I oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement (BDS) in all its forms. And I am equally appalled and infuriated at the Jewish National Fund of Canada’s (JNF) announcement, pulling out of its decades-long co-sponsorship of the Vancouver Jewish community’s Israel Independence Day celebration because Israeli singer Achinoam Nini (Noa) has been invited to perform.
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The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver (JFGV) and the broader Jewish community have drawn a red line between us and BDS. We have fought it valiantly on our university campuses and in our institutions. Now, the JNF and a small group of right-wing political extremists have stepped over the line, by using the abhorrent tactics of boycotting, delegitimizing and censoring of certain Israeli artists because of their politics.
When you use tactics that you have denounced against others, you are worse than your adversary because you should know better. The JNF does many good things for the State of Israel and the cause of Zionism, but they are wrong to boycott Noa. They should know that engaging with diverse views betters us all by engendering respect across the Vancouver Jewish community and beyond.
The planned event is not political. It’s a concert in celebration of the State of Israel. Noa has performed for Jewish communities, dignitaries and heads of state around the globe. Her concerts have been held at Carnegie Hall, the White House, the Vatican and Rome’s Colosseum. The Embassy of Israel in Canada and the Consulate General of Canada in Toronto have signed on as Official Sponsors. However, the JNF portrays her as a dangerous, subversive persona non grata in Vancouver.
They are wrong. Noa was selected to perform by a committee of Vancouver Jewish community leaders, more than half of whom are native Israelis. The committee ascertained through due diligence that Noa is not a promoter or supporter of BDS. Indeed, she is the opposite: an ambassador for Israeli music, bringing international artists to Israel to perform with her at the superstar level. She has stood in public opposition to BDS and has even been a target of their movement.
The issue here is politics, not BDS.
Noa’s disagreements with the policies of the current Israeli government are shared by millions of Israelis. She is a liberal who opposes the occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of settlements. That, in their view, is her sin.
She is active within Israeli politics and advocates for what she cares about in the State of Israel. She is an Israeli citizen, a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and is married to an IDF officer. Her airing of her political views is her right, her duty, and the very foundation of a thriving Israeli democracy.
The JNF’s shameful actions exemplify how a minority of extreme voices can dominate the Jewish community by using bully tactics to manipulate the conversation about Israel. By acquiescing to political censorship the JNF sends a cowardly message insinuating a lack of belief in the vibrancy of the Vancouver Jewish Community’s relationship with Israel.
The extreme right is engaging in a form of McCarthyism on Israel, similar to the Red Scare and the blacklists that raged across America during the early days of the Cold War. Back then a reckless bully named Senator Joseph McCarthy used innuendo, guilt by association and intimidation to turn Americans against each other and destroy lives. Today members of the right wing in Israel and North America are doing the same to Jews whose politics they don’t like. The right, now joined by JNF, labels others with the scarlet letters “BDS” and yells, “Traitor!”
Vancouver is only the latest battleground. Israeli artists and playwrights have been censored, opposed and shut down from Seattle to Miami to Washington, DC, not by outside groups but by those within the right wing of Jewish community, who have no room for views other than their own. Here in Canada, where the BDS movement has prospered more than in the U.S., we must be especially careful not to mimic our adversaries’ tactics that shut down legitimate debate.
There has always been a diversity of opinion and healthy, productive disagreement within the Jewish community. Hillel and Shammai hotly and passionately debated intricate details of Talmud and codes of Jewish law. They never boycotted each other. Never. They ate in each other’s homes, married each other’s children and danced at their weddings, with their arms around each other.
Sadly, there is BDS here. It is being perpetrated by the JNF against Noa and the Vancouver Jewish community and they must be called out for it.
I support the leaders in our community who selected Noa for this annual event. I support the voices that refuse to be silenced by the lies and intimidation of bullies pursuing their own myopic political agenda. I support our Jewish Federation and the State of Israel. I hope you will support them also.
Let Noa sing!
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Sholom in Vancouver BC, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @rabbidanmos