By Andrew Pessin/JNS.org
Victories aren’t usually depressing, but recent headlines about Israel include those such as: “Israel Left Off U.N. List of Parties That Kill, Injure Kids,” “Palestinians Abandon Bid to Ban Israel From FIFA,” and a couple of headlines about failed motions for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses. Surely all of these “victories” are better than the corresponding defeats. But still, we can and should do better.
The problem with these victories is that they reflect a much deeper problem in the strategy of pro-Israel advocates. We tend to play defense far more than offense. Some psychologists might enjoy explaining just why Jews, in general, might prefer this approach, but it’s something we must overcome. What’s wrong with this strategy was beautifully laid out in Ze’ev Maghen’s famous piece, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism.”
“A man calls you a pig,” he writes. “Do you walk around with a sign explaining that, in fact, you are not a pig? Do you hand out leaflets expostulating… upon the manifold differences between you and a pig?”
Of course not. For to do this is already to cede the crucial first move to your enemy. It’s to allow that your pig-hood is even a legitimate question in the first place.
Playing defense grants the possible legitimacy of the attacks on us.
It’s time for us to go on offense.
There are many forms this can and should take, theoretically and practically. For example, most discussions of Israel’s interests in the Middle East focus on its security needs. Those are of course important, but then the overall debate becomes how to balance Palestinians’ right to their homeland with Israel’s security need. But that is already to grant their “right,” which is to concede that Israel is wrong. That in turn fuels the perception that a “just” solution requires the wrong party, Israel, to make immediate concessions. That is to admit the possibility that you may indeed be a pig for resisting this.
To play offense, by contrast, is to begin with Israel’s own multiply grounded right to the land, which is easily demonstrable (as columnist Jeff Jacoby has recently done). Then the story is about conflicting rights, between equal players, and nothing is conceded in advance. Let the Palestinians defend or prove their “right” to the land, with actual objective facts, documents, history—do not just concede it. It might, after all, prove a difficult case for them to make.
All the more so with the campus BDS motions that are so frequently in the news. They’ve become so prevalent that we’ve stopped noticing how outrageous they actually are. That’s already a concession, so let’s go on offense. First, a small-but-important verbal move. Let people start associating the acronym with the truth: refer to BDS constantly as Bully, Deceive, Smear. Let that be the first thing people think of when they hear or read BDS. Similarly, let SJP become Students for Just Us in Palestine.
Second, more importantly, we’ve also stopped noticing that the wrong party is being targeted for boycotts. Israel is the only entity in the region committed to Western liberal values such as democracy, diversity, and freedoms of the individual, press, and religion. The other side is the one that should be targeted. The side that’s split between Mahmoud Abbas, a president in the 11th year of his four-year term, and Hamas, a racist and genocidal terrorist group. The side featuring both political and religious oppression. The side insisting that only a Judenrein (free of Jews) Palestinian state will suffice. The side that honors (and pays) its terrorists and celebrates the death of its enemies’ children, and truly belongs on that U.N. list of parties that harm children.
It’s necessary and commendable that Israel advocates are fighting back against the BDS proposals they are facing. But here’s a new idea. Wherever a BDS proposal against Israel is raised, one should also be raised against the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Even better, start raising these proposals before the other side raises one against Israel. As a basis for boycotting the Palestinians, simply demonstrate their commitment to violence and terrorism, their corruption and oppression, and their profound violations of human rights—both of their own citizens and of the Israelis they attack. A similar strategy should be adopted against another popular anti-Israel tactic: “apartheid walls” on campus should face “walls of terror,” and so on.
We should not merely try to defeat these proposals against us. We should invoke the full force of the law to stop them from being considered in the first place. Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law center, has been doing great work here, of both global and local scope—going after the Palestinian Authority in international arenas and local food co-ops considering grocery boycotts. And of course, South Carolina’s recent groundbreaking anti-boycott legislation is an important and genuine success.
It’s time to let the other side play defense for a change.
Let them get booted out of FIFA.
Andrew Pessin (www.andrewpessin.com) is a professor of philosophy at Connecticut College and the author of numerous philosophy books for the general reader.
Editor’s note: JNS.org coverage of anti-Israel activists’ campaign against Pessin’s free speech rights can be found here.
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