It’s a cold March night on the streets of Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem and the air is speckled with the waft of weed and fresh-off-the-pan flatbreads topped with ground meat.
Buckets N Joints has the crowd in its grasp with its alternative rock beats offering a sort of escapism from the world of divisive forces that surrounds them.
Royi Dalal, the lead singer of Buckets N Joints, founded in Tel Aviv six years ago responded to a question about the effect of one such force that has been in the limelight since 2005, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, commonly known as BDS.
BDS is a global Palestinian-based non-profit organization founded in 2005 that works towards counteracting the international support proffered to Israel and to increase opposition to the “oppressor.”
“We are against the BDS movement stopping artists from abroad coming in to perform and I feel the movement is not effective as artists continue to come here,” said Dalal while adding they attended Radiohead’s concert last June in Tel Aviv.
Dalal seems to echo the sentiment of some Israelis and Palestinians alike, from interactions with cultural aficionados, professionals and the general public, who are more opposed to the cultural boycott of Israel than the Palestinian fight for what they believe in – equal rights and justice under “international law.”
The academic and cultural boycott of Israel has been a trending topic since the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) – a part of BDS – set it in motion back then, bringing the cultural boycott law as it’s referred to, under the spotlight.
Roger Waters, Pink Floyd’s co-founder, is an ardent and proclaimed BDS supporter who is currently throwing his weight into anti-Eurovision 2019 campaigns to prevent the international music festival from taking place in Israel.
With the “success” of singer Lana Del Ray’s retraction from performing in Israel last year, Waters said – in an interview with The Real News – that such victories, by the BDS movement, have the potential to be a game-changer.
“We do not think BDS is powerful. Many times, their actions are counterproductive,” said Yoram Morad, head of media and public relations at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Morad said he believes culture is the most effective tool to bring about a change and when the BDS opposes this, it is very disappointing. He says that over 5000 artists are scheduled to come to Israel in the near future which proves there is a high import of arts and culture from across the world.
“The cultural boycott law, in one sense, does not affect the numbers in import and export of arts and culture,” Morad said. “There are some artists who perform and others who choose not to. We just continue doing what we do, which is to support freedom of expression and leave it to the world to decide.”
A fan of various genres of music, Morad is pleased that international artists such as Sia, Radiohead, Neil Young and others have performed in Israel as recently as the past year.
“Collaborations are encouraged and supported as well,” Morad said, “Israeli bands were taken to Barcelona Music Fest, Tel Aviv-based Boom Pam collaborated with Turkish singer Selda Bagcan, Shye Ben Tzur (Israeli composer) worked with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood.”
Big names who have graced the stage in Israel go on to include Elton John, Aerosmith, Kygo, and Daddy Yankee among others.
“Israel and the people love music and concerts like Aerosmith, Elton John, and Reggaeton – where Daddy Yankee performed in 2017 – is a huge success,” said Audrey Halborn, a young employee at the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv and avid concert goer.
“It is sad to see the pressure that BDS is putting on this industry,” she said.
While some international artists like New Zealand singer Lorde gave in to the pressure by cancelling their concerts last year so as to avoid rocking the boat, local artists feel the situation does not necessarily have that effect on them.
“We do not feel any effect of BDS on our activities,” said Yinam Leef, director of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (JAMD), a large institution of over 800 students.
With a decent flow of the academy’s members – students and faculty alike – visiting international institutions such as Juilliard, Stanford and Yale to perform, and international performers visiting JAMD, they enjoy a bilateral international cooperation, said Leef.
“We have never experienced any negative response in relation to BDS pressure either way,” Leef said. “We even have a successful student exchange program.”
Sharon Casper, Jerusalem-based artist/musician and former human rights activist is another artist who feels she is not affected by BDS.
“I am personally not affected by the BDS movement,” said Casper who provided a little background to the movement in the ongoing amendments to the 2011 Cultural Boycott Law by the Israeli parliament.
This law by definition applies to anyone who works to ‘undermine Israel’s interests, its relations with any other country, organization or institution … or any interest they have in Israel.’
“The first drafts for the new version of the bill have been passed which includes a provision for imprisonment of BDS activists for seven years,” Casper said.
While she supports the BDS movement and said she believes it has the power to be influential, she does not agree with their method.
“The sentiment of BDS to bring about a change through non-violence is good but not through fear,” Casper said.
Palestinian-American billionaire Bashar Masri echoes Casper’s sentiment when he exclaims that BDS attacked him and the city he has built in Palestine, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The founder of the 1500-acre Rawabi takes pride in his first-of-its-kind planned city with an amphitheater that seats 15000 comfortably and has played host to five music concerts by Jordanian artists thus far.
“I am a target of BDS,” Masri stated. “But if I have to build a city, I have to deal with Israel as 85% of electricity and cement comes from them.”
Masri said he believes that BDS should focus their energy on boycotting the Jewish occupation around Palestine rather than the culture in Israel or the relations in technology between the two regions.
“I cannot pretend or portray everything is fine between Israel and Palestine,” Masri said and went on to elaborate with the example of Coldplay.
“If a band such as Coldplay expressed interest in performing here in Rawabi, they must not perform in Israel,” he said.
FYI, Coldplay did visit last year and may just perform at the larger-than-life arena. Or they may just go the Tel Aviv route. Time will tell.
The impact of BDS hence appears to extend beyond music to other spheres of society such as technology. The recent purchase of Israeli chipmaker Mellanox Technolgies for $6.9 billion by U.S. based Nvidia Corporation made headlines and throws light on the same.
Ben-Dror Yemini, senior Israeli journalist, speaker and lecturer at IDC Herzliya, puts forth this question in relation to the buyout, “Why would you oppose something you have so much to gain from?”
When Gaza and Ramallah have high stakes in the (Mellanox sale), Palestine will gain so much from it and yet BDS puts pressure on cooperation against Israelis, Yemini opined.
“BDS is perpetuating the problem. The particle outcome of this movement is about zero,” said Yemeni, author of the book, “Lies, Media, Academy and the Israeli-Arab Conflict,” published in 2017.
“Instead of working towards peace, it is disseminating lies by stating that Israel is seeking to create an apartheid state in Palestine,” Yemini said.
He concluded his dissent with an Orwellian quote which goes, “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”
Music is meant to soothe the savage beast, however, in the Israel-Palestine saga, it appears to be shaking its tailfeathers instead.
This article was published on the Newhouse website as part of 10 Days in Israel: stories by students from S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University, in May 2019.