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Anti-BDS activism and the appeal to authority

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on 16 Comments

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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.

Steven Salaita
About Steven Salaita

Steven Salaita's most recent book is Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine.

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16 Responses

  1. anthonybellchambers
    anthonybellchambers
    February 27, 2014, 4:56 pm

    Would an orthodox rabbi from Tel Aviv embrace an American evangelistic priest who supports and funds illegal settlement?

    Christian Zionists, AKA Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals, of which there perhaps 50-70 million in the Bible Belt of the US, believe that all Jews (from NY, LA, London, Paris, Manchester, Antwerp, Johannesburg and everywhere in between) must all emigrate to Israel in order to fulfil a Christian biblical prophecy. Once all safely ensconced in Israel, they must then be converted to Christianity in order to facilitate the Coming of the Messiah.

    To this end they give millions of dollars to help fund illegal settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem notwithstanding that such action is contrary to US government policy and violates international law. And logic.

    Israeli settlers most of whom are well aware of the biblical beliefs of the Christian Zionists, just take the money and laugh.

    As for the Christian Zionists themselves, many believe that the law of God transcends the laws of the United States government and the US State Department. They believe in the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and that all gentiles must assist in the return of every Jewish person to Israel.

    The fact that the ultimate aim of Christian Zionism is vehemently rejected by Jewish Zionists, is conveniently ignored by both factions – presumably because both know it’s just religious dogma! Meanwhile Zionist settlement continues apace in clear contempt of the will of the UN, the EU and the US.

    And that validates the mission statement of the BDS movement.

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      February 27, 2014, 11:00 pm

      White evangelicals and Orthodox Jews are the only Americans who actually drink the Kool aid these days . Shufti baqa :

      http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/10/03/more-white-evangelicals-than-american-jews-say-god-gave-israel-to-the-jewish-people/

      Most of the Hebrew discourse in the Jewish Disneyland does not fly otherwise in the States. The NYT does its best but the stats are fairly grim for Hasbara Central.

      I think that’s why BDS is making headway. The bots have all the guns and the money but they don’t have any memes now for the masses of secular people who actually count.

      • hophmi
        hophmi
        February 28, 2014, 12:30 pm

        “Most of the Hebrew discourse in the Jewish Disneyland does not fly otherwise in the States. The NYT does its best but the stats are fairly grim for Hasbara Central.”

        You really will grasp at anything.

        69% of American Jews define themselves as very emotionally attached or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel. That’s the stat that matter, not some question about God.

        http://www.pewforum.org/files/2013/10/jew-overview-8.png

        Most Americans continue to be on our side, not yours.

      • seafoid
        seafoid
        February 28, 2014, 1:10 pm

        Most americans don’t care about “isreal ” hoph. I would have expected 69% of yank jews to be very emotionally attached to their bolthole on the med. 39% looks to be pisspoor. I bet it is composed exclusively of orthodox and shatnez employees.

    • hophmi
      hophmi
      February 28, 2014, 12:25 pm

      “Christian Zionists, AKA Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals, of which there perhaps 50-70 million in the Bible Belt of the US, believe that all Jews (from NY, LA, London, Paris, Manchester, Antwerp, Johannesburg and everywhere in between) must all emigrate to Israel in order to fulfil a Christian biblical prophecy. Once all safely ensconced in Israel, they must then be converted to Christianity in order to facilitate the Coming of the Messiah.”

      Yep, they believe that. And Hamas believes in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and a lot of antisemites out there believe that fighting Israel is a way of fighting the Jews. I don’t see you conscientiously rejecting their support.

  2. hophmi
    hophmi
    February 27, 2014, 5:34 pm

    “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.”

    Which side is it, again, who threatens to run to the International Criminal Court? Which side is it that jumps for joy every time some celebrity, or cultural elite, refuses to perform in Israel? Which sides appeals to national and international authorities to boycott Israel?

    Steven, your thesis just does not work, because you are just full of nonsense. A major reason Israel commands far more support than the Palestinian cause does in this country is precisely because it commands far more support at the grassroots level. The 14 or 15,000 people who will gather at AIPAC next week are not all cultural and political elites, even though they count cultural and political elites among their supporters.

    “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.”

    C’mon, Professor. Who’s being repressed? The people in your camp support boycotting Zionists. They shout them down. They prevent other kids from hearing them speak by crowding the room and then walking out. At SOAS, they tried to ban them altogether. Middle Eastern studies is dominated by people who have a pro-Palestinian perspective. Who is working with “surveillance agencies,” exactly?

    “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.”

    That’s great. And also pretty much irrelevant.

    “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.”

    Neither do most pro-Israel organizations I know of. But regardless, it’s meaningless. Human Rights organizations certainly do accept those kinds of donations.

    “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.”

    Whatever you need to tell yourself. I highly doubt that most BDS proponents ask Palestinian civil society when they make their decisions about what to do. Be honest: the Palestinians have never voted to endorse BDS. Never. You use Palestinian civil society as a fig leaf to make a movement of privileged Westerners look like it’s run by people on the ground.

    “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.”

    Like your affinity with Hamas, Fatah, and Arab dictatorships.

    “USACBI does not need the endorsement of university presidents or lawmaking bodies.”

    Which is why you’re constantly talking about international law. Be honest. If a university President endorsed your movement, you’d jump for joy.

