Targeting the Jewish State: the kind of culture BDS loves

As part of London’s Globe Theatre World Shakespeare Festival, Israel’s Habima Theatre will perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew on Monday and Tuesday of this week. A Palestinian theatre company from Ramallah has already given a performance of Richard II.

Unfortunately, it seems that so-called pro-Palestinian activists didn’t have much time to take pride in the Palestinian performance, because they have been terribly busy with an unsuccessful campaign to pressure the Globe Theatre into cancelling the Habima performance.

This campaign is part of the broader BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) efforts that have targeted Israel for quite some time in the hope to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state.

While BDS advocates usually like to present themselves as defenders of Palestinian rights who only oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, most of them actually oppose Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

A good example is anti-Israel activist Ben White, about whom I have already repeatedly written (there is also a recently posted list of some of his more openly antisemitic views at Harry’s Place).  In April, White penned a piece published in the New Statesman, where he attempted to explain “Why a cultural boycott of Israel is justified.”

White notes in this piece that “a common objection to cultural boycott (or BDS in general) is some version of ‘Why Israel’s musicians and not China’s?’” His response to this question is simple: “Boycott is a strategy, not a principle.”

So here we have it: BDS happens to be a “strategy” that singles out the Jewish State – supposedly because of the occupation of the West Bank, but in reality, as Ben White’s own writings illustrate so well, because activists like him want “a world without Zionism.”

While White himself may be too sophisticated to shout this out loud, many of his fellow-BDS activists are more outspoken.  Here is London BDS ranting about the upcoming Habima performance:

“Zionism is a murderous, parasitic political doctrine and what the apartheid Zionist state is doing to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is monstrous. Apartheid Israel is trying to whitewash their crimes by sending cultural representatives to these shores that include the Jerusalem Quartet (disrupted in London and Brighton), The Jerusalem Trio (picketed), the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (performance ‘enhanced’) and now – Habima.

The Palestinian people are undergoing a slow-motion genocide courtesy of Israel. Their land is being stolen, homes bulldozed and movement controlled. Palestinians who peacefully protest are met in force by Zionist soldiers and settlers who don’t hesitate to shoot on sight – and Israelis who maim or kill Palestinians are rarely punished. Not long ago, Palestinians who had no weapons other than their own bodies went on highly publicised hunger strikes to protest Zionist barbarity.

Zionists in turn are gnashing their teeth and wailing that any disruption is wrong and call those who take action, “cultural terrorists.” That is how the mind of the Zionist thinks; they accuse others of being racists and terrorists, but as their words and actions last Tuesday in support of racist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman prove, they themselves are the most hateful people imaginable.


Habima’s performance was supported by a few unenlightened has-beens seeking publicity, the most well-known being Maureen Lipman and Howard Jacobson. One has to ask if Lipman and Jacobson, along with their fellow do-gooders, would have supported the Nazi-sponsored Berlin Philharmonic’s concerts in pre-war London or embraced performances funded by the racist apartheid South African government.”

Is there any antisemite out there who wouldn’t whole-heartedly agree with this vicious rant?


8 responses to “Targeting the Jewish State: the kind of culture BDS loves

  1. Isn’t claiming: “Israel is trying to whitewash their crimes by sending cultural representatives to these shores”, particularly when relating to “The Merchant of Venice” already a farce in itself? Isn’t that Shakespearean Jew a rather questionable PR representative for Israel, at best? One could even recognize some parallels in the portrait of his self-righteous plea and the Palestinians’ narrative that the Israelis “justify” their “cruelty” with “supposedly” being victimized in the Holocaust. While Jewish resentment has its history – maybe going as far back as the prophet Jonah grudging Nineveh’s “instant” repentance – the cause and justification of Israel’s sometimes violent policies is – contrary to those claims – not in the violence and injustice suffered by the Jewish people in the past, but the one targeted at it in the present and the one unambiguously threatening its future. So, ignoring that, if I really wanted to harm Israel’s legitimacy, in a subtle and sophisticated way, I’m not sure if I’d try to stop THAT performance…

    • I’m afraid you’re giving the BDS crowd too much credit if you try to address their arguments in a way that reflects some sophistication. They are, as Norman Finkelstein observed so memorably, really a cult. I sometimes mock them on Twitter with #PalestineÜberAlles — because nothing else exists for them and they think their “cause” should always have the limelight. Of course, it also means that they firmly believe that the “right of return” claimed by millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees is really truly a valid justification for demanding the transformation of the world’s only Jewish state in the umpteenth Arab/Muslim state.
      Moreover, most of the BDSsers live in their hermetically sealed echo-chamber, nicely illustrated by my experience as a Twitter novice, when I quickly found myself blocked by Ali Abunimah and several of his fans — and no, I wasn’t trying all the time to involve them in any twitter debates… Indeed, in several cases, it was them who started the debates (or rather rants about me), and when I responded with arguments, they ranted some more and then declared victory by blocking me.

      In any case, subtle distinctions as you suggest are clearly far beyond their abilities and modus operandi. I’ve seen recently several blog posts arguing that if only the BDSsers weren’t so dismissive of the Zionist far-left, they could gain valuable allies, but this argument of course ignores the fact that the BDSsers want the same as Ahmadinejad: a world without Zionism — and they care as little as Ahmadinejad whether it’s left-wing or right-wing Zionism.

