Israel, the intellectuals and the BDS movement (II)

The second in a three part series by Mike Berger on the demonisation of that country

In a remarkable book entitled "Intellectuals and Society", the American economic historian, Thomas Sowell, takes a dim view of the impact "Intellectuals" have had on society. In an impressive display of erudition and meticulous analysis he shows that intellectual fashions change over time no matter how ardently they are defended as the "ultimate truth" at any particular moment.

Furthermore, he demonstrates the fundamental anti-democratic thrust of those who believe they are possessed of greater wisdom and a higher morality than the common herd ("the anointed" in his terminology). Too often "the anointed" are not directly subject to the consequences of their errors of judgement and are able to dismiss the mundane experience and insights of the broader population as naive or evidence of ignorance and bigotry.

He shows how the pacifist narratives promoted by an ascendant Western intellectual class (Bertrand Russell amongst others) were disastrously wrong in their reading of the intentions and potential of Hitler's Germany between the two world wars, at the cost of millions of lives. He also demonstrates how the multicultural ideas of late 20th century Intellectuals have bedevilled race relations and impeded the liberation of USA blacks from the straitjackets of a dysfunctional ghetto culture. These comments barely touch on the many brilliant and provocative insights this book provides.

Amongst these is his recognition that around the primary producers of public ideas, the Intellectual class itself, is a vast penumbra of the educated elite located especially in the media and the entertainment industry. Brought up on the ideas prevalent in higher institutions of learning dominated by "the anointed", these acolytes disseminate the intellectual and moral fashions of the day as ultimate truth rather than contingent and potentially mistaken ideas about a very complex and unpredictable world.

He shows with devastating effect how such people in the media, by deliberately selecting and filtering news and comment, shaped the dominant and sometimes disastrous policies of their time. It is not for nothing that Jacques Ellul in his classic work "Propaganda - the shaping of men's attitudes", claims that the primary target of ideological propaganda is not the ordinary citizen but primarily the highly educated, politically engaged elites who regard themselves as immune to irrational influences. But their adoption of current fads as ultimate truth can trickle down to the rest of society and shape the perceptions of the broader community.

What Sowell does not discuss is the relationship of both the intellectuals themselves and their penumbra of acolytes to hardcore activists and politicians operating in the realms of power. Such people have contemptuously referred to the intellectual class as "useful idiots", which brings me back to the demonisation campaign against Israel.

Key to this campaign is the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) project. I will briefly clarify the origins, agenda and modus operandi of the BDS campaign and the facilitatory role being played by significant elements of the mainstream media (MSM), to use an American terminology. The reader can find background material to this project with useful references and a downloadable pdf file here.

As pointed out in the first article the general backwardness, political instability and distrust between the regional actors in the Middle East has rendered a direct challenge to Israel's military supremacy increasingly untenable. Thus the paramilitary component of the war against Israel has assumed increasing importance.

The centre of this strategy is a coordinated propaganda campaign to delegitimise and demonise Israel based on the tenets of "total propaganda" as outlined by Jacques Ellul and others. Its central characteristics are that it is relentless, all-pervasive and utilises the prevailing myths and prejudices of the times and circumstances. Inevitably it conceals its ultimate agenda.

Total propaganda utilises all avenues available, including the conventional media, the Internet, the entertainment industry, lawfare, including pseudo-judicial theatre (see the Russell Tribunal) and any civic space whether Universities, street rallies or the UN to propagate its message. The recent military and terror action against Israel from Gaza and Lebanon is part of the propaganda offensive and partly a means of radicalising the local populations, since any tangible military success is out of reach.

The BDS project, initiated in 2001 in Durban and further boosted in 2005, is at the core of the paramilitary front. It uses the anti-Apartheid campaign as a strategic model and for its powerful emotional resonance and wealth of operational expertise gained during the struggle against white South Africa. It is also important to understand that it is well-funded and well staffed by skilled activists.

Its operational philosophy and proximal objectives were clearly spelled out. In the following statement:

NGO Declaration, World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Durban, September 2001:

  • "Call for... adoption of all measures... employed against the South African Apartheid regime (Article 418)
  • Call for the launch of an international anti Israeli Apartheid movement as implemented against South African Apartheid through a global solidarity campaign network of international civil society (Article 424)
  • Impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state...the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel (Article 425)"

In 2005 a move was made to publicly dissociate the BDS movement from the antisemitic and racist rhetoric of the Durban Conference and to broaden their base. It now comprises 170 loosely-linked, global organisations which are highly adaptable to local conditions and opportunities but share information, resources and a common agenda. By including Western leftists not normally associated with overtly antisemitic and genocidal agendas, it has tried to obscure its core objective but no serious student of the BDS movement doubts that the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state remains the minimal core objective.

Considering the disastrous public image and murderously violent politics of their primary clients - terror organisations like Hamas, Hezbollah and other Jihadist groups, including factions within Fatah itself, and their major State patrons, Iran, Syria and even Saudi Arabia and Egypt - the success of the BDS activists in keeping tiny, democratic Israel in the dock has been remarkable. While undoubtedly this attests to the numbers, skill and energy they have brought to their propaganda campaign, it also depends on the systematic filtering and biased presentation of news and commentary by a deeply compromised Western media as outlined in the previous article.

In the concluding article I will attempt to connect the dots and to document more fully the neighbourhood in which Israel is compelled to construct a foreign policy.

Mike Berger

This is the second in a series of three articles. Mike Berger's weblog Solar Plexus can be found here.

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