I was a student activist in the early 1970’s when I was at Northwestern University. I could not be considered a student radical, but being caught up in the zeitgeist, I mixed with that type often enough to discern certain traits among some of them that convinced me not to go any further in that direction. Among these traits were a pack mentality, a willingness to play fast and loose with facts, and a belief that the ends justify the means. Some were just self-righteous and overzealous; other were angry, frustrated and somewhat neurotic people, what we called a little “messed up.” Irrespective, they clung to their cause, ending the war with North Vietnam, and they were certain of their own virtue.
Then there was me and the others, the students who supported these more radical leaders and, more or less, bought into their version of events. Their impassioned pronouncements in meetings and at demonstrations were impressive to say the least and provided us, the masses, with the motivation to stand behind them, to be the numbers in the crowd.
It didn’t take me too long to get turned off to the leaders, particularly when I became aware of their use of flawed statistics and allegations that turned out to best apocryphal and sometimes outright lies.
I was reminded of this period in my life when I read an opinion piece published in the June 7 Jerusalem Post Magazine by Marc Goldberg entitled BDS Uncovered http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Opinion/BDS-uncovered-315715. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is driven by a relatively small coterie of ideologues who, reminiscent of the hard core anti-Vietnam War radicals, demonstrate no interest in actual historical or contemporary facts. Rather, they resort to false and inaccurate statements, bolstered by hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric the purpose of which is to capture the hearts and minds of well-intentioned but mostly clueless people.
For example, Goldberg quotes journalist Ali Abunimah from the Guardian’s op-ed section “Comment is Free.” This British-based leader of the BDS campaign writes: “Palestinians are an occupied, colonized people, dispossessed at the hands of one of the most powerful militaries on earth.” Powerful, dramatic, and distressing words, no doubt. Irrespective of its inaccuracy, such language is first and foremost intended to not merely tear, but to rip, at the heartstrings of good-intentioned readers who hopefully know little of the history of the Middle-East and the complex succession of events that constitute the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And throw into the mix for good measure the liberal use of the words “apartheid” and “fascism.” Essentially, as a tactic to gain adherents Israel’s dedicated detractors resort to the basest name calling. However, we know from labeling theory that when used consistently over time tags stick to the referent object, irrespective of the wrongness of their fit. This is similar to the “big lie,” a la Hitler, which eventually finds acceptance after being endlessly reiterated.
Reminiscent of other Nazi tactics and the Arab boycott of Israeli goods that actually began in pre-state Palestine of 1922, current BDS efforts seek both to delegitimize Israel and hurt her economy. It is questionable how many citizens of Western countries are even aware of these efforts yet alone support them. But it is a strong fact that BDS has not made the slightest dent in Israel’s economy. Furthermore, I am not aware of any Israeli company, whether situated within or beyond the 1949 armistice lines, which has suffered significant economic loss, yet alone has been broken and had to declare bankruptcy, due to BDS.
As Goldberg points out, the BDS campaign draws up and is dependent upon misperceptions to make its arguments work. This is not only unethical, but sad. It is sad because its leaders target the naiveté of many good people. For example, the purposeful and calculated use of the term “colonization” as a reference to Jewish life in Judea and Samaria conjures up, what, British tobacco plantations in 18th and 19th century West Indies? Surely such imagery causes many to wince. But this language is as obfuscating as it is absurd. Ironically, tens of thousands of Palestinian workers employed by manufacturers in companies situated in Judea and Samaria enjoy higher wages and better working conditions than had they worked for local Palestinian companies. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl85AL1l0H0&sns=em as well as
Were the BDS campaign to succeed, tens of thousands of Palestinians would find themselves without employment and the Palestinian Authority’s economy would collapse.
The passage of time has shown that those who protested America’s war in Vietnam were on the right side of history. I don’t believe that the same will be said of the organizers and supporters of the BDS campaign. The latter effort is wrong and misplaced. And the most effective way to demonstrate this is for overseas visitors to come and see for themselves how Israeli industry in Judea and Samaria is good for both Jews and Palestinians. Not only does it make possible the feeding and clothing of hundreds of thousands from both communities, but it constitutes a common arena in which Jews and Arabs come into extensive daily contact with one another. The peace has not yet come, but perhaps this endeavor is a foreshadowing.