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July 7, 2016 6:34 am

Playing to Our Strengths Against BDS

avatar by Jon Haber

Email a copy of "Playing to Our Strengths Against BDS" to a friend
A BDS sign. Photo: Twitter

A BDS sign. Photo: Twitter

In reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing sides in the war against Israel, including the BDS propaganda component of that war, it turns out that – at least in the US – the odds seem to favor Israel and its supporters.

This conclusion is largely based on numbers. For there are approximately six million Jews in the US, and while attitudinal survey data can be interpreted in different ways, it’s safe to say that a large majority of the Jewish American population supports or strongly supports Israel and the US-Israel relationship.

If polls aren’t your thing, keep in mind that the existence and continuation of dozens of large Jewish communal organizations, many of whose missions include strengthening the Jewish state and US-Israel ties, is testament to the degree of support Israel maintains with a large proportion of the Jewish American community.

Among the public at large, support for Israel vs. her foes also tends to run between 3:1 and 4:1 in most survey data, reflecting the kind of common-sense wisdom that makes it easy for politicians across the political spectrum to show friendship vs. hostility towards the Jewish state. Finally, given Israel’s leadership in important areas like high-technology, environmental science and bio-tech, new ties are being forged in the business and academic communities at an accelerating pace for reasons having nothing to do with politics.

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Given these assets, why might we feel so helpless when it comes to fighting against what seems like a BDS onslaught?

Part of this has to do with the fact that BDS draws from resources abroad where the numbers, wealth and power of Israel’s opponents far outweigh those of her allies. But another (domestic) explanation has to do with the issue of unified command (or lack thereof) described last time.

In instances where one of the dozens of aforementioned Jewish organizations is given the role of coordinating an important relationship or managing a difficult issue, things have gone quite well. AIPAC, for example, having taken the lead in maintaining support for Israel within the US Congress, has successfully provided a counterweight to hostility that tends to emerge from the Executive branch. People sometimes complain that AIPAC doesn’t use its influence to take on other matters such as the fight against BDS on college campuses, but that just demonstrates the discipline the group is able to maintain when prioritizing their all-important central mission.

In contrast, when it comes to fighting BDS, no one organization has been handed (or earned for themselves) that portfolio, which means responsibility for dealing with the problem tends to fall to different individuals and organizations, often working together in coalition. Such coalitions can be extremely effective, even powerful, but they tend to not be nimble given the need to get many groups with differing opinions and agendas on the same page before plans can be agreed upon and then executed.

Israel’s domestic foes have even bigger problems forming coalitions, given that they represent the same kind of unstable alliances one finds among Israel’s nation-state enemies. But the guerilla tactics that define BDS, which leverage contemporary distributed/network politics, tend to minimize these disadvantages, at least during any one BDS battle where the enemy is able to put aside differences to achieve a specific, time-bound end (such as winning a divestment vote in a student government, or launching a boycott campaign at a local food coop).

Lack of unified command on our side means the response to one of these guerilla-style campaigns can be delayed as pro-Israel individuals and organizations struggle to figure out how to respond and determine who should take point. This delay is compounded further since people on the ground (such as pro-Israel college students or food coop members) are often inexperienced and struggle to determine what to do or whom to turn to, or have to navigate offers of help from people and groups they might know little to nothing about.

The recent string of anti-BDS votes within state governments (best described as the success of the BDS movement in getting sanctions enacted – against them!) represents the community’s success in outflanking our opponents by fighting where we are strong and the opposition weak. Even so, it would be nice to couple this momentum with success on other battlefields, especially college campuses where anti-Israel groups (and sentiment) seem to dominate.

To devise tactics that can confound and defeat our rivals, however, we must first fully understand the weapons the forces of BDS bring to the battlefield, a subject we will turn to next.

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  • Jay Lavine

    Just maybe fighting isn’t always the best way of thinking about it. Approaching a problem in a positive manner often works much better and gains more respect. Being positive doesn’t necessarily mean being one-sided or deceptive in one’s arguments, either. You don’t want to engage in cherry-picking — citing only those things that support your viewpoint and ignoring the rest of the evidence. When your cause is just, honesty and evenhandedness will go a long way in making your point. Besides, it’s the Jewish way.

    Furthermore, it you’re seeking a just peace, you aren’t just pro-Israel. You’re pro-everyone. With a peaceful solution to a problem, we all win and no one loses.

    • Jon

      Unfortunately, one does not always have the choice of making something a fight vs. a polite conversation. When someone is declaring war on you (as Israel’s foes have done with no ambiguity or apology) and part of that war includes a propaganda campaign like BDS that is not interested in normal human conversation or appeals, then not fighting represents an act of denial (and avoidance of what one must do), rather than taking the high road.

      That said, one can fight a political battle while still remaining positive and being honest. To a certain extent, Israel’s continued positive reputation (at least among the American public) is partly the result of not getting into the mud with (or behaving as dishonestly as) the BDS advocates I’ve been describing in this series.

      So I would concur with you that remaining upbeat and not resort to cherry-picking (or lies) is the right way to approach this issue. But pretending that we are not in a fight represents an avoidance of reality most likely to end up in prolonging vs. ending the conflict.

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