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May 18, 2016 10:48 am

Using the Language of War Makes Battling BDS Clearer

avatar by Jon Haber

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Irish Protest Against Israeli Bombings. Photo: Wikipedia

An Irish protest against Israel. Photo: Wikipedia.

Complex and contradictory language surrounds our conversations regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and how to stop it. “Delegitimization,” “antisemitism,” “hypocrisy” and “misguided” are all words used repeatedly by BDS critics, just as “human rights,” “international law” and “free speech” are phrases we can count on hearing from proponents of boycott and divestment activity.

Having dealt with BDS campaigns targeting Israel since 2004, when the movement (simply called “divestment” back then) hit my hometown of Somerville, MA, I’d like to propose a different vocabulary – one derived from warfare – that can help us better understand what we’re dealing with when battling BDS, and how to most effectively win those battles.

All but the most ardent foes of the Jewish state would agree that Israel has been a nation at war since before its birth, with the years 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 marking specific hot clashes between conventional armies, with other forms of warfare (pogroms, terror, economic blockade) beginning years before the state was founded and continuing ever since.

Propaganda has played a role in warfare since conflict moved beyond grunting pre-humans throwing rocks at one another. And the military purposes of campaigns like BDS are the same we’ve seen in other propaganda efforts mounted throughout recorded history, including:

  • Maximizing the military options of your allies while minimizing those of your adversary
  • Making your opponent seem so vile that any action taken against it is justified

There is always a lot of teeth-gnashing regarding the hypocrisy of Israel’s critics who remain silent while Hamas rearms and digs terror tunnels in preparation for their next promised conflict, yet roar to life the minute the rulers of Gaza trigger that fight and Israel is forced to shoot back. But when we accuse such “End-the-War” marchers of hypocrisy, we are implicitly accepting their self-characterization as otherwise noble “peace activists”— and merely accusing them of betraying it.

The truth, in fact, is much darker.

If you recognize that those “peace marches” are actually designed to limit the military options of one side in the conflict (by raising the political price of Israel taking decisive military action), then you will realize participants in those marches are, in fact, not hypocrites at all — but sincerely fulfilling their actually military function.

The fact that they try to disguise their military role behind a vocabulary of peace, justice and human rights is certainly worthy of attack, since they are no more “peace-makers” than would be a crate of hand grenades. But shaking one’s fist at Israel’s opponents for using these sorts of tactics makes as much sense as criticizing an enemy’s cavalry for using horses, or damning the other side’s tank brigade for not firing on its own troops.

While the world has undergone stupendous technological change over the centuries, the fundamentals of warfare – especially the human nature that drives and propels it – remain stunningly constant. War is also always fought between one side and an opponent. Either side might consist of multiple parts, each with their own goals (and thus their own preferred strategies and tactics). But an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of two opposing sides is the starting point for the kind of analysis that should precede any engagement.

Conflicts also have to take place somewhere, which is why victory tends to go to the side that best understands the terrain of battle, whether that terrain be physical, political or psychological. Those uncomfortable with the use of words such as “enemy” and “conflict” are free to treat my use of this language as a metaphor to help make that which might seem confusing clearer. But nothing forces one to embrace concrete reality vs. murky abstraction better than seeing the world through the lens of war.

And the first step towards winning any conflict is understanding the conflict itself precisely.

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  • BDS is the sad result of three generations of intermarriage and assimilation in the US. When huge percentages of our people have no real connection to either their own religion or their cultural history, this sort of sloppy moral relativism is the result. Elliot Abrams’ excellent essay and it’s responses over at Mosaic say it better than I can. It isn’t good.

  • Nick

    These BDS guys are two cans short of a six pack. Lets see, If they support HAMAS then, and almost directly, are supporting ISIS and if they support FATAH… well Abbas guys are improving relations with Assad, the butcher of Syria. Boy, these BDS guys are really stupid. Bet I could sell them a farm in the sky with little effort. Some money to be made.

  • Herbert Friedman

    The first thing is to call antisemitism “antisemitism.”

  • Jonas

    B-D-S stands for Blood Death Satanic

  • Walter

    BDS is a front group for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which, by its own standards, seeks to undermine all non-Muslim civilizations. This means that BDS is an enemy of western civilization and not just of Israel or the Israeli “occupation”. The MB regards Israel as one of the few elements in the West that has been willing to resist Muslim encroachment and thus has targeted it for special attack. This is why other enemies of Western civilization, like much of the self-styled “progressive” Left advocate for BDS and attack Israel. What is really needed in the west is a spiritual re-awakening that recognizes that Western civilization has done much for the people of the planet.

  • Dave

    Right on! BDS is an arm of the military conflict against Israel, with the aim of destroying it.

  • Robert Davis

    Excellent analysis and I agree with the author : Jews have not been able so far to confront bds and far left and lefwing organisations and governments such as those of France and other minor importantance such as sweden, irish, spanish or belgian antoisemite governments. We must confront them with a WAR language to show them we know what they are up to, they are waging war against Israel and Jews and we can retaliate with war and a war language. The word “peace” is used by these wr mongers to say they want Israel’s territory in order to weaken it so that they arab allies can prevail and destroy Israel. We must show themwe understand their strategy and can counter it. Accepting the word “peace” at its “face value” aqnd negociate shows wde did not understand what they are up to and we are losing this war which can have conséquences on the real political war.

  • Flicka

    BDS = Bowel Disease Syndromists and as such deserve a good hard flush, as in toilet.

  • nat cheiman

    BDS will be short lived . In the coming months countries will see the problem clearly

  • enufizenuf

    Friends of Israel should be using more than the language of war against the BDS movement.

  • NadavKatz

    The BDS is nothing short of a front organization, an amalgam of classic anti-Semites; “progressive” anti-Jewish racists and 7th-century-based Islamists.

    The goal of this organization is to demonize the State of Israel and the People of Israel, i.e. the Jewish people; to de-legitimize both; and, to seek the very demise of each.

    BDS is the face of 21st-century-model of Anti-Semitism!!

    • Arlene Bearman

      I agree BDS is based in anti-semitism and is used as a propaganda tool as part of a warfare agains Jews and Israel. My question is how do you successfully counter it and reduce its impact value on the opinions of students, politicos, religious and government leaders etc?