Saturday, January 23rd | 10 Shevat 5781

September 19, 2019 6:44 am

We Must Fight BDS Lies and Manipulation on Campus

avatar by Melissa Landa


A pro-BDS demonstration. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Over the last few years, thousands of Americans Jewish adolescents who were raised in Zionist households have been taught that Israel is unworthy of their support. And some have been persuaded to believe that if they join the BDS campaign, they will become champions of social justice.

The truth, however, is that these Jewish students have been seduced and manipulated by a dangerous cult that has stripped them of the opportunity to think and reason independently and interact with whomever they choose, as well as sometimes damaging their familial and childhood relationships.

Proponents of the BDS movement sometimes use the practices of cult leaders, which can be illustrated by analyzing Steven Hassan’s “BITE” model of mind control. Hassan, an American Jew, former cult member, and now one of the world’s leading authorities on cults, created the “BITE” model, which is used to describe Behavioral Control, Information Control, Thought Control, and Emotional Control.

Throughout my years as an anti-BDS activist, I have witnessed the outrageous behavior of pro-BDS student groups, who shout down and physically intimidate pro-Israel speakers and threaten Zionist students verbally and in writing. This is behavioral control.

In February 2016, I communicated with an Oberlin College student who described how pro-BDS student groups expect behavioral compliance in exchange for social acceptance.

In addition, I have observed pro-BDS student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine refuse to engage with Zionists, which these groups present as a self-righteous refusal to “normalize Israel.” However, when viewed within Hassan’s framework, it becomes clear that instructing SJP members not to engage is actually an attempt to limit their access to information.

Groups like SJP also try to control the minds of their followers. As one student from Oberlin wrote to me:

While the organization makes it easy for newcomers to join, new recruits soon realize that SFP discourages and disparages critical thinking; members must conform. … A student who expresses a differing opinion from the larger organization becomes vulnerable to ridicule under the “if you’re not with us you’re against us” umbrella of thinking.

I have been alarmed by that same culture of thought conformity as I have traveled the country listening to pro-BDS speakers. They all deliver the same messages, using the same volatile mantras and chants — as if they were reciting a psalm or an edict.

Like all BDS puppets, they know when and how to say “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism,” and use phrases like “settler colonial” and “apartheid.” However, ask them questions that depend upon historical knowledge and require them to engage in critical analysis, and they suddenly seem less self-assured.

Finally, given the fact that college students are adolescents and that most first year students are living away from home for the first time, they have a degree of vulnerability that the BDS movement skillfully exploits. Herein lies the opportunity for emotional control. Whether the movement utilizes engaging, youthful professors, older students who strategically offer to “mentor” incoming first year students, or doctored images of suffering Palestinian children, emotional control is a hallmark of BDS persuasion and manipulation.

To interrupt these pernicious efforts, faculty members, Jewish professionals, anti-BDS activists, and parents will need to work collaboratively. Together, we must educate students about the BITE model, about cults in general, and about the dangers of the BDS movement.

Melissa Landa, PhD has been addressing the pernicious tactics and goals of the BDS campaign for four years. Most recently, she founded and directs the new anti-BDS organization Alliance for Israel.

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