When BDS means boycotting Arabs – opinion

The anti-normalization camp is so obsessed with Israel they’re starting to boycott each other.

OR SASSON of Israel (in white) and Islam El Shehaby of Egypt compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (photo credit: TORU HANAI / REUTERS)
OR SASSON of Israel (in white) and Islam El Shehaby of Egypt compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
(photo credit: TORU HANAI / REUTERS)
As Israel experiences a blossoming love affair with the Gulf states, some nations, even those with existing peace agreements with Israel such as Egypt, are bitterly resenting the mutually beneficial new connections. Sadly, that resentment has poisoned the general public in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world to the point where they’re attacking their own cultural icons for having associations with Israelis – not Israeli political figures, but Israeli artists and musicians.
The harassment of cultural figures in anti-normalization efforts and the BDS movement is a desperate bullying tactic that demonstrates not only the hypocrisy of the movement, but its abysmal failure.
Despite over 30 years of peace between Egypt and Israel, the Egyptian public has long held virulently hostile and antisemitic views of Israelis. On multiple occasions this hatred has spilled over into sports, which is supposed to be above politics. Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby famously refused to shake the hand of Israeli judoka Or Sasson in the 2016 Olympic Games, resulting in a severe reprimand from the International Olympic Committee. In the 2012 Olympic Games, Egyptian volleyball player Doaa Elghobashy was photographed with a fan who donned an Israeli flag, allegedly unbeknownst to her at the time of the photo. The public was outraged and Elghobashy issued a strong condemnation in response, if for no other reason than to appease the mob.
This week, Egyptian actor Mohamed Ramadan was photographed at a party with Israeli Jewish singer Omer Adam, which outraged the Egyptian public and led to Ramadan’s suspension from the syndicate of Egyptian artists, and a lawsuit for “insulting the Egyptian public.”
But it wasn’t just the Omer Adam photo that upset the Arab public. Israeli footballer Dia Saba, an Israeli-Arab, made history this year as the first Israeli player to sign on to play for an Emirati football team. During Ramadan’s recent visit to Dubai, he also shared a photograph with Saba. The response on social media was outrage at Ramadan for being photographed with an Israeli, but also attacks on Saba who himself is an Arab Muslim.
The anti-normalization camp is so obsessed with Israel they’re starting to boycott each other. In September, 80 Arab authors called for a boycott of all UAE cultural events and prizes over their peace agreement with Israel. Of course, persecuting artists for their lack of “ideological purity” will end up harming the Arab world far more than it will Israel.
Ramadan is just the latest sacrificial lamb to the Egyptian mob of anti-normalization hate, which is especially ridiculous given that the Egypt’s leaders actually work side by side with Israel. Public smearing of artists, athletes and musicians who have no political stake in the policymaking of the state is simply an attempt to evade the reality that anti-normalization has failed.
The reason the BDS movement isn’t targeting political leaders even in countries like Egypt is because they know they have no chance for success. Instead, they focus on artists, cultural events, and random party photos in a desperate attempt to shame artists into “supporting Palestine” and condemning Israel. Take for example Mohamed Ramadan, who in response to the “outrage” over his photograph made his cover photo a Palestinian flag this week. Artists and athletes are browbeaten into anything to appease the ignorant mob. But for policymakers, the mob doesn’t even try.
The reason that photographs of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with Israeli officials (including the prime minister of Israel himself) aren’t a target for anti-normalization advocates is because no one in the government actually cares what they think. Attacking musicians and cultural figures for collaborating (or even just taking a photograph) with Israelis, while ignoring the actual policymakers in the state working with Israel, demonstrates one of the core hypocritical elements of the BDS movement. They aren’t interested in actual change, or in improving life for Palestinians. Their focus is demonizing Israel.
The path to a better situation for Palestinians will not be paved by anti-normalization campaigns that target Jews, Israel, or Arab nations who work with Israel. Oppressing artists, musicians, authors, and athletes who interact in a professional capacity with Jews (or any Israelis) will not only fail to improve the lives of Palestinians, but will harm efforts toward peace. Anti-normalization campaigns harm artistic efforts to bridge the divides in our world. We must speak out against this toxic tactic.

The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.