For days I have been planning a series of posts on the subject of “BDS,” the anti-Israel boycott/divestment/sanctions “movement.” BDS’s aims include a cultural and academic boycott against Israel, which makes it relatively unique in the history of these types of movements. After figuring out what I wanted to say, and sitting down to start writing, I was struck with the fear that by drawing attention to BDS I would increase its notoriety and inadvertently draw additional followers to the cause. So instead of writing a long take-down of BDS, which I may well do another time, I decided to go meta- and write about writing about BDS, although this approach still increases the notoriety of BDS. Nuts.
BDS has been very slowly gaining traction in the media without gaining actual traction on the ground. Jacob Weisberg recently wrote an essay on the topic in Newsweek. The title provides a nice summary of the content, “Don’t Boycott Israel: The Very Idea is Repellent.” Like many articles opposing BDS he focuses on the uniqueness of the cultural and academic boycotts of Israel, and points out that this approach alienates the very people most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. He does not discuss the impossibility of an effective BDS movement, which is a topic I plan to write about in the future (and touch on below).
Contrary to all forms of logic, the BDS crowd contends that Weisberg’s essay is proof that BDS is working (a step beyond “any press is good press” logic, which does not necessarily imply that a movement is effective yet). If you do a simple Google search of “Weisberg” and “BDS” you will find quite a few links to posts that make this argument. I am sure that some people will say the same about this post. (As a side note, if you Google “BDS” the anti-Israel movement is only one of the top ten hits.)
BDS has had so few triumphs that every extremely minor victory is blown up as “proof” that the movement is gaining steam. I suspect that this phenomenon is the natural psychological coping mechanism of people who have devoted themselves to an ineffective, offensive, and hopeless cause. This movement is planned on computers that run Intel chips (often designed in Israel, and a large employer in Israel) via e-mails that are sent through Cisco Systems routers (also often designed in Israel, and a large employer in Israel) by individuals using Microsoft Office (partially designed in Microsoft Israel’s Research and Development Center).
The cancellation of an Elvis Costello concert, scheduled after the Gaza War, will not cause Israel to withdraw from Gaza (Oh. Wait. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2006). The Costello household itself was not even unanimous in its boycott of Israel– Diana Krall, Costello’s wife, performed in Israel on 4 August. Naïve musicians and other artists being convinced of the “error of their ways” by naïve college kids, professional activists, ex-hippies, and Pat Buchananites, does not a strong movement make. The fact that an artist canceling a concert in Israel for political reasons is rare enough to make the headlines is not a sign of growing support for BDS.
There are no major organizations or universities in the United States that have agreed to the B, the D, or the S of Israel. Some have debated the issue, but anything is debatable if someone debates it—it does not mean that the matter was taken seriously. The BDSers continue to make a fuss about Hampshire College “divesting” from Israel, long after the school itself issued a statement, in the form of a public letter to Alan Dershowitz, saying, “No other college or university should use Hampshire as a precedent for divesting from Israel, since Hampshire has refused to divest from Israel.” Here we see a non-success trumpeted as a great success. The matter has been debated in the English university system for years, but votes on boycotts have repeatedly failed.
So an article or incident that is in favor of BDS is proof that BDS is gaining steam; and an article or incident against BDS proves that it is gaining steam so quickly that the writer or publication is nervous about it. A victory is a victory and a loss is a victory. If the writer calls it anti-Semitic then that is an even greater victory as the writer is “resorting to ad hominem attacks.”
If I do write a long post or series of posts I will be handing a victory to the BDS movement. If, in that post, I write about the anti-Semitism that creeps into the BDS movement then I have handed out a huge victory. But if I am scared into not writing about BDS for fear I will be helping the BDS crazies, then that is certainly a victory for BDS. If I write about writing about BDS, I still haven’t avoided handing a victory to my opponents on this issue. So I must apologize to supporters of Israel for handing yet another victory to this small, inconsequential, but very loud movement.
Postscript #1: The blog “Divest This!” is an excellent source of information about this topic; and Rob Harris recently posted an interesting three-part article titled “The Music World Goes Anti-Israel” to FrontPage Magazine.
Postscript #2: My great thanks to Professor Walter Russell Mead for giving me the opportunity to post to his blog. I also thank the readers of this great blog for putting up with me in his absence; as you all know by now, I am no WRM!!!