Israel boycotts are cropping up like mushrooms after a rain, in the most unlikely places. Teachers unions, churches, reporters and Irish artists announce one after the other that they are going to boycott Israel.
There is a curious pattern to some of these boycotts. An organization that nobody ever heard of outside their own country, and which may have little or nothing to do with political issues or with Israel, suddenly decides it must boycott Israel. When the Presbyterian Church USA decides on divestment from Israel, it certainly has moral significance. If the Teamsters union decided to boycott Israeli shipping it would surely make a difference. But if the Podunk pipe-fitters union decides to boycott Israeli pipe fittings, it is a bit strange, and it will not make much difference. I suspect likewise that Israel will not suffer greatly if it is boycotted by some Irish artists.
Consider that at least three of these boycotts have already been rescinded in one way or another. The UK AUT Academic boycott of Israel
which raised such a fuss was overturned a short time after it was passed. Likewise, the NATFHE Israel boycott, announced with great fanfare
, was quietly suppressed
when NATFHE merged with AUT. What is more, it is evident that the NATFHE boycotters knew that they were lame ducks, and that the resolution was an empty gesture. The Presbyterian Church likewise reversed its divestment decision
What is going on here? In each case, the decision was not really representative of the membership at large. In the unions, the decisions were beyond the scope of authority of the board, about issues that do not really affect union members, and some resolutions were passed by violating proper procedure. Decisions about international politics by unions are fairly rare, and only occur in extraordinary situations.
Board meetings of any organization are usually boring and mundane, and are attended by tiny groups of functionaries who know how to work the system. The genius of the pro-Palestinian propaganda apparatus was to understand how to exploit these facts, and to leverage the feeble power of a tiny group of activists. All it really requires, it seems, is one or two fanatic mediocrities like Sue Blackwell, and an address book. The world does not lack for anti-Zionists and anti-Semites, or for that matter, for flat-earth people. It is easy to find a few dedicated and misguided people who will be sure to attend the board meeting and raise the boycott issue. It is attractive for all concerned. Obscure union representatives and activists get world wide publicity. The gray proceedings of union boards and Church institutions are suddenly the subject of wide interest. Vote to spend more money on hospital missions in Africa and you might merit a back page notice in the religion section of a newspaper. Vote to ask for better pension plans for your members and your union might get a notice in a trade newspaper. Vote to boycott Israel and you are instantly an international celebrity. You and your union are front page news.
However, no confidence racket succeeds without the active aid of the marks. We are the marks. We all know about con games. Our e-mail in-boxes are filled with offers from Nigerian widows who want to make us rich, and hot tips on worthless penny stocks. Nonetheless, we fall for the boycott swindle every time. Sue Blackwell and her minions in England, and all the Sue Blackwells of the Presbyterian Church and the Irish artists association and all the others, know that if you yell Jew!
in the crowded theater of public life, you will set into motion a vast and dedicated apparatus which attempts to discredit you, but instead makes you famous. You become the hero of every "Israel" hater in the world, because you stood up to the Jewish Conspiracy. Mel Gibson parlayed this shrewd assessment into a multi-million dollar profit. Jimmy Carter made a hit with his book too. Perhaps one of these people can write a book about Jew bashing for fun and profit.
The news media seemingly have no choice but to report the doings of Susan Blackwell and her ilk, and the Zionist organizations have no choice but to react. Once the boycott is out there, it can't be ignored - it has to be fought, it would seem. But the urgency of fighting these boycotts is often a function of their publicity value and not their real impact. Union members, especially in academic, artistic or journalism unions, do not need to follow the boycott resolutions and cannot be forced to do so. It is doubtful in any event, if a boycott of Israel by every Irish artist would really have any effect on the Israeli arts. If every British reporter stopped using laptop computers and cell phones because the electronics are made in Israel, one suspects that they would be more inconvenienced than Israel. Nobody really expects that universities in Europe are going to boycott the Weizmann Institute of Science even if some union passed a resolution. Attempting to enforce such a boycott would be a gross violation of academic freedom. If the UCC or the Presbyterian church really does ever divest from the Caterpillar Tractor Corporation, it is unlikely that Israel or Caterpillar Tractor Corp. will suffer very much. The news about the boycott is much worse than the boycott itself, and the news is largely made by pro-Israel activist organizations who turn mole hills into mountains.
Anyone who wants free publicity only needs to do something sufficiently outrageous. We should be aware that a major object of the boycott campaign is to win publicity for the boycotters and attract attention to them, and we should stop helping them achieve their goals. People like Sue Blackwell and organizations like the Irish ISM are leveraging on pro-Israel activism and everyone else's sense of fair play and decency to gain publicity and a following, and they are succeeding. After the boycott is passed, and the inevitable press conference is held, announcing the boycott of the Zionist warmongers because Palestinians cannot keep order in Gaza, it is too late. It is then imperative to remove the black mark.
Pro-active vigilance can stop the boycotters however. It has nipped a few of them in the bud, before they got started. It is only necessary in most cases to be attentive, to note the published agenda of board meetings and to marshal the forces needed to quash the initiatives before it is too late. It would be even better to boycott-proof the organizations. As many of these motions were passed in violation of proper procedures, organizations should protect themselves by passing rules requiring a two-thirds quorum for political decisions, and mandating that officers who violate procedural rules will be expelled from the organization. Like any other swindle, the boycott racket can be countered effectively by reflection, proper regulation and planning. Ami Isseroff
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Replies: 1 Comment
The calls for boycotts are uncomfortable for supporters of Israel and strengthen the perception of Israel as a pariah state.
However there are some positive consequences too. They stimulate Jews and other fair minded people to respond and stand up for Israel, to present the many good things to be said about Israel and her institutions, and to organise a subtstantial response. This was not true when South Africa was being boycotted.
It feels a bit like being injected with a live virus innoculation. Potentially nasty but it effectively awakens our defenses, sense of identity and commitment to fighting the disease. New variant antisemitism is pernicious and dishonest. But in many ways it is strengthening the commitment and affiliation of those who had been lulled into a false sense of security.
Judy W, Monday, May 21st
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