Brian writes: As with Parts 1 & 2, anyone reading this article is free to repost it in whole or part; you are merely requested to note where it comes from (this website), where it was first published (the magazine of Northwood United Synagogue, England, known as “NU?”), and that I am the author.
The clouds we see looming over us and Israel contain sometimes surprising silver linings: late last year (reported in The Times of London of 7 November, 2015, and also on this blog), the Cour de Cassation (France’s Supreme Court) ruled that, according to the paper,
“[a] global campaign to boycott Israeli products has been judged to be illegal and antisemitic”.
Of course, the BDS movement immediately cried foul: this infringed their freedom, free speech, and all sorts of rights that they would deny to others. Never mind the freedom and free speech of those boycotted. And, of course, at the same time, the awful MP Gerald Kaufman made his appalling comments, using a classic antisemitic trope: Jews and money. The only good thing to come out of his antisemitism (for me, at least) was the pleasantly surprising response of our new Labour MP to our email: she agreed that his behaviour was bad and promised to invite him along to the next meeting of the All Party Group on Antisemitism, the next time it met. This is apparently open to the public, most times it meets. I have asked her for an invitation to the meeting this April that will discuss the definition of antisemitism, and even suggested an expert whom they might call on this topic. I have been promised such an invitation, and I will report back here on it.
While still here, it is important to report that BICOM (the British-Israel Communications & Research Centre) commissioned a poll on British attitudes to Israel and BDS and found that, as I have argued in the earlier articles, most Brits are indifferent to that part of the Middle East that most concerns us. YouGov, a UK polling organisation, got a similar result from their poll.
As I wrote in Part 2, what is demanded of us (by ourselves) gets harder. We have rewritten our grocery lists, we have embarked on a campaign of bothering our politicians and we have developed the need for new glasses because of the time we have spent in front of our computer screens.
Thus, it follows that the next question is what to do with the information so gained? At one level, we equip ourselves to confront the nay-sayers: it didn’t take long for the on-line papers mentioned above to start correcting the misinformation being generated by the conventional media as to what was happening during Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, particularly concerning just who the casualties were (at least half of whom were, in fact, men of military age and probably Hamas activists), and what the use of “human shields” actually means in terms of actual and real civilian injuries and deaths.
On two occasions during that time we found ourselves confronted, in social situations, with those critical (to put it mildly) of Israel’s actions in defending itself and its citizens. On the first occasion, while we didn’t raise the issue, those more critical than us actually moderated their statements in front of our eyes. In the second case, the critics actually backed off, with a statement along the lines of “well, we’re never going to agree…” and they changed the subject.
The worst-case scenario is one like the situation involving the French Ambassador to the UK and his comment, over dinner, that Israel was “that shitty little country”. We all like to think that we would have had the courage to stand up, throw our serviettes into the soup, toss off several sentences of deathless rejoinder and stalk majestically from the room, leaving everyone speechless. If only we actually could! Hopefully, we will never actually come across such a situation. But, at the very least, reading some of the above sources will equip us to be ready to respond, however inadequately, to views we find not just unacceptable, but actually offensive. However, unlikely though it is, it can happen: I persuaded a friend (at a cost to our friendship, sadly) that Israel is not an “apartheid state”, either in law or reason. After all, if the last “apartheid President”, F.W. De Klerk, can argue that this is the case, who are we to disagree?
It is possible to go further should one have the time and the desire (and energy – and it does take energy) to do so. I started in this area on retiring by becoming a “founding commenter” on a website established to fight the academic boycott of Israeli universities, Engage Online. By commenting there and getting into arguments with nay-sayers (and sometimes with comrades), I kept returning to the site (and probably most of the readers of this article will have the skills to both comment and write articles, should they so wish). In turn, this meant that I noticed that some commenters left links (usually their names highlighted in blue) which led back to their own websites. Which is how I found my way here to Anne’s Opinions, where she is kind enough to post some of my offerings, as I do to Simply Jews, run by Snoopy the Goon and his good friend Gideon Swort (the former an ex-Soviet Jew, the latter a Brit, both now living in Israel), and to Richard Millet’s blog – an incredibly brave Brit who goes to the opposition’s meetings and films and records them. He even asks questions likely to get him physically attacked. You should also look out for Daphne Anson, a pro-Israeli Aussie blog. Similar sites can be found in abundance on the internet.
While talking about how to fight BDS, attention should be given to such as the following from Middle East Forum (another website for your list!) on how anti-Israel resolutions were defeated. This details how an attempted boycott resolution to an (American) academic association was defeated. Yet again, this is merely one example of “how to do it”.
We are not as alone as we might sometimes fear.
