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BDS and its unexpected fellow-travellers

I reproduce for your edification portions of a Haaretz article by Chemi Shalev, 11 December 2013. It was included in a recent BDS screed for the faithful, which summarises their “strategy” in selectively demonising and isolating Israel.

The embarrassing flap (around Mandela’s funeral non-attendance) singled out Israel as “odd man out,” fueled media scrutiny of Israel’s past collaboration with the apartheid regime and provided valuable ammunition to those who would equate the two. More ominously, from an Israeli point of view, the analogy between today’s Israel and yesterday’s South Africa could also stoke a belief that the former can be brought to its knees in much the same way as the latter was in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

When the United Nations passed its first non-binding resolution calling for a boycott of South Africa in 1962, it was staunchly opposed by a bloc of Western countries, led by Britain and the United States. But the grassroots campaign that had started with academic boycotts in the late 1950s gradually moved on to sports and entertainment and went on from there to institutional boycotts and divestment. Along the way, the anti-apartheid movement swept up larger and larger swaths of Western public opinion, eventually forcing even the most reluctant of governments, including Israel and the U.S., to join the international sanctions regime.

In a 1998 article entitled “International Norms, Dynamics and Political Change,” political scientists Martha Finnemore, now of George Washington University, and Kathryn Sikking of the University of Minnesota laid out the foundations of the “life cycle” by which certain norms develop to shape the behavior of states and then of the international community as a whole. The first step, they claim, is “norm emergence,” when a new norm is championed by NGO’s and “norm entrepreneurs.” The second stage is a “norms cascade,” when states fall into line to embrace the new norm. And a prerequisite for evolution from the first to the second stages is a “tipping point” that occurs when a critical mass of events and opinions converge to create the norms cascade…(my emphasis)”

The article undoubtedly reflects the ambitions of the BDS project. Towards this end they regard the present stage of stagnation and struggle as a necessary prelude to the gradual and hardly perceptible shift of key elements of public opinion to the point of take-off (the “tipping point), at which time a flood of anti-Israel sentiment becomes the new social norm against which none dare speak.

That is why they relentlessly exaggerate every minor achievement and use every opportunity to penetrate all organs of opinion all the way from the Left to the Right. Many of us engaged in this counter-propaganda campaign tend to believe that all we need expose is the leftwing anti-Israel mantra of academia and the media. Right wing anti-Israeli animus is, of course, well known but it tends to be expressed as open anti-semitism (unlike the covert anti-semitism of the Left) and confined to fringe rightwing groups lacking mass appeal.

Or so I thought. But I have become aware that such anti-Zionist tropes are becoming attractive to “moderate” Conservative and “nativist” intellectual opinion in the USA especially. Traditionally such groups have manifested a range of ethno-religious prejudices centred on Black and Muslims amongst others. While this persists, such sentiment attracts increasingly negative social responses and, amongst the more intellectual of the commentators, Israel and Zionists have become a new focus for their fears and resentments.

The American Conservative was started by Pat Buchanan, Scott McConnell, and Taki Theodoracopulos. Buchanan has long flirted with anti-semitism (along with a variety of other ethnic prejudices) but I knew little about the other two. It is clear that McConnell broadly shares Buchanan’s views and is happy to endorse BDS positions on Israel, even though in most ways their political orientations are polar opposites. In short, The American Conservative is an enthusiastic endorser of perspectives which fit comfortably within the more cautious of the BDS propaganda claims. Judging by the Comments threads, most of their readership also share similar sentiments. Much of it reflects neo-isolationist views and feed off claims that America is being manipulated by Israel-firsters seeking to drag American boys into Middle East conflicts.

Even conservative journals like The National Interest, founded by Irving Kristol, and Mother Jones publish views which are eerily similar to those of its conservative fellow magazines.

I mention these realities not as scare tactics but to emphasize the reality that the systematic portrayal of Israel as a colonial state, subverting and manipulating public opinions to support its theft of Palestinian land, can find an audience in unexpected places. The answer to such nonsense is not appeasement or apologetics but an unambiguous and forceful rejection of lies and distortions, irrational analysis, loaded adjectives, selective news reporting, loaded and fake images… and so forth.

When the BDS propagandists trumpet the ASA’s boycott of Israeli academics, we must show the world the massive rejection such malicious politicisation has elicited from innumerable prestigious USA and other academic institutions and organisations –see here. Under no conditions must Israel allow the threat of “world opinion” to mould its policies one way or the other. Down that road lies disaster.

What is needed is the appropriate PR relations counter-attack, sometimes direct, sometimes indirect. The propaganda war is as real (perhaps more real) than the military threat. Everything is on our side: the sheer reality of the Middle East and the state of the Arab-Muslim worlds cannot help swing public opinion towards Israel unless we allow the BDS cabal and their fellow-travellers to substitute a fake and hollow propaganda construct for the truth.

That, in a nutshell, is our task: to present reality honestly and comprehensively. To all audiences.

Mike Berger


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