (in support of the assertion that Israel IS a rogue state) brilliantly redefined “rogue” to provide an accurate illustration of why Israel is unique among the nations. Needless to say, Israel’s critics cried foul that the sides did not line up as they were supposed to. But in this case there was no “cheating” involved. For the Oxford Union is meant to challenge people, to address a particular issue given the full range of rhetoric tools at the disposal of opponents to an issue. And unlike the many now-forgotten debates over Israel’s perfidity (debates designed to package the same dreary propaganda message in the garb of Oxford robes), this story has lived on to become the stuff of lore, simply because one bold individual decided to surprise the world by not doing exactly what was expected of him (a lesson we would all do well to learn).

Tactics: Metaphors
Wrapping up a discussion of tactics, one thing that makes tactical decisions easier is when there is a model or metaphor within which to envision your choices. In the case of BDS, their metaphor is clearly “Apartheid,” or more specifically the struggle against Apartheid in the 1980s. While Israel’s defenders would strongly object to this characterization for a variety of legitimate reasons, this does not diminish the Apartheid metaphor’s power to frame debate. Such a metaphor also simplifies the selection of language (use terminology from previous Apartheid campaigns) and tactics (do similar things to what was done in the 1980s). As an aside, the Apartheid metaphor also provides BDS activist a framework for social bonding (a topic for another time). I’ve talked about the metaphor of the siege, largely as a way to help Israel’s defenders (Jew and non-Jew alike) think past the stale debate of “offense vs. defense” which frequently adds up to nothing more than the argument between compromise and zealotry that has characterized Jewish politics for centuries. I won’t repeat the significance of the siege metaphor except to point out that while it gives Israel’s defenders a useful framework to select effective strategies and tactics, it does not


supply the content needed to counter the Apartheid metaphor that is the basis of BDS. For an additional metaphor, I am indebted to Charles Jacobs whose recent thoughts on Jewish susceptibility to any sort of accusation can be found here. But I am particularly purloining from Professor Ruth Wisse whose recent work brings up an image that has been stuck with me since hearing her speak some months ago: the metaphor of The Trial. I capitalize those words not just to highlight the Kafkaesque nature of Israel’s experience in the dock over the last several decades, but to also point out that “The Trial” like “Apartheid” are both real and metaphorical concepts. Apartheid, as noted above, has been at the heart of the BDS project for its entire existence, but so has the nature of the trial, with Israel as the defendant and her accusers acting as both prosecutor and judge. But in a real trial, one side does not get to hog the stage for day after day, year after year, decade after decade with the other side limited simply to object here and there until a decision is ultimately made. In any trial, eventually, the other side gets to take center stage and present its case while the first side is forced to sit and listen. (You’ll see in a minute why I’m avoiding the terms “prosecution” and “defense.”) Now Israel’s accusers have had the floor for over six decades now, and have certainly refused to yield the stage during the BDS decade. And thus it is more than fair to say that the time has finally come for them to grab a chair, sit down and let someone else make their case. In other words, it is now our turn to turn from defendant to prosecutor and force Israel’s foes to answer our questions for once, not simply dismiss any issues we bring up with a scoffing laugh or an insistence that they are a distraction from “the real issues” which consist solely of the accusations they want taken at face value. These critics have had years, decades, to make their case stick and if they have not succeeded in doing so yet (testified by the failure of BDS over the last ten years), that does not entitle them to continue their case for another six decades until they finally have their way. So now, finally, it is our turn as prosecutor and someone else’s turn to be in the dock. Fairness, the underpinning behind both real court justice and the trial as a metaphor, demands nothing less.

As anyone experienced with trying to stop playing public defender will attest, Israel’s critics will fight tooth and nail to resist relinquishing the prosecutor/judge role they demand for themselves, but this is their problem not ours. For after 60+ years, the time has finally come us to say: “Good point, Mr. BDSer, but you’ve been making the same point for decades. We’re all familiar with it, you’ve made yourself clear, we get it. And now is the time for you to answer our questions for a change.

Throughout this series (now an e-book), I’ve tried to lay out some observations about the size, scope and nature of the two sides of the BDS debate. A previous discussion of tactics focused on the other side’s traditional framework for advancing its cause. In this final installment, I’d like to switch to a discussion of our choices. Since specifics will vary depending on where the next battle will take place, ideas are presented as general guidelines that can be applied to a BDS fight, or some other de-legitimization campaign. 1. Understand the Nature of the Enemy and the Situation Pro-Israel forces tend to waste a lot of cycles wrestling with the ideology of our opponents, or speculating into the origins, funding sources and alliances of those waging a BDS fight (or other anti-Israel campaign) at a particular institution. But this search for a bigger picture can often lead to missing practical matters that can be of more immediate use. At Berkeley (to site one example), the Students for Justice in Palestine organization was co-opting members of one of the major student political parties (CALSERV) and trying to gain enough support among the other political parties to win a student government divestment vote. Thus the battle line was drawn specifically at swinging a few key non-CALSERV Senators to not override the Senate President’s veto of the bill. Other activity (lobbying the administration, attending public hearings, leafleting the student body, etc.) had its place, but all choices needed to be made in light of the one overriding goal that would lead to a win. When two armies meet on the battlefield, the ideologies of each force are less relevant than their size, organization, morale, leadership, relevant alliances (i.e., people who will really come to their aid, rather than just pat them on the back after a win or loss), logistics (such as access to supplies/resources) and the terrain of the battlefield. For the sake of winning a BDS battle (or any similar engagement), we need to make sure our own political passions do not get in the way of understanding all of these concrete matters as we make our own battle plans. 2. We’re in it for the long haul, so let’s enjoy ourselves


