In early December, Professors Cary Nelson and David Greenberg wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about the “anti-normalization” tactic that has been widely adopted by proponents of the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel (“BDS”). As they explained, the tactic consists of preventing pro-Israel or anti-boycott arguments from even being heard, and includes shouting down speakers, or preventing speakers from even appearing on campus.
That’s what we saw when a CAMERA event at University College London last fall was disrupted, with one BDS leader present admitting that his true goal was to prevent future pro-Israel speakers from coming to that campus.
While the rationale provided for utilizing these measures is to reject any contacts between Israelis and Palestinians that “treat both parties as having legitimate grievances and aspirations,” this argument is specious. It’s illogical to ask people to take it on faith that Israelis have no legitimate grievances or aspirations. Equally striking is the fervor with which Nelson and Greenberg reported that the new BDS strategy is being pursued.
As I’ve written on CAMERA’s In Focus blog, only one conclusion can be drawn from these actions: that those setting the BDS agenda understand that the only way they win the argument is when the pro-Israel side does not have an opportunity to present its case.
Earlier this month, as the Modern Language Association’s vote on BDS measures approached, Professor Nelson wrote:
The MLA distributed a detailed assault on Israel’s legitimacy, policies, and right to exist, without accepting any responsibility to distribute contrary views or evidence. Its elected representatives were to be given an opportunity for brief oral comments pro and con before voting on a resolution endorsing academic boycotts of Israel. They were to have only prosecutorial document in hand….
When we worked hard to share counter-evidence with the whole organisation in 2014, MLA’s executive director used every means to prevent us from doing so, up to and including threats of legal action….
[Currently,] MLA’s leadership felt no responsibility to supplement these extraordinarily deceptive pieces of [pro-boycott] propaganda, or to invite anyone else to do so.
Indeed, Nelson’s point is illustrated by the fact that his rebuttal to the boycotters’ claims had to be published outside of the MLA, in the Fathom Journal.
The MLA vote, moreover, took place on Shabbat — another method of suppressing debate that CAMERA has found in various campus BDS efforts. Scheduling votes on or right before Shabbat or Jewish holidays has the effect of preventing many people with pro-Israel views from participating.
Despite the fact that the deck was heavily stacked against them, Nelson and his colleagues pulled off a huge victory for truth at the MLA. Not only did the BDS resolution fail, but the Delegate Assembly voted in favor of a resolution against boycotts. (The anti-boycott resolution must now be forwarded to other MLA bodies.) This is further evidence — along with the growing number of states passing anti-BDS legislation, and the backlash against the American Studies Association’s endorsement of the boycott in 2013 — that, in this debate, the facts are on Israel’s side.
Going forward, however, it will be important for pro-Israel activists to call out not only BDS’ anti-normalization tactic itself, but the true motive for employing it. Boycott opponents must demand to know why the boycotters fear a debate — unless it’s because they already know that they can’t win it. They will need to ask why the boycotters rely so heavily on preventing their opponents from being heard.
BDS activists know that when pro-Israel, anti-boycott activists have equal time, when we make our case and make it well — to audiences without preconceived biases — we win. That is why they work so hard to prevent us from being heard at all. Israel’s supporters will need to show that boycott proponents are simply afraid to have the truth about Israel come out.