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‘Variety’ misses the story on BDS

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Last week Rihanna crossed the international picket line, ignoring calls by BDS supporters to cancel her performance in Tel Aviv. In doing so, she made the decision to rebuke an opportunity to stand in solidarity with human rights and equality, instead choosing to tacitly support Israel’s status quo of discrimination and gross human rights violations.

Somewhat surprisingly, Variety magazine chose to do a piece on the BDS movement’s appeals to musicians not to perform in Israel. As a BDS supporter, I was initially excited that such a prominent, mainstream entertainment magazine would write about the movement, as it might raise the movement’s profile among readers unfamiliar with the political implications of performances in Israel. However, I was quickly disappointed when the scant research put into this article and its disparaging tone became apparent.

variety

(Screenshot: Variety.com)

Author Debra Kamin begins by giving a very brief (read: incomplete) overview of the aims of the BDS movement. She mentions the movements’ first aim and third aim—ending occupation and the right of return—but omits the important second goal of “[r]ecognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality” (PACBI). This is an important demand, as it places Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights within the context of its own Israeli society, highlighting the discrimination this population faces. It also brings to light the continuity and solidarity within Palestinian society—which defy imposed physical separation. In her explanation of the BDS movement, Kamin correctly cites the movement’s inception in 2005, but completely glosses over any other fact about its establishment. Rather than explain that the BDS movement originated as a call from Palestinian civil society to “international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world” (PACBI), she places the movement in the ‘Twittersphere’—reducing this international civil society movement, rooted in appeals for the upholding of international law, to a trendy phenomenon of Twitter. In doing so, she decontextualizes the movement from its roots as a reaction and response to violations of human rights and international law. As I read the article, I found myself wondering why Kamin hadn’t included a link to the BDS website or PACBI’s call for boycott. Was she purposely trying to distance her reader from learning more about the movement? Or was it authorial laziness?

Kamin’s portrayal of the BDS movement’s influence on performers is equally incomplete and misleading. I was, at first, heartened to see Mira Nair’s recent unflinching statement of solidarity used as an example of BDS support. However, Kamin confusingly first presents Nair as an independent actor who “spurned an invitation to bring her film to the Haifa Film Festival”, then remarks that Nair “bowed to the pressure” of the BDS movement, implying her decision was based on outside opinions and not her own conviction. Nair makes it quite clear in her statement that she refused the invitation because she “stand[s] with” the BDS movement—not because she bowed to pressure. In fact, Nair literally lists the human rights violations that would have to be rectified before she goes to Israel: “I will not be going to Israel at this time. I will go to Israel when the walls come down. I will go to Israel when occupation is gone. I will go to Israel when the state does not privilege one religion over another. I will go to Israel when Apartheid is over.” But Kamin chooses to use language which portrays Nair’s political views as pliant and does not acknowledge that Nair’s refusal was of her own convictions and feelings of solidarity—not a response to pressure.

Kamin furthers her misrepresentation of the BDS movement by characterizing it as one of intimidation and pressure—rather than the human rights movement it is.  I was astounded to read her claim that “[o]nline petitions and campaigns sometimes bordering on harassment are routine.” These are serious allegations, to which she offers no supporting statements—leaving her accusations bordering on slander. She again portrays the BDS movement as an ogre of ‘intimidation’—its Facebook messages, online petitions, and tweets looming above the heads of international stars, threatening to destroy their stardom. Give me a break. Not only is her presentation of the BDS movement exceptionally and negatively skewed, but it fails in great measure to give credence to the musicians who have stood in solidarity of international law and human rights—as independent thinkers, as people of conscience— by cancelling their shows. A quick internet search will reveal that Elvis Costello was not so much ‘intimidated’ by the calls of support for BDS as he was made to pause and reflect. In fact, the only intimidation of which he speaks is that which is part and parcel of Israeli policies against “Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.” In fact, “[h]e said that in the end his conscience and instinct told him that if these themes were ‘too grave and complex’ to be addressed in concert, ‘then it is also quite impossible to look the other way.'” This does not sound like the conclusion of a man who was harassed or intimidated—rather one who paused, reflected on the implications of his actions, and listened to his conscience. Kamin also references The Pixies’ cancelled performance in Tel Aviv, again citing intimidation as the reason. However, she fails to mention that their cancellation happened in June, 2010—just days after Israel’s horrendously violent response to the peaceful Gaza Flotilla. At that time, The Pixies cancelled their performance, stating that, “events beyond our control have conspired against us.” Nor does she recognize the Israeli fans that support the BDS movement, writing to The Pixies urging them ‘not to cross the international picket line’. Kamin’s omission of these key facts does not give her readers the full picture of events contributing to The Pixies’ cancelation and calls into question her journalistic objectivity.