It’s been said that there is nothing Israel can do to end the Middle East conflict. While it may be psychologically comforting to think that peace is something that can be brought about by Israel or its supporters, fundamentally peace will only arrive when those who have declared war on Israel for decades decide that the war is over. The corollary for we supporters of Israel is that we have no control over when the battle over de-legitimize of the Jewish state will end. It’s the BDSers who can say when BDS is over, not us, so we have to plan to be in this fight for the foreseeable future (possibly for the rest of our lives). This can be a depressing prospect, unless we change our own mindset to welcome battle (especially battles that we are likely to win). I’ve gotten involved with the fight against BDS for a lot of reasons, and as distasteful as I find any individual fight, I must admit that I’ve gotten a bit hooked on seeing BDS get its ass kicked again and again across the country (and even around the world). As I’ve been documenting for years, fundamentally BDS is a loser so if you going to find yourself a reluctant soldier in the fight against it, best to become a “happy warrior” who relishes battle, especially against a foe who can’t seem to recognize the weakness of their own tactical choices (just as they can’t recognize the moral bankruptcy of their political positions). 3. Focus only on tactics that work There are a number of political activities that make us feel good, but may not actually have any impact. While I rail against the fantasy politics of the other side (i.e., their substitution of self-inflating grandstanding for actual practical politics), it needs to be pointed out that our side also makes choices that are more about getting something off our chest than winning a particular fight. Given how emotionally charged BDS battles can be, this is an understandable reaction, but one which should be avoided since fantasy politics is fantasy politics, whichever side is engaged in it and should not be seen as a substitute for genuine action. 4. Focus only on people who work There’s an ongoing debate over whether we’re better off trying to convince 100 people that they should take up our cause, vs. finding just ten people who are already engaged and cultivating them. My preference is the latter. As much as I’d love it if an argument or presentation I make could inspire an unengaged person to become engaged, it’s been my experience that people come to activism on their own, usually after encountering the ugly face of Israel’s haters through exposure to a BDS campaign or something similar. Better to find these newly self-energized activists and build them into your team, rather than try to convince people who haven’t caught “the bug” that it’s in their interest to become happy warriors. 5. Stop keeping our victories to ourselves

When the Davis Food Co-op unanimously rejected a boycott based on sound principles that would resonate with any similar institution in the country, news of that decision made it to a dozen Web sites and less than 100 blogs (half of which simply reposted the same story on another news site or blog). In contrast, when the Berkeley Student Senate took its meaningless, symbolic vote on divestment, the story was in a thousand different places within 24 hours. Communicating our story (especially online) is one area where we are far, far behind our adversaries which is why Berkeley became an international story, while news of Davis (and the hundred other victories we’ve achieved in the BDS wars) rarely make it past this web site. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people comment on how a true boycott of Israel would require the boycotters to throw out their computers and cell phones. Fair enough, but it would be far preferable if our side started using those devices to spread our stories half as effectively as the other side spreads theirs. 6. It’s not just about us The overwhelming defeats of BDS have not come about just because rank and file Presbyterians (or whoever rejects divestment next) are closet Zionists. Rather, they are people of good sense who understand that while solving the Middle East crisis may be important, it’s not required that they trash their own organization or community in order to take a stand on this issue. What this means is that when we cast our arguments against BDS (or some other form of de-legitimization) to a third party (such as a university or church), we need to think beyond Jews, Arabs, and the Middle East conflict itself. The aforementioned Davis Co-op decision was based on the organization understanding that a boycott was bad for the Coop, not the Jewish community. Never lose site of the fact that these battles often involve other people and organizations with their own needs and agendas. As you formulate your battle plans, taking these needs into account can determine whether these groups become your allies or your adversaries. As the academic year winds to a close with BDS continuing its uninterrupted record of zero victories and Avogadro’s Number losses, we must never lose site of the fact that peace will come about only when those who have made war against the Jewish state the prime focus of their lives realize that no matter what they do, we will be there, sword in hand with joy in our hearts, making sure they lose once again.



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