For months, in response to recent BDS successes, people have asked, “How will Zionists react?” The inevitable backlash has arrived and we have enough examples to answer the question. Specific tactics differ, but the overall strategy has been an intensive appeal to authority.
The appeal to authority is reliant on the cultural and political elite and on legislative bodies to offer a corrective to grassroots agitating. While BDS continues to generate support among students, activists, and performers, the opposition cultivates patronage from centers of power: university presidents, politicians, state senates, financiers, and so forth.
This difference is important: it shows the juxtaposition of Zionism with violent conduct while USACBI, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, has successfully avoided the coercions of sectarian loyalty. Organizations that maintain dossiers on pro-Palestine activists and work closely with surveillance agencies to suppress dissent really have no choice but to evoke the repressive apparatuses of state power in order to counter threats to their supremacy.
I’ve worked with USACBI for around five years—closely during the process to pass the ASA resolution—and I’m constantly impressed by the democracy and inclusiveness of its organizing practices. We have no formal hierarchies and use a consensus-based approach to decision-making.
More important, USACBI doesn’t accept funding from governments, corporations, or political parties. When we need money, we get it the old-fashioned way: everybody chips. What we lack in material resources is exceeded by the efficiency of unfettered praxis.
In my opinion, the greatest strength of BDS is its desire to remain adamantly independent, accepting cues from Palestinian civil society, because movements for justice work well only in proportion to their freedom from vested interests. Activism should always inform a multivalent radius based on an antagonistic relationship with sources of political and economic power.
The ethical distinctions between BDS activists and our opponents are discernible relative to the affinities each camp maintains with institutions that rely on laws and guns to enforce compliance.
USACBI does not need the endorsement of university presidents or lawmaking bodies. Nor does it want their endorsement, which would constitute an abdication of what BDS works to accomplish, decolonization of the institutions those bodies exist to enrich and represent.
The appeal to authority constitutes a serious form of oppositional force. It will exist as long as Zionism remains synchronous to the neoliberal order. However, the appeal to authority is not a threat to USACBI. It is a validation of both the structure and content of our work.