Critics, rivals and even outright enemies of Israel can take their shoes off. Relax. They don’ t need to exert themselves. They don’t have to launch recruitment drives. They don’t really require any infusion of funds. They can sit back and let self-professed Israel-defenders do their advertising and marketing work for them.
This, after all, is probably the most lingering effect of the ever-expanding onslaught against proponents of Boycott, Disinvestment (BDS), Israel-bashers, anti-Zionists and others of their ilk. By closing the door on BDS supporters - and, more importantly, by chucking them out after they’ve already gained entry - these self-anointed guardians of the gate are providing their enemies with the kind of free publicity, automatic sympathy and sexy allure that money just can’t buy.
Take Franz Kafka, for example. Were it not for Israel’s hyperactive and overzealous chaperones, no one but his most loyal fans would have known or cared that BDS champion Judith Butler had been invited to participate in a March 6 New York Jewish Museum discussion about the early-20th Century Prague-born author. Butler, after all, is a widely respected philosopher and literary theorist who is eminently qualified to speak about Kafka, while Israel, BDS and the future of Zionism were not supposed to be on the agenda for the March 6 event.
Nonetheless, an anti-Butler campaign was launched, a brouhaha ensued, angry letters were written, donors got annoyed and Butler was duly axed. “While her political views were not a factor in her participation, the debates about her politics have become a distraction making it impossible to present the conversation about Kafka as intended”, the museum said in a statement.
And what were the spoils of this big victory? The Jewish Museum was humiliated, those supposedly acting in Israel’s name were seen as intellectual-muzzling brutes, BDS received tons of exposure and free publicity it did nothing to deserve and Butler was cast as an heroic academic victim persecuted for sins she did not commit. The next time she comes to town, even for BDS, you can rest assured that her star power will be greater than ever – especially in the eyes of the young and impressionable.
It is the Book of Genesis, remember, that shows us the seductive taste of forbidden fruit, even in the Garden of Eden, while the Book of Proverbs extols the unbearable sweetness of stolen waters. Things that are considered boring and humdrum when they are conducted freely and out in the open turn alluring and enticing when they are prohibited or censured or hidden from view. Younger people are inevitably drawn to the values their elders eschew: maintaining the status quo is usually considered tedious as hell.
Jewish groups and organizations are under no obligation to invite anti-Israel speakers to their forums, but once they do so, they should stick to their guns. Succumbing to outside pressure casts their own management in a bad light, tarnishes the image of the pro-Israel community and puts a powerful spotlight on the very issues that their critics wish to suppress.
This was true last year, when a BDS debate at Brooklyn College that no one had heard of turned into a national cause celebre because of ill conceived, politically motivated attempts to shut it down. It was true last month, when the Jewish Community Center of Washington D.C. disinvited David Harris-Gershon, author of What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? because he had once said something vaguely supportive of BDS.
And, in a prime example of zealous overreach and the slippery slope of stifling free speech, New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage this week invited then disinvited then once again re-invited journalist/historian John Judis. What was his sin? He has written a new, revisionist history book about Harry Truman’s attitude towards Israel. You know who isn’t complaining about the kerfuffle? Judis’ bank manager and Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, who published his book.
The same dynamic is playing out in college campuses across the U.S., where the Hillel powers that be are trying to clamp down on rogue Hillel chapters that have chosen to invite BDS supporters to speak. Whatever the merits of a Hillel-wide policy of refraining from inviting BDS supporters – and there are such merits – this is a faceoff that the “establishment” can only lose, especially if it maintains its heavy-handed my way or the highway tactics: it comes across as authoritative and narrow-minded, the renegade Hillel chapters are viewed as daring and non-conformist and the entire Judeo-Israeli complex is seen as being too defensive and too weak to withstand a few rounds of healthy debate.
As the wily dwarf Tyrion Lannister says, in brutal Game of Thrones style, in George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings: “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”