Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Call to Battle

A Call to Battle

In general, it’s the battles you don’t have to fight to win that are the most productive. 

For example, the reason we’ve not seen any serious consideration of divestment by colleges or cities over the last ten years is that the leaders of schools and municipalities have taken a measure of BDS activists over the last decade and know enough to not be snookered by them. 

Similarly, the reason no divestment bill has gotten past the gate at university student unions is that such bills only tend to get passed in the dead of night which means Israel’s supporters need only make sure the light of day continues to shine on student government activities to ensure BDS activists don’t get the chance to hijack the university for their own gain.

But there come times when a fight is necessary, and two such fights loom on the horizon over the next six months.

A big one (which I’ll be getting into over the next few weeks) will take place at the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches which meet every two years in national conventions to let Israel-bashers within the denomination run amok (whoops! I mean to discuss vital issues of church policy).  Despite being rejected by members in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and despite promises to those members that the Israel obsession would stop, BDS marches on regardless of what it means for the church (or for peace in the Middle East).

But before those battles (which will be taking place in April and June), we face something closer to the grassroots at the Park Slope Food Co-opin New York.  Yes, after years of letters to the editor, appeals to the co-op’s board, and other maneuvering, a vote on whether or not to hold a referendum on a co-op boycott of Israel goods is set for March 27th.

Now keep in mind that this vote is not taking place because local BDSers convinced anyone of anything.  Rather, they pushed for an Israel boycott referenda (similar to failed boycott appeals at places likeDavis and Sacramento California), and when told that such a referenda would sicken and appall huge numbers of members they said, in effect, “So what?”  And since the rules of most co-ops are rather loose, presuming as they do that members will act in good faith and not try to manipulate the organization for their own ends (at the expense of other members), the only way to close out a matter the BDSers will continue to push (regardless of the cost to others) was to let a vote on the referenda go forward.

Apparently, the usual meeting place for co-op votes (a synagogue, ironically) will not be big enough to hold the vote so the co-op is looking for a venue that will hold the 1000+ members likely to attend the March 27th gathering.  And, as luck will have it, anti-BDS forces at Park Slope are organized, have able leadership who are doing the spadework necessary to wage a grassroots political campaign (including communication and get-out-the-vote advocacy). 

As an alumni of several similar campaigns, I envy the local boycott-fighters’ chance to watch their own hard work and resoluteness hand BDS yet another defeat.  At the same time, I don’t envy them the effort they have to put into getting this squalid little propaganda campaign masquerading as a human rights movement out of their food co-op’s bloodstream. 

In addition to the work involved (energy that could be put to more productive use improving the co-op or fighting for actual peace in the Middle East), these types of campaigns always end in meetings like the huge gathering that will take place in March.  In the run-up to such a meeting, a phenomena I refer to as “The Circus” will descend upon Park Slope where every pro- and anti-Israel individual and organization within a thousand mile radius will try to have their say on the matter while neighbors who once waved and smiled at each other, instead accusing one another of racism, anti-Semitism and indifference to human rights.

And at the meeting itself, both sides will take their assigned roles, with disciplined BDSers never wavering in their message of Palestinian suffering and Israeli villainy, with Israel’s supporters more fragmented in their messaging, but no less firm in their resolve.  Park Slopians can look forward to a number of anti-Israel harangues that start with “As a Jew…” deploring the Jewish state and insisting (with tears in their eyes) that a boycott is the organization’s only moral choice. 

Needless to say, attempts to prick the conscience of the BDSers over issues such as terrorist murders of Israelis or Arab deaths at the hands of Hamas or Assad will fall on deaf ears since the BDSers are indifferent to Israeli life and even Palestinian lives are only measured in terms of their usefulness to “the movement”.  But arguments directed over the boycotters heads to the general membership can be as effective in Park Slope as they have been everywhere else.

And that message is: why the hell should a group of single-issue partisans be allowed to speak on behalf of the thousands of members of an institution that BDS had no role in building?  After all, the boycotters are free as individuals to not buy all the Israeli products they like.  And they’re even free to start their own co-op and build into its charter the refusal to ever let an Israeli orange or seltzer dispenser stain their shelves.

Ah, but that’s not what they want, is it?  They want to be able to claim that their minority opinion represents the will of thousands of members of a respected organization, and thus give their propaganda message unearned weight. 

On March 27th, the first real BDS battle of the year will be fought.  Israel’s friends didn’t want it.  Leaders and members of the Park Slope Food Co-op didn’t want it.  But the boycotters insisted on it.  And while they may get their jollies railing about Israeli in front of an audience of over a thousand (and video tape the whole thing for their YouTube channel and Facebook pages), our friends on the ground should never waver in their commitment to get the job done, add Park Slope to the long list of progressive institutions that have rejected the boycotter’s blandishments, and announce to the world the real message that we all hope comes out of New York this March: that BDS Loses Again!