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It has been observed that BDS groups, which seek the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of Israel to isolate it internationally, target artists with an interest in human rights. This is an aim for the early phase of this movement, from which it can gain a foothold. Peculiar then, that even before the boycott success of 2010, they decided to target Leonard Cohen, who has expressed his support for Israel publicly, and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. He is clearly one of the least likely to support a boycott. Yet he experienced considerably more pressure from pro-Palestinian groups than anyone else has thus far to cancel his 2009 show in Israel. Perhaps he was targeted being one of the most prominent Jewish musicians touring at this time. Maybe pro-Palestinians just fancied flexing their muscles to make Cohen an example to others. In an article by Raymond “defending Israel is like defending paedophilia” Deane, of the rather extreme Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), he states:
Plans to supplement this [concert in Tel Aviv] with a performance in Ramallah in the occupied Palestinian West Bank two days later may now have been abandoned. … we will be standing outside the venue each evening singing chants, distributing leaflets and Palestinian flags, and encouraging concert-goers to send Cohen the message: DON’T VISIT ISRAEL! This message has been heard at every concert in this tour, from New York City to Berlin. Last May at Radio City Music Hall a loud and colourful demonstration was held by ADALAH New York, a coalition of organisations including the National Council of Arab-Americans, and Jews Against the Occupation; on 2nd July Cohen’s concert at O2 World Berlin was picketed by EJJP (European Jews for a Just Peace), an unprecedented event in Germany. Jews have been noticeably prominent in this worldwide campaign to dissuade the singer from visiting Israel. In the UK, BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine) published an open letter signed by 4 Jewish academics who wrote: “You will perform for a public that by a very large majority had no qualms about its military forces’ onslaught on Gaza… You will perform in a state whose propaganda services will extract every ounce of mileage from your presence… And you are telling the Palestinians …that their suffering doesn’t matter.”
Here we see every venue and probably every concert was targeted. Whilst it is probable that few Israeli-hating Jews needed encouraging, there still appears to have been a strategy of wheeling out Jews to pressure Cohen, due to his strong connections with the faith, notwithstanding his race. For example, Deane mentions no less than four Jewish academics, as if this is the sum total of Jewish academia in Britain. Pro-Palestinians are continually trying to present an anti-Zionist authentically Jewish voice but it is unrepresentative of Jews generally. As is seen elsewhere with this movement, there is the absurd inference that performing in Israel means “you are telling the Palestinians… their suffering doesn’t matter.” This is an example of the idiocy often seen in academia (Jewish and otherwise), as is the notion Israeli “propaganda services will extract every ounce of mileage from your presence.” They certainly did not.
In Ramallah, PACBI, the Palestinian Association for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, wrote: “We consider your performance in Israel a form of complicity in its grave violations of international law and trampling on human rights principles.” Concerning the proposed Ramallah concert, PACBI added:
Such attempts at ‘balance’ not only immorally equate the oppressor with the oppressed, taking a neutral position on the oppression; they also are an insult to the Palestinian people, as they assume that we are naive enough to accept such token shows of ‘solidarity’ that are solely intended to cover up grave acts of collusion in whitewashing Israel’s crimes.
Dean closed the article with the call:
If Cohen sings in Tel Aviv, whether or not he “balances” it with a Ramallah concert, he will be within a stone’s throw of people who are suffering precisely such horrors because of the Israeli occupation. … We are calling on Cohen fans to influence their hero not to break the growing boycott campaign against Israeli apartheid.
So an unprecedented performance by a major artist in Ramallah would be an insult to the Palestinian people? Many would have thought it significant but it is deemed to be a mere “token” gesture of solidarity. They rejected the idea, insisting that Cohen should first cancel his Tel Aviv gig to be welcomed in Ramallah. According to PACBI’s own words, they do not desire a “neutral position” or “balance” but rather condemnation. Thus no sensible neutral evaluation of the facts is sufficient. As is common with extremists, there is no grey area, only black and white “with us or against us” posturing. Thus if Cohen performs in a non-political sphere in Israel, they view it with a comical melodramatic intensity as “collusion in whitewashing Israel’s crimes,” “complicity in its grave violations,” etc., etc.
Let us push a little more the extreme boycott logic that pro-Palestinians employ. If I knowingly buy an Israeli orange today, am I also complicit in the alleged crimes against the proud Palestinian people? Sounds absurd but it would appear so because I am funding “Israeli terror.” If Cohen is complicit in criminal activity, should he expect a knock on the door from Interpol? Will this artist have to share a cell at the Hague with Radovan Karadžić? Dean states: “He will be within a stone’s throw of people who are suffering precisely such horrors because of the Israeli occupation.” His stone throwing metaphor is apt but being clever strategists wouldn’t PACBI have taken the opportunity to “educate” an artist of renown about Palestinian suffering? Then again maybe he would have realised the notion of genuine suffering in the West Bank is a sham as they mainly have a superior quality of life to neighbouring states.
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