Occupy AIPAC and that awkward moment when you just feed into the other side more

A woman getting thrown out of the AIPAC policy conference because she doesn’t want to be “silenced” by pro-Israel groups on campus. See, pro-Israel groups did not accept her anti-Israel group into their fold and that apparently amounts to “silencing” her. That’s like Santorum supporters complaining that they are being “silenced” at a pro-life rally.

(via Liam)

For the record, I’ve been to an AIPAC Policy Conference. It’s an amazing event, I met all sorts of interesting people from evangelical Christian pro-Israel groups, Hispanic pro-Israel groups, black pro-Israel groups and others. That said, as these things often are, it was less about open discussion and determining the future of the America/Israel relationship and more about schmoozing. Most of the breakout sessions followed one of two themes: a) “look at all of the awesome stuff I’ve done over the past year, please give me money”; and b) “I’m really knowledgeable and smart, please buy my book”.

In fact, everyone who went to the conference was pretty much on the same page – they were from a surprisingly diverse range of ethnic backgrounds and political beliefs (it was not at all the “right-wing” organisation that some would have you believe it is), but they were, without exception, not only pro-Israel but pro-Israel enough that they would pay $500 for the conference + accommodation to be with other pro-Israel people and discuss pro-Israel things.

Which brings me to my real point: what exactly does this woman think she is achieving? Who is she trying to convince? The crowd reacted exactly as anyone would expect them to – they booed her until security came to escort her out. She has absolutely no chance of convincing anyone; in fact, she will most likely just reinforce peoples’ perception that they are being attacked. At best, she has wasted a total of three minutes of a session about pro-Israel activism on campus and has given a couple of hundred people a funny story to tell.

This complete lack of self-awareness is why the BDS movement will never get the momentum that it has deluded itself into thinking it has. Norman Finkelstein is wrong about a lot of things, but he’s right about that. It can be seen in the responses that pro-BDSers have had to him, as they huddle in their closed circles and defend themselves to each other. Take Sean O’Neil here:

In flinching move, Finkelstein slams boycott movement.

Everything about the interview is classic Finkelstein: his demeanor, his tendency to raise his voice, his adversarial, passionate approach, everything, that is, except for the things he’s saying.  In a bizarre turn of events, he comes off as a Zionist bully, or for that matter, any other angry right wing pundit.  He accuses activists for Palestinian civil rights of having a secret agenda, that of destroying Israel.

… I recently witnessed BDS’s growing clout at a meeting I attended with a woman working with an Israeli artist helping set up a series of salons in New York to explore and question the Birthright Israel programs, and the idea of a “birthright” in general. The project sounds very interesting, but the woman was visibly frustrated at their inability to find people willing to work with them in the city. They are partially funded by the Israeli Consulate, and as a result have had the proverbial door shut on them by activists, artists, and professors, Arab and Jew alike. This would have been incomprehensible five years ago, when I first heard of the BDS movement at the annual Bil’in conference and it was, at that point, divisive even among conference attendees.

… Finkelstein’s sudden hostility to the solidarity movement is a symptom of this paradigm shift. It is easy to rail against Israel when the existence of a Jewish nation-state seems guaranteed in perpetuity. But that guarantee seems to have eroded a bit. For some this will be scary … For others it is liberating, and you can count among these an increasing number of Israelis who see coexistence – real coexistence, not the tenuous kind that reigns in Jaffa, among other places – as a more attractive guarantee to their security than the ethnocratic state. As the ground continues to shift, some of those who are afraid will flinch, and retreat to safer, more moderate arguments. Finkelstein flinched.

See? He seems to take offence to Finkelstein’s accusation that BDSers have a secret agenda of destroying Israel, only to later reveal his secret agenda to destroy Israel like there was nothing ironic happening there.

Also, the fact that an anti-Israel woman was struggling to find other anti-Israel people to come and talk about why Jews should not have a “birthright” does not mean BDS has “growing clout”. That means BDS has been adopted by people who hate Israel, but those people hated Israel anyway, the only disagreement was in methodology. Here’s how you measure whether BDS has “clout”: are tens of millions of dollars still pouring into the Birthright program every year? Yes? BDS has no clout.

This is in stark contrast to AIPAC. Unlike groups like StandWithUs, who try to counterbalance the BDS movement’s idiocy with some idiocy of their own, AIPAC very carefully consider the best way that they can make an impact in favour of their agenda. While BDSers are annoying a few AIPAC donors, AIPAC are selling the merits of increasing US-Israel security cooperation to Congress. The results speak for themselves.

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