Since its inception, hundreds of companies, organizations, and individuals of conscience from around the world (some of whom are are Jewish and/or Israeli) have shown their support for Palestinian rights and international law by standing in solidarity with the BDS movement. Its success is due to the fact that the BDS movement has been built upon and operates within a framework of human rights and international law—not harassment and intimidation, as Kamin’s article would have its readers believe.

Shireen Tawil
About Shireen Tawil

Shireen Tawil is a public health professional specializing in mental and reproductive health based in Milan.

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38 Responses

  1. tokyobk
    tokyobk
    October 29, 2013, 9:10 am

    Of course its harassment and intimidation. This is from the school of thought that throwing rocks is nonviolent, that is when its our cause its what we say it is not what your eyes tell you.

    You either believe that people have a right to resist or not and if they do have a right to resist than why sugarcoat the tactics. BDS is becoming an effective tool because of coordinated full court harassment of performers who want to play Israel.

    • Shmuel
      Shmuel
      October 29, 2013, 10:06 am

      tokyobk,

      What do you consider “harassment and intimidation” in this context? Can you give specific examples?

      • tokyobk
        tokyobk
        October 29, 2013, 10:49 am

        As soon as a star announces travel they are flooded with twitter, Facebook, emails to their management with the explicit threat of their own careers being boycotted and them becoming a bad person (even if their intent is to play to a mixed audience). Fair tactic in a just cause? of course.

        Gentle coercion in explicitly moral terms? No.

        I do not personally support BDS of Israel, Iran, Saudi or even scumbag North Korea but different point but feel no right to lecture Palestinian civil society and their supporters about what non-violent tactics they employ. My point again is that this discussion needs clarity and accuracy and in this sense alone I think there is a kind of parity of narratives of innocence.

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel
        October 29, 2013, 11:01 am

        As soon as a star announces travel they are flooded with twitter, Facebook, emails to their management with the explicit threat of their own careers being boycotted

        Are these messages coordinated? By whom? What proportion of such “floods” would you characterise as actual harassment or intimidation (as opposed to ‘As a fan who cares about Palestinian rights, I ask you not to play Tel Aviv’)? Can you give specific examples? I don’t use FB or Twitter, and would like to get an idea of the kind of thing you’re talking about. I’ve only seen the PACBI letters, and nothing about them has struck me as intimidating or harassing.

        and them becoming a bad person

        That’s harassment/intimidation?

      • Cliff
        Cliff
        October 29, 2013, 11:01 am

        the explicit threat of their own careers being boycotted

        PROVE IT.

        Cite the language that is used to appeal to a performer scheduled to appear in Israel.

        Cite the language and name the organization behind the appeal.

        If the language is indeed ‘threatening’, then it should be self-explanatory.

        It either IS or ISN’T. This isn’t a painting we’re talking about.

        So instead of slandering BDS wholesale, provide examples. Shmuel asked you for some and you didn’t give any AT ALL.

      • tokyobk
        tokyobk
        October 29, 2013, 11:13 am

        Coordinated is a compliment to a movement that first was laughed at.
        Boycott is in itself a threat of consequences. I don’t think anyone has threatened to break legs. On twitter the threat to one’s livelihood and reputation is explicit, especially after artists go ahead and play anyway, whatever the intentions of the artists many of whom claim that they want to play to mixed audiences and to play in the name of peace.
        I don’t want to make a huge deal about it simply to repeat that this strikes me as a similar claim to rock throwing is non-violent. In the I/P discussion everything hides behind innocence.

