Friday, April 15, 2011

Dude, Where’s My Sponsorship? Anti-Israel Boycott Activists Caught Lying About University of Massachusetts Backing

One has to wonder what was more frustrating for the anti-Israel BDS crowd here in Amherst last night: the modest attendance at the featured event—barely a dozen people at the start and even by the end, perhaps 75 at most, I am told—or the massive public relations failure.

The event in question was a talk by Omar Barghouti. A founder of the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, he was making the rounds of our great northeastern institutions of higher learning in order to promote his new book, which "makes the case for a rights-based BDS campaign to stop Israel's rapacious occupation, colonization, and apartheid against the Palestinian people." The goal, as he put it during his talk at Rutgers, is to turn Israel into "a world pariah nation."

The two-state solution—formally endorsed by the Palestinian Authority, the government of Israel, the “Quartet,” and the Arab League—is for him the “apartheid 2 states solution" because it "ignores the basic injustice" done to Palestinians. But while Barghouti and BDS have been pursuing their quixotic quest on American university campuses, others have been quietly accomplishing things on the ground. Acknowledging the efforts of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the UN just the day before the lecture determined that the development of the Palestinian Authority met key benchmarks for statehood. (Speaking of university campuses, critics have not failed to note the irony that Barghouti holds a graduate degree from Tel Aviv University.)

There was some drama in the lead-up to the events because of uncertainty as to whether Mr. Barghouti could obtain a US visa. Here, however, the issue was not drama, but confusion, which haunted the event from start to finish.

Brother, Where Art Thou?

Last week, it was announced as taking place at Hampshire College.

Then, this week, it was suddenly listed as taking place at the University of Massachusetts.

Rumors accompanied the mysterious change. It was asserted in several quarters that the venue had been shifted due to unspecified political opposition at Hampshire. This is untrue, of course (as the President confirmed to me in a conversation yesterday morning). It would be nonsense under any circumstances. Duly registered student groups, acting on their own, and not in the name of the College, are entitled to hold the events of their choosing, provided they do not violate the law or community norms of safety and conduct. In fact, Students for Justice held a much-touted how-to conference on divestment here two years ago without incident (or consequences).

"some confusion . . . with sponsors"

More puzzling than the location of the Barghouti event was the sponsorship.

Among the names listed in the publicity were the usual suspects from the narrow spectrum of passionate activist groups in the Valley, e.g. Students for Justice in Palestine, Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine, and the International Socialist Organization.

I was surprised, however, to find the names of three major University departments or programs: Economics, History, and Social Thought and Political Economy (STPEC). I am acquainted with faculty in all three and with the heads of two.  It seemed puzzling that they would lend their institutional names to such a controversial event:
(1) It is of political rather than scholarly character.
(2) It is highly partisan and divisive.
(3) Its advocacy of cultural as well as economic boycott flies in the face of the principles of academic life. In fact, the American Association of University Professors not only rejects academic boycotts in general, but also explicitly rejects current calls for boycotts of Israel: “In the long run, more, not less, dialogue with Israeli faculty members is an important way to promote peace in the region."
It took only a few phone calls and emails to get to the bottom of the matter. The reactions of the offices in question ranged from disbelief to outrage.

Economics had explicitly told the activists that it would not sponsor the event, and when the news reached the Chair on Wednesday night, he angrily demanded that Econ's name be stricken from the list. In fact, the departmental website soon  displayed a prominent disclaimer.

Social Thought and Political Economy (SPTEC) had likewise explicitly declined a request to add its name to the program, though it learned of the deception only on the day of the lecture, too late to do much about it. In any case, the calendar was already full: its featured event of the evening was a screening of "Harold and Maude."

History was perhaps the most perplexed. The Chair stated that she had never even been contacted about supporting the event.

Dude, Where's My Sponsorship?!

This is one of those situations for which an expression such as “shocked, but not surprised” seems tailor-made. Sadly, as Jon Haber has most effectively documented, willfully distorting the truth or resorting to outright lying have now become standard operating procedure for the BDS movement.

To cite but the most notorious case: that the myth of Hampshire College "divestment from the Israeli Occupation of Palestine" persists in some quarters does not make it any more true. My favorite new example is the myth of divestment at Harvard. That venerable institution removed Israeli companies from an emerging markets fund not out of revulsion at that nation's policies, but because its economy had grown to such an extent that it qualified to join the  Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in effect, the small club of the world’s most advanced economies, “a success which,” as Jon says, “unfurled during the very decade that BDS has been tirelessly working to undermine Israeli’s economy."

