Sometimes the BDS crew remind me of the manager of a mediocre football team desperate to convince everyone that their team is brilliant. When a football manager uses every result (no matter how poor) as evidence that the great change is imminent, you know that they are destined to remain in mediocrity. When he’s honest about the team’s strengths and weaknesses, however, it’s a sign that they might yet become a force to be reckoned with.
In +972, Sean O’Neill argues that BDS is on the verge of achieving widespread support. His evidence? Norman Finkelstein’s declaration of civil war on the boycotters. Demonstrating that the BDS movement remains habitually unable to deal with honest criticism, O’Neill declares the interview “a sign that the ground is shifting on Israel/Palestine issues”, without producing much evidence to back up this claim. The following is all he could come up with: “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, and 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.”
An Israeli artist who davka questioned Birthright Israel and was shut out by BDS in NYC. And this wouldn’t have been possible five years ago! The equivalent of a middling football team winning one match in ten away from home, perhaps, but certainly not evidence of a paradigm shift. O’Neill follows this clincher with a few more assertions, but once again doesn’t back them up: “Here is where things stand now. There is a paradigm shift in the works in how the Israel/Palestine conlict is understood and approached. There is an increasing consensus among Israel’s critics to see the issue as one of civil rights, rather than a conflict between two nations.”
He concludes that “Finkelstein’s sudden hostility is a symptom of this paradigm shift” because the guaranteed existence of a Jewish nation-state has “eroded a bit”. Without any evidence, he suggests that this is because Norman Finkelstein, the man who proudly saluted the courage of Hizbollah, is scared of the end of Israel and the glorious utopian future that will follow it.
The truth is that O’Neill, like most other BDS ideologues, is unable to confront the strategic implications of Finkelstein’s argument. Arguing in favour of replacing Israel with a Palestinian-Arab state does not have, and will not have, mass appeal, no matter how much you would like to pretend that it does. This is because most people realise that Israel, for all its faults, is not the equivalent of Apartheid South Africa. It is true that BDS has had some success, but this is mainly a result of diplomatic inertia on the ground, and does not justify the hysteria that follows every announcement of a cancellation by some band that nobody has ever heard of, or getting together 300 activists for a conference at the University of Pennsylvania. It is not a paradigm shift, and until the BDS leadership develops some basic self-awareness and self-criticism, fist pumping exercises by the likes of O’Neill are no different to Andre Villas-Boas pretending that drawing one all with Birmingham City in the FA Cup represents the dawn of a great breakthrough.