In the Fight Against BDS, Who Are We?
As tough as it is during any conflict to understand clearly the goals, strategy and tactics of an opponent, it is much harder to perform a similar analysis of one’s own side.
Hard-headed understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses is difficult enough for military planners, which is why so many wars are fought by those who don’t know what their goals are, much less how to accomplish them. Given that “our side” in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) wars is led by men and women steeped in the language of community-building and cooperation, is it any wonder, then, that our response to BDS provocations seems so conflicted and confused?
The irony is that the Jewish community (as well as the allies with whom we battle the anti-Israel campaigns) agree on goals that unite all pro-Israel activists from the meekest to the most aggressive.
And what are those goals? Simply put, we all desire for the Jewish state to live in peace and “normalcy,” a right automatically afforded to all other peoples in all other states in the world. In addition, we would like this normalcy to extend to Jews living outside of Israel, ending the historic “de-normal” status of the Jewish people as objects of hatred and violence.
One person might decide such goals are totally within reach, while another declares them to be utterly impossible. Further analysis might compare how much Jews can do to accomplish these goals vs. how much is beyond our control. But if you asked the most aggressive pro-Israel combatant if an Israel truly at peace and a Jewish people truly safe would satisfy them, they are just as likely to say “yes” as would the most conflict-averse Jewish communal leader.
While there remains a lot to say about our shared (if often unstated) common goals, for purposes of this analysis, the most important thing to understand about them is that our goals are not militant. Unlike our opponents in the BDS wars who ultimately seek a defeat of their enemies leading to “Palestine from the river to the sea,” we do not seek destruction of anyone (Palestinian, Arab or Muslim), since our goal is to live in peace — which would translate to living in peace alongside other peoples, not to seeing those other peoples defeated or eliminated.
This can help explain why desires (and even attempts) to turn the tables on our enemies and subject Israel’s foes to the same type of propaganda assault they use against the Jewish state never seem to work. Often, such failure is blamed on cowardice or self-delusion on the part of Jewish leaders and activists without the stomach for conflict. But given the analysis you’ve been reading of both sides of the BDS battle lines, why should anyone expect success trying to adopt tactics designed to accomplish someone else’s militant goals in order to accomplish our non-militant ones?
If we were truly committed to seeing our enemies denigrated and destroyed, then “turning the tables” would have to go beyond a Twitter hashtag or midnight campus postering campaign. It would require us to dedicate 100% of our effort year after year after year to making our opponents seem horrifying and worthy of destruction. It would require us to ignore facts and reason in order to further a propaganda message, no matter what the cost. And it would require us to drag friends and neutral third parties into the conflict in order to get condemnations of our enemy to come out of other people’s mouths. Does this sound like a set of tactics someone with non-militant goals could possibly sustain long enough for them to be effective?
At this point, supporters of Israel might despair that all our efforts to fight against BDS are doomed, given the power and focus that militant goals give an adversary. But fear not! For having goals (even non-militant ones) is the most important element in any endeavor, military or otherwise. And while the strategies and tactics we can choose to accomplish our goals are different than those used by our militant opponents, they are no less effective at countering or even defeating an adversary.
Before getting to what those strategies and tactics might be, however, we need to briefly turn away from ourselves and our opponents and begin to perform some realistic analyses of the battlefields on which the BDS wars are being fought.