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Some major Jewish groups acknowledge BDS is a genuine threat. Ben Cohen of the American Jewish Committee said, “There are clearly a number of episodes building up here that would allow advocates of a boycott to say that ‘slowly, slowly we are achieving what we want, which is the South Africanization of Israel,’” “it’s clear to me that this discourse of boycott is being increasingly legitimized, and it would appear that some companies are responsive to it.” Indeed, the movement has been remarkably successful. Buoyed by the success of the campaign, Barghouti stated, “In spreading and deepening BDS around the world, prompting advocates of Palestinian rights to feel that our South Africa moment has finally arrived.”
There is a particularly disturbing aspect of the boycott movement which may directly impact performers themselves. Islamist clergy in Lebanon threatened Paul McCartney’s life in 2008 when he insisted on performing in Israel, despite pressure being brought to bear on him by pro-Palestinian boycott campaigners. This was a serious incident affecting one of the most famous musicians of all time. Yet it has hardly been discussed in the mainstream media. Islamist, Omar Bakri Muhammad, who has been implicated with terrorism, explicitly threatened his life. He stated:
Paul McCartney is playing as a part of the celebrations. Our enemy’s friend is our enemy. Thus Paul McCartney is the enemy of every Muslim. We have what we call ‘sacrifice’ operatives who will not stand by while he joins in a celebration of their oppression. If he values his life Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel. He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.
In an interview, McCartney indicated he was pressured by numerous pro-boycott groups: “I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come here. I refused. I do what I think and I have many friends who support Israel.” Omar Barghouti distanced himself and PACBI from the threats, realising that they could be a PR disaster for his movement because they were aimed at an individual held in very high esteem in the West. His disavowal should be viewed with scepticism in the context of his own extremism, and because the people who made these threats have largely the same values with respect to Israel as Barghouti does himself. It is somewhat speculative at this stage, but if McCartney’s own experiences are an indicator, threats from terrorist sources may become a last resort to deal with artists who refuse to submit to boycott. This may become a feature of the campaign as Israel becomes increasingly isolated with no artists visiting other than a hardcore few willing to break the boycott.
Pro-Palestinians often talk about “collective punishment” being visited on “innocent” Palestinians by military action and blockades. Is it not farcical to seek the lifting of restrictions in Gaza, which will benefit the terrorist organisation in power, while unrelentingly seeking the economic and cultural boycott of Israel on the grounds of the government’s alleged treatment of Palestinians? The war-mongering of the Palestinians, who freely elected Hamas in 2006 after they had declared a continued intent to assault Israel should be rewarded, while the Israeli citizens who have often elected candidates on a two state peace mandate, should be punished. A topsy-turvy world it has become.
Pro-Palestinians ferociously agitate to force foreign companies that have investments in Israel to “divest” their assets in the state. Could this stance be extended to musicians who refrain from performance in Israel but have material for sale in Israeli record shops? Indeed, why should it still be acceptable to purchase works by the same artists in the recorded equivalent of a performance? From the perspective of the boycotter, if these artists wish to be consistent in terms of their actions, they ought to completely boycott Israel by no longer distributing their CDs, DVDs, related merchandising, and prevent MP3s and other formats being downloaded for sale from Israeli locations. Thus, it is not in the interests of the artists themselves to engage in boycott, which, taken to its ultimate conclusion, is nothing other than cultural vandalism, a prejudicial attack on their fans. Concerts are often meaningful experiences that constitute defining moments in many a music lover’s life. Despite the platitudes and expressions of regret, these artists are showing contempt for their Israeli fans by refusing to give them the opportunity to hear the performers in person.
There can be no doubt that in musical circles, the boycott movement has had significant successes. Besides the aforementioned performers canceling shows in Israel, apparently Sting and Bono have done the same. Snoop (Doggy) Dogg also pulled his concert due to “contractual difficulties.” It does appear that the explanations given are usually excuses. It is not always clear whether such decisions are a response to boycott pressures or the result of other issues such as slow ticket sales. What is clear however is that a significant number of acts have cancelled and, although known to tell a fib or two in the past, BDS activists have included these artists in a list of musicians that acquiesced to boycott pressures. However, a few musicians and bands seem to have kept the faith, for example, Depeche Mode who performed in Israel last year; Lou Reed, and Madonna who even had a meeting with Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu last year. Other high profile acts such as Bob Dylan and Metallica are still scheduled to perform this year.
Despite the obvious groundswell of support for boycott amongst artists, a significant number may still support Israel publicly. Eighty-five A-list actors, directors and other figures involved with film production in Hollywood issued a statement during the Lebanon War that was published as a full page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times in August 2006. The statement specifically targets Hizbullah and Hamas. The list of notables includes Nicole Kidman, Michael Douglas, Dennis Hopper, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Danny De Vito, Don Johnson, James Woods, Kelly Preston, Patricia Heaton and William Hurt, and directors Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Dick Donner and Sam Raimi. Despite the presence of the advert in a popular newspaper, and the fact that such celebrity heavyweights took a strong political stand on a contentious issue, the story was almost completely ignored by the mainstream news media throughout the world, with the exception of Australian newspaper The Herald Sun. This is perhaps the most remarkable fact about this tale. It illustrates the extraordinary universal bias against Israel in the mainstream media.
Some constructive steps could be taken to prevent Israel from being isolated permanently. For example, it would be good to see a counter “musicians against boycott” movement developing in order to highlight the extremism of the BDS Movement for their fellow musicians since the increasing isolation of Israel will make it harder for those who do not support boycott to perform there. Such a group could also relate to other spheres of the arts like filmmaking. Fans could also express their support for any performer or band that intends to perform in Israel to help counter-act the pressure they are likely to be subjected to. BDS is a destructive movement. Artists that care about peace and justice need to be clearly advised that their decision not to perform due to pressure will in fact advance an extremist agenda.
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