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July 24, 2016 2:51 pm

Using Emotion to Battle BDS

avatar by Jon Haber

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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.

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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  • Yale


    There is something else at work here: BDS is centrally-controlled by elements connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. This centralization enables them to keep “on message” in a way that our totally-uncentralized, and often uncoordinated response effort cannot match. Our foot-soldiers, like theirs, cannot work through the psycho-dynamics of what is said and/or done, but theirs have been willing to allow the higher-ups to tell them what to do while ours have not.

    If we really want to defeat BDS, we have to start by getting everyone working from the same page, and then see to it that what is written there will actually work. We cannot continue to have our efforts determined by what enhances the prestige of whatever largely self-appointed leaders happen to be in charge.

  • Reform School

    It is fortunate most BDSers do not hide their intent, because not every one of these BIG BSers has BDIs.

  • Unless we are willing to shame our enemies they will always win the war against us as they are currently doing. So much of their tactical game plan consists of intimidation or simply ignoring the truth because it contradicts their own position. It is only by a) giving them the same respect they give to us and b) making them feel uncomfortable to present their own position that they will begin to lose the battle.

    • Jon

      As mentioned in my piece, there is nothing wrong with a naming-and-shaming strategy per se. But if we want to use that tactic, it is incumbent upon us to describe exactly who will be shamed, what results such shaming will cause, and how it furthers our goals.

      For example, NGO Monitor has accurately determined that certain European governments would like to keep their funding of anti-Israel NGOs a secret. So, in this case, the target (those governments) are highly susceptible to shaming since the public embarrassment that results when such funding is exposed will lead them to stop that funding (which harms our enemies and is thus good for us).

      Shaming BDS advocates by exposing their lies, however, assumes that they are vulnerable to such shaming. But if they’re not (and, given the sociopathic nature of the BDS movement, I would say they aren’t), then such a tactic will not be directly effective on them. Now such exposure could cause the wider public to see BDS advocates in a bad light and thus discount their propaganda (which is a plus). But in this case we need to think through the steps required to turn the wider public against them, not assume that simply exposing their lies is going to do the job.

      Thinking through these steps, building them into a wider plan and executing on that plan successfully represents the difference between effective strategic action vs. simply getting something off our chest.

  • M Dahan

    You spend 11 paragraphs at explaining where anti BDS tactics are woefully wrong and misguided
    And write for barely 3 paragraphs explaining how to redirect one’s efforts to properly combat this BDS plague. Your article offers no solace nor solution to this issue.
    The real solution lies in educating all the ignorant Jewish student body about Israel and the Jewish people’s history

    • Reform School

      “The real solution lies in educating all the ignorant Jewish student body about Israel and the Jewish people’s history.” Cut the kid a break! Were it as easy as you suggest, BDS would enjoy little-to-no support from students born to The Tribe. The unreasonable (but sadly true) fact is that Jewish support for BDS is driven by emotion, not intellect. Developed by behavior psychologists over decades and implemented by hostile professors hired as a condition of large bequests, as long as BDS orators can convince “Jewish Rebels Without A Cause” that Israel is their videogame Evil Oppressor over powerless Arab underdogs, the Jewish Liberal need to Fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way will override all rational facts supporting the opposite conclusion, From Here to Eternity. As a gradualist mass-hypnosis program, BDS victims require intense deprogramming that limited time, funding, resources and anonymity laws do not make very promising.

    • Jon

      Actually, it’s even worse than you describe since this is the 9th entry in this series and I have yet to get into specifics about the tactics we can use to defeat BDS. But this is because tactics, un-moored from strategy, are easy to come up with but rarely successful. Which is why I’m recommending a military framework for thinking about our planning and choices, rather than relying on emotion which (as illustrated in the example used in this piece) can end up ineffective or even counter-productive.

      And I couldn’t agree more that we need to educate the young to not just know about but take great and deserved pride in Israel and their Jewish heritage. But we also need to teach them how to effectively fight a war since that is the situation Israel and the Jewish people have had thrust upon us. It’s not a war we chose, but if we approach things with the right mindset, it is a war we can win.

  • stevenl

    BDS a man made mental disease!