‘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.

(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.

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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… Read more »

@objak 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… Read more »

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.

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.