The Jewish Occupation: Matisyahu Affair Is About Bibi, Not BDS

One cannot work to erase the distinction between Israelis and Jews, as Netanyahu has done, and at the same time be surprised when Diaspora Jews suffer from political arrows directed against Israel.

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Under pressure from boycott, divestment and sanctions activists in Spain, organizers of a major reggae festival in Valencia decided to disinvite American-Jewish rap singer Matisyahu. The crazy thing about the original decision - which was later rescinded - is that there is actually a branch of the BDS movement in Valencia. Why in heaven’s name are leftists in Valencia getting involved with the “Zionist occupation”? And how come, in the end, it was actually the Spanish right that came to the singer’s defense against what was ultimately a racist attack by a left-wing organization? Do young Valencians really lack for burning political causes that they could identify with and march for?

On second thought, however, if there is a branch of McDonald’s in the middle of the Galilee at the Golani junction, why wouldn’t there be a BDS branch in Valencia? BDS is in style among the political left around the world now, and it is quite natural that, therefore, that the movement has also spread even to places like Valencia. Accusing BDS supporters in Valencia of anti-Semitism as a result, as Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon did, is almost an insult to the Nazis.

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These fools in Valencia almost caused a diplomatic incident: The American embassy in Madrid criticized the decision; the Spanish daily El Pais cited provisions in the Spanish constitution against discrimination based on religion, gender and race; and even the Spanish government issued a statement in condemnation. Ultimately, the festival organizers came to their senses and admitted that they erred by giving in to the boycott movement without thinking it through.

But was this really simply an act that was not thought through? Israelis, in fact, are mired in the issue of their own identity (whether their Jewish or Israeli identities come first) and the character of the country (whether it is more Jewish or more democratic); and the Israel of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing everything in its power to bury the idea that Israel produced a “new man,” the proud sabra, who was the subject of such international admiration until the 1970s. The prime minister is trying to replace this ideal with the figure of the nationalistic Jew, so how can one point an accusing finger at the Valencians for not making heads nor tails of this complexity of these identities? In any event, beyond the context of the BDS movement, the Spanish media does not distinguish between Israeli and Jewish and Hebrew and Zionist. During the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza last summer, the Spanish media made reference to Israel Defense Force troops as “Jewish soldiers.”

It could be that in Valencia, Israel is reaping the seeds of the conceptual manipulation that it sowed itself. Perhaps the confusion in Valencia between Jews and Israelis reflects the actual situation more than the pedantic experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflect the conflict in its complexity. They are those who have a good understanding of the distinction between being Israeli and being Jewish, as well, for that matter, of the distinction between West Bank Jewish settlements and the State of Israel proper, between the demolished Jewish settlement of Netzarim and Tel Aviv and between Israel and Netanyahu.

It could be that the Valencians have simply been listening to Netanyahu and his associates. The Valencian supporters of BDS don’t distinguish between the settlements and the 1967 Green Line, and seek to impose historical responsibility for a solution to the Palestinian problem upon all Jews rather just on those living in Israel, which hopes to change its officially defined character to the nation state of the Jewish people.

Does Netanyahu believe he is not just Israel’s prime minister, but the king of the Jews? If that is the case, then whatever goes for Jews goes for Israelis. What is clear is that we can’t have it both ways. One cannot work to erase the distinction between Israelis and Jews and at the same time be surprised when Diaspora Jews suffer from political arrows directed against Israel.

Maybe when the stain of the occupation affects American and French and Argentinian Jews, they will finally demand that they be distinguished from Israelis. Ironically, it might be that Netanyahu, after working tirelessly to blur the distinction between Israeli and Jew (as exemplified by the appointment of a former member of the Italian parliament as Israeli ambassador to Rome), will be the one to sharpen this distinction. And then, perhaps, whoever replaces him will understand that the job involves “just” heading up the Israeli government; that the job gives the prime minister responsibility for Israel’s citizens; and the first task at hand is dealing with the thorn of the occupation that is stuck in the country’s historic backside.