Ian Lustick | Who benefited?
Guest Column | Just about everyone benefited from this weekend’s BDS conference
February 7, 2012, 12:42 am·
Political scientists standardly begin their analyses by asking “cui bono?”—“Who benefits?” Now that the brouhaha surrounding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference held at Penn this weekend is passing into memory, we can answer that question. Who benefited from the conference? The answer is surprising: just about everyone.
Since that is an odd outcome in politics, a kind of win-win-win-win-win solution, it is worth examining. First, the BDS movement benefited. It mounted a well-run, well-attended and enthusiastic conference, hosted comfortably, securely and peacefully at a major university. Fierce denunciations of BDS by national and local opponents of the conference triggered front-page, balanced coverage in The Philadelphia Inquirer, and large, and otherwise probably unavailable, donations. Hillel also benefited. A major problem facing Hillel, at Penn and across the nation, is the disinterest of most Jewish students in Israel-oriented activities. Opposition to the BDS conference gave Penn Hillel and its rabbis just the opportunity they have needed to get Jewish students involved with Israel and to attract wider community support and recognition for the work Hillel does with Jewish students and on behalf of Israel.
The Philadelphia-area Jewish community, including the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Exponent, various Jewish schools and locally based Zionist organizations, all benefited from the opportunity that the BDS conference offered to evoke an increasingly elusive sense of unity on behalf of Israel. Where this unity was not present, in local synagogues and other pluralistic Jewish communities, Jews nonetheless benefited from debates and inquiries into the BDS movement and from study of the questions about Israeli policies that mobilization for or against the BDS movement requires. Of course Jewish Voice for Peace, the most important local Jewish organization involved with the BDS movement, benefited from a substantial rise in its visibility.
To the list of BDS conference beneficiaries we may also add Alan Dershowitz, who can be assumed to have benefited handsomely from his Penn appearance on the eve of the conference; the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which always benefits from opportunities to insult American academics, and The Daily Pennsylvanian, which attracted significant ad revenue and, at least temporarily, a substantial faculty and extra-campus readership. It is worth noting that the University of Pennsylvania itself benefited. Penn, represented by an adroit president, proved that it understands and lives by the values of free inquiry and the contentious search for truth that are the foundations of a liberal arts education.
Finally, it should be noted that Palestinians, who desperately need non-violent and well-informed friends in the world, as well as Israelis, benefited from the conference. Israel is a country in trouble, deep trouble. How deep? So deep that its leaders describe an attack on Iran as perhaps their best option, despite the expectation that it would unleash tens of thousands of missile strikes against Israeli population centers. When a country is in that kind of trouble, non-violent spurs to re-examine its behavior can only be an aid to discovering some way to a better future.
Ian Lustick is the Bess Heyman Chair in Political Science department. His email address is email@example.com.