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August 8, 2016 7:46 am

The Advantage of Surprise in the Battle Against BDS

avatar by Jon Haber

Email a copy of "The Advantage of Surprise in the Battle Against BDS" to a friend
12-foot-tall Pinocchio display at Columbia University, an original response to the annual "Apartheid Wall." Photo: SSI/Facebook.

12-foot-tall Pinocchio display at Columbia University, an original response to the annual “Apartheid Wall.” Photo: SSI/Facebook.

While war is unforgiving to the rash and the timid, nothing is more lethal to an army than being predictable. For if the enemy knows exactly where you’ll be, when you’ll be there, what you’ll have, and what you’ll do, it becomes child’s play either to avoid you if you’re strong, or decimate you if you’re weak.

As noted previously, one of the perpetual debates we have when discussing how to fight against BDS is “going on the offense” vs. “playing defense.” That analysis highlighted that these terms might not mean the same thing in a siege war vs. a direct clash, but for now it’s worth noting how the tactics most often used by advocates of both offensive and defensive strategies suffer from the same fault: predictability.

Attend an “Israel-Apartheid Week” panel discussion or Student Senate divestment debate to watch our side make the same points that have been made at BDS-related debates countless times for years, or read those same points printed out on familiar-sounding 8.5” x 11” photocopied handouts.

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You can decide if arguments about Israel’s legal rights, Israeli victims of terror, the fate of women and homosexuals in the Arab world, the Jewish state’s contribution to medicine and environmental technology, or how you’ll have to give up your cell phone if you want to truly boycott Israel are offensive or defensive in nature. But it’s likely that each of these arguments (whether spoken at the mike or printed on the page) will sound awfully familiar.

So familiar, in fact, that our opponents have a ready store of responses to neutralize such attacks, from ignoring them, to telling us “thanks for the desalination tech, but give us our freedom,” to accusing Israel and its supporters of “pinkwashing,” and so on.

Every good general knows that a head-on clash with an enemy in a fortified position is suicidal, which is why it is best to attack an opponent on his vulnerable flank or – better still – surprise him from the rear. So, are there any examples of situations in which we avoided a frontal collision with our enemies in favor of tactics that caught the foe off-guard?

Last Spring, the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter at Columbia decided to meet the annual Apartheid Week challenge not with fliers and shouts, but with a 12foot high inflatable Pinocchio pitched just yards from the boycotter’s lie-strewn “Apartheid Wall.” Since no one expected an inflatable Pinocchio to suddenly appear, that left the boycotters sputtering and running to “daddy” (i.e., the school administration) to have the offending puppet taken down.

In a perfect world, the folks who came up with this brilliant idea would have determined in advance how to keep Pinocchio flying as long as the wall was standing. But such logistics (a subject for an upcoming posting) should not distract us from the key point that an advantage in battle goes to those who can best pull off a surprise.

That inflatable prop was provided to a local student group by Artists for Israel (A4I), an organization that embodies the principle of always going where the enemy is not. For even as many friends of Israel work themselves into a lather when Roger Waters says something mean about the Jewish state during his 104th birthday concert, A4I is building bridges between Israel and tattoo and graffiti artists one-third to one-quarter the age of the Pink Floyd singer, part of a generation whose response to the aging rocker’s bigoted provocations is simply, “Who’s Roger Waters?”

If you don’t think we can win this war one tattoo artist or rap singer at a time, our side’s recent success getting state governments, and even the federal government, to pass anti-BDS legislation represents an older generation’s ability to win battles by fighting where our side is strong and the enemy is weak (in this case state houses or the US Congress). Regardless of where you stand on this particular tactic, the key takeaway is that we have options beyond ones that have become so routine that they have become useless.

One last example of how our side wins by not playing the role assigned to us comes from Oxford University where, during an umpteenth Oxford Union debate over the Middle East, students were asked to argue over the question of whether “Israel is a rogue state.”

The Oxford Debates were long-ago hijacked by anti-Israel activists committed to legitimizing questions regarding Israel’s right to exist. During such events, everyone lines up along predictable patterns, makes familiar arguments, a vote takes place, and no one remembers the results. In this case, however, American student Gabriel Latner (arguing in support of the assertion that Israel IS a rogue state) brilliantly redefined “rogue” so that it represented an accurate illustration of why Israel is unique among the nations due to its humanitarianism, compassion and positive human-rights record (vs. the non-rogue conventional and ruthless nations which surround her).

Needless to say, Israel’s critics cried foul when faced with a lose-lose choice of either voting down their accusation or voting in favor of Latner’s brilliant redefinition. But in this case there was no “cheating” involved, since the Oxford Union is meant to challenge people, to address a particular issue given the full range of rhetoric tools at the disposal of supporters and opponents of a question. And unlike the many now-forgotten debates over Israel’s perfidy (debates designed to package the same dreary propaganda message in the garb of Oxford robes), this story has lived on to become the stuff of legend, simply because one bold individual decided to surprise the world by not doing exactly what was expected of him.

It might be tempting to say that this simply represents a bit of wordplay that has no meaning in the “real world.” But keep in mind that propaganda campaigns like BDS and efforts made to fight them are all about words and nothing else. Which is why we shall next turn to the subject of language.

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