September 25, 2018

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Israel cannot win the BDS blame game (Divest This!)

Over the years, I’ve talked about some of the psychological factors that might explain the behavior the of BDS advocates.  These include a ruthlessnessthat drives them to drag third-parties into their battles, regardless of the cost to others, and fantasy politics which leads them to engage in activities for the sole purpose of making themselves feel more important than they are.

Some of these factors are actually detrimental to the BDS cause (witness the nearly universal revulsion that greets their fantasy-driven public temper tantrums).  But some of them are a major source of the boycotter’s power, especially when faced with opponents who labor under the illusion that BDS is a genuine, “normal” political project.

For example, the BDSers ability to ignore any facts or arguments that do not suit their purpose or fit their world view means they can never actually lose an argument since, in reality, they refuse to engage in one (even if they pretend their diatribes to be dialog). But there is another psychological element that fuels not just BDS but the entire anti-Israel project that relates to the dynamics of blame.

This is something most of us can relate to since we all are involved in blame dynamics (healthy and unhealthy) at various points in our lives.  To take a simple example, imagine a couple that drives to the beach where one person places the car keys on a beach blanket.  As the day winds to a close, the other person folds and packs up the same beach blanket, but does not notice the keys which tumble into the sand and get lost.

Under such circumstances, the couple could see this chain of events as an unlucky accident, a pair of reasonable actions that, when linked together, led to negative consequences neither party could have foreseen.  But since it was a pair of individual actions that led to the loss, each person could choose to blame the other for one of the two steps that led to the problem (leaving the keys on the blanket rather than in a bag or pocket vs. not noticing them when packing up), claiming – in effect – that just one person bore primary responsibility for the problem they both face.

On some occasions, the circumstances lend themselves to assigning primary responsibility to one person or another.  But blame is rarely driven by such analytical calculations.  Instead, the first person to accuse the other tends to gain the initiative, putting the blamed person on the defensive (often in an attempt to absolve the blamer of responsibility).  And in this dynamic, someone willing to accept some responsibility tends to be at a disadvantage vs. someone willing to accept none.

Over time, the roles of blamer and blamee can become engrained in personal relationships, causing the person who is “faster on the draw” to automatically zero in on something the other person did that is blameworthy, with the other person taking a default position of either accepting responsibility or, eventually, avoiding confrontational situations that may be driven by an uncomfortable blame dynamic.

If this dynamic is common among individuals where the stakes are fairly low, it is a cornerstone of international politics where the nation assigned blame can face serious consequences (from being targeted for economic punishment, to justifying war waged against it).  Which is why nations routinely tap the aforementioned blame dynamic, making sure to point an accusing finger outwards immediately and never acknowledging responsibility for anything (regardless of their actual culpability).  And within the Arab-Israeli conflict, this politics of blame has reached near pathological levels. 

This is why every negative action that can be assigned to Israel (real or imaginary) is the subject of not just accusation by this or that Arab country, but must become top priority for every international organization – combining the blame dynamic with Israel’s foes willingness to corrupt any institution in order to achieve their own ends. 

This is also why the Arab states and the Palestinians will never accept responsibility under any circumstances for anything they are unquestionably responsible for (from supporting every one of the 20th century’s totalitarian movements, to rejecting peace offers over and over again, to resorting to violence and triggering wars in which their own people suffer the consequences).

This dynamic plays itself out amongst the Palestinians “friends” in the BDS movement who, if cornered, will manage a choke out a cough of concern regarding Hamas rocket fire into Israeli schoolyards.  But once Israel returns fire, they rise together as a single great pointing finger and shouting voice screaming “J’accuse” at Israel (and its supporters), insisting that the boycotters alone represent the voice of human rights and justice (regardless of how little they have to say on either subject when Israel is not the target of their abuse).

In the case of the BDSers, the blame dynamic fits perfectly with their fantasy of being the only voices of courage and virtue in a Manichean world where evil and all-powerful opponents endlessly conspire against them. 

Getting back to the original dynamic described in the earlier lost-keys story, the endless repetition of one party’s readiness to blame and unwillingness to accept responsibility creates a situation whereby the party trying to avoid the blame game who is willing to accept some responsibility is punished for not immediately and unquestionably accepting all of it. 

This is the unhealthy dynamic Israel faces vis-à-vis its finger-pointing, responsibility-avoiding foes, and it is not entirely clear how she can get out of it short of becoming as ruthless, cynical and insensitive as her accusers.

We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.

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