A Movement to Boycott Israel, Part 3: Cultural Boycott

A dominant and highly publicized platform of the BDS movement is the cultural boycott. Cultural boycotts target all institutions, projects and events that support or are held in Israel. It reaches out to cultural figures, such as artists, authors, musicians, well-known activists, etc., to openly refuse to participate in Israel’s celebrations, speaking events, or performances of all kinds. This activity has brought about the cancellation by several performers of concerts that were scheduled to take place in Israel. Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd), Elvis Costello, The Pixies, Coldplay, Gil Scott-Heron, Lauren Hill and many others cancelled their performances. In February 2015, a letter was publicly released with the names of over 600 artists from the United Kingdom who have signed a petition to refuse any professional invitations to Israel or funding from institutions linked to the Israeli government. Many of these artists released statements slandering Israel, based on BDS propaganda.

In this type of activity, BDS activists contact artists scheduled to perform in Israel and advise/demand that they cancel their engagement. Cultural figures are petitioned and borderline harassed through floods of Facebook and Twitter messages, phone calls, and viral letters and videos from hundreds of activists soliciting them to cancel their performance. Artists receive threats claiming that their appearance will lead to diminished ticket sales and a damaged reputation. This intimidation tactic is used to strike fear into performers or otherwise entice them to join their cause as one of fighting for justice and human rights; however, noncompliance in the BDS cause is viewed as partaking in injustices and the violation of human rights.

We see how influential this cultural boycott has become when we look at prominent cultural and social figures like South African social rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Tutu has become quite vocal about his stance against Israel, mistakenly, in the name of peace and justice. He has become an integral figurehead for the BDS campaign in their efforts to draw a parallel between the South African apartheid and Israel. In support of the cultural boycott of Israel, Tutu was quoted as saying, “Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity, so it would be wrong for Cape Town Opera to perform in Israel.”

It is important to correct the misinformation that these artists and the public are learning through media outlets promoted by BDS and other anti-Israel organizations and institutions. Boycotting on every level is a tool used to drive division and isolation, rather than encouraging unity and discourse through every possible avenue – cultural, social, academic and political. When the cultural boycotters argue that artists should stay away from Israel, or that Israeli artists should not be welcomed, they are not only demanding that people stop communicating with each other, but they are also claiming a right to deny ordinary people the chance to engage with artistic work. Cultural boycotts separate people and erect barriers between them and this gives rising concern during a time when we are seeing a dramatic growth of anti-Semitism in our world today.

In order for us to address the ever-growing division caused the BDS movement, we must remember to use the most important tools that God has given us. First and foremost, the power of prayer and the study of God’s Word will most definitely shape our personal understanding of Israel and the intricate issues surrounding the modern-day conflict. Beyond these central tools, we can raise support for these artists and speakers who are being attacked for coming to Israel by using outlets like social media to encourage them to stay the course. Our words can be used to build up rather than to tear down. Let us stand in unity and solidarity with Israel and those who are being threatened for supporting her. This will be the key to building bridges in our world, rather than causing division and isolation.


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