Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 Israel Cultural Boycott Summary: A for Effort, D- for Success

Or omissions, obfuscations and downright lies.

Mireille Mathieu is on the just published PACBI list of the 2011 triumphs of the cultural boycott of Israel. You see, boycotters claim overwhelming success when they have managed to overwhelm performers with pro-forma (just change the name) letters, Facebook pages , internet exhortations and occasional threats to stay away from Israel. Never mind what's actually achieved. That's not the point. PACBI and other boycott organizations measure success by their own efforts, not by results. So...I've gotta give them an A for effort.

However... let's get back to Mireille Mathieu, surely not the most influential singer of the new century. They claim her as a win although all she did was simply postpone her scheduled date: "le concert prevu le 22 Novembre 2011 en Israel a Tel Aviv est reporte a une date ultrieure." 

Another French star, Vanessa Paradis, was scheduled to visit Israel along with Johnny Depp, their kids, and an entourage that included Isabelle Adjani and Karl Lagerfeld. The boycotters claim she bowed out for 'political reasons'; she and Johnny claim otherwise. And it really is hard to believe that this cast of very, very sophisticated celebs would cancel plans because they suddenly heard that Israel is such an awful place.

Next comes PACBI's ace in the hole: Pete Seeger. According to PACBI, Seeger now supports the boycott and regrets having participated in an event on behalf the Arava Institute. What he actually said was that Arava's cross-border ecology intiative is "very important" and,“I understand why someone would want to boycott a place financially, but I don’t understand why you would boycott dialogue,” Seeger said at the time. “The world will not be here in 50 years unless we learn how to communicate with each other nonviolently.” As Jon Haber commented, Pete Seeger has had a history of political see-sawing and, at 92, can be forgiven for hedging his bets.

Similar ambiguities pertain to Marc Almond, Jon Bon Jovi, The Yardbirds and German baritone Thomas Quasthoff, all of whom only postponed their concerts citing illness or scheduling. There is no evidence that these performers said they are boycotting Israel. None. But, true to PACBI's methods, the internet is plastered with come-ons. I've written about Riverdance pressing on with their Israel tour, yet PACBI still insists on a win because the group's set-designer gave his royalties to an Irish flotilla ship, and we all know what a great success that was.

Another way the boycotters obfuscate the truth is by fuzzying the connection between the boycott call and postponements/cancellations. Therefore, rapper MF Doom who cancelled because of illness, "still has not rescheduled," and "Joe Lynn Turner’s 16 December concert in Tel Aviv is cancelled," but no reason is given. Another example: "Oumou Sangaré becomes the third French artist in 2011 to cancel her planned performance with the Israeli Opera, as BDS makes inroads into the classical music world.  An informative letter from BDS France was followed by letters from DPAI and BDS Italy." Note the missing link between her cancellation and those 'informative letters.'

Macy Gray received an enormous amount of attention when she asked her fans if she should perform -- for the 4th time -- in Israel. In fact she did play there, but PACBI still claim her as a success. Amazingly they have her tweeting, "i had a reality check and I stated that I definitely would not have played there if I had known even the little that I know now," while the Israel Project, who gave her a helicopter tour linked to this actual tweet on her Twitter account: "Thank you Tel Aviv. This was the most incredible trip of my life. I am new and I promise to do all the good I can." Who you gonna believe?

Finally (just to make this story a little shorter not because there aren’t other examples) we have PACBI’s major success claim: The cultural boycott came closer to home as the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra went on tour.  Creative protests were seen in many cities in the USA and Europe.  A protest in London during  the BBC’s Prom Live Broadcast of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra resulted in worldwide press coverage when the BBC decided to halt its live broadcast of the concert.

True, they may have disrupted several concerts but I don’t think there was any impact on the orchestra’s fans. If you look at their website, IPO has a very robust following evidenced by a full international schedule. As Norm Geras points out today, IPO may not feel like coming back to Britain, but should do so because, “…media reports of the disrupted performance suggest that the great majority of the audience wanted to hear the Israeli musicians playing and felt no indulgence towards the noisy protesters. 

To recap, the cultural boycotters may have had a little success with a few artists, but ultimately all they really deserve is an F for fabrication.


  1. Readers might wish to know that the article misrepresents facts. For example, the Times of 3rd January 2012 reports re the IPO:
    "'We represent the country the minute we go on stage';
    Israel's flagship orchestra may not return to London after last year's Proms' debacle. Neil Fisher reports from Tel Aviv"

  2. I am not misrepresenting a thing in this post. That IPO represents Israel is your problem, not mine. And that they may not return to perform in London is exactly what I say: 'they may not feel like it', and who could blame them given the ignorant ruffians who protested at their concerts.

  3. Good post, Bella.

    However, for BDS the winning is only secondary. It's making noise that counts. It is the opportunity to say over and over "Israel violates international law and human rights." We can defeat the BDS efforts. But we also have to replace the BDS meme.


  4. Thanks, and I agree -- good luck in Park Slope!

  5. Ugh, and if you take into account that BDS is part of the "noble" tradition of the Arab boycott, that goes back to the time before Israel's establishment...

  6. Good point! The Arab boycott is rarely discussed in relation to BDS. One reason may be that BDS is always referred to as supportive of the 2005 call from Palestinian 'civil society'...

  7. Bella, I'm glad we agree IPO is reluctant to return subsequent to the few vocal interventions at its London concert, though I guess you won't agree with me that these were rather harmless in comparison to the routine brutality Palestinian musicians are facing by the Israeli army.

  8. Yael, I am familiar with BDS arguments and also know that your intentions have nothing to do with resolving the conflict, but rather to delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the world. I know anti-Zionists, Jewish, Israeli or otherwise, when I see them.

  9. I actually think the BDS movement is very effective. Although it is not making an impact on the Israeli economy, it is mobilizing people, and giving them a focus. Once mobilized, this same band of useful idiots becomes an effective force for demonization, when Israel needs to defend itself from terrorism and rocket attacks.


  10. I partially agree, Stan. BDS works primarily by making lots of noise and not by actually impacting Israel's economy. However, I challenge how successful they really are at mobilization given that it's always the same people speechifying and being quoted. I tweeted today that on a campus of over 21,000 people, PennBDS has '15 active members'. So, for all that noise, they're not really gaining membership.

  11. The ineffective BDS'ers will just love seeing their best efforts defeated yet again: http://youtu.be/fPG1BwwcDak

    Great blog and thanks for helping clarify how the anti-Semites best efforts to occupy Israel's economy and demonize her people fail over and over again.

  12. Just a follow-up regarding Vanessa Paradis cancellation :
    She was basically threatened with having her domestic gigs disrupted if she only dared to perform in Israel.

    Blackmail pure and simple.


Comments are moderated so kindly keep it clean and respectful. All racisms -- including anti-Muslim hate speech -- will be denied a place here, as well as terms like Nazi used to designate anyone other than an actual living or past member of a Nazi or neo-Nazi organization.