“Mainstream” peace groups need to support this initiative from JVP

A brilliant campaign is underway, created by my former colleagues at Jewish Voice for Peace. They have rallied American and British artists and celebrities to support the performers who are refusing to perform in the newly-built performance center in Ariel.

I wrote about the importance of this action by Israeli performers last week. It is of supreme importance that Israelis make a clear statement that Ariel is not Israel, that it is an illegal settlement and that Israelis are going to resist the attempts by settlers and the government (right up to the Prime Minister) to normalize the settlements and create an atmosphere of normalcy around their existence.

This action, however, is almost as important. Mainstream Israeli figures such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman came out in support of the actors, as did many other Israelis. Now, the boycotting artists are receiving support from big names outside of Israel.

This is absolutely crucial. Sure, celebrities don’t make the political decisions, but we all know that when stars come out in support of something, many people take notice.

On this action, JVP got a real list of luminaries: Stephen Sondheim, Cynthia Nixon, Julianne Moore, Theodore Bikel, Ed Asner, Eve Ensler, Tony Kushner, Vanessa Redgrave, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, Howard Prince, Jennifer Tilly and many others.

Some of those names are familiar ones around this issue, but many are not, and that really increases the power of the statement. Many of them are Jews with long histories of support for Israel as well.

This is precisely the formula that is needed to bring change, both in Israel and in American policy. It starts with Israelis taking a stand against the occupation, getting support from within and then that larger group getting support from the rest of the world. Continue reading

The Power and Weakness of Boycott

Recently, Norway announced that a major Israeli company and a subsidiary were to be excluded from its national wealth fund’s investment list. The reasons were past activity in building settlements in the West Bank and working on construction of the Separation Barrier.

Tel Aviv protest against the new cultural center built in Ariel settlement

Before I go into what this means for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), let me say I applaud this action. Continued development of industry in the settlements only entrenches their presence. It is crucial that foreign governments and corporations stop supporting that development and make it clear that settlement industries cannot expect “business as usual” and, most importantly, that those companies are not in Israel. That is a line that must be drawn clearly, in the boldest green. The message must be sent in no uncertain terms that the settlements are NOT ISRAEL!

Predictably, supporters of the BDS movement have been declaring how this incident proves their strategy is working, that their “movement” is making real progress. But that is really overstating the case.

This is, indeed, a victory for the BDS movement, but not nearly the one they will, understandably, purport. The two companies are part of the corporate group owned by billionaire Lev Leviev, who actively promotes settlement expansion. Leviev has been targeted by BDS activists spanning the spectrum from anti-occupation groups to anti-Israel ones for years. Continue reading

Performing In Israel, Not the Settlements

I weigh in on the controversy over some Israeli performers’ refusal to perform in thee settlement of Ariel. Click here to read the piece at MeretzUSA’s blog.