Artists Under Fire: The BDS War on Celebrities, Jews and Israel

The cover of “Artists Under Fire”. Photo: provided.

The the announcement came just recently on social media: the folk group Big Thief would not perform as planned in Tel Aviv. It was a complete reversal of the group’s statement only a week earlier, when it announced its determination to “stay open” to views on Israel and the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and also “to love beyond disagreement.”

It was also just the latest in a long line of cultural events canceled, muted or destroyed by one of the most powerful and effective anti-Jewish movements since the mid-20th century.

In “Artists Under Fire” (Lioncrest, 2022), author and activist Lana Melman clearly and succinctly explains how BDS and its cultural boycott of Israel have become a significant threat – not just to Israel, not even to Jews around the world, but to the flourishing of the arts everywhere.

As Melman writes, “The BDS campaign against Israel seeks to use artists’ fame as a tool to destroy Israel and stir up hatred against Jews around the world… They want international artists to avoid performances in Israel and international venues cancel invitations to Israeli artists. Their rhetoric reeks of classic anti-Semitic tropes, demonizes Israel and stirs up hatred of Jews around the world. »

Part of the problem, the author explains, is the general acceptance of the BDS movement’s self-defense argument that it is not anti-Jewish, but “simply” anti-Israel – a protest against the politics of the country, not against its people.

Melman doesn’t buy it. “We are told anti-Zionism is about Israel, but in fact it is an attack on Jews – and many Jews don’t see it or are intimidated into not accepting what they see,” she wrote. “Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. It traffics in modern day blood libel (the false claim that Jews murder Christians in their rituals) and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories about money and power. It demonizes Israel and creates an environment that makes hatred of Jews more acceptable worldwide. And he points the finger at the Jewish homeland for disproportionate criticism and blame for his mistakes. »

How dangerous it is, and how much damage BDS has already done, turns out to be worse than you think.

“Numerous polls conducted in recent years have shown a direct correlation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, with large segments of the population echoing the false accusations disseminated by BDS,” Melman explains in “Artists Under Fire.”.” “A survey by the Action and Protection League (APL) collected 500,000 data points from a total of 16,000 people in 16 EU countries from December 2019 to January 2020. A quarter of respondents equated Israelis with Nazis and agreed that this justified an international boycott of Israel – and 21% expressed their belief that “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs around the world”.

It is no wonder that anti-Semitic attacks have worsened and become more frequent in most of Europe, as well as in the United States, in recent years.

Much of this anti-Semitism comes not, as many would expect, from neo-Nazis and far-right extremists, but rather from so-called “progressives” and “social justice warriors” on the left. He often attaches himself – ironically enough – to the “awakening”, a movement theoretically based on support for the rights of minority groups.

Despite the fact that Israel is the only Jewish state in the world (despite a population that also includes Muslims, Christians and others), surrounded by 14 Muslim countries – many of which have made no secret of their desire to erase the Israel’s Jews on the face of the planet – ‘woke’ BDSers nevertheless see Israeli Jews as the oppressors and Palestinian Muslims as their victims. “Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions cultural campaign against Israel claim their cause is human rights and their methods are non-violent,” Melman writes. “They’ve mastered the language of the enlightened left, but scratch the surface and you’ll see that their tactics – as well as their messaging – are anything but peaceful.”

Indeed, BDS denies any possibility of peace in the region. “There is no declaration in favor of a two-state solution. In fact, there is no BDS call for a democratic Palestinian nation that lives in peace and security with Israel,” Melman writes.

Chapter by chapter, step by step, Melman’s powerful writing builds his argument with revealing insight into the history of Jews, Israel and, therefore, the BDS movement. Throughout, his perspective remains lucid and balanced; she is prepared to criticize the actions of the Israeli government without criticizing Israel itself or questioning its right to exist. After all, she notes, BDSers and their supporters have never called for the boycott, censorship, or destruction of American artists when they disagree with the US government, which many do frequently.

She quotes a protest by six Israeli choreographers after they were banned from participating in a Norwegian festival: “Would you reject a Spanish artist for the Spanish policy against Caledonia and the Basques? Would you reject a Saudi artist for Saudi restrictions on women’s rights? Would you reject an American artist for the American policy regarding the regulation of “Muslim prohibition”? Would you reject a Syrian artist for a bloodbath caused by the Syrian government? Would you reject an Iranian artist for the forceful reaction to the latest uprising in the country? If we were Israeli Arab Muslim artists, Israeli Arab Christian artists, Israeli Bedouin artists, Israeli Circassian artists, Israeli Druze artists or Israeli Jewish artists living abroad, would we also have been refused participation in your festival ? »

It was a scathing message. And throughout “Artists Under Fire,” Melman similarly rips off the mask of the BDS movement, its organizers, and its adherents, exposing not just their hypocrisy, but their true intent: “BDS is not about educating.” , she writes, “he seeks to intimidate.

Yet this intimidation does more than just threaten the lives and well-being of artists, several of whom — including singer Lana del Rey — have backed out of performing in Israel out of fear for their own safety. It represents a deeper political and cultural threat. “The threat to free speech everywhere is a threat to that freedom everywhere,” Melman said. “BDS is creating a manual for the repression of artistic expression in democratic societies. The world looks away at great peril.

While Melman focuses on performers — especially musicians such as anti-Israel activist Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and Patti Smith — censorship and anti-Israel boycott go deeper. Other artists whose anti-Israel and pro-BDS stances have motivated their anti-Semitic activism include graffiti artist Banksy, actress Susan Sarandon, writers Alice Walker, Sally Rooney, and many others.

Certainly, their freedom of expression has not been affected by their own choice not to participate in Israeli culture – refusing, for example, to perform there or to have their books translated into Hebrew, or in the case of Banksy, to categorically support militant Palestinian propaganda with anti-Semitic imagery. But as a lawyer and Israel time Columnist Craig Emanuel wrote, “The actions taken by the BDS movement and similar organizations are not just a threat to the collaboration of artists and international artists. They also create roadblocks between people from different cultures who share something in common and who want to be able to engage in open and honest discussions regarding cultural, political and even religious differences which can lead to the possibility of better understanding of often misunderstood issues. .”

And without such an understanding, how can societies still thrive? “Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that his children would one day be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” Melman writes. “Perhaps if he were alive now, he would dream of the day when Israeli artists would be judged not by the cover of their passports, but by their contributions to the world.”

Terrorism Investigation Project (IPT) Senior Fellow Abigail R. Esman is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands. Her new book, Rage: Narcissism, Patriarchy, and the Culture of Terrorism, was published by Potomac Books in October 2020. Follow her on @abigailesman. A version of this article was originally published by IPT.

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