Protecting Students from the BDS Cult

On Sunday, September 15, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacey Aviva Flint, the founding director of Mocha Jewess Consultancy and a member of Alliance for Israel’s Advisory Board. Sharing her personal and professional expertise, Flint provided a chilling account of how the BDS movement mimics the disturbing practices of cult leaders as it recruits and coerces unsuspecting and well-meaning American students.

First, Flint described a framework that delineates the components of mind control, which is the central tenet of cult membership. The four components of the framework are Behavioral Control, Information Control, Thought Control, and Emotional Control. This framework, known as the “BITE” model, was created by Steven Hassan, an American Jew, a former cult member, and now one of the world’s leading authorities on cults.

With the “BITE” model as the foundation for our conversation, Flint then applied the model to the actions of pro BDS student groups and pro BDS faculty members.

Addressing how pro BDS student groups attempt Behavioral Control over new recruits, Flint explained, “They take up a lot of your time… they want to get you coming to as many of their meetings as possible…and as you respond to them and you come to these meetings, you’re greeted with smiling faces, with all kinds of compliments for your bravery for your, your wisdom for standing up for what’s right. And then they want you to spend time with the people who think exactly the same ways. And as long as you’re doing this you are celebrated you’re encouraged and you are potentially given more leadership opportunities…”

She continued by addressing the second part of the framework – Information Control. “They want to give students information that supports their view,” she explained.  “They deliberately withhold and distort information and they forbid you to speak to the other side.”

Indeed, those of us who have been actively opposing the BDS campaign have noted their refusal to engage with Zionists, which they present as a self-righteous refusal to “normalize Israel.” However, when contextualized within this framework, it becomes clear that refusing to engage is actually an attempt to limit access to information. As Flint noted, “They don’t want you to have conversations (with Zionists) because what if they introduce to you some information that makes you question or even consider that the other side may have a valid point? They want to control information and so they discourage access to non-code or non-approved information. They generate and use propaganda extensively. That is their wheelhouse,” she explained.

Flint then proceeded to describe how the BDS movement exerts the third category of mind control – Thought Control. “It’s designed to instill black and white thinking. Us versus them.”

As she articulated and as we have seen, some of BDS movement’s trademark tactics are clearly designed to reinforce their efforts at thought control. Pro BDS student groups shout down and physically intimidate pro-Israel speakers and attack Zionist students verbally and in written threats. In all cases, encourage BDS members to tow the party line or risk social alienation at best and possibly even physical violence.

Finally, Flint addressed Emotional Control, which she framed by asking, “Who has the power? What are the power dynamics?” Given the frequency with which pro BDS professors coerce and intimidate Jewish students, our discussion of emotional control centered on the professor-student relationship. As she noted, “The professor is there in a position of authority. They have a tremendous amount of psychological and emotional control and power. When students agree with the professor, they are praised, given that ‘love bombing’ and dopamine. However, if they disagree, they may fear that their grades will be in jeopardy.”

“And so, which one do you want more?” she asked. “Do you want that love bombing encouragement or do you want to be in a struggle, fearing for your grades?” Flint concluded by commenting, “A young person is going to go for what makes them feel comfortable. Who really has the ability to withstand that kind of emotional power play even as an adult?”

Naturally, my conversation with Flint also addressed the particular vulnerability of adolescents on college campuses and the ways in which the BDS movement exploits that vulnerability. She noted, “Almost no one goes to college and is so much their own person that they can go against the grain and do their own thing. They are looking for solidarity and they’re looking for people who like them, and whom they like. It’s a perfect opportunity for movements such as BDS to attack identity formation because at that age, who wants to stand up and say no or even give their own opinion?”

Indeed, much of what Stacey Aviva Flint expressed was reminiscent of what I have heard from students at Oberlin College over the past four years. For example, in February 2016, I published a piece on behalf of an Oberlin student, who (unsurprisingly) wished to remain anonymous. Appearing in the Louis D. Brandeis Center blog, the student wrote:

With no required knowledge about the situation in Israel, a student can have a friend group, a feeling of belonging, and of doing good in the world. All that student needs to do is accept the Students for a Free Palestine (the Oberlin College version of Students for Justice in Palestine) doctrine and regurgitate what is said in a meeting.

Further echoing Flint’s message, the student continued:

While the organization makes it easy for newcomers to join, new recruits soon realize that SFP discourages and disparages critical thinking; members must conform… A student who expresses a differing opinion from the larger organization becomes vulnerable to ridicule under the “if you’re not with us you’re against us” umbrella of thinking.

With a disturbing picture of how the BDS movement seeks to recruit our children, and cognizant of the fact that pro BDS groups like Students for Justice in Palestine are currently engaging in recruitment efforts, the obvious question to ask is what can we do to intercept their efforts?

To begin with, parents and concerned faculty members should ask students about their interactions with groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. They should speak to them about the “BITE” model and they should keep lines of supportive and positive communication open throughout the semester.

Second, assuming campus-based Hillel directors are not pushing a BDS agenda (which some are indeed doing either subtly or more directly) parents and Jewish faculty members can support Hillel’s Shabbat programs and dinners, which provide alternative social networks for students.

Thousands of our children have already been brainwashed into believing that Israel is unworthy of their support. Thousands of our children have been brainwashed into believing that by joining  the BDS campaign, they are becoming champions of social justice. However, the truth is that they have become members of a dangerous cult that is depriving them of the opportunity to think and reason independently and that is, in many cases, destroying their familial bonds.

Let this be the year that we put a stop to the recruitment of American students by this dangerous movement. Let this be the year that we protect students from the BDS cult and say once and for all, “Enough!”


About the Author
Melissa Landa Ph.D has been addressing the tactics and goals of the BDS campaign for four years. Most recently, she founded the new organization, Alliance for Israel. The diverse leadership and membership of Alliance for Israel reflects Melissa's teaching and research on cultural competence and anti-bias education as a former Assistant Clinical Professor in the College of Education at the University of Maryland. Melissa taught courses about music as a form of social protest in apartheid South Africa (where she grew up) and about attitudes and beliefs about the "Other". She also created and led a University of Maryland short-term education abroad program in Israel that explored the immigration and acculturation experiences of Ethiopian Jews. Melissa earned her B.A from Oberlin College, her M.A. from Tufts University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and is the author of two books, articles in peer-reviewed journals, and numerous op-eds. You can contact Melissa by email:
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