This week's hijinks were just unusually brazen and foolish.

As things fell apart on the afternoon of the event, another group asked to be added to the list of supporters. An organizer responded by asking for official documentation, explaining, with a touch of chagrin and more than a little understatement: "we've had some confusion with listing the right people as sponsors."

That's one way to put it. Here's another:

1) Economics Department sponsorship: LIE.
2) History Department sponsorship: LIE.
3) STPEC Program sponsorship: LIE.

In baseball, at any rate, they have rules about this: three strikes, and you’re out.

* * *

Press Coverage:

Michelle Williams, "Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti to discuss new book, recent developments in Gaza," Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 14 April 2011.

Enhanced by Zemanta


Unknown said...

I am eager to see whether our favorite dissenter, K, will attempt to trust this entry into more proof of your alleged racist tendencies. Or will he stay away because he simply has no answer for this set of egregious SJP/BDS fallacies?.

Terry said...

For the record, the accidental inclusion of endorsements that had been confirmed but were only in the process of being sought was redacted. Flyers that had the wrong sponsorship were collected wherever possible and replaced. Apologies were given to the econ dep't in advance and all efforts were made to undo this error.

And as for Hampshire, funding was denied for Omar's honorarium and so the event was moved to UMass with less than a week of time to prepare - hence the confusion over endorsements.

The fact that Jim Wald, Hampshire professor, continues to maintain a blog chronicling the trials of Palestine solidarity activists in the area based primarily on hearsay is egregiously unprofessional both in that none of what's written here is remotely scholarly, but also in that it directly slanders students at the institution where Wald teaches.

Larry Kelley said...

At least Jim Wald, Hampshire College professor, puts his name on everything he writes here (which I sometimes find a tad too scholarly.)

Erica Rothschild said...

@ Terry

I do not remember reading that a blog needs to be scholarly. Perhaps you could direct me to a source? I thought a blog was a cyber-space to express personal thoughts...

After seeing the sponsors on the flyer, I was shocked that an academic department would support an event whose flyer was covered with false statements- for example, "Israel's occupation of all Arab lands" -- All 22 countries??? I was going to write to the departments and contact Alums to do the same in response to their decision to sponsor the spread of misinformation.

Lastly, Professor Wald defended the institution of Hampshire when explaining why the event was ultimately changed from its original location.

Terry said...


The demand of "1. Ending Israel's occupation and colonization of all Arab lands..." does not mean that all Arab lands are occupied, nor would anyone think that unless they read it misquoted without context, as you just gave it. Here's how I could quote you, in the same vein, "Professor Wald... sponsor[s] the spread of misinformation... with false statements... to express personal thoughts [rather than scholarly opinions]."

And I fail to see how Wald could have explained why the event was ultimately changed when not only was he not involved in organizing it, nor on a listserv that might have given him some information, but he wasn't even at the event. He took great pains to contact departments at UMass, but he didn't even think of contacting any of the groups involved in organizing it.

Jon said...

Claims that the inclusion of not one, not two, but three U Mass departments in the list of sponsoring organization was just a simple accident would be less risable if the BDS "movement" did not have such a long track record of trying to pass off similar frauds, first and foremost the hoax that Hampshire College itself was the first college to divest from Israel.

Far from correcting this mis-information, BDS activists on the Hampshire campus continue to embrace this false storyline, to the point of making and distributing a film celebrating an event which did not happen.

Once the Hamphsire BDS community starts putting as much effort into clarifying the truth as it does spreading falsehoods (and condemning those that expose them), then perhaps we will be able to start taking their prouncements seriously.

Terry said...

If it were not for the divestment campaign of 2007-2009, Hampshire would not have divested. The fact that the Hampshire administration chose not to attribute divestment to the actions of students is irrelevant. The school divested from the companies that they were asked to divest from. That's what divestment is. If you tell someone to stop hitting someone else and they promptly stop hitting them, it doesn't matter if they deny that your intervention was influential in their decision to stop hitting that other person. And more broadly, the claim that that is a lie or that it is representative of a trend is unsubstantiated. It's unsubstantiate-able. What are some other examples of lies in the BDS movement?

