I never thought I’d ever sit around a Shabbat table talking about bulls---, a word we don’t usually print in the Journal. But there I was recently at my friend David Brandes’ house, sitting across from the prominent philosopher and former Princeton University professor Harry Frankfurt, author of “On Bullshit” (2005).
Frankfurt’s book, which spent 27 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list, presented a theory of BS and analyzed the term in the context of communication. The theory’s key nugget, which Frankfurt briefly discussed at our table, is that BS is worse than lies.
Whereas a liar must know the truth in order to conceal it, a BSer couldn’t care less one way or the other. His goal is not to conceal or reveal but to make an impression — to advance an agenda.
This blatant disregard for the very notion of truth is what makes BS a greater enemy of the truth than are lies.
As I reflected on Frankfurt’s theory, I thought back to an event I’d attended a week earlier at the evangelical Tabernacle Biblical Baptist Friends of Israel church in downtown Los Angeles.
I went to hear the Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, a black pastor and politician from South Africa, talk about his efforts to support Israel and fight the movement to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Meshoe, whose appearance was arranged by the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, expressed outrage at those who label Israel an apartheid state:
“Israel is not an apartheid state. Apartheid was something that was very, very painful. Black people were not allowed to vote, to live in areas separated for white people. And, having gone to Israel many times, you will find there is no place that is only for the white Jews.
“White and black Jews go to the same hospitals, the same schools, ride the same buses, which was not happening in South African apartheid. Someone sent me very interesting pictures — they are of black Jewish soldiers. In South Africa, the black was not allowed to join up.
“Another picture I have is Miss Israel, the beauty queen, who is not white and who is black. During apartheid in South Africa, you would be arrested for saying that a black woman was more beautiful than a white person.”
In confronting Israel’s accusers, Meshoe didn’t use the word bulls---. He didn’t even use the word lies. He simply called it “nonsense,” which is perhaps how you express the profanity in polite company.
But it struck me that many of Israel’s accusers must be acutely aware that labeling Israel with the racist term “apartheid” is a lie.
One name that comes to mind is Omar Barghouti, founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, who is one of the leaders of the growing campaign to boycott Israeli universities.
When Barghouti agitates against anyone who has anything to do with Israeli academia, he tells them they are collaborating with a “racist and apartheid regime.”
What he doesn’t say is that he himself doesn’t boycott Israeli academia, since he is studying for a doctorate at Tel Aviv University.
Obviously, Barghouti is well aware that, unlike in South Africa during the days of apartheid, blacks and Arabs are hardly segregated from “white Jews” in Israel. So, by calling Israel a “racist and apartheid regime,” does that make him a liar or a BSer?
In fact, is the movement to label Israel a racist apartheid state one of lies or of BS?
If you ask me, it’s both. The movement started with lies and is now propelled by BS. While founders of the movement such as Barghouti certainly know the truths they are concealing, many of today’s Israel haters, just like classic anti-Semites, couldn’t care less.
I doubt, for example, that the “Boycott Israel” armies on Facebook and Twitter who swarm anyone who tries to engage with Israel — from academics like Stephen Hawking to performers like Alicia Keys — are interested in knowing that the millions who protested during the Arab Spring yearn for the very freedoms and opportunities they would get if they lived in Israel.
This truth is irrelevant to the BSers, because they’re only out to impress and attack. And don’t think they’re worrying too much about Palestinian rights, either. As one of Israel’s harshest critics, Norman Finkelstein, recently acknowledged about the BDS movement, “They’re not really talking about rights. They are talking about destroying Israel.”
Maybe that’s why Frankfurt considers BSers more dangerous than liars. They have zero interest in any truth, let alone a complex truth. Their only “truth” is their agenda.
And in the case of Israel, that agenda is clear: to crush it.
I wonder if Meshoe figured all this out when he wrote the slogan for the street demonstrations he organizes in South Africa: “Stop Attempts to Crush Israel.”
In any event, as someone who has experienced the real apartheid, Meshoe is an ideal spokesperson to counter the vile movement to malign and isolate the Jewish state. I’d love to see him on U.S. college campuses next spring during the annual hatefest called “Israel Apartheid Week.”
If he doesn’t like to use profanity, he can use this slogan: “BDS is BS.”
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.