JANFRIE WAKIM (NZ) responds to NZ Herald article ” Israeli music builds bridges” 2Jul12 July 2, 2012

by Janfrie Wakim   -  Palestine Human Rights Campaign, Auckland   -   1 July 2012

Andrea Nadel and Tzvi Flesicher use a familiar phrase in their shallow and inaccurate analysis “Israeli Music Builds Bridges” NZ Herald June 25th 2012. Decades ago New Zealanders and other critics of apartheid South Africa were urged to seek engagement with (‘build bridges’) rather than boycott the racist regime. Of course it was the economic, sporting and cultural isolation that proved so successful in dismantling apartheid. And so it will be with racist Israeli policies and practices. No amount of sanitising by Israeli apologists like Nadel and Fleischer will halt the burgeoning world wide BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions )movement they condemn.

It is breathtaking that the authors wrote over 800 words without mentioning Palestine once, rendering invisible the hideous realities of life under 45 years Israeli occupation and the discriminatory policies since the state’s establishment in 1948. Yet the BDS movement which they criticise was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 because for decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation.

On July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice’s historic advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon their counterparts and people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognised in full compliance with international law.

Despite abundant condemnation of Israeli policies by the UN, other international bodies, and preeminent human rights organisations, the world community has failed to hold Israel accountable and enforce compliance with basic principles of law. Israel’s crimes have continued with impunity.

Boycotts target products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Campaigners call on consumers not to buy Israeli goods and on businesses not to buy or sell them. An example is Ahava skin care products made of mud and mineral-based compounds from the Dead Sea. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, several Israeli commercial ventures in the West Bank, including Ahava, breach the Hague Convention on the Law and Customs of War on Land, which prohibits exploitation of resources in occupied territory. New South African rules will ensure that such products, such as Ahava, are labelled “product of illegal settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” before they can be sold in South Africa.

Divestment means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies. These efforts raise awareness about the reality of Israel’s policies and encourage companies, churches and governments to use their economic influence to pressure Israel to end its systematic denial of Palestinian rights. Recently Norway’s finance ministry excluded Shikun & Binui from the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), the largest pension fund in Europe, over its construction of illegal Israeli colonies in East Jerusalem.

Sanctions are an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions. Israel’s membership in various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its crimes. By calling for sanctions against Israel, campaigners educate society about violations of international law and seek to end the complicity of other nations in these violations.

Australian-based Nadel and Fleischer paint Israel as a benign force spreading the joys of music and other artistic endeavours in the region without analysing why Israeli policies are so deeply offensive. Israeli cultural and academic institutions directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians and as the authors portray in their article, some individual musicians do too.

Numerous prominent and influential academics, writers, artists and actors support BDS some, prominent Jews. For example renowned British actor Miriam Margolyes, OBE, who recently currently toured New Zealand and Naomi Klein who shunned a mainstream Israeli publisher in order to respect the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions when she published her book The Shock Doctrine.

Writer Alice Walker ( The Colour Purple) who attended the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in 2011 has written after hearing testimony about the persecution of Palestinians within Israel and in the Occupied Territories wrote” I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse. Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long. It is my hope that the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, of which I am part, will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.

Nadel and Fleischer expose themselves as agents of hasbara, Israeli public relations efforts which have the express purpose of reshaping opinion abroad. This project has become especially pressing in recent years because Israel has lost the support it once enjoyed by its intransigence in peace negotiations, uncontrolled stealing of Palestinian lands to build ever more illegal settlements and the brutal siege of Gaza.

Both overseas and locally there have been some successful efforts highlighting the BDS campaign and these will proliferate and work to isolate Israel just as such methods isolated South Africa. It is impossible to build a bridge over the top of an apartheid wall and the sooner Israel and its apologists accept that reality the better.

 

“Israeli Music Builds Bridges”  by Andrea Nadel and Tzvi Fleischer, NZ Herald, 25 June 2012

Anti-Israel activists have been sponsoring intense campaigns of intimidation, emotional blackmail and misinformation to encourage prominent musicians to boycott Israel by not performing there, as reported in this paper on June 4 (“Stars under fire for concerts in Israel”).

These activists claim that they are acting in the name of peace, but in reality what they are actually doing is precisely the opposite. They are participating in a new version of a decades-old effort to reject any co-existence with Israel.

