April 9, 2020

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Winning and losing (Divest This!)


Elder and others have forwarded me this recent bit of BDS bombast, one which celebrates the “movement’s unstoppable momentum by highlighting not just one-hundred but two-hundred successes!
My first instinct was to write an analysis similar to this one which took apart the boycotter’s BDS@100 Victories fantasy list from 2015. But this would have largely been a word-for-word repeat refutation, given that this year’s 200 list simply copied and pasted “wins” from yesteryear, ignoring how many of them have been exposed as fraudulent, outdated, or irrelevant long ago (how many more years are we going to be asked to believe the Hampshire College divestment hoax for example).
For a while, I flirted with generating a BDS Fail at 20,000 list that would crowdsource a compendium of BDS catastrophes one-hundred times larger than their alleged list of triumphs. Once I hit 50, however (and started toting up the considerable work others had done in this area), I realized such a project could easily get caught up in the old debate over what constitutes an actual BDS win or failure.
Does someone playing a concert in Israel represent a slap in the face to the boycotters, for example? Certainly when they openly defy targeted protests, as Radiohead did this year. But what about the hundreds of artists (not to mention thousands of scholars, pilgrims and tourists) who flock to Israel on a regular basis? Are they also pushing a thumb in to the eye of Omar Barghouti and Roger Waters, or are they just taking advantage of the free, open, exciting, intellectually, culturally and spiritually vibrant nation that is Israel?
Similarly, do the billions in investment and even more billions in M&A and IPO dollars pouring into Israel represent a failure of the BDS movement or the success of the inventive and determined Israeli people? In other words, might turning Israeli triumphs into BDS defeats be a way of diminishing Israeli accomplishments?
Rather than zero in on the BDSers faux triumphs, or try to overwhelm them with our own list of defeats, what if we instead looked at the concept of victory and defeat through the lens of warfare, a perspective I continue to urge our side to embrace.
For in war, the enemy distributing a leaflet or picketing a store doesn’t register as either a win or a loss, unless such action – in conjunction with others – can ultimately trigger attacks on an enemy or an abandonment of an ally. In which case, we should be looking at whether BDS is having an impact on those nations where support for Israel is strategic.
The US is obviously the place to start, and if you look at the fact that half of state legislatures have already overwhelmingly passed anti-BDS legislation and the federal government is contemplating the same, it seems as though BDS continues to be considered toxic within communities whose decisions have real strategic impact.
Now such relationships could change over time. Enough indoctrination of the young, for example, might turn upcoming generations of leaders against the Jewish state. Indeed, one could analyze the hostility of the last President to Jewish and Israeli interests as a success for the Israel-haters long game.
But keep in mind that such long games are subject to reversals and influence by confounding variables. To cite the most obvious example, does the most recent US election represent the “victory” of pro-Israel/anti-BDS forces, or was it the result of a much more complex set of factors, most of which had nothing to do with Middle East or Jewish politics?
If we move from treating every student government vote as a victory or defeat to thinking about factors that are truly strategic, what seems to matter more than failed (or even successful) hummus boycotts are the factors that led to the explosion of the Israeli economy (including liberalization of finance, cultivation of entrepreneurship, and an embrace of the modern information-based economy). 
Similarly, while it’s painful to see Israel harangued at yet another BDS conference or rally, what has more impact on the world: those shrieks and scolds, or the fact that Israel has just become a de-facto ally of the world’s second most populous nation (India), and is making diplomatic inroads into areas of the world that have been hostile to it for decades such as Asia, Africa, and even the Middle East?
At the center of these genuine victories has been an Israeli government which, whatever its shortcomings, has set priorities where they belong: growing the economy, expanding diplomacy, doing what is necessary to keep the flames engulfing the entire Middle East outside, rather than inside, the walls.
Similarly, friends of Israel in the US who have built strategic relationships with both political parties, not to mention strategic alliances within academia, business and mission-focused organizations, understand that we too can play a long game. And one key to victory in such a game is to never mimic our enemies by mistaking fleeting (never mind trivial or false) “wins” as the measurement for genuine success.

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