More international artists join Israel boycott

As Israeli politicians do their best to ignore international condemnation of the occupation, perhaps Israelis will hear the voices of artists like Lana Del Rey as the cultural boycott builds.

al-monitor A tourist photographs a sign painted on a wall in Bethlehem, West Bank, June 5, 2015. Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images.

Topics covered

palestinian cause, artists, performance, cultural diplomacy, israeli occupation, bds

Sep 14, 2018

Few moves illustrate President Donald Trump’s arrogance toward the Palestinian people as well as the Sept. 10 decision to shut down the PLO offices in the US capital. Few measures reflect the president’s insensitivity better than his timing in slamming the door in the Palestinians’ faces on the week they marked the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accord with Israel. All that's left of these accords is the legitimacy it granted the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people.

As expected, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cheered the Trump administration’s move against the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), also celebrated the decision to shutter the PLO’s Washington office. So far, he has remained silent about planned US aid cuts to Palestinian hospitals treating Palestinian cancer patients. A statement issued by his office over the Jewish New Year holiday on Sept. 10 read, "Israel supports these actions that are meant to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attacking Israel in international forums will not bring about peace."

It's hard to say whether the Palestinians will give in to US pressure and agree to take Jerusalem off the negotiating table, as Trump tried to do when he moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem in May, claiming the status of the city as Israel’s capital had thus been resolved. Nor is it clear whether the sanctions will force the Palestinians to give up their demand for the right to return to their former homes in what is now Israel.

However, Trump’s latest moves, with Netanyahu’s encouragement and perhaps his inspiration, definitely legitimize sanctions against Israel. If the Palestinian rejection of US mediation in peace negotiations with Israel justifies US political sanctions, why should Israel not be punished for refusing to stop construction in settlements built on occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law and with tacit US approval? If the United States and Israel accuse the Palestinians of undermining peace prospects by seeking support in international forums, how should one describe Israel’s disregard for UN resolutions, such as Security Council Resolution 1515 that adopted the US Road Map for Peace in the Middle East, including a total freeze on settlement construction?

On Sept. 6, Trump told Jewish American leaders that he had informed the Palestinian leadership, “If you don’t make a deal, we’re not paying.” However, international sanctions against Israel have not proven effective. A 2014 analysis by the Knesset research center concluded that attempts to impose sanctions had not harmed Israel’s economy. Israeli exports just keep growing. Despite campaigns by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, major foreign companies are hesitant to punish Israel. In the best-case scenario, as far as these activists are concerned, the threat of sanctions can force a company like Soda Stream to move its operations from the West Bank into sovereign Israeli territory. Either way, the strengthening of the settlement movement proves that economic leverage does not sway Israeli public opinion to the left toward opposition to the occupation.

Against the backdrop of failed economic sanctions, there appears to be significant momentum in initiatives to isolate Israel culturally. Trump and Netanyahu may have the upper hand in the economic arena, but in the performing arts scene, the situation is different. At best, Trump and Netanyahu have no impact on leading artists in Israel and around the world. In many other cases, their policies regarding the Israeli occupation prompt artists to support BDS initiatives. Acclaimed Israeli theater actor and director Itay Tiran did not hesitate to embrace those urging a cultural boycott of Israel. “If what finally leads to a solution here will be non-violent pressure, conducted as political discourse, then why not support it?” he told Haaretz. “It’s a humanist approach, and it’s also practical, and I think it will prevent the next wars.”

Leading playwrights in Europe have refused to grant Israeli theaters the rights to produce their plays. Among them are Scottish playwright and director David Grieg, the artistic director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theater; British screenplay writer Mark Ravenhill (of “Shopping and Fucking” fame); Scottish playwright Sam Holcroft of the UK’s Royal National Theater in London; and acclaimed British playwright Simon Stephens (“Punk Rock,” “Harper Regan” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”). Some of these playwrights had no issue with their plays being performed in Israel in the past.

The same goes for a list of singers and DJs who canceled planned performances at last month’s Meteor Festival, most prominent among them US singer Lana del Rey. “It’s important to me to perform in both Palestine and Israel and treat all my fans equally. Unfortunately it hasn’t been possible to line up both visits with such short notice,” she tweeted.

At the same time, some 140 artists and performers have called for a boycott of the Eurovision song contest scheduled to take place in Israel next May. Among the signatories are Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, one of the BDS leaders; British directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach; British rock band Wolf Alice; and UK musician Brian Eno. Also on the list are the Swedish duo The Knife; Irish musician Charlie McGettigan, the 1994 Eurovision winner; Australian Nick Seymour, the base player of Crowded House; Canadian novelist Yann Martel; British actress Julie Christie; Finish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki; US actress Alia Shawkat; and Jewish Italian actor and musician Moni Ovadia.

Will these voices drown out those of hatred, the lies emanating from the White House and the propaganda and scaremongering coming from the prime minister’s residence? Blessed are the believers.

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