Winning the BDS Wars: Foundations
Approaching the fight against BDS with a military mindset requires (1) letting goals drive our choices of strategy and tactics; (2) starting from an honest evaluation of our own strength and that of our enemies; and (3) letting this honest and objective understanding, rather than emotion, drive our decision-making.
With those principles defining “True North,” we can start to make choices that stand the best chance of defeating those who are using the propaganda tactics of BDS to try to bring an end to the Jewish state.
Given that BDS is just a tactic in service of the broader “Apartheid Strategy” (i.e., a strategy designed to brand Israel as the inheritor of the mantle of Apartheid South Africa), with Israel’s defeat as the ultimate end point, reason dictates that any steps we take to prevent that ultimate end point from being reached would constitute a setback for practitioners of BDS.
Remember that a siege war, like the one Israel has had forced on it since birth, can only end when the besieged city’s walls are breached, or one side outlasts the other. Israel’s military has primary responsibility for preventing breaches, although those efforts are enhanced by keeping the US-Israel alliance strong and building supportive relationships between the IDF and the Diaspora.
Assuming those walls stay intact, Israel’s foes are counting on winning a long game during which terror, economic blockade, and propaganda will cause their opponent’s will to collapse. But remember that we too are playing a long game, hoping that time will sap the strength of the besiegers or cause the internal contradictions associated with their alliance structure to implode. And if you look at the relative strength of the Jewish state (measured in military and economic terms) vs. the chaos consuming her enemies, it might just be that time is on our side vs. our opponents.
These observations translate into the fact that anything done to strengthen Israel militarily, economically and diplomatically represents a victory over the forces of BDS, even if those things aren’t directly related to defeating a specific BDS-inspired campaign. So supporting groups like AIPAC (whose mission is to build strong pro-Israel ties with US political leaders) or even encouraging investment in Israeli startups can be seen as ways of taking the fight to the enemy.
If you doubt this connection, ask yourself what would strengthen Israel more: seeing the 15-25 BDS resolutions likely to come before student governments next year defeated, or the Jewish state becoming an energy exporter? Obviously, it’s the latter, which means that as important as it is to fight those student resolutions (and other BDS activity) with all the strength and creativity we can muster, we should never lose sight of the fact that our long-term goals are to see the enemy’s long-term goals become impossible to reach.
With regard to taking on BDS directly, most of the tactics that will be covered in upcoming entries to this series take into account the likelihood that our forces will be outnumbered during school government battles or other BDS campaigns. Such tactics build on the historic fact that smaller armies have defeated larger ones for centuries, with victory tending to go to those who fight smartest. Even if relative size need not be decisive, however, I’m not aware of any instances where an army of any size was defeated by nothing.
This would indicate that we make it a strategic priority to have forces on the ground, no matter how few in number, in any location where we suspect BDS will become an issue. While establishing a pro-Israel presence on all of America’s 4000 colleges and universities is unrealistic, having boots on the ground at the 100 or so schools with active SJP chapters is much more manageable (and is indeed a priority for many pro-Israel organizations with active student programs).
Now having a presence is not the same as having adequate forces to win every battle. Schools are volatile places where talented activists (on both sides) go on exchange programs or graduate, requiring constant effort to replenish ranks. And even at schools with robust pro-Israel organizations, victory is far from guaranteed. But a nucleus of supporters gives our side something to build off of once trouble arises, which again points to the efficacy of having even one trained (or even just aware) person in every potential trouble-spot.
The job of never going into battle with nothing is made more difficult by the finite size of our ranks, and the fact that the forces of BDS are constantly looking for new institutions into which they can drag their campaigns based partially on where pro-Israel sentiments are non-existent. For example, food co-ops and community radio stations became BDS battlefields during the last 5-6 years, and these new battlefields required our side to scramble to create from scratch a counterforce ready to take on those pushing coops and radio stations to join in boycott campaigns.
This scrambling ultimately led to success (boycotts are all but dead in the co-op movement, for example). But the experience of having to mobilize to fight on unexpected battlefields should cause us to prioritize how to best put people into the field rapidly, before dwelling on what they should do when they get there.