Breaking the cultural logjam in Israel
JO-ANN MORTThe fireworks before the Alicia Keys concert in Tel Aviv on July 4 have been from activists demanding that the singer cancel her performance in Israel. But she was not swayed by these false comparisons between Israel and South Africa under apartheid.
Good for her. Israel is no Sun City, the race-restricted resort created by Pretoria in the 1980s to evade the international boycott against the apartheid regime.
Musicians were rightly targeted for giving credence to a renegade government by performing in that pretend resort. This effort was part of a legitimate rallying cry against injustice by entertainers worldwide. But today, entertainers should come to Israel and speak their mind to audiences about the nation’s successes and failures. Just as Israeli musicians — Jewish, Muslim and Christian — do.
These activists who campaign under the banner of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) assert that Israel is an apartheid state similar to the former South African regime, where racial discrimination and separation was legislated in every aspect of public life. This is unequivocally untrue about Israel.
Anyone who visits Israel — which the BDS activists refuse to do — can see a complex situation. Arab citizens of Israel do still face discrimination in their lives — in areas of employment, allocation of educational resources, housing, land distribution and planning rights. But this discrimination is vigilantly challenged by many lawyers in Israel, Jewish and Arab. The Supreme Court and the attorney general have ruled against the right-wing politicians who seek to press discriminatory policies.
There are major efforts now to improve opportunity in Israel. For example, the Council for Higher Education, with financial support from the Israeli government, just launched a multi-million dollar campaign, with additional funding from British and American Jewish philanthropies, to increase the numbers of Arab citizens in Israeli higher education.
BDS activists make no distinction between the occupied territories and the 1949 Armistice Line, known internationally as the “Green Line,” between Israel and the West Bank. Why do BDS activists intentionally blur Israeli society with the issue of the occupation of the West Bank? Do they want to delegitimize Israel as it exists today? Do they want a one-state solution, which means a largely Arab population would hold sway in a nominally Jewish state of Israel? This is one explanation for the apartheid argument.
Ironically, the blurring of lines is primarily advanced by BDS activists and Jewish activists who support Israel’s grip on the settlements and occupied lands. Meanwhile, many Jewish federations and Jewish philanthropies refuse to fund programs beyond the “Green Line.”
If BDS advocates want to force a two-state solution and end the West Bank occupation, to create a unified state of Palestine with the West Bank and Gaza, there are other strategies that would be far more effective.
Why not mandate, as the European Union is considering, that they will not boycott any Israeli goods and products that are produced inside Israel’s 1967 borders, while openly refusing to buy goods made in the occupied areas? The media in Israel flock to foreign entertainers. Performers will have plenty of opportunity to make their viewpoints known — and it will also help to break the logjam that fundamentalists have had on both sides.