I have been critical of the JDL in my previous two articles on antisemitism at Toronto’s York University. It is so easy to criticize and more difficult to come up with possible solutions. Nobody asked me for suggestions or advice but I’m going to offer it anyway. Here is what I would have liked to have seen at the JDL counter-demonstration on 4 February 2016.
Just to recap: the JDL had planned a demonstration for that day at York University to protest the antisemitic painting remaining up in the Students’ Center. Then the #yudivest coalition planned a demonstration for that very day, leading the JDL to revise their protest, making it instead a counter-demonstration against #yudivest.
I attended and reported on the demonstration. Neither side could claim success. I don’t care about the #yudivest side; I do care about the JDL side.
Like it or not, JDL represents me. JDL represents all Jews, even those who shout out “Not in My Name”. Antisemites do not distinguish between Jews they like and those they don’t. Once they get rid of us pesky Jews who insist on our human rights as Jews, they will move on to get rid of the currently useful court-jester Jews who think they are standing up for human rights by supporting BDS against Israel.
My problem with JDL’s performance at the demonstration is not with their goals – I agree that antisemitism should be fought HARD! My problem is that they did not prepare for this particular demonstration and they came out looking childish and silly. While the demonstrators spoke only about divestment from arms developers and manufacturers in general, the JDL shouted out about Jews being smarter and about 1948 and how the Palestinian Arabs have always rejected anything shy of “From the river to the sea”. The JDL protesters were totally out of step and irrelevant.
My full report can be read here.
How JDL Should Have Prepared for the Demonstration
1. JDL Should Have Done Their Research
They should have carefully read the #yudivest invitation on Facebook. It gave ample hints that the group was not going to be openly anti-Israel. That is not to say that the hate group is not antisemitic – it is! But they were either smart and they seemed set to keep the hate-Jews-hate-Israel rhetoric under wraps this time or they were pressured into doing so.
The invitation lists companies from which the group wants the university to divest. They conveniently added a link to the investment committee website.
I opened the link and could see, in red on the right, links to reports of investment portfolios. I opened the report for December 2015. It was easy enough to go down the list looking for the companies mentioned on the demonstration invitation. I found only B/E Aerospace (not sure if this is the same as BAE Systems) and FLIR. Then I wanted to verify whether or not I understood correctly so I sent a question off to York University administration:
Q. The #yudivest Facebook invitation to the demonstration lists five companies they are requesting that York divest from. I looked at the list of investments in York’s endowment fund and found that York is no longer investing in three of them (Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Textron). It seems that York is still investing in: BAE Systems and FLIR Systems. Did I get this right?
A. York does not currently invest in BAE. Many of the other investments were many many years ago (more than 5 at least) and some of them were in the University Pension Funds. York does currently invest in FLIR who make thermal radar cameras that it sells mostly to the US government and is used to protect the perimeter of their base camps.
A simple Google search proves that B/E Aerospace is NOT BAE Systems; the latter deals in arms and the former appears to only develop products related to passenger planes. You can Google these yourself to see if I am correct.
Therefore, York currently only invests in FLIR. It can arguably be claimed that FLIR develops products related to warfare. It does seem a bit lame to mount a whole campaign to “compel” the university to divest from a company that manufactures lighting systems that are used, among its many other applications, for lighting the perimeters of base camps, especially since there is a system in place for requesting divestment from controversial firms, as I learned from the administration:
Q. What is the university’s policy regarding acquiescing to students’ groups requesting divestment from firms that develop arms and weapons?
A. York has just released an engagement process for the students to submit proposals to the YUACRI Committee. The Committee which has representation from the community (students, faculty and staff) will then review the proposal (which must be supported by a petition with representation from three of 4 potential constituents) and that group will deliberate the submission and make a recommendation to the VP Finance at the University. The proposal can be to take a number of actions of which one of them could be to divest. The VP Finance then can review their recommendation and take whatever action is deemed appropriate based on the case that has been made.
But, well, knock yourselves out, #yudivest.
2. JDL Should Have Prepared Specifically For This Demonstration
Like the IDF preparing for battle, the JDL could have prepared for two possible scenarios: one that was blatantly antisemitic and one that avoided being so, and a third if one could be imagined.
If the JDL is interested in what preparations I might recommend for an openly antisemitic demonstration, they can ask me. Instead of turning to me, however, they should meet with the Jewish students’ organizations on campus and brainstorm with them. But more of that idea in my third point below.
Here I want to relate to what should have been done at this particular demonstration: The JDL should have prepared relevant placards and limited their shouts to pithy comments; they should have desisted from shouting out the merits of the Jewish People as they did, and how the Palis could have had their state had they accepted it in 1948, etc. Nobody comes to a demonstration for a history lesson.
Instead, students should be confronted with something that may startle them out of their arrogance and complacency. The impact may not be immediate, but perhaps a seed will have been planted that will germinate with some further future stimulus. It cannot help but be better than the tired old statements I heard at the demonstration last Thursday.
Let me list some of my placard ideas for this specific demonstration, and I am sure these can be improved upon:
1. #yudivest = cover for antisemitism
2. #yudivest now – attack Jews later
3. Don’t swallow #yudivest lies – do your homework
4. York students – you are smarter than this
5. Students! Study the issue!
6. York divested from all but FLIR years ago
7. #yudivest lies to you about its motives
Just like #yudivest handed out fliers, the JDL and Jewish student organizations could have prepared some handouts of their own. The handouts would provide substance for the sayings on the placards, explain the ulterior motives of #yudivest and show their deception – such as, that York years ago divested from all but FLIR and so they are using old news for their unceasing goal of demonizing Israel.
Decide upon two or three short shouts related to what is on the placards and that is ALL you shout out.
3. JDL Should Coordinate with Jewish Student Groups on Campus
Given that York students are on campus all the time and live with the antisemitism, JDL should consider them experts on what happens at York. This is not different from my approach to family therapy – I considered myself the expert in various approaches to working with family dynamics and the family as expert concerning its own life circumstances and the personalities of all involved. We functioned as a team. Similarly, JDL and Jewish students’ organizations on campus should work as a team, each bringing their own areas of expertise to the planning sessions. And there definitely should be conjoint planning sessions before any protest JDL intends to show up at.
I know there have been conflicts between JDL and these other groups, because, from my experience, JDL belittles the students’ educational long-term approach (and anyone else who does not agree with them 100%). Should JDL show openness to accepting students’ understanding of their campus and respect for students’ manners of operating, this will open the way for everyone to discover the complementarities of what each can bring to the fight against antisemitism at York.
Egos need to be set aside – it is not a question of who is more right or who stands center-stage. It is a matter of fighting antisemitism TOGETHER! The particular energies of JDL and of the Jewish students’ organization are all valuable contributions to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Finally, Strategy and Tactics
Preparing for responses to antisemitism in general and individual antisemitic incidents in particular involve both overall strategy regarding the goals for the activism, and tactics regarding the means by which goals will be achieved. All parties to the activism agree that the goal is combating antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred. Cooperation is required concerning HOW this goal is to be achieved – therefore, the disagreement is on tactics only. If the groups keep in mind that they all want to reach the same end, they may find coordinating on the process and tactical planning a bit more manageable.
You might want to see my other articles on my website: Israel Diaries.