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel
        October 29, 2013, 12:13 pm

        tokyobk,

        I was hoping for some specific examples of artists being intimidated – threatened with boycott or other consequences if they go ahead with plans to perform in Israel – preferably more than just an isolated tweet or two (that would hardly faze even a minor “star”). I’ve heard the vague accusations before, but never seen them actually backed up.

        The Alicia Keys story comes to mind, but the situation there seems to have deteriorated due to her mishandling of it, more than anything else.

        Artists keep playing Israel, and those who choose to adhere to BDS are few and far between, which leads me to believe that the “pressure” or “intimidation” supposedly being applied by the “BDS movement” can’t be that scary after all.

      • tokyobk
        tokyobk
        October 29, 2013, 12:57 pm

        I suppose I see BDS as gaining momentum and being well organized and edging into street fred territory which my reference to being labeled as “bad” (as in a bad person)

      • tokyobk
        tokyobk
        October 29, 2013, 2:09 pm

        *street cred

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976
        October 29, 2013, 2:24 pm

        I have what I think are surprisingly vivid memories of Hitchcock’s drama of the Cold War, Torn Curtain – seen decades ago. I’m sure there’s an East German agent who refers rather fondly to the ‘freds’ on American street corners, so I supposed for a moment that the street freds were doing some BDS intimidation.

      • yrn
        yrn
        October 29, 2013, 3:17 pm

        Tom Jones gets the BDS treatment 29Aug13

        “People in Wales know you care about human rights and social justice,” the letter directed at Jones reads. “We ask you to reconsider and to cancel your performance in Israel, especially as you signed a pledge not to play in South Africa during its apartheid era.”

        Israel’s consulate in New York, in turn, chose to also pun on the singer’s signature song in their retort to the effort – a mass email campaign titled “It’s Not Unusual To Love Israel,” in which pro-Israel activists are urged to besiege Jones with letters supporting his trip, the Telegraph added.

        “Over the past few weeks, Tom Jones has become the latest victim of a fringe campaign pushing for a boycott of Israel, which bullies artists and academics from coming to Israel,” read the statement, according to the Telegraph. “It is time to tell Tom Jones that no music fan should be punished because of the agenda of online bullies.”

        http://www.australiansforpalestine.net/84830

        On 28 August protesters at the Daniel Zamir concert at Wits University sang “dubula e juda” (“shoot the Jew”). We condemn this slogan in the strongest terms.
        We were dismayed to read that Muhammed Desai, coordinator of BDS South Africa, justified this behaviour.

        http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71654?oid=401747&sn=Detail

        Shmuel keep on with your agenda……

      • bilal a
        bilal a
        October 29, 2013, 3:35 pm

        Bad people are those that the international media street cred apparatchiks deem to be bad.

        How sad for humanity.

      • annie
        annie
        October 29, 2013, 4:14 pm

        yrn, one of your examples it’s definitely worthy of denouncement, it’s just wrong. the other tho, how are the words of the Israel’s consulate in New York a reflection of the statements of BDS reps in the article? they aren’t.

      • tokyobk
        tokyobk
        October 29, 2013, 4:46 pm

        I don’t think saying BDS has become very effective at promoting boycott which is in itself always a threat of someones bottom line, that is why it is a boycott. The official language has almost all been temperate and morality based which is a reason why BDS has been effective. Social media not as much. Google yourself. And hey I am still busy with your last assignment proving Cory Booker is a Zionist which is just so hard to do you since he has never praised Israel ever, you have to give me more time!

      • annie
        annie
        October 29, 2013, 4:51 pm

        I don’t think saying BDS has become very effective at promoting boycott…..The official language has almost all been temperate and morality based which is a reason why BDS has been effective.

        i’m getting mixed messages here…

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel
        October 29, 2013, 6:23 pm

        yrn, one of your examples it’s definitely worthy of denouncement, it’s just wrong. the other tho, how are the words of the Israel’s consulate in New York a reflection of the statements of BDS reps in the article?

        I agree. The South African story sounds pretty nasty, although it doesn’t actually relate to my question regarding pressure on artists not to play.

        In the other case, the only relevant part is the BDS petition itself (not the Israeli consulate’s editorialising), which seems to be worded in a way that could hardly be described as harassment or intimidation:

        “People in Wales know you care about human rights and social justice,” the letter directed at Jones reads. “We ask you to reconsider and to cancel your performance in Israel, especially as you signed a pledge not to play in South Africa during its apartheid era.”

