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Trump Could Be the Best Thing That Ever Happened to BDS

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U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Jan. 7, 2018
U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Jan. 7, 2018Credit: Bloomberg

As 2017 drew to a close, there was a sense in some quarters that the BDS movement to boycott, sanction, and divest from Israel had fallen on hard times.

"Dear Jewish community, So you wanna understand Israel-Palestine debates on campus?" wrote New Voices Editor Sara Weissman in a July Jewish Journal piece about the North American university experience. "The first thing you have to do is stop talking about BDS. Shocking, right? We try.

"But really," Weissman continued, "the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign against Israel isn’t what Israel conversations on campus are all about these days. Campaigns to pass BDS measures on major campuses are actually in decline, yet somehow they still make up the bulk of Jewish news about students."

At the same time, the most closely monitored index of the movement's clout, the artistic boycott which seeks to persuade singers and bands to refuse to appear in Israel, seemed to have lost all momentum. One headline in Haaretz read: "Performers Are Flooding Israel: A Sign of the Cultural Boycott's Failure?"

And then, last month, something changed that. In two words: Donald Trump.

"Up until a month ago, an intense love affair was underway between the greatest performers in the world and Israeli concert promoters," wrote Raz Shechnik in the weekend Yedioth Ahronoth. "The future of the market was colored in the soft shades of a pink lord (Israeli slang for a permanent marker pen, and a play on the name of New Zealand singing star Lorde).

"Just then, came U.S. President Donald Trump's declaration recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

And, as Shechnik notes, a floodtide of subsequent events - including Lorde's sudden cancellation of plans to appear in Israel, eruption of rioting in Palestinian areas, and the Likud Central Committee's unanimous decision to push for full annexation of the bulk of the West Bank – caused an abrupt, 180-degree shift in major Israeli concert promoters' predictions for the new year:

"The market has gone from gearing up for an excellent summer of 2018, the kind that would have even stolen the limelight from the last summer of concerts, to a state of despondency, and to forecasts conveying, at best, uncertainty, and at worst, pessimism."

On Friday, as promoters fretted over performers who have yet to decide whether to appear in Israel this year, more than 100 artists including musicians, writers, actors and directors signed an open letter published in The Guardian in support of Lorde’s right to cancel – among them actor Mark Ruffalo, singer Peter Gabriel, former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters, actor John Cusack, British director Ken Loach, writer Angela Davis and writer Alice Walker.

The open letter also slammed a full-page Washington Post newspaper ad condemning Lorde for being a "bigot" – an advertisement placed by Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, whose circle of support links Trump, Netanyahu, and mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

Just like that, the thought occurs: Donald Trump could be the best thing that ever happened to BDS.

Why? To begin with, there is the effect he has had - and continues to have - on the Netanyahu government as a whole, and on Benjamin Netanyahu in particular.

How does it work?

Freed by Trump: Day by day, Netanyahu and his coalition lurch further and further to the right. As they do, the contentions of BDS activists are brought closer and closer to a simple recognition of reality.

Buoyed by Trump: Thankful for his declarations marginalizing Palestinians and rendering peace talks impossible, Netanyahu moves to make Israel into a one state reality, even as Israeli officials get ready to waste an additional $72 million dollars – critically needed for Israel's own social ills – on accusing BDS activists of seeking a one-state reality. 

Emulating Trump: Netanyahu moves to make Israel a repressive, racist theocracy, enacting travel bans, cementing in place an Israel off-limits to tourists on the basis of their politics, obscenely callous to Jewish converts of color, proud of plans to deport or imprison tens of thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers whose only crime, children and the elderly included, is seeking asylum.

Day by day, we, as this Israel, pledge allegiance, then, to the settlements and the dictatorship for which it stands, One State, under an Orthodox Jewish God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all settlers and their Jewish fellow travelers. And only.

How bad is it?

This week, Birthright co-founder Charles Bronfman titled his cautionary opinion piece for the Forward, "Abandoning the Two-State Solution Means Abandoning the Jewish Soul."

Inspired by Trump: the Netanyahu government seeks new ways to deregulate settlements, retroactively legalizing outposts which even Israel considers illegal, and effectively annexing West Bank territory by declaring that Israel has permanent, non-negotiable territorial claims to the whole of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Emboldened by Trump, Netanyahu has made clear that there is no need whatsoever to extend basic human rights to the millions of Palestinians resident there.

Nor to allow into Israel members of a long list of leftist groups, among them the American Friends Service Committee, a human rights group which aided and rescued victims of the Nazis.

The bottom line, though, may be this: Every time that Netanyahu defers to Trump, aligns with Trump, kisses up to Trump, BDS wins.

Every time Israel acts to reduce critical humanitarian aid to the Palestinians along with Trump, BDS wins.

In all, every time that Israel is identified with Trump the hated, the pathetic, the abominable, the bigoted, the crude, the suspect, the deceitful, the shunned – BDS wins.

"If anyone thought that Trump's [Jerusalem] declaration would improve Israel's standing in the world entertainment market, in practice the opposite is the case," Shechnik wrote.

It's still too soon to know if Lorde's cancellation will have downstream effects, but promoters have noted that big-name artists have been waiting to sign contracts for shows in Israel.

Gad Oron, promoter of appearances by the likes of Bob Dylan, Metallica, and Guns 'n' Roses, told Yedioth, "Lorde's cancellation caused us harm, and it's clearly the beginning of something that could cause a domino effect."

Her decision against appearing in Israel, Oron said, "received widespread coverage in the world, and that has put ideas into the heads of artists and managers who had not even thought about this. They hear that Lorde's cancelled, and they begin to check out why that happened, and what the deal is with the UN and Trump, and what's happening in the territories."  

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