Jon said...

Here our BDS champion is having some fun with the ambiguity associated with the word “divestment.”

At one level, any time anyone sells a stock or fund for any reason (economic, political, superstitious) they are “divesting” themselves of that asset. But the BDS project is not about “divesting” or selling off assets for traditional economic reasons. Rather, they are claiming that those selling these assets are doing so to make a political statement in agreement with the BDS message that Israel is an “Apartheid state” worthy of the same politically inspired economic punishment meted out to South Africa during the Apartheid era.

But a boycott or divestment type of political statement has no meaning (and cannot actually be said to have occurred) unless the person doing the boycotting or divesting actually makes it clear that this is why they are doing so. So the one (and really the only) proof that Hampshire College has done what SJP claims and divested from Israel for political reasons (and at these student’s urging) is for the divesting party to tell us that is what they did.

So what did the decision makers at Hampshire say regarding divesting from Israel (before and after this whole controversy began)? I think it can be summed up nicely in this quote from the college’s President and Board of Director’s Chairman:

”No other college or university should use Hampshire as a precedent for divesting from
Israel, since Hampshire has refused to divest from Israel. Anyone who claims otherwise is deliberately misrepresenting Hampshire’s decision and has no right to speak for the college.”

Now Hampshire’s partisans can make all the speeches and films they want claiming credit for the sunrise because they’ve been crowing for years, but unless and until the school’s leaders stand alongside the BDSers at a press conference to jointly claim that the schools has divested and has done so for political reasons alone, then it’s safe to say that SJP is simply doing what it seems to be continuing to do with the Barghouti sponsorship controversy: making false claims and hoping to either not get caught or befogging the air to pretend its latest hoax is something other than part of a long-term trend.

Terry said...

You allege that the organizers of the Barghouti event added those departments knowing that they were not sponsoring. Do you honestly think anyone in their right mind would do that? Are the endorsements of a few departments going to draw large numbers to an event? Would it be worth the risk to lie about that? Of course not. As I wrote before, it was a miscommunication. The allegation that it was anything other is unfounded and absurd.

HSJP has always been forward about the fact that the former president (Hexter left Hampshire because he was exceptionally disliked by students, staff, and faculty) did not endorse divestment. The institution's statement is unimportant, because the stocks that SJP wanted sold were sold. Do you really think they were sold for "traditional economic reasons"?

And you also didn't provide a new example of the BDS movement lying. Still waiting.

Jon said...

This is not a matter of the President “not endorsing divestment.” The school didn’t do it, and the President and Board chairman merely clarified a fact that SJP would like to get around. Investment funds contain a number of stocks, so the fact that the school sold off something that happened to contain companies on the BDS blacklist means nothing. If those same funds contained shares of Exxon, I wouldn’t go around announcing “Hampshire denounces Shirah Law!” just because Exxon does business with the Saudis (unless, of course, I was playing by SJP rules).

Once again, Hampshire College didn’t “divest” in the terms BDS defines “divestment.” They made no political decisions as an institution and thus took no political position via the investment/divestment vehicle. This has been explained over and over, and yet SJP is still celebrating and making movies as though something that didn’t happen (Hampshire divesting from Israel) really did.

Regarding your post hoc fallacy (look it up) linking SJP lobbying preceding this decision (and thus being taken for granted as a cause), imagine if I were to announce at my blog that SJP pulled its Barghouti speech from Hampshire College out of fear that I would make fun of them again.
After all, I have poked fun of you repeatedly in the past (see, and that mockery did precede the decision to move Barghouti’s talk from Hampshire to another venue. The fact that you have a perfectly plausible alternative explanation should count for something but, again, if I followed your rules then your explanation and mine are simply acceptable alternative realities, both of which should carry equal weight.

Regarding the long list of BDS frauds since the Hampshire hoax first broke, let me see: how about BDS press releases claiming that the investment firms TIAA-CREF, Blackrock and PGGM had divested from Israel (they hadn’t) or that the retailers Hudson Bay and John Lewis were boycotting Ahava (they didn’t)? In fact, if you plug BDS and hoax into Google, you’ll find dozens of examples (many of them from Divest This) detailing divestment frauds that have been exposed in the last two years, starting with Hampshire College.

Perhaps you are beginning to see why this aptly-named “movement” seems to have a credibility problem.

You’re welcome.

Terry said...

