Dilemma for Israel boycotters as scientists make HIV breakthrough (& The Palestinian case against BDS)

August 18, 2015

* Scroll down this page for a must-watch video: Graduation speech by an Egyptian student at Tel Aviv University.

 

 

* Tom Gross writes: Jeremy Corbyn, the clear front runner to become the new leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party in three weeks from now, has started to distance himself from his connections to anti-Semites, extreme Islamists and Holocaust deniers.

Corbyn was scheduled to share a platform this week with Carlos Latuff, a cartoonist who (in the words of The Guardian) “regularly uses anti-Semitic imagery in his cartoons but denies being anti-Semitic.” Two of his cartoons are above. Corbyn has now pulled out of the joint event with Latuff, but questions remain over his ties to other anti-Semites, including one of Britain’s most prominent self-proclaimed Holocaust deniers Paul Eisen (who masquerades as a pro-Palestinian activist and heads an organization called “Deir Yassin Remembered”); the Rev Stephen Sizer, who was censured by his own Church of England for promoting what the church called “clearly anti-Semitic conspiracy myths about the 9/11 attacks being carried out by Jews”; and 9/11 conspiracy theorist Ra’ed Salah who Corbyn invited to tea in the British Parliament, saying “Salah is a voice that must be heard”.

Both the last two Labour Party prime ministers have criticized Corbyn in recent days. In a speech on Sunday, Gordon Brown said Labour did not want a leader who “favored alliances with Hizbullah, Hamas, Putin and Chavez,” while Tony Blair said that if the party elected Corbyn, it was “walking eyes shut, arms outstretched over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below.” Another senior figure Alan Johnson said to elect Corbyn would be “madness”.

The Guardian is among those leftist British newspapers that have (in a lead editorial in recent days) urged its readers not to vote for Corbyn. However, the leading columnist of the Independent newspaper and favored BBC commentator, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, has defended Corbyn and said concerns about his links to anti-Semites were nothing more than the worries of “extreme Zionists” which, she said in a column on Sunday, were the real “forces of darkness”.

 

* Leading Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid:: “Unfortunately, almost all of those so ostensibly dedicated to finding a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have their own agendas, and these may not be to the advantage of either Palestinians or Israelis. A prime case in point is the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. As a Palestinian dedicated to working for peace and reconciliation between my people and our Israeli neighbors, I do not believe that the BDS advocates are helping our cause. On the contrary, they are just creating more hatred, enmity, and polarization.

“Recently, I was asked to talk at the University of Johannesburg. I criticized Israel for its settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) for its lack of leadership in helping the Palestinians, and then began to speak about the BDS movement. At this point, my talk was disrupted by students wearing BDS and other radical T-shirts. They interrupted me and did not allow me to continue speaking, and in the end the event had to be abandoned. Even in my own country, I have never witnessed the kind of raw hatred and sheer unreasoning aggression that confronted me on this occasion.

“As a Palestinian who actually lives in east Jerusalem and hopes to build a better life for his family and his community, BDS is the kind of “pro-Palestinian activism” we could well do without. For our own sake, we need to reconcile with our Israeli neighbors, not reject and revile them.”

 

* Haaretz columnist Brett Kline: “How much contact do the BDS boycott proponents have with average Palestinians, not those who work in offices in [comfy, EU-funded offices] Ramallah? If they were to come to Husan and dozens of other villages like it in the West Bank, the European and American activists would find that Palestinian entrepreneurs and workers want and need more contact with Israelis, not less.

“‘We small-time entrepreneurs in Palestine cannot survive without working with Israelis, and the benefits are mutual,’ Samir states. ‘For us, the boycott is ridiculous. Nobody here likes the Israeli occupation, but cutting ties would be a death wish.’

“Mahmoud Ibrahim al-Shushe, adds with a trace of anger, ‘The boycott is absolutely not the way to end the occupation. The people in Europe and the U.S. don’t know what they are talking about.’”

 

* Egyptian student in Israel, Haisam Hassanein, in a graduation address at Tel Aviv university last week: “I arrived to Israel knowing only what I had learned in the movies and in the media. So, at the airport, when the security official asked why I decided to come here, I half-joked, ‘I always heard the Jews are bad people, and I came to see this for myself.’

“I expected to find that people here were unfriendly, and especially unhappy to meet Egyptians. I was pleasantly surprised to find just the opposite. I was invited everywhere, from Shabbat dinner, to Ramadan Iftar meals, to plays and even to political gatherings. And the diversity I found here was as surprising as the warmth of the people.

“How fascinating is it to be in a country where you go a beach and see a Muslim woman, a gay couple kissing, and a Hassid sharing the same small space? … Perhaps the greatest revelation of my being here was that in spite of all the conflicting histories and identities, people are still able to live their daily lives in a spirit of cooperation….”

***

Tom Gross adds: I attach a transcript of Haisam Hassanein’s speech (shortened for space reasons) at the end of this dispatch. Or you can watch a video of his 7 minute graduation speech at Tel Aviv University last week, here:



-

 

* Douglas Murray, Gatestone Institute: “The treatment [in Spain] of the reggae star Matisyahu is something new. For Matisyahu is not an Israeli – he is an American. For a while, only Israeli Jews were made pariahs among the nations because of an unresolved border