Boycotting Israel, boycotting Macy Gray, and a third option
As I ride the hurtling down-elevator, while my Zionist life flashes before my eyes, I'd like to take a moment and seek a fresh take on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions effort.
That familiar sinking feeling in the air, the elevator quietly plummeting at breakneck speed, has a great deal to do with Al-Jazeera's publication of the potentially game-changing Palestine Papers.
No one can yet know to which floor or sub-basement we're now descending, nor how shattering our landing. While we're on the way down, though, this might be a good time to consider the range of options available to that majority in the Holy Land and abroad who want to see occupation end and peace between Palestinians and Israelis finally begin.
Specifically, at a time when Israel is going to be increasingly under the gun as the rejectionist party to the Mideast conflict - and at a time when Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai, who may all be in the midst of their final term, seem all too ready to take the whole ship down with them as long as they can still be at the wheel when Israel takes its final dive - there's at least one thing that can be reasonably foreseen: Calls to boycott Israel will only increase.
Accordingly, on this, the hurtling down-elevator, while my Zionist life flashes before my eyes, I'd like to take a moment and seek a fresh take on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions effort.
A sensible place to look is the shrewd and determined band of revolutionaries at +972 Magazine, who continue to carve their way through the deafening white noise of Israeli journalism by never taking the expected for an answer.
A raft of pieces of particular note landed just at the weekend, among then Dahlia Scheindlin's discussion of the possible upsides - for Israel and America as well as the Palestinians - of a UN condemnation of settlements, and Roi Maor's thoughtful
response to right-wing U.K. journalist Melanie Phillips' recent, web-shaking appearance on Israel television.
With the Al-Jazeera reports threatening to reinvent the Mideast as we know it, a piece by +972's Noam Sheizaf was particularly prescient. In combining radicalism and a helping of common sense, Sheizaf's out-of-the-box proposal on the fascinating, at times hostile, at times hallucinatory Macy Gray-Israel boycott controversy, has set off new streams of debate on the issue.
The case of the pop-soul singer attracted worldwide attention when Gray asked fans to weigh in on her Facebook page over calls that she boycott Israel, where she's appeared to warm receptions in the past. "What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is disgusting," she wrote on her Facebook site, "but I wana (sic) go. I gotta lotta fans there I dont want to cancel on and I …don't know how my NOT going changes anything. What do you think? Stay or go?”
The discussion, which effectively pitted anti-Occupation respondents - some pro-boycott, some anti-boycott - against one another, turned ugly when Gray announced her decision to appear for the two scheduled shows next month.
Departing from standard debates over the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, Sheizaf proposed that artists who oppose occupation and who do choose to appear in Israel, should insist that a percentage of the tickets be sold to Palestinians in the territories, who suffer from severe, Israeli-imposed travel restrictions.
"If the Israeli organizers of the show refuse or if they are unable to deliver - it will become much harder for them to claim that there is no political problem with the gig, or that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians shouldn’t be compared to Apartheid," Sheizaf observes. "And if they deliver, the artist gets to play a real part in bringing down the walls between Jews and Arabs. In any case, everyone would know where they stand."
What follows, in reader responses to the piece, points to one of the primary, and peculiar, elements of the ongoing debate over BDS. Much of the most heated discussion of boycotting Israel - and I am as guilty of anyone of this nastiness and misplaced anger - places a fault line between anti-Occupation activists who favor a one-state solution and anti-Occupation activists who favor two. In this instance, the debate even pits supporters of BDS against one another.
One reader writes, "it’s an interesting idea Noam, but I think it defeats the purpose of the boycott, which should attempt to isolate, marginalize and cut off the Israelis from the rest of the world. That means no international academics, no book tours, no theater, no music, no conferences. Israel must be treated as a pariah state until the Occupation ends. Allowing a few Palestinians to hear Macy Gray is not good enough."
"Further, we should enhance the effectiveness of the boycott by turning up the heat on those who break it," the reader continues. "The Macy Grays of the world should be subjected to a concerted campaign of boycott as well. Don’t buy her CDs or attend her shows and spread the word she is persona non grata among conscientious members of the public …"
In this regard, one fundamental question is whether Occupation refers specifically to the land Israel captured in the 1967 war, or if pre-'67 Israel, as a Jewish state, is also viewed as occupied territory. Tel Aviv, West Jerusalem, all of it.
The BDS boycott call to Macy Gray hints at this issue, referring to UN Resolution 194, the basis for demands for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes.
"In 1948 Israel expelled and confiscated the land and property of about 800,000 Palestinians. They and their descendants are still denied return and compensation as sanctioned by the UN General Assembly Resolution 194."
The Palestinian United Call for BDS against Israel, the ideological underpinning of the boycott movement, goes further in hinting at a goal of a single Palestine replacing a Jewish state. It declares that boycott should continue until Israel ends "its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands" and respects and promotes "the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194. "
An overwhelming majority of Israelis, including the vast majority of the left in Israel, believes that the Palestinian right of return would spell the end of a Jewish state of any kind in the Holy Land.
"The good news for Israelis is that they maintain a monopoly of violence in the region," the +972 reader states. "Thanks to the largesse of the United States and its generous donations of fighter jets, armored bulldozers and napalm, no one can militarily challenge Israel. The bad news for Israel is that other than technologies of violence and oppression, it doesn’t produce anything. It has no native culture, so food, music, architecture, literature, film, philosophy…..everything must be imported from the outside world. Cut off this flow of information and the country dries up."
While I'm still in the reading-while-falling mode, I'd like to add a reader response of my own:
I believe that opposition to Occupation has never been more vital. I've seen boycotts work in the past. I understand that the reader quoted above reflects his own opinion alone. Personally, though, I have some questions for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions people.
I'm an advocate of a two-state solution. I believe that non-violent opposition to the Occupation is gaining traction and has shown itself to be powerful. I would like to believe that a boycott movement could be directed against the Occupation without at the same time shunning the concept of two states.
I want two states here. Tell me, please. Does that now mean that I no longer have any place on the left?