3 Steps to Effectively Counter-Protest Antisemitic Events
Consider this a case-study: On 4 February 2016 at York University, the JDL conducted a humiliating and ineffective counter-protest to a divestment demonstration. Using this event as an example, I offer here the way I think counter-protests against antisemitic events should be planned.
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.
My problem with JDL’s performance at the demonstration is not with their goals – I agree that antisemitism should be fought, and 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, including a video of part of the JDL “performance” can be read here.
How to Prepare for a Demonstration
1. Do the Research
The #yudivest invitation on Facebook gives 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. Note that the invitation lists 5 groups from which the group wants the university to divest.
They conveniently added a link to the investment committee website. This is what it looks like:
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 listed on the demonstration invitation) 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. Prepare Specifically For The Upcoming Demonstration
Like the IDF preparing for battle, Jewish counter-demonstrators need to prepare in advance for all possible scenarios and then determine in real time which approach is most appropriate. In this case, this meant preparing for a divestment protest that would be blatantly antisemitic and one that would avoid being so, and a third possibility if one could be imagined.
Placards relevant to each anticipated possible scenario should be designed and made up. At the same time, pithy comments for shouting out that are relevant to each scenario need to be composed.
By means of the placards and shouts, students standing with the antisemitic demonstrators and passive bystanders should be confronted with something that may startle them out of their arrogance and/or 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, more particularly for the scenario in which blatant antisemitism is not present. I am sure these can be improved upon
- #yudivest = cover for antisemitism
- #yudivest now – attack Jews later
- Don’t swallow #yudivest lies – do your homework
- York students – you are smarter than this
- Students! Study the issue!
- York divested from all but FLIR years ago
- #yudivest lies to you about its motives
Just like #yudivest handed out fliers, the Jewish student organizations can prepare some handouts of their own. The handouts would provide substance for the sayings on the placards, explaining the ulterior motives of #yudivest and showing their deception – such as, that York divested from all but FLIR years ago, and so they are using old news for their unceasing goal of demonizing Israel.
Placards at the openly antisemitic, anti-Israel demonstration need to be original and not history lessons or regurgitation of the old tired phrases. Here are some examples of ones I can think of that may be relevant if the York University demonstration under discussion here had turned clearly antisemitic:
- (image showing only the man in the antisemitic painting) These rocks are meant for ME.
- (image showing only the scarf in the painting, next to the Hamas symbol) #yudivest wants Israel to be judenrein. Do you?
- You hate Jews THAT much?
Decide upon two or three short shouts related to what is on the placards and that is ALL you shout out.
3. Coordination among Jewish Student Groups on Campus and Members of the Jewish Community
Given that York students are on campus all the time and live with the antisemitism, they are experts on what happens at York. At the same time, there are those in the Jewish community who have various areas of expertise that may be valuable to students and should be tapped. Perhaps the most important individuals to invite to planning meetings are representatives of the big Jewish donors to the University. They have certainly heard about antisemitism at York, but perhaps they are not aware of its extent nor its impact on Jewish students and faculty. As donors, they have already expressed a degree of investment (emotional, nostalgic, etc.) in the university and, therefore, they may be interested in helping effect change.
Successful business people necessarily have proficiency at both strategic and tactical design and implementation of business plans. This skill can be valuable to students developing their short-term and long-term approaches to fighting antisemitism on campus. Furthermore, they might be willing to share with students contacts with others who could further help them develop their capacity to fight this scourge.
Other potential team members include advertisers and political campaign managers. Both of these know plenty about running operations geared to affecting how people think and feel.
Antisemitism on campus is both an acute and chronic and growing problem. All the resources that could help students in the war they are fighting should be made available to them. I suggest they:
- do their research regarding the upcoming antisemitic event. The required information is available online or can be acquired by corresponding with relevant individuals as I showed in this article. Start with the invitation to the specific antisemitic event and build from there.
- brainstorm regarding various potential scenarios and how to plan to respond to them.
- identify and invite all possible resource people to join in the fight.
* * * * *
This is a modified version of a blog post that appeared on my Times of Israel blog.