There is a battle brewing in Highland Park, NJ due to the fact that an anti-Israel author wants to do a book reading of a book called “P for Palestine.”
With regards to this book, I want to be clear that I think it’s lame and stupid and full of misinformation. I think it’s disgusting to glorify “Intifada” or “Miftah” (the misguided notion that Palestinians have a “Right of Return” to places like Jaffa and Haifa and so on) and to pretend that this is about anything other than getting rid of the state of Israel, whether via violence or non-violence. It’s clear to everyone with even tangential knowledge of the Middle East what “Palestinian nationalism” is really about.
Still with me? Now for the unpopular position. I think we should mostly leave this alone.
One of the first things they teach you in activism school (READ: AIPAC/hasbara/<insert your cause’s group here>) is that when planning an event you need to ask yourself:
What the goal of this event?
Jewish Voice for Peace, also disgusting though they are, knows what their goal is. Their goal is to generate publicity for their organization, raise money off of it, and then use that money to keep spreading their BS message. They don’t care about “indoctrinating” some kids in Highland Park. They don’t care about Rutgers. They don’t care about ANY of that. All they care about is raising money for their cause.
So they plan these intentionally offensive events – INTENTIONALY in communities or places with high concentrations of Jews and Zionists. They NEED the confrontation. They WANT this. It is LITERALLY how they raise money and continue to operate/expand. Every time there is an article about one of their events – they make money. NJ.com article? Money. Haaretz.com article? Money. Times of Israel? Money. Money. Money. Every time you share a link to their event, you are spreading their message and making them money.
This culture war/outrage industry is not new. It applies to many topics, where the goal is to do things that are INTENTIONALLY confrontational because they rely on people being ANGRY and spreading their message (which helps search engine optimization, but that’s just the marketing guy in me talking). Then they get to act horrified and talk about hate and white supremacy and blah blah blah which generates MORE outrage and MORE coverage and MORE MONEY.
Now ask yourself – what is our goal?
What do we want to accomplish with a protest? Stop the book reading? Ban the book from the library? How does a protest (which is EXACTLY what they want) accomplish those goals? And even if you achieved those goals, what did you ACTUALLY get accomplished? Sheltering our kids from offensive books? Making the Highland Park library a safe space? This is far from the most offensive book that’s out there (and it’s actually been out there since 1990!) – that may even be at the library right now! And even if we accomplished getting rid of ALL of the offensive books…if your kids have any access to the internet, they have instant access to endless streams of horrible propaganda and fake blood libels about Israel.
But the more important issue – by far – is if doing this going to achieve any net positives for us. Remember a large, loud, unruly protest that devolves into a confrontation is exactly what these people want. And no matter how civilized you try to be, no matter how prepared you think you will be, what happens WHEN (not if!) someone on the other side starts saying something about ethnic cleansing and apartheid and genocide and all the other garbage they spew. Are you sure you would be disciplined enough to just stand there and not get into a heated argument? What about the other 100 people? 200?
I saw in another group that people want to hand out fliers that have images of KKK members and cross burnings. That is nuts! Forget about whether it’s an accurate depiction of who is going to be at this library event but even if it IS, how do you expect someone on the other side to just accept being called a KKK member or a terrorist? All it takes is one person snapping on one side and another person snapping on the other side and a “peaceful protest” turns into an insta-riot.
And again – even in the BEST CASE SCENARIO, it’s like literally the greatest dream of these JVP people – to have on one side a bunch of young minorities who just want to read their stinking Israel-hating book in peace (free speech! Oppression! Blah blah!), and on the other side a group of local “white” Jews yelling and screaming and infringing on their fantasy land. You will be front and center in every single fundraising email these idiots send out for the rest of the fiscal year.
I’ll close this by relating a story from my Rutgers activism days, of which some people in this very group participated in.
During the 2010-2011 school year, we had a massive amount of anti-Israel events. I’ll just highlight three of them (out of literally a dozen) and our responses to each and how we learned the hard way how these people operate.
- A group called Never Again For Anyone had an event at Rutgers with Holocaust survivors who basically said that Gaza was a concentration camp. Highly offensive. A group of students (mostly from Hillel) decided they wanted to stage a silent walkout, which would both communicate our disapproval with the event – but also not antagonize the Holocaust survivors themselves. Well, the overall community caught wind of it, and decided to show up. There were hundreds of people there protesting outside, it was loud, it was tense, there were arguments and it was only by the grace of God that no one took a swing at someone. The event got press, and millions of people who had never heard of this group got to read about an event featuring Holocaust survivors saying Israel was committing genocide. Oh and that the local Jewish community tried to “silence.”
- During “Israel Apartheid Week” the anti-Israel organizations at Rutgers decided to set up a table and “apartheid wall” to hand out anti-Israel propaganda. Inside of direct confrontation, this time we just set up our own table next to them and handed out Israeli chocolates and a big giant blue/white cake (plus some of card with our own propaganda on it). 90% of the foot traffic came to our side because, you know, cake and chocolates > angry keffiyahs. Most people didn’t even know what the purpose of their exhibit was. Were they pro-Israel? Anti-Israel? Some kind of “both sides” situation? At one point they even came over to our side and we gave them ISRAELI CHOCOLATE WHICH THEY ATE. Their entire operation was completely and utterly defused.
- Towards the end of the semester, awful, terrible, no-good Israel hater, and BDS proponent, Marwan Barghouti showed up to campus. We did………..nothing. Noting that the event had bad timing and was in part of the campus that no one went to, we just let it be. A few pro-Israel and Hillel people went there just to see what it was about. MAYBE a couple dozen people showed up, half of which were our people. Total dud.
My point is there are other paths than direct confrontation. If you want my recommendation, have a few people go to the meeting, but instead of banning the book reading, offer to ATTEND the book reading to “learn from the other side” IF (and this is a BIG IF) THEY agree to participate in an event where someone reads passages from “The Jewish State” by Herzl. They will NEVER agree to this NEVER. Not in 100 million years. But you will have successfully positioned yourselves as being open to dialogue and THEM as the extremists.
Finally remember that it’s NEVER about changing the minds of the Israel haters – that’s never going to happen. It isn’t about what we think or what they think. It’s about what EVERYONE WATCHING BOTH OF US thinks.
Our goal should be to defuse the situation, not to enflame it. And you don’t fight fire with FIRE, you fight fire with WATER.
That’s it, I’ve said my piece. Now, flame on.