      • thankgodimatheist
        thankgodimatheist
        October 29, 2013, 6:27 pm

        “dubula e juda” (shoot the Jew)
        Which language is this?

      • thankgodimatheist
        thankgodimatheist
        October 29, 2013, 6:34 pm

        “Nuke Teheran” on the other hand is “innocuous”..
        Barf…

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        October 29, 2013, 6:38 pm

        Shmuel keep on with your agenda……

        You just proved Shmuel’s point.

        1. The article relaying to Tom Jones does not back up anything TB claims. The actual letter to him was very reasonable and non threatening. Not intimidating in the least.

        The claim by the Israeli Consulate – that he had suffered blah blah blah is completely unsubstantiated.

        2. The second case was denounced by the BDS movement and was attributed to a fringe group.

        Try again YRN.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        October 29, 2013, 6:39 pm

        So it “butcher the Arabs” as it is chanted by hundreds of white shirts in Jerusalem.

      • thankgodimatheist
        thankgodimatheist
        October 29, 2013, 6:53 pm

        Throwing stones is “violent” and BDS is “harassment and intimidation”..Maybe you and the likes should tell the Palestinians who are left with no alternative, none, how to get out of the misery you and your people have reduced them to. Maybe that could be the only way you find something agreeable to you.

      • amigo
        amigo
        October 29, 2013, 8:22 pm

        I attended a Dervish show a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to talk to a few members of the band including their lead singer Cathy Jordan.

        I raised the subject of the cancellation of their Israeli tour and asked if they felt any undue pressure or threats from any Pro Palestinian sources as is claimed by the usual liars defending Israel,s crimes.They assured me that there was no pressure other than to point out to them that there was an official cultural Boycott of Israel and they decided to support that.

        I gave them a few web site addresses , including MW and suggested they might use any spare time on their hands to enlighten themselves on the facts about Israel.

        I thanked them for being on the right side of history on this one.

        Great Group.Great show.

        We heard all this same nonsense from you zio freaks about Dervish.

    • annie
      annie
      October 29, 2013, 3:51 pm

      Of course its harassment and intimidation. This is from the school of thought that throwing rocks is nonviolent

      this sounds like a false equivalent to me. are you familiar w/the term? from the point scoring section of the hasbara handbook?

      i am curious, do you think our county’s sanctions against iran, uncluding the pressure for other countries to comply, amounts to harassment and intimidation?

      • Ludwig
        Ludwig
        October 29, 2013, 4:34 pm

        Annie,

        Why don’t you make a firm stand against harassment of artists and collective punishment of Israelis?

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        October 29, 2013, 5:24 pm

        “Why don’t you make a firm stand against harassment of artists”

        LMAO. Yes, Earwig, the israelis have been stomping on the heads of Palestinians for three generations, and the real scandal is that someone asks a celebrity not to visit the settlement city of Tel Aviv.

        ” and collective punishment of Israelis?”

        They collectively elect the governments that commit the evil, they should collectively pay the price and suffer the retribution.

      • Ludwig
        Ludwig
        October 29, 2013, 6:54 pm

        Woody, my name is Ludwig, not Earwig. I expect you to address me properly.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        October 29, 2013, 11:44 pm

        Considering the artists in question, I would say that allowing them to perform would constitute collective punishment of Israelis.

      • tokyobk
        tokyobk
        October 29, 2013, 4:55 pm

        Annie,

        Come on I expect more from you than to try to catch me with the goose and gander play: because I critique something related to pro-Palestinian activity I must be covering for Zionism? How long have I been commenting here?

        Seriously, why is there such a rigid party line here?

        Why would I play from the Hasbara handbook when I think 90% of Hasbara is complete BS?

        I do though think there is a kind of equivalence in claims of innocence in pretty much everything I/P which was my initial comment.

        I said above I am against Boycotts, including Iran . I think the sanctions of Iran are counter productive and yes involve a kind of harassment and intimidation which the US certainly employs in its “coalition” building.

        Anyway, I am sorry to have commented so much today and wish everyone a good day.