What’s even more ludicrous and hypocritical about efforts to culturally boycott Israel is that they ignore a compelling reality of today’s Middle East. Even as activists in Western states demand that artists refuse to have any association with Israel, the opposite is actually happening in the Middle East.

There, despite decades of boycotts, people from Turkey to Iran are embracing the works of Israeli musicians in increasing numbers, often at great personal risk.

Efforts by Middle Eastern governments, and more recently Western activists, to isolate Israel culturally, economically, and politically are essentially a modern-day manifestation of a campaign of boycotts against all Jewish businesses in British-mandate Palestine, initiated before Israel even existed.

With Israel’s establishment in 1948, the Arab League established an extensive bureaucracy dedicated to forcing countries, companies and artists to refuse to have anything to do with the Jewish state, under threat of being themselves boycotted.

Then, during the United Nations’ hypocritically named Durban Conference against Racism of 2001, a group of mainly Arab NGOs developed a strategy to revive the old Arab boycott campaign against Israel and carry it to the West under the rubric of “Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)”. With the help of sympathetic Western groups, they are attempting to use the language of “human rights” and “peace” to cajole, bully, and emotionally blackmail Western artists, universities, companies and churches into boycotting Israel. Their objective has been to create an updated version of the campaign against any “normalisation” with both Israeli institutions and individuals that was once widespread in the Arab Middle East.

This movement has failed almost entirely in its efforts to coerce universities, companies and churches. But with musicians and other artists – generally ignorant of the complexities of the Middle East, eager to be seen on the side of human rights and peace, and reluctant to alienate their fan base – they have enjoyed modest success, convincing a number of popular acts and individuals to cancel or disavow performances in Israel.

Yet, ironically, just as these activists have managed to persuade some Western musicians to implement a version of “anti-normalisation”, the Middle East, the home of anti-normalisation with Israel, is moving in the opposite direction. The growing numbers of people throughout the region embracing the music of Israeli artists indicates this in a way that is impossible to ignore.

The success of Iranian-born Israeli singer Rita Jahanfarouz (known simply as Rita) is a perfect example. Her Persian-language songs, which are reportedly widely available “under the table” in Iran, strike a chord with many Iranians who don’t care that she is Israeli but enjoy her modern twists on beloved classic Persian melodies. Her popularity in Iran has raised the ire of the Iranian government, which attacked her as the “latest plot in a soft war” to undermine the Iranian people.

Another example is the Israeli hard-rock band Orphaned Land, which draws on Jewish, Christian and Muslim liturgical sources for musical inspiration.

They too have a large Middle Eastern fan base and perform several times a year in Turkey. The band is so popular that it was even awarded the Turkish Friendship and Peace Award in 2010 by Dr Huseyin Tugcu, one of Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s own advisers. The absurdity of trying to silence a band that even the Turkish government recognises as working towards peace is obvious.

Opposition fighters in uprisings around the Middle East have even embraced the works of Israeli artists Noy Alooshe and Amir Benayoun as rallying cries. Noy Alooshe’s Zenga Zenga, which mocks the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was popular among Libyan opposition fighters and inspired Syrian opposition leaders to ask Benayoun to write Arabic songs for their opposition fighters, which he did.

One of the sources for these artists’ success is that they draw on Israel’s dynamic, multicultural and distinctly Middle Eastern musical heritage. Israel’s Middle Eastern immigrants, who along with their descendants comprise roughly half of the country’s Jewish population, brought their musical traditions with them to Israel, adding to and enriching its already Middle Eastern musical heritage. The result today is a vibrant musical tapestry that represents Israel’s democratic values and its regional roots.

The success of these artists exposes calls to boycott Israel as counterproductive, hypocritical nonsense.

These artists project a positive face of Israel and its free society to places whose leadership would prefer otherwise. They build bridges between cultures kept apart by conflict, showing Muslim, Christian and Jew that they share much in common and can benefit more from coexistence than from hatred. They contribute far more toward achieving Middle East peace than the BDS brigade’s efforts to perpetuate the 70-year-old Arab Boycott’s obsession with rejectionism.

Andrea Nadel is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). Dr Tzvi Fleischer is editor of the Australia/Israel Review, published by AIJAC.


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