Developing a Strategy Against BDS
While those fortunate enough to have served in the armed forces will have had first-hand experience viewing problems through a military lens, the military mindset is a useful tool available to anyone dealing with conflict, especially quasi-military conflicts like the propaganda war waged against Israel and its supporters.
Absent such a lens, it is easy to look at specific instances of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign (or other anti-Israel attacks) as isolated problems, often leading to ad hoc (frequently emotional) responses of varying levels of effectiveness. But once you realize that BDS is simply a tactic to further the propagandists’ broader “Apartheid Strategy,” all in the service of the ultimate goal of seeing the Jewish state destroyed, it becomes clear that anything done to thwart that ultimate goal is part of the war against BDS.
This means all efforts to strengthen the Jewish state militarily, economically and diplomatically should be seen as vital components of our response to the BDS threat. Israelis themselves obviously have front-line duties in all of these areas, but diaspora Jews and other Israel supporters have ample options for supporting them either directly or indirectly (through investment or continued support for a strong US-Israel alliance, for example).
Moving down the line, the most immediate direct military threat posed by anti-Israel propagandists is the role they play whenever a shooting war begins between Israel and Hamas in the South or Hezbollah in the North. Nothing demonstrates the true nature of BDS more than their indifference to (if not outright support for) the arming of those militant groups during the periods between shooting wars (including now), coupled with the explosive protests they instigate the moment Israel shoots back.
It’s easy to become frustrated – if not enraged – by the boycotter’s hypocrisy, especially when it is presented in the language of peace, justice and progress. But getting past this understandable emotional response allows us to see they are simply playing the role propagandists have always played in war: maximizing the options of their allies while minimizing those of their enemies.
Neutralizing this threat means planning in advance to counter the most violent aspects of it by, for example, working with law enforcement to protect Jewish institutions from harm in the event of violent protests, such as those that broke out in France during the last Gaza war. In addition to fulfilling the community’s responsibility to safeguarding fellow Jews, publicizing the need to do so can help us counter the boycotters’ self-declared image as “peace activists.”
That image can be further eroded in advance (i.e., now) through communications that stress the contrast between the boycotters’ current indifference to Hamas war preparation vs. their claimed anti-war credentials once shooting goes in two directions. Portraying BDS as a weapon system comparable to a piece of artillery or a crate of hand grenades, in addition to being a novel line of attack that generates vivid imagery, also helps to undermine their own self-characterization as non-violent peace activists carrying on the legacy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
This is an example of a storyline that can serve as an element of our own counter-propaganda campaign, one that leverages previously described tools of rhetoric that have demonstrated their effectiveness for centuries. And even if it’s close to impossible to get the entire Jewish community onto the same page vis-à-vis messaging, at the very least we can all be using these tools to make our chosen messaging resonate with the audiences we are trying to reach.
With regard to fighting against specific BDS tactics, the core commandment of “Know your enemy” is particularly simple, since the forces of BDS are extremely predictable. They will target progressive institutions and try to get them to pass some kind of boycott or divestment resolution (no matter how trivial) which can then be passed off as representing the view of every man, woman and child in the organization. They will use any means necessary to accomplish this goal (from backroom deals to moral blackmail) with their entire campaign couched in a progressive vocabulary.
On campuses, they will try to ram more divestment resolutions through student government, if only to give themselves the opportunity to rail against the Jewish state before a captive audience for hours on end. And outside such official venues, we can expect the same speakers, the same movies, the same Apartheid Walls and hummus boycotts, the same shout-downs of Israelis and harassment of pro-Israel students that have become part BDS’s familiar repertoire over the last decade.
Knowing this, we can set about making sure our side has forces on the ground ready to counter such threats. In a perfect world, these forces would outnumber and overwhelm the enemy. Given that this best-case scenario will be rare, however, history fortunately demonstrates that smaller forces can defeat larger ones (with the important caveat that you can’t win a battle with a force of zero).
If we make the conservative assumption that most of the BDS fights we’ll experience will be against forces as large or larger than our own, we need to make sure our troops are trained to do more than just respond knowledgably to the Israel haters’ lies and accusations. While knowledge of Jewish and Middle East history is vital, we need to make sure they are also trained in alliance formation, political rhetoric and all the other methods of strategic thinking I have been writing about in this series over the last several months.
Given that BDS most resembles an ongoing set of skirmishes, rather than a full-scale set-piece battle, our tactics should be based on surprise and maneuver, utilizing feints and multi-layered tactics that can catch our enemy off guard and take advantage of their weaknesses, such as predictability, fanaticism, institutional instability and a tendency to overreach.
You will notice that this list does not include a recommended theme or overarching narrative around which all our campaigning should be based. Such powerful themes exist, and next time I’d like to introduce one of the best, as well as explain why counting on such a theme to win the day for us might not be our best strategic move.