      • Ludwig
        Ludwig
        October 29, 2013, 8:04 pm

        tokyobk,

        Thank you for being pragmatic on this issue.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        October 30, 2013, 2:55 am

        because I critique something related to pro-Palestinian activity I must be covering for Zionism? How long have I been commenting here?

        Long enough to have posted some lame arguments. This is the latest of many I have read from you.

        Why would I play from the Hasbara handbook when I think 90% of Hasbara is complete BS?

        Some habbits are hard to shake. The fact is you have been repeatedly challenged to produce evidence to back up your allegations and you have failed to do so.

        I think the sanctions of Iran are counter productive and yes involve a kind of harassment and intimidation which the US certainly employs in its “coalition” building.

        Again false equivalence – very hasbara.

        There is a difference between a grass roots movement involving individuals exercising their right to dissent an free speech and political hacks who are paid and blackmailed into imposing brutal sanctions based on lies.

  2. ritzl
    ritzl
    October 29, 2013, 11:19 am

    @tokyobk Aren’t you being selective in objecting to what you call intimidation? When Alice Walker gets “disinvited” or when MJ Rosenberg gets the boot for “objectionable” phrasing (there are literally countless other examples), isn’t that also intimidation? I would add, intimidation for the next person, not for them. They were simply silenced. In Palestine they’re killed or maimed or herded into prisons, etc.

    To reverse your call for consistency, shouldn’t YOU also be concerned with the more severe variety of intimidation that critics of Israel routinely face? Shouldn’t you, to meet your own criteria, explicitly couch rock-throwing in terms of the massive and omnipresent Occupation violence when you write stuff like your original comment?

    I guess there’s intimidation and then there’s INTIMIDATION. Which are you more concerned about again?

    • tokyobk
      tokyobk
      October 29, 2013, 11:34 am

      This is the goose/gander aspect of I/P. Any critique of one “side” means one is hiding similar in their own “side.”

      I am very concerned with the intimidation of Jewish dissenters such as those you named, in fact more so since I have worked on dialogue in the Jewish community. and I say this being not especially sympathetic to Alice Walker, who I think is a tad bat-shit, and MJ Rosenberg, who I think has played a little careless with terms like “Israel Firster.” I am much more sympathetic to Phil and Adam’s project and Norman Finkelstein and others, though reject all of their ostracizing from the Jewish mainstream.

      And professional intimidation obviously applies here too.

      • ritzl
        ritzl
        October 29, 2013, 12:37 pm

        Actually it’s more akin to the goose/cheetah (for now) aspect of I/P, with the loudness of the honking (as opposed to the sharpness of the teeth) being your first take on the conflict dynamic. It gets tiresome. I defer to Shmuel.

      • bintbiba
        bintbiba
        October 29, 2013, 2:05 pm

        Shmuel it is , at every turn of the road!

      • bintbiba
        bintbiba
        October 30, 2013, 7:03 am

        Correction: Very badly expressed in my previous comment.
        I also defer to Shmuel….

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        October 29, 2013, 5:00 pm

        Actually the one who sounds bat shit crazy is you TB. You’re trying to draw equivalence between someone breaking a proverbial finger nail and losing a leg.

        The level of vitriol you Israeli firsters – yes, I’m using that expression because it’s damn well true – inflict on those who publicly criticize Israel or break ranks, is far and above any intimidation artists might experience. The list of those the lobby and it’s attack dogs have destroyed is undeniable , yet all you can get riled about is all edged intimidation that you can’t even back up with evidence.

        Underneath it all, you’re only Cincerned about how this affects Israeli Jews. Just another ethnocentric supremacist in liberal clothing.

  3. just
    just
    October 29, 2013, 7:35 pm

    Time for some sanctions on Apartheid Israel.

    Seems that BDS makes them angry and offended, but sanctions with teeth might make them change.

    Oh, and end the eternal veto by the US at the UNSC. It’s past time for the US to stop playing the happy hypocrite.

  4. Shmuel
    Shmuel
    October 30, 2013, 6:26 am

    USACBI [US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel ] Responds to Unsubstantiated Claims of Threats

    Although we and our allies urge artists not to cross the international picket line by performing in Israel, and although we make sustained efforts to educate performers about the reason for boycott, we have not and never will issue any threats against anyone who does not heed the boycott call.

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