    “Nor does it want their endorsement”

    No one believes that, certainly not when you’re trying to get student body after student body to vote to compel university trustees to endorse your movement. If that’s not what you’re doing, then what in the hell ARE you doing?

    I guess you don’t know your own mission statement:

    “Request your administration/president to issue a public statement censuring Israeli destruction of and interference with Palestinian schools and universities, archives and research centers, both in Gaza and throughout occupied Palestine.”

    “However, the appeal to authority is not a threat to USACBI. It is a validation of both the structure and content of our work.”

    Your entire movement is about appealing to authority to compel Israelis to do what you want.

    ” Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;”

    How do you think that works? By appealing to national and international authorities.

  3. February 27, 2014, 5:42 pm

    Justice inevitably comes from the bottom up it seems to me.

    The people at the top are always corrupt and venal.

  4. Talkback
    Talkback
    February 27, 2014, 5:43 pm

    Israel’s Anti-BDS campaign is just another desperate variation of its fascist fist law occupation policy. In other words: It increases BDS support.

  5. ritzl
    ritzl
    February 27, 2014, 6:51 pm

    The deliberate[ive], consensus-based process at arriving at these decisions is going to be the hardest to overcome for the Zionist machine. Probably too hard, in the end.

    The Presbys are doing it too. It has effect.

    Thanks for the article.

  6. February 27, 2014, 6:58 pm

    “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. … In my opinion, the greatest strength of BDS is its desire to remain adamantly independent …”

    This is precisely how AA works, by far the best thing about it, in my opinion.

    (And isn’t it “dues” not “cues” graph six?)

  7. seafoid
    seafoid
    February 27, 2014, 10:50 pm

    2 things the bots are afraid of – transparency and accountability.
    BDS is about both. Keep up the good work. Allah ya’tikum al afya.

  8. bilal a
    bilal a
    February 28, 2014, 12:16 am

    Andrew Sullivan and AIPAC’s worst nightmare

    Firsthings: Muslims our natural allies
    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/02/muslims-our-natural-allies

    Take Off your Hijab

  9. JeffB
    JeffB
    February 28, 2014, 12:31 am

    @Steven

    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.

    Neither side is really using law nor guns. But as far as it goes, the S in BDS stands for sanctions which are government actions. Sanction in the article’s terminology are about laws and guns. There is no distinction.

  10. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    February 28, 2014, 11:52 am

    Steven will be here in Boulder Colorado discussing the ASA boycott
    https://blu169.mail.live.com/default.aspx?id=64855#!/mail/ViewOfficePreview.aspx?messageid=a645bf75-9f2f-11e3-a803-00237de4a6ea&folderid=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&attindex=0&cp=-1&attdepth=0&n=1649654387

    Event: Panel Discussion on The American Studies Association Decision to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions

    When: Tuesday, March 4, 7-10pm

    Where: CU Boulder, Benson Earth Sciences, Room 180

    Panelists Favoring ASA Boycott:

    Associate Professor Cheryl Higashida, Dept. of English, CU Boulder

    Associate Professor Steven Salaita, Dept. of English, Virginia Tech University

    Panelists Opposing ASA Boycott

    Professor Patricia Limerick, Director of Center of the American West, CU Boulder

    Professor Russell Moore, Provost of CU Boulder

    Panel Moderator:

    Professor Tom Mayer, Emeritus CU Dept. of Sociology

  11. February 28, 2014, 1:19 pm

    The official rebuff of BDS by the tribe is to say that “BDS opposes the existence of Israel”. How can we counteract this ? It is a powerful argument that bears no relationship to the truth. Most BDS supporters do not oppose the existence of Israel. We should say that “Israel opposes the existence of Palestine”. We if reuse their key words it causes confusion. Just put “oppose and existence” into new phrases that criticize the tribe. Or “BDS opposes the existence of settlements”. Got it ! I think that this is the most powerful way to rebuff them. They always use short phrases with key words. It is easy to confuse their message.

  12. David Doppler
    David Doppler
    February 28, 2014, 1:47 pm

    “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 disagree on two grounds: 1) organizations are people and people always have a choice whether or not to be repressive; 2) “evok[ing] the repressive apparatuses of state power to counter threats to their supremacy” is a wholly un-American concept: the whole essence of the American constitutional approach is to divide and limit government, and turn the egos and ambitions of each apparatus to the task of holding each other back. The so-called unitary executive backed by zealous neocons, coupled with the new technology-enabled capacities of the surveillance state and the recent habits of leaders in the executive and legislature to dissemble and enable dissembling to keep secret the extent of such repression, and of the press to enable this, may be working to enable historic levels of repressive capacity for the moment, this state of affairs is likely to be temporary, with major backlashes likely, as both liberals and libertarians, both moderate progressives and moderate Republicans come to realize there is a shadow government that holds itself accountable to no one, uses terrorism as the bogeyman to deflect scrutiny, and does not have our interests at heart. While the behavior of the Zionists may be predictable, it is not excused on the theory that they have no other choice.

    But thanks for the valuable insight into the authoritarian vs grass roots divide in the ongoing struggle. The public is watching, and these clashes have value in moving public opinion. BDSers keep pointing to examples of oppression in Palestine, authorities keep screaming Anti-Semitism. People figure it out eventually.

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