The accusation of post hoc fallacy ignores the reality that SJP had waged a campaign on campus that had the support of the majority of the student body (represented by the petition), a substantial section or even the majority of faculty, and had forced the administration to make a decision. And it was only the actions of SJP that forced the rehabilitation of groups on campus that promote responsible investment. Only after, and soon after, that happened did the board divest from the specific stocks that SJP had demanded they divest from, along with others. I return to my metaphor from earlier: If you see someone hitting someone, and you shout at them to stop, and they stop, it doesn't matter if they claim is wasn't because of you that they stopped - they stopped. The administration denied divestment in '76 as well. That didn't mean that Hampshire didn't divest and it helped to galvanize a movement that ended Apartheid.

And you state of your examples of BDS "lying", "(Many of them from Divest This)" as though having only one source - a blog - is something to be proud of. And considering that it seems to be simply more unfounded claims of ad hoc fallacy based on second person accounts, I'm still waiting. At best, false information was given to activists which then formed the basis for false claims. That's not an argument against BDS, it's an argument for greater transparency from big corporations.

Jon said...

So you did cancel Bargouti out of fear of this blog? Or, at least, you can’t not prove you didn’t not do it? (You’ll love today’s posting, by the way:

The fact that the administration you courted specifically told the consultant reviewing Hampshire's investment portfolio to make decisions based on issues like Sudan and Labor practices and NOT the Arab-Israeli conflict (coupled with their announcement that divestment against Israel had NOT taken place) just demonstrates that – after politely listening to your arguments - they decided to not follow your advice. Which is why you had to resort to lying about the school’s policy and endlessly making up more and more complicated reasons why a group of students get to claim that their school is adhering to a policy they explicitly deny.

Sorry, but after one after another press release have gone out announcing (falsely) that Hampshire, TIAA-CREF, Blackrock et al have joined the BDS movement (each written by BDS activists with no decision-making power or connected to the allegedly divesting organization), the new test is pretty simple. If you claim that an institution (such as Hampshire) divested from Israel, it is your obligation to provide us a statement by someone who actually gets to make divestment decisions supporting your claim. Honestly, how hard should that be? It certainly seems easier than concocting explanations that show how a decision maker explicitly denying what you claim means the exact opposite.

If you stopped spending so much time punching reality in the face, demanding it conform to your fantasies, you might not have the credibility problem that led to this latest embarrassment. But, then again, you wouldn’t be Terry (or is it Freddy) from Hampshire SJP then, would you?

Hannah said...

Just to clarify -- as this a point that often bugs me, and it's something that comes up in this thread -- the divestment was not from Israel proper but was a divestment from the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In that case, it's quite true we didn't divest from Israel; we divested from the occupation.

Also, IMHO, SOURCE should get more credit than it does for the divestment campaign.

Unknown said...

1. It always amazes me that proponents of BDS call themselves "Palestine/ Palestinan Solidarity activists," because it is so clear that these activists could not care less about demonstrating or promoting Arab and Palestinian welfare unless it involves attacking Israel. There is no action by SJP or Western Mass Coalition for Palestine when the Hashemite kingdom of Joran repeatedly discriminates against Palestinians and randomly revokes their Jordanian citizenship. Similarly, SJP and crew take no action on bettering the lives of Palestinian refugees from Kuwait in the aftermath of the Perisan Gulf War, or their still suffering descendants. And again, there is no effort made on the part of Palestinians living in Lebanon, whom the Lebanese government deliberately oppresses in festering refugee camps. Only five Hampshire students, none of them members of SJP, attended a recent event there involving a lecture about the Middle Eastern revolutions by a prominent Egyptian activist- though SJP and crew were quick to demonstrate "in solidarity" with Egypt at an event featuring a lecture by an Israeli soldier.
2. Hampshire did not Divest. I was a student there during the campaign, and your claim is erroneous. President Hexter clarified multiple times that SJP's efforts were responsible ONLY for prompting the financial committee to examine Hampshire's investments. Some, NOT all, of the companies mentioned were removed from the portfolio, while some remained- a decision which was made not according to SJP's claims or requests, but according to previously established (in 1994) standards of ethical business doing. Hampshire remains involved in Israeli companies, as well as companies that SJP would most likely clarify as "profiting from the occupation."
3. The Divestment campaign did not, as a matter of fact, have the support of the majority of the student body. In fact, HampSJP is increasingly regarded by Hampshire students as fanatics who employ questionable and disrespectful tactics, as they did in front of 250 other students and community members at the February Benjamin Anthony event.

