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July 24, 2016 2:51 pm

Using Emotion to Battle BDS

avatar by Jon Haber

A BDS protester.  Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

A BDS protester. Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

Military histories, movies and documentaries tend to focus on tangible elements of warfare: planes and missiles, columns of tanks, masses of soldiers, and their complex deployment and interaction on the battlefield. But all of this hardware tends to distract from a less visible but vital reality: that wars are usually won or lost based not on numbers or weaponry, but on human emotion.

Soldiers overcoming fear in order to fight bravely is an obvious example of the role emotion plays at ground level. Similarly, good generals need to set aside desires and fears in order to make plans based on an objective evaluation of their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of their enemies. Poor generals, in contrast, fall prey to anger in defeat or hubris in victory, causing them to make mistakes that can lead to vulnerability and – usually – disaster.

Great generals not only control their own emotions, but can effectively manipulate the emotions of their opponents. Ulysses S. Grant, for example, understood which of the generals who opposed him (many of whom he knew from military school) were timid or rash and incorporated that knowledge into his battle plans. Similarly, Napoleon was intimate with the psychological makeup of those leading the alliance against him and was able to play off their arrogance and rivalries to his advantage.

The sociopathic nature of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement means that the human beings who participate in that project are similarly vulnerable to excess that can work to our advantage.

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For example, what could have possibly possessed members of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Davis to break into chants of “Allahu Akbar” and claim that “Hamas and Sharia law have taken over US Davis!” after winning a pro-BDS student government vote that long eluded them? Likely, it was the emotional rush of elation that often accompanies victory which, in this case, led some members to drop their masks, turning a story that should have been about victory into one about the fanaticism and excess of BDS supporters on college campuses.

Certain tactics we’ll be exploring will allow us to take advantage of this understanding of the opposition’s emotional makeup. As important as it is to understand how emotion drives our enemies, however, it is even more important to see how it drives our own choices.

Hearing the latest lies and calumnies thrown at the Jewish state, seeing “Apartheid Walls” on a campus quad or getting patted down at fake checkpoints naturally raises emotional hackles among Israel’s supporters on college campuses, just as hearing stories of such activity generates anger and disgust from Israel’s friends elsewhere. A natural tendency when feeling such anger is to lash out, or issue dire warnings about what this kind of hatred portends.

Such emotional responses are both natural and understandable. But absent rational and strategic analysis, the actions we take in response to provocation can do more harm than good.

For instance, years ago, a fervent and committed Italian friend of Israel’s wrote this story warning Israel’s supporters to wake up to the threat BDS posed to the Jewish state. His appeal was passionate, sincere and full of examples that demonstrated progress the BDS movement was making while the rest of us (allegedly) slept — thus the need for his dire cri-de-coeur.

Unfortunately, his source of examples of BDS momentum were taken directly from BDS press releases, which led to this rejoinder that highlighted how most if not all the “victories” he listed were either inaccurate, outdated or false. By the time that response was posted, however, his original piece was shared more than 1,000 times (vs. the 100 or so shares of the corrective response).

It stands to reason that the 1000+ people interested in spreading the original story of triumph but uninterested in the correction were BDS supporters eager to let the world know about their staggering momentum (certified by a friend of Israel, no less). So, looking at results rather than motives, it seems as though a strong opponent of BDS, riding his own emotions, provided valuable ammunition to the enemy, feeding a BDS PR machine eager to reinforce a story line of its own success.

Emotion is similarly at play whenever we try to “turn the tables” on our enemies by trying to utilize their tactics against them (by running events designed to highlight the human rights catastrophe that is the Arab world, for example). “Naming and shaming” is another popular tactic often invoked by Israel’s supporters as a means to “bring the battle to the enemy.”

Now there is nothing wrong with either of these approaches per se. But it is worth determining whether a tactic is being used to push towards a strategic goal vs. getting something off our chest. “Naming and shaming,” for example, has been extremely effective at exposing funding sources for anti-Israel groups, which furthers the strategic goal of making it difficult for our enemies to receive needed funds. But a different campaign to name and shame individuals has led to division among anti-BDS ranks, which might or might not be worth it depending on the strategy behind such a campaign.

There is a simple test we can use to determine if our choice of tactics is based on emotion (such as anger or the need to “do something,” regardless of its effectiveness) vs. strategy which strengthens our side and weakens the other. Specifically, if we can articulate the goals our tactics are meant to achieve and can provide a plausible mechanism whereby those tactics will lead to the results we desire, then we are acting strategically.

In contrast, if our explanation for what we’re doing seems contrived, or includes implausible steps required to lead to effective action, then perhaps we are thinking with our heart (or gut) vs. our heads, potentially making mistakes that will weaken our forces while strengthening our opponents.

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