Cracks in the wall

ROGER WATERS is known as a vocal supporter of BDS. His support has provided this movement with legitimization and the iconic status he enjoys in the world of the arts.

Roger Waters 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Roger Waters 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In an interview published last week in the Huffington Post, Roger Waters, former leader of British rock legend Pink Floyd, announced that he is “considering his opinion” with regard to calling upon other artists to boycott Israel.
This announcement may be a golden opportunity for a counter-effort battling the boycott movement and for reaffirming Israel’s status as a legitimate venue for international performers.
The BDS movement claims to operate in three spheres – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Both the first two constitute an absolute failure, despite fraudulent claims to the contrary by the movement.
The most obvious example is the French transport corporation “Veolia,” which following massive BDS pressure announced that it will be terminating its involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail Transit Project.
However, Veolia has yet to sell its shares in the project and continues to operate bus lines outside the 1967 “green line.” The BDS movement, however, was quick to release a victorious statement, claiming Veolia had surrendered to their pressure and now supports the Palestinian call for boycotting Israel.
The “sanctions” channel is impractical to start with, seeing as sanctions are a tool reserved solely for countries.
To date, no Western country has imposed sanctions against Israel. The European Union is discussing the option of recommending that wholesalers label produce originating from settlements, but this is a non-binding recommendation. Norway and South Africa have agreed to label such produce but the precise language of these recommendations is yet to be agreed upon. In any case, there is no prohibition on selling Israeli produce, including produce originating from settlements.
The cultural boycott, on the other hand, has proven itself the most successful channel of the boycott movement. Over the past few years several high-profile international artists have canceled their scheduled concerts in Israel due to pressure from the boycott movement. Some of these artists were even prepared to go further and released statements in support of the boycott, as well as statements criticizing Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.
However, an upcoming study to be published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs shows no relation between an artist’s level of politicization and their willingness to play in Israel. Bands associated with radical left-wing ideologies have taken to the stage in Israel, whereas artists with little to no political context have canceled scheduled concerts while releasing much-celebrated press announcements claiming ideological and conscientious justification.
On the basis of several interviews this writer conducted with visiting artists, such statements should usually be regarded as nothing more than lip-service.
The main reasons for canceling concerts in Israel are verbal attacks, explicit threats of harm to their persons and/or income.
In their attempts to bring about cancellations, these operatives carry out coordinated, simultaneous and multi-dimensional attacks on the band, its individual members, its record company, its ongoing activities and scheduled concerts, as well as various fan-sites, to the point that these sites often collapse. Considering the virtual nature of most of this activity, these activists are free to lie and slander as they wish with no accountability.
ROGER WATERS is known as a vocal supporter of BDS. His support has provided this movement with legitimization and the iconic status he enjoys in the world of the arts has helped raise the level of exposure this movement enjoys, thereby paving the way for future cancellations. Waters has mentioned that he had spoken with fellow musicians in the past, urging them not to perform in Israel. The fact that he is now “considering his position” can potentially serve as a springboard for a counter-BDS effort in the following way: Artists should be encouraged to come to Israel and state their opinions, as critical as they may be. Israel enjoys a free press and freedom of expression, elements that are crucial to the artistic community and that provide them with a dignified and more constructive alternative to boycotting Israel. Many artists have used the performance stage in Israel to release critical political statements, and have received applause for it. Waters himself is a good example.
There is a need for an in-depth study, defining the specific values that speak most to the artistic community, followed by a campaign showing how these values are realized in Israel.
Counter-BDS efforts should focus on direct contact with the artists or the relevant decision-maker on their behalf, in coordination with the Israeli concert promoter. In most cases it is inadvisable to conduct such discussions in locations – virtual or otherwise – where BDS activists hold the upper hand. Due to the virtual nature of most of BDS activity, these operatives are not accountable to anyone and are free to lie and threaten as they wish. It is important to remember that these operatives do not enter into discussion in order to convince, but rather to cause damage. Their willingness to include pro-Israel voices in their discussion is a trap aimed at raising the rating and exposure of the specific platform.
The key threat of the cultural boycott is the damage it causes via “soft politics” and ongoing erosion of Israel legitimacy. This danger constitutes an apolitical threat which should not be linked to a specific ideology or party in Israel’s political arena. Concert promoters have been badly hurt by BDS-invoked concert cancelations.
They have received no compensation for their losses, which are a result of a political battle. These promoters find themselves under constant attack, without having the tools to fight back. Patrons of the arts, concert promoters and the public at large are not necessarily the ideal persons for conducting the counter-BDS effort.
These efforts should be carried out by professional policy analysts familiar with BDS operations, methods and narrative, who can put BDS slander in perspective and present an unbiased picture of reality.The author is a senior program coordinator and researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, specializing in battling the cultural boycott. He holds an MA in political science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is regularly called upon by producers and concert promoters to help battle BDS activists in their attempts to pressure artists into canceling shows in Israel.