In short, Jon and Jim have it right.

Jon said...

Hannah - Whether you are making false claims about Hampshire divesting from Israel proper or "the Occupation," (booga booga booga) a lie is still a lie.

Again, you can clear everything up by simply providing us all a statement made by people with the actual authority to authorize investment decisions indicating that Hampshire divested from Israel (or "the occupation") specifically for the political reasons you claim.

Absent that, the only conclusion the rest of us can draw is that the school never divested, a fact that will not change no matter how many press releases and films a set of self-serving students produce claiming that black is white.

Hannah said...

Jon, I just meant to make a factual clarification regarding the intention. The whole shebang is and was so vague and opaque (in part thanks to the administration and also to poor communication amongst us students). Either way, the Sgt. Benjamin Anthony event demonstrated, well, a tremendously different SJP than I remembered in 2008. But that's just my opinion. I'm really not trying to start a debate here.

Also, the occupation (booga booga booga) -- what?

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, the SJP at the Benjamin Anthony event is the exact same SJP that campaigned in 2007 and 2008. I vividly remember the nasty names and epithets that were hurled at me, especially during past Israel Apartheid Weeks, because I was a visible Zionist on campus. I was accused of being a "baby-killer," "wacko," "twisted," "murderer," and the list goes on. Once, a member of SJP entered my campus apartment uninvited and began to harass me about the map of Israel I had posted to my room door. Last year, a friend had his Israeli flag and newspaper articles stolen and vandalized from his room. I remember, too, that when I organized a rally on the Amherst green in early 2009, the attendees were screamed and cursed at by a nasty faction of SJPers who gathered to counter-rally.
SJP has demonstrated a long tradition of disrespect and intolerance of disagreement with even the nastiest of their claims. Their recent recent behavior is nothing new.

Hannah said...

@ Sam:

Gotta hate Hampshire, right? I remember you telling me about one of those incidents (the rally I think?), but eeeek. :-(

Jon said...

Hi Hannah – I didn’t mean to jump down your throat (long day). And I agree with you that communication before, during and after the divestment snafu a couple of years back confused everyone (including me) for quite some time.

But at the end of the day, just as I cannot project motives and desires onto an organization just because I want to, so too the SJP group you no longer seem to be a part of cannot take the message clearly delivered by the decision makers at Hampshire College (that they didn’t divest in Israel, “the occupation” or anything else based on the Arab-Israeli conflict) and turn it around to the opposite to suit their purposes. Even if SJP was fighting for a good fight (which I clearly don’t believe they are), their obligation is to win real adherents to their cause by demonstrating good faith and behaving in ways you certainly have not seen them behave this year.

I guess I lump the fraudulent hailing of Hampshire as “the first US college to divest in Israel” (taking advantage of the administration’s poor communication and ambiguity around the word “divestment”) and the recent Anthony dust up into the same category. In the latter instance, SJP put their desires ahead of everyone else on campus who wanted to hear the speaker (after building an elaborate construct as to why harassing and interrupting someone with another point of view represented “free speech” - i.e., their own). But in the former instance (the original divestment hoax), SJP was also putting its desires to claim Hampshire as supporting their cause before the needs of everyone else, including those on campus who did not want SJP speaking in their name.

In both instances (and I suspect many more) the constituency for SJP are their fellow BDS activists on other campuses and beyond. The students of Hampshire (as well as others in your community) simply serve as props the SJP wants to use in a drama they are most interested in broadcasting far you’re your school.

Jake Brooks said...

lol i loved the link to mythbusters. VERY clever. shouldnt u have been reading your div3s drafts when u wrote this tho?

Unknown said...

lol, i loved the link to mythbusters....VERY clever. shouldn't u have been reading ur div3 drafts when u wrote this tho?

Jim Wald said...

Jason/Jake: Glad that you, too, enjoy "Mythbusters."

As to the question of whether I should have been reading "Division III's" (that's: senior theses, to you non-Hampshire folks): well, that (and taking care of other work) is exactly what I have been doing. This is the first time I have posted in a month. First things first, business before pleasure.

Now that the semester (though not the paperwork) is over, I'm back. I hope the term ended well for you.