    • Neuroscientific research in the first deadce of this century discovered that anger reduces the IQ. So that’s breaking out all over Israel/WB.Do you have any links about this? Just curious, not challenging your statement. I could google IQ+anger etc. but if you have something specific Yes, it’s tragic that as people tend to adhere to their tribal/nationalistic beliefs, certain parts of their brain seem to be unavailable to critical thinking. It’s like certain circuits are closed off. At the same time, anger provides a certain energy that makes some things possible, forcing open certain doors that would otherwise stay closed. It just has to be well directed, I think.(Robert Fisk saying, war is the total failure of the human spirit )One aspect of the anger/nationalism/tribalism/stupidity nexus is that with increasing sophistication of warfare technology one can in a certain sense decimate a large number of people without being angry , so to speak. There is an increasing disconnect between one’s actions and the results on the ground of these actions. With a couple pushes of a button in Arizona, one can demolish an entire village, for example.Now, more powerful and rich states have the resources and technology which allow them to control and possibly assassinate members of weaker populations without needing a real logic or rational behind it but simply because they CAN. US/Israel, for example. They can also harness the dumb resentment and anger of their populations (which is often justified) and direct it toward imaginary enemies. So, anger is a force which can be harnessed and used by politicians to their own ends (Palin, Gingrich, etc.).The worst part is that, if what you say is true, part of the plan of the Israelis, by keeping the region in a perpetual state of warfare and alert and aggression, seems to be the dumbing-down of the population, making Palestinians (and others) so occupied (pun intended) with their problems, grievances and anger that they have less time to fully express themselves as human beings. Keeping them down The fact that many do so in spite of all the difficulties is impressive.

  2. Granted that those boycott activists use blunt tools and, as you claim, lack much sophistication, their tools are harmful weapons nevertheless, and indiscriminate as they may be, they shouldn’t be underestimated either! Since you testify, I have to admit, not much to my surprise, that you found them also rather immune to attempts at reasoning with or against, what is then the line of defense you are proposing here? Revealing them as related to “any antisemite out there” who “want[s …] a world without Zionism”? That’s it? Does this claim still bear any significant weight in public opinion, considering there is a broad consensus that the current Israeli (that is: Zionist) settlement activity constitutes a violation of international law? When Israel appears to be prepared to “drag” the whole world into a messy confrontation with Iran, “just” because it perceives “its existence” endangered? Thus: “Does the WORLD really need Zionism?” Is it still such a “shame” to be suspected of “antisemitism” when criticizing Israel, or even questioning the “moral merits” of its very foundations? I’m afraid one doesn’t have to venture to the “far”-left to “gain valuable allies” who would consider those questions good and important…
    The alternative perspective that I was getting at in my previous response was that rather than searching for that easy comfort in those guys’ shortcomings, the Israelis could ask themselves, whether “Shakespeare and Mozart” were the cultural “faces” that strengthen the actual and perceived authenticity of their historic claim to a piece of (and thus: a place in) the Middle East. And, whether what was required now was a proof of a “successful” integration with western culture, or rather some serious attempt at one with the eastern?

    • Marc, I think my new post on Ben White provides some answers to the questions you raise here.
      It seems you don’t approve of Habima joining the Globe Festival. However, I don’t think that Israel has to try to support the authenticity of the Jewish claim by trying to demonstrate eagerness to “integrate” with “eastern” culture — not least because for the time being, the region is implacably hostile to Jews. But all over the region, there are the remnants of the ancient indigenous Jewish communities testifying to the authenticity of Jewish claims.

      • Forgive me for insisting, but for you to assume I’ve proposed “trying to demonstrate eagerness” means, you clearly got me all wrong. I think Habima has much more to do with “demonstrating” and being “eager” than what I’m talking about. Cultural “authenticity” does neither negate particular “performances”, nor does it belittle the reassuring value of “ancient remnants” – they are historic expressions and indicators, and as such more effects than causes. Now, doesn’t the “authenticity” of a claim, or even the claim of “authenticity”, depend on them mainly as points of reference? But then again, a reference to what? As some logicians say: “a reference to nothing is no reference…”

  3. Pingback: Bigoted Double Standards: Ben White hits rock bottom for BDS | The Warped Mirror

  4. Most people in the non-Islamic world coludn’t care less about the Arab/Israeli conflict. That’s why there will never be BDS. This is because most people realize that the reason there isn’t peace is because the Arabs refuse to make peace on terms even the most flexible Israeli government could make, mainly, but not only because of the Palestinian demand for the Right of Return .There are many conflicts in the world that cause human rights problems far worse than that in the Arab-Israel conflict. Yet most people, including Jewish progressives don’t express any interest in them. Why? Because most people don’t have the time or energy to get involved. That is natural. Jewish progressives , out of feelings of guilt, or fear of Muslim retaliation against Jewish targets (MJ Rosenberg’s big post 9/11 fear) think that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the number one problem affecting the world, but few people, particularly in the West or Far East look at it that way they see it as yet another intractable problem that can’t be solved.True, there are small but noisy groups in the West of Muslim radicals, allied with anarchists, Communists, anti-globalish activist and radical Jews who are screaming for BDS but the vast majority of the populations in these countries DON’T CARE one way or the other. While it is true an activist minority can manage to get a government or other bodies like trade unions to go along with their radical agenda since the rest of the membership or population is apathetic, they can get things like BDS discussed. However, if Israel and pro-Israel elements form an articulate counterforce to these groups in these countries, they can block these negative things from happening, because BDS does not really have any significant public support in these countries. Thus, I am not worried about MJ’s doomsday scenarios.

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