Mind Games: Palestinian “Civil Society”

In “How I Work,” Elder of Ziyon offers a few crucial lessons, about any kind of investigative or reportorial blogging, and about the easy, slimy, self-delusive nature of political misinformation in the electronic age. He tracks a claim by BDS supporters about Palestinian Authority cooperation with BDS activities (which is not the policy of the PA) to the deceptive use of the term “Palestinian civil society.” The latter term he comes to find widespread.

What is Palestinian civil society? A concept, to be sure, an abstraction, but how, practically speaking, does a concept make decisions to cooperate, before even actually cooperating?

On the contrary, I found an interview with a leader of the BDS movement answering a question as to whether the PA supports a boycott:

One has to look at it in perspective. The PA is unelected. It is there because of the US. It does not represent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It is complicit in Israel’s oppression. It is a sub-contractor of the occupation.

The PA has engaged in a small part of the boycott of settlement products. It is the only part the Oslo accords allow for. It is a step in the right direction. If the PA had a different stand, all governments would react differently. But civil society says Israel is the oppressor, not the settlements.

Here’s that term “civil society” again. Since it was used in two completely different contexts by two BDS groups, it seems that this is a keyword that they use to claim that Palestinian Arabs are behind boycotts of Israel without having to actually define the term. In fact, of course, PalArabs happily buy Israeli products, even in Gaza, when they get the chance, and the BDS movement is lying when they try to imply that Palestinian Arabs as a whole support the BDS movement. [Emphasis added]

The PA, which would be appealed to and defended in other contexts, is here inaccurately (regarding elections) delegitimized, and in this instance “civil society,” otherwise formulaically substituted for the PA without acknowledgment, is defended in a sophomoric personification: “civil society says.” These are similar to the fallacious mental gymnastics necessary to arguing that a territory (Gaza) from which Israel withdrew is still occupied. Psychologically, the most fascinating aspect is how such arguments seem to reflect a combination of conscious manipulation and a falling prey to one’s own manipulations – coming to believe one’s own twists of reality and logic because one wants to.



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