Wednesday, April 19, 2017

While manic, radical energy tends to give individual Israel haters the zeal they need to continue their harassment and propaganda campaigns year after year, decade after decade, the drive towards ever-increasing radicalism tends to be a weakness of anti-Israel organizations, which explains why such groups have relatively short lifespans.
The Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM), which was responsible for much of the petition-driven divestment activity on college campuses in the early 2000s (years before the BDS movement was alleged to have been born, BTW), fell apart when their success led to ever-escalating attempts at infiltration by factions driven by different ideological agendas. In the end, it became easier to dissolve the organization, rather than spend all their time fighting off hostile takeover attempts.
During this same period, I saw a similar drama play out during an early municipal divestment campaign between 2004-2006 in Somerville, MA. You can read about the first two years of that battle here, but for purposes of this discussion the salient point was that each year the campaign continued the group behind those divestment efforts (called the Somerville Divestment Project, or SDP) imported more radical activists into their ranks, shoring up the leadership but horrifying and alienating less extreme members who were driven out.
We can see something similar happening to the organization Jewish Voice for Peace. While ostensibly founded in 1996 (their own documentation of organizational birthdates needs to be taken with as large a grain of salt as the BDS movement’s claim to have emerged from “Palestinian civil society” in 2005 – despite the rage of divestment campaigns years earlier), JVP really came on the scene over the last decade as BDS campaigners realized the importance of appearing to have Jewish support.
Claims that JVP members wearing t-shirts saying “Another Jew for Divestment” demonstrate genuine (vs. fringe) Jewish support for BDS have proven most convincing to the corrupt (such as the leadership of the dying Presbyterian Church) or the gullible (rank and file members of that same church). But as JVP grew from a small West Coast/Internet presence to a well-heeled organization with dozens of staff, able to fly scores of members to events like Presbyterian national assemblies, it also had to struggle with the same forces that have roiled similar war groups masquerading as peace warriors.
First off, while I and others have joked in the past about joining JVP in order to pretend to speak in the organization’s name, the scruples that prevent us from behaving in such a manner are not present among JVP’s “allies.” The organization claims over “200,000 supporters and 10,000 donors,” and while those numbers are wildly exaggerated, there has clearly been growth in their ranks in recent years – enough to support JVP branches on many college campuses which work in accord with groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on projects like student government divestment measures and Israel Apartheid Weeks.
But as those ranks grew, there came an increasing readiness to embrace excess. To take one simple example, in 2012 the group published its first JVP Passover Hagaddah – a ludicrous (and easily parodied) text that made the group seem more delusional than dangerous. But this year’s Next-Year-in-Al-Quds edition demonstrates much more readiness to admit to the end game the organization is aiming for.
The roiling of the radical firmament, first with Black Lives Matter and then with “The Resistance” to the Trump presidency, created a new frenzy among single-issue groups to make sure their cause takes pride-of-place among emerging “intersectional” alliances. And, as history has shown, no cause is willing to play rougher than BDS to get other political “movements” to submit to its will.
One of the reasons extreme political groups are so unstable is that the radical cred of the leadership is forever being challenged by internal and external “allies” pushing leaders to embrace more and more extreme positions. Faced with such challenges, those leaders can stare down their friends (a nearly impossible task for ideologues), disband (as happened to PSM), or succumb. And this year’s JVP conference, where a convicted terrorist and immigrated fraud was wildly cheered, demonstrates which choice the organization has made.
On the plus side, this kind of behavior makes it even more obvious why the vast Jewish majority should continue to shun the group - all but destroying JVP’s ability to infiltrate the mainstream and derailing its hope of one day presenting itself as just one more voice within the “Big Tent” of Jewish America.
With that hope shattered, JVP will continue to become to become indistinguishable from the mobs shouting down Israeli speakers, harassing Jewish students and celebrating murder and mayhem – behavior that has currency among fellow activists, but little impact (beyond revulsion and rejection) among those JVP would ultimately have to reach to have any influence beyond its own increasingly narrow and isolated constituency.


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