The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which advocates the international isolation of Israel in protest of its policies toward the Palestinians, has seen its profile spike recently.
A well-organized, well-funded movement without clear leadership or hierarchy, advocates of BDS have long lobbied for performing artists to shun Israel, and they faithfully launch vociferous email and Internet campaigns whenever a foreign act is booked for a show. However much they try to turn these artists against Israel, they seem to have had only a marginal effect on the international artistic community.
Sure, they have achieved some success with high-profile artists from Elvis Costello to the Pixies – both of whom canceled sold-out shows shortly before their scheduled dates – but the tsunami of noted musicians, dancers, writers and singers who continue to land on our shores and fill our venues continues unabated.
Last month, the rather under-the-radar efforts by the BDSers received a big boost when former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters wrote an open letter to his fellow artists calling on them to join the cultural boycott of Israel. But Waters – who himself performed in Israel in 2006 at Neveh Shalom to promote coexistence – does not have the kind of influence he once might have.
It is unlikely that his plea will have much, if any, impact on the multi-million dollar Israeli entertainment touring industry that has hosted everyone from Paul McCartney and Elton John to Madonna and Alicia Keys.
While their efforts to portray Israel as an apartheid state are fundamentally flawed, the BDS advocates are certainly free to pursue their counterproductive hobby. By anti-Israel advocate parameters at least, there have been much more vitriolic campaigns in the past against the country.
Recent disclosures reveal, however, that BDS advocates have added sordid and ugly tactics to their methods, indicating that their seemingly emotional, humanistic appeals are really thinly veiled – or unveiled – threats.
Rumors have persisted for years, going back to unsourced claims that McCartney received a death threat during his 2008 visit here, and that singer Macy Gray was threatened with harm to her family if she went through with her 2011 performance.
Recently, however, these rumors have been replaced by clear facts. Scooter Braun, the Jewish manager of teen phenomenon Justin Bieber, told The Jerusalem Post that their 2011 appearance in Tel Aviv was surrounded by threats.
“We had plenty of death threats from different groups over him coming to Israel. But most of the death threats were that ‘the Jew manager will die,” he said.
In July, Eric Burdon, the famed vocalist for 1960s band The Animals, almost canceled his August 1 show in Binyamina owing to threats to his safety. “We’ve been receiving mounting pressure, including numerous threatening emails, daily. The last thing I intend do is put Eric in jeopardy,” Burdon’s management said. Burdon later reconsidered his decision and arrived in Israel for the performance.
Most recently, the management for Afropop superstar Salif Keita canceled his appearance at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival last week due to threats made to ruin his reputation.The method of harassment was detailed in a Facebook post by Keita’s nonprofit organization, the Salif Keita Global Foundation. The performer’s representatives “were bombarded with hundreds of threats, blackmail attempts, intimidation, social media harassment and slander stating that Mr. Keita was to perform in Israel, ‘not for peace, but for apartheid,’” the post stated.
“These threats were made by a group named BDS, who also threatened to keep increasing an anti-Salif Keita campaign, which they had already started on social media, and to work diligently at ruining the reputation and career that Mr. Keita has worked 40 years to achieve not only professionally, but for human rights and albinism.”
When the artists being pressured to boycott Israel go public with these campaign of intimidation, nothing is left to the imagination. No longer can the BDS efforts be concealed as an ideological appeal from peace-loving activists – it is thuggery, bordering on criminality, and it reflects just how desperate their cause has become.
It is heartening that most performers do not fall victim to these bullying tactics and make their own decisions about performing in Israel. With Rihanna, Tom Jones and DJ superstar David Guetta all due here this fall, it is clear they are making the correct choice.