I would like to finish by suggesting three books which I have found most useful in focusing arguments: Alan Dershowitz “The Case for Israel”. He starts with the most common anti-Israel questions and provides detailed answers (I even know of someone who has two copies: one in the office and one at home, for ready reference) Then there are two books by the former “new” Israeli historian, Benny Morris (he was born in the UK and writes in excellent English). The first is “1948: The History of the First Arab-Israeli War” – in fact, he starts in 1879, with the First Aliyah, and his book is heavily sourced. He actually reverses his earlier position and argues that the “refugee” situation was created as much by the Arab nations as by anything else, and we should not forget the natural inclination of unarmed civilians on hearing gunfire getting closer: to flee. The second is “One State: Two States” and is as the title suggests. I wrote a review at Engage Online for those deciding whether to buy the book or not: I’m biased, but I think they are all well worth reading.
Having said all this, it appears that for all their efforts, the anti-Zionists have had little practical effect. According to this article from The Times of Israel, the Israeli economy thrives. If so, this is wonderful news, and suggests that enlightened self-interest will win out more often than not: remember, it is almost certain that most people in the West are indifferent to the issues, being concerned only in what is good for them. Still, this means that we need to continue to push for sense and rationality to prevail. Indeed, it may well be that passing a resolution to prove to their political allies that they are just as politically correct as them may be all they wish to do. Since the NUS Executive passed a BDS resolution (as noted in Part 2 of this series), nothing – as far as the sources, on- and off-line, available to me are concerned – has happened. Perhaps, like President Obama, they believe that just stating a policy means that it will happen…just like that! May they long go on believing that.
Update: a late addition that came in via the Algemeiner, written by Prof. Andrew Pessin, aka the Unabashed Zionist: BDS suffers setbacks in 3 US campuses in a single week!
Over the past week, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel has suffered setbacks on three major American campuses: Vassar College, Northeastern University and the University of Indianapolis.
To summarise, the task we face of opposing BDS appears, to say the least, difficult and unrewarding. But, given that most Brits are indifferent to the issues, this also means that they may be recruited on the side of justice and freedom. We must never forget that Israel is the one genuine parliamentary democracy in the region; it is the only one in which Jews, Muslims, Christians and Bahais can freely practice their faiths, as well as one in which the secular can practice their non-faith; the only one in which gays and lesbians have genuine equality as do women as a group; the only one in which the route to higher education and all it brings is open to all, irrespective of ethnicity and religion, or the lack thereof.
For that alone it is worth defending. That Israel is also not the demon practitioner of those breaches of human rights the BDS proponents constantly scream about is also a worthy reason for us spending time bringing reason to the world.
After all, it’s what we Jews have been doing for three millennia: holding up a candle of light and reason to the darkness outside.
Brian, thank you for an excellent round-up, both of #BDSFails and also of further ways for us to fight BDS.
Besides the websites you mentioned, I can’t let mention of Legal Insurrection pass by. Prof. Jacobson and his team have been at the forefront of fighting campus BDS for a long while and have been very successful on several occasions.
In addition, since you mentioned an article by Andrew Pessin, there was another article by Pessin a day earlier in which he takes great schadenfreude in a report showing growing division within the anti-Israel campus movement:
Perhaps the most important point in the “Fall 2015 Campus Trends Report,” produced by Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), is that there are signs of growing internal fractures within the anti-Israel camp.
In a section called “Divisions in the Anti-Israel Movement,” for example, the report observes that “a growing minority of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) activists identified divestment as a distraction,” and “disputed the effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.” Indeed, not a single university has heeded the BDS call and actually divested, even where its student government passed a BDS resolution, and a growing number of states and even the federal government have, in recent months, been passing anti-BDS legislation.
And here is a very interesting piece of good news which has flown completely below the radar (emphases are added):
One other piece of good news in the report, and somewhat surprising, is that despite what the media perhaps suggest, pro-Israel activity on campus actually outruns anti-Israel activity, and by a significant margin.
In the past two calendar years, for example, the report documents 1,408 total anti-Israel events across 159 campuses (in 2014) and 162 campuses (in 2015), while there were 3,388 pro-Israel events across 163 campuses (in 2014) and 193 campuses (in 2015). Focusing just on campus lectures and speakers, in those same two years, campuses hosted 435 anti-Israel speakers, while hosting 796 pro-Israel speakers.
Added to all this relatively good news, I would also remind you all of the various #BDSFails that I have documented in my blog, which all go to prove Brian’s point that Israel is not nearly as isolated as the haters would have us believe, and also, of course, that BDS is in effect a failing enterprise. Because of that they resort to “noise-making” and disruption of Israel-supporting events, rather than actual boycotts.
Before I conclude, I would like to inform you of a brilliant new website (h/t MP) to help us in fighting BDS. I’m talking of The BDS Guide and I’m sure you will all find it very useful. I love the snarky way it “talks” to you, advising the BDS-supporting reader to give up their Facebook, Google etc. because they were partly designed by Israelis. There is a cute quiz to test your BDS knowledge, a very useful list of Israeli products – which of course we are meant to Buycott, not boycott. There is an ongoing blog and news items etc. Read it, bookmark it and spread the word!