The BDS Playbook
Since this series is dedicated to how to fight the BDS propaganda element of the wider war against the Jewish state, it’s time to take a closer look at the specific weapons and techniques used by the enemy in order to more effectively counter (and counter-attack) them.
As you read these over, never lose sight of the fact that BDS is a tactic in service of a wider strategic aim: the boycotters’ self-named “Apartheid Strategy,” designed to brand Israel as the inheritor of the legacy of South Africa’s racist and now-defunct apartheid system, in order to make the Jewish state’s demise (their ultimate goal) seem like an act of virtue.
With that fact top of mind, here is the BDS playbook:
- Since the “Israel = apartheid” message would have no impact if it were issued by organizations already known for their anti-Israel stance, it is vital that condemnations of the Jewish state be presented as beliefs of large, well-known and respected institutions. This is why BDS targets established civic groups such as colleges and universities, Mainline Protestant churches, municipalities, food cooperatives and similar organizations. In fact, leveraging the brand of well-known institutions is so vital to the BDS project that the boycotters frequently resort to fraud in order to get their words to come out of someone else’s mouth.
- Institutions targeted by the BDSers are almost exclusively politically progressive in nature. Partly, this is due to the fact that progressive institutions like the Mainline churches are particularly vulnerable to appeals made in terms of human rights and social justice, especially if the knowledge of members listening to such appeals is limited with regard to Middle East realities. But this phenomenon also reflects an important secondary goal of the anti-Israel movement: to colonize the Left end of the political spectrum by condemning any divergence from their anti-Israel agenda as heresy which will get you branded as a “PEP”: Progressive in Everything but Palestine.
- Ends always justify means when it comes to the BDSers getting a major institution on their side, with those means including use of truncated, distorted or outright false information while shutting down member access to alternative points of view. Such a “by any means necessary” approach also includes moral blackmail, stacking decision-making bodies with BDS supporters, colluding behind-closed doors to get boycott and divestment measures passed before anyone knows they are even being discussed, or (when all else fails) fraudulently claiming support when none exists.
- During debate, the pro-BDS side relies almost entirely on emotional arguments. While such arguments occasionally ape the form of reasoned debate, the bulk of any BDS presentation consists of gruesome and context-free images (usually of dead children), claims that those bodies are the result of Israel and Israel alone, and demands that anyone who does not do what the boycotters say has the blood of those children on their hands. Such arguments, targeted at the gut rather than the head or heart, are designed to shut down thinking and give decision-makers within targeted organizations the impression that giving in to boycott and divestment demands is their only moral choice.
- Despite the degree to which BDS advocates count on other people’s empathetic reaction to human suffering, the boycotters themselves possess no such empathy. This is why it is so easy for them to ignore or slough off demands that they respond to images or descriptions of suffering Israelis, or Palestinians and other Arabs whose suffering cannot be laid at the foot of the Jewish state. There is a clinical term for an individual whose lack of empathy for others makes them particularly effective at emotional manipulation: sociopath. And it is vital to understand how much the manipulative power of BDS rests on their representing that rare and dangerous phenomenon: the sociopathic political movement.
- This lack of genuine sympathy with others makes it easy for the boycotters to bring their BDS resolutions before organizations again and again and again, no matter how many times they are rejected and no matter what harm they cause others by dragging the Middle East conflict into other people’s civic life. This is because, for the boycotters, targeted civic groups are not entities made up of real people with their own challenges and needs. Rather, such groups exist for the sole purpose of passing their anti-Israel resolutions.
- Such relentlessness is also stoked by the fact that the BDS crowd considers it a victory if they can subject a group like a university Student Senate to hours and hours of anti-Israel invective, hoping that – even if they lose the vote – their steady drip of bile will eventually convince the public that Israel must be a pretty horrible place if people are saying so many horrible things about it.
An agenda built around poisoning the minds of the public is one of the reasons BDS advocates can claim that even if they lose a battle (like a student government vote) they are still winning a longer war, an argument our side often accepts (for better or worse).
But also remember that a political movement must be able to demonstrate actual success, something that’s been in short supply if you consider how Israel’s economy has boomed during the same decade and a half the boycotters have worked tirelessly to bring it to its knees. Such an empty record makes BDS reliant on creating the image (or, more accurately, the illusion) of momentum, and a political project that relies on fantasy is always going to be vulnerable to those who choose strategies and tactics based on reality.