“We are longtime subscribers and donors to The Philadelphia Orchestra. We are human rights advocates, and we support a just peace in Israel-Palestine. We urge the Philadelphia Orchestra to cancel their tour in Israel, scheduled for June 2018, and to refuse to entertain Israeli apartheid. We strongly oppose this trip, knowing it is used to mask egregious Israeli policies of occupation, apartheid, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people.”
— Letter to the Philadelphia Orchestra from supporters and patrons
The Philadelphia Orchestra’s announcement of a Israel trip in June 2018 sparked a tsunami of letters and protests by human rights advocates demanding the cancellation of the trip. Touted as a cultural mission, the trip was immediately clear as a “Brand Israel” propaganda tour — celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary, while whitewashing the Israel’s expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes between 1947 and 1949.
Culture is inseparable from politics. Artists performing in Israel obscure the reality of the lived Palestinian experience of occupation and apartheid. The itinerary, prominently featuring the orchestra’s name and logo, lists visits to notables responsible for the implementation of Israeli policies which violate Palestinian human rights on a daily basis. For example, the Orchestra will have a “VIP visit” to an Israeli army base, plus a June 4 performance with Israeli army musicians. The orchestra also feted the tour at a gala event, led by Israeli Consul Dani Dayan, a longtime leader of Israel’s right-wing settlement movement.
In 2015, South Carolina became the first of at least 22 states to prohibit state agencies or institutions from contracting with any vendor participating in a boycott of Israel.
The state of South Carolina will become the first state in the nation to legislate a definition of anti-Semitism that considers certain criticisms of the Israeli government to be hate speech. The language, which was inserted into the state’s recently passed $8 billion budget, offers a much more vague definition of anti-Semitism that some suggest specifically targets the presence of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement on state college campuses. The law requires that all state institutions, including state universities, apply the revised definition when deciding whether an act violates anti-discrimination policies.
Once it is reconciled with an appropriations bill previously passed by the state House, the measure will become law and take effect this July. However, the law will last only until the next budget is passed, meaning that the new legal definition of anti-Semitism must be renewed on a yearly basis unless new legislation making the language permanent is passed in the future.
This is not a marginal controversy, some kind of celebrity sideshow. It is a leading indicator of the rising tensions between liberal American Jewry and the increasingly right-wing Israeli government. Portman is the canary in the coal mine, warning Israel that its policies on the Palestinians and African migrants are putting it increasingly at odds with its most natural friends abroad.
Natalie Portman, one of the most famous Jewish celebrities on the planet, just announced she was boycotting a major Israeli event.
Portman was scheduled to travel to Jerusalem to receive the Genesis Prize, a prominent award sometimes referred to as the “Jewish Nobel.” On Friday [Apr 20], she abruptly canceled her visit, writing that she “did not want to appear as endorsing [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu” in an Instagram post explaining her decision. It’s not yet clear what’s happening to the $2 million in prize money that comes with the award.
Celebrities deciding to avoid Israel on political grounds is not all that uncommon. Hollywood is left-leaning, and many celebrities are outspokenly pro-Palestinian. Netanyahu’s government is one of the furthest right in Israeli history, particularly when it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians. Tensions are to be expected.
While the school administration will not move forward with the call to divest, it has nonetheless caused concern among pro-Israel activists that the results will embolden BDS activists, as the vote has been hailed as a major victory for the movement.
Students at Barnard College just voted overwhelmingly to ask the school’s administration to divest from and boycott eight companies that do business with Israel and profit from the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. Barnard, a women’s college that is part of Columbia University, passed the referendum by a 64 to 36 percent margin, with about half of the school’s students participating in the vote — a turnout much higher than in previous votes on the subject, perhaps reflecting Israel’s recent shooting of more than 2,000 unarmed Gazan protesters.
The result of the vote is being hailed as a major victory for Palestinian-rights movement BDS, the campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israel for its violations of international law in Palestine.
“Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation. I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance. Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”
— Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman said she wouldn’t attend a prize ceremony in Israel because of her feelings about its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and “atrocities” committed on his watch, but emphasized that she would not shun Israel itself.
The Jerusalem-born director and actor, posting Friday night on Instagram, explained her decision not to accept in person the $2 million Genesis Prize, which calls itself the “Jewish Nobel,” after a day of speculation in the media that she was turning down the prize because she was joining the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. The prize foundation had the day before announced Portman’s decision not to attend the ceremony.
“I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony,” said Portman, who in 2011 won a best actress Oscar.
“By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it,” Portman said.
“After decades of egregious human rights violations against Palestinians, Israel’s recent massacre of peaceful protesters in Gaza has made its brand so toxic that even well-known Israeli-American cultural figures, like Natalie Portman, now refuse to blatantly whitewash, or art-wash, Israeli crimes and apartheid policies.”
— Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) statement
In an unexpected rebuke, Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman has declined to attend the June award ceremony for the Genesis Prize, sometimes nicknamed the “Jewish Nobel,” citing recent and “distressing” events in Israel. Portman, in declining to receive the prize, will still receive $2 million in prize money, which she previously announced she would be donating to programs focused on advancing gender equality. Her mention of “distressing” events in Israel is an apparent reference to the brutal crackdown and murder of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli soldiers.
Palestinians in Gaza have been participating in the “March of Great Return” since March 30. The march is aimed at securing the right of exiled Palestinians to return to historical Palestine. The protests have been widely attended — attracting thousands of participants — but have been targeted by the Israeli military, which has opened fire on the protesters numerous times, killing at least 35, including journalists, and wounding nearly 2,000 people.
Israel’s government has come under fire for its repression of the protests, but Israel has defended the actions of its soldiers, claiming that the protesters presented a threat to the border wall. However, many Jews — including Israelis — have been critical of Israel’s response and lack of concern regarding the deaths of protesters.
“If we can help make a difference by boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning those organizations complicit the oppression of the Palestinian people, then I think it worthwhile to do so.”
— TCDSU President Shane De Rís
Students at Trinity College Dublin have overwhelmingly voted to support the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, with the referendum result announced to cheers and chants.
Asked whether Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) should “accept a long-term policy on Palestine and in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS),” 64.5 per cent of students voted in favor (1,287 students of a total of 2,050). . . .
As BDS is a “long-term policy,” it required that 60 per cent or above of the students balloted voted in its favor. The referendum was held after students gathered the necessary 500 signatures to put the vote to the student body.
“Adidas is lending its brand to cover up and whitewash Israel’s human rights abuses [giving] international cover to Israel’s illegal settlements.”
— letter to Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted
Over 130 Palestinian football clubs urged Adidas to end its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association (IFA) over its inclusion of teams based in illegal Israeli settlements across Palestinian land in the West Bank.
Currently there are at least 250 Israeli settlements in the West Bank. They are normally accompanied by the expulsion of Palestinians from their land, increased restrictions on Palestinians’ right to movement due to roadblocks and checkpoints, resource grabbing, increased presence of Israeli occupation forces to provide security, and settler-related violence.
“New Zealand has and has always had an independent foreign policy — we base our decisions on principle, not being bullied. We will always take a principled foreign policy.”
— Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister
If we were to truly honor the late, great Stephen Hawking, perhaps it would pay to remind ourselves of the principles the acclaimed physicist really stood for. One of those principles was Hawking’s commitment to the boycott of Israel in response to Israel’s longstanding policy of egregiously violating the rights of millions of ordinary Palestinians.
In 2013, Hawking publicly withdrew himself from a conference in Jerusalem on the future of Israel — stating that he had decided to “respect the boycott,” having received advice from Palestinian academics.
“A people under occupation will continue to resist in any way it can. If Israel wants peace it will have to talk to Hamas like Britain did with the IRA [Irish Republican Army],” Hawking said in 2009, speaking in regard to Israel’s brutal assault of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. “Hamas are the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people and cannot be ignored.” . . .
However, boycotting Israel is nowhere near as risk-free as boycotting and sanctioning states such as Syria, North Korea or Iran. Boycotting Israel comes with unforeseen consequences that shed light not only on the power and reach of the Zionist lobby and to adherents of the Zionist agenda, but also on how weak the argument in favor of promoting Israel’s human rights-abusing agenda is. If their argument were strong, would they need to actively and forcibly silence those who dissent?
“I believe that racism, white supremacy, and settler colonialism are evils upon this world. . . . It shouldn’t be how our college is investing it’s money — our money should be reflecting the values of Barnard students.”
— Caroline Oliver, Barnard College sophomore
Columbia-Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine urged Barnard’s Student Government Association to encourage the Barnard administration to boycott, divest, and sanction companies that profit from or contribute to the subjugation of Palestinian people at an SGA meeting on Monday night.
The groups that collectively launched the Columbia University Apartheid Divest campaign in 2016 requested to meet with SGA several weeks ago and were offered a time to speak. After the release of the SGA meeting’s agenda on Sunday, the executive board of Columbia/Barnard Hillel, a Jewish students group, encouraged its members to attend the meeting to ensure their viewpoint was also represented.
Over 150 students attended, both in support and in contention of the presentation for the “Boycott, Divest, Sanctions” movement. . . .