Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Brief Insight Into BDS Thinking

I'm taking a brief break from the usual Huffington Post monitoring because I wanted to share a brief statement made by Steven Salaita on EI. It's an excerpt from an article he wrote trying to salvage some dignity from the onslaught of anti-BDS rhetoric in the wake of the ASA fiasco. Naturally it involves mostly threats, magical thinking, and of course EI's principle export: whining. But anyway, here is an interesting argument that he uses:
"8. Everybody is against “the occupation,” but nobody wants to do anything about it 
I encountered this phenomenon many years ago when a delegation of students brought a divestment proposal to the faculty senate of the university where I worked at the time. 
Over ten of my loudly liberal colleagues turned up to contest the proposal. One of them beseeched the senate with a line I’m certain exists in the first chapter of a secret book distributed by Abe Foxman’s minions, Defending Israel for Dummies (with an introduction by Eric Alterman): “I’m against the occupation, but this proposal is disingenuous because it singles out Israel.” 
One of the students replied, “Well, if you’re against the occupation, then why won’t you do anything about it?” That inquiry, as always, was greeted by the contemptuous silence of institutional power. 
And so it remains. Corey Robin’s pertinent question to boycott critics has not yet been satisfactorily answered: “What do you propose as an alternative strategy?”"
There are four very legitimate responses to this argument, because it's a bad one. A very bad one, in fact.

First, and this is actually an argument that BDS supporters have been using a lot lately, is that you don't have to criticize everything else in the world before you can criticize BDS. This is even more blatant in the context of an academic boycott. Just because this particular university hasn't solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and succeeded where many Presidents and heads of states have failed doesn't mean that they are obligated to endorse BDS.

Second, the argument that the university isn't "doing anything" about the occupation is a real red herring. They aren't there to debate whether or not to stop the occupation, they are there to debate BDS. And yes, there is a big difference. Even if, as I said, the university in question decided to take steps to end Israel's occupation tomorrow, that doesn't mean that BDS is any less racist, fascist, discriminatory, or genocidal than it was the day before. All the arguments against BDS still apply, so it's not entirely surprising that its proponents would try to (a) get personal and (b) side track the conversation rather than accepting criticism of their movement head on.

Third is the most common reason that universities don't endorse BDS, after academic freedom: because the job of universities is to educate, not to make political statements. I can pretty much guarantee you that if some nefarious Zionists came to a university and asked for a resolution supporting the occupation or a less controversial political position like the Palestinians should do more to make peace, that university would say no. This becomes magnified even further with BDS because it involves excluding people and signing on to such a terrible movement. So to answer Corey Robin's question: at the university level, they aren't obligated to come up with an "alternative strategy," or any strategy. Universities don't, and shouldn't, get involved in politics. It isn't their problem. It's yours. And many universities have said as much when they called for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace.

Yes, it is true that BDS likes to claim that by not taking a side, universities actually are taking a side in favor of the "unjust" status quo. But if given a choice between not actively taking a side and flushing academic freedom down the toilet, it's not exactly difficult to figure out which direction most universities will take. EI can spin their decision any way they like, but I don't think any college President is losing sleep over his or her decision not to endorse BDS.

Fourth, the illogical question of "alternative strategies" is moronic because you can just as easily substitute "BDS" with "suicide bombing" and it would still work. Nobody is required to endorse something that is fundamentally against their values just because they haven't come up with a better plan. I'm not even going to touch on an obvious "alternative strategy," which is to make peace. We know that Palestinians are interested in that, and their supporters would react in horror to such an idea.

Finally, I actually really like this argument and I encourage Palestinian supporters to use it in the future. Because it far more easily applies to the Palestinians and their supporters. I am looking forward to having many conversations that go like this:
"I don't support the rockets, but Israel's blockade of Gaza is unjust."
"Well, if you’re against the rockets, then why won’t you do anything about it?"
This works even better because most Hamas supporters claim to be "pro-Palestinian," not to mention pro-human rights, pro-international law, etc etc. So if EI can expect some university thousands of miles away to be actively involved in 'ending the occupation' surely we can expect pro-Palestinian groups to be involved in stopping the Hamas terror group right? So in that sense I thank Steven, his douchebaggy nature will surely help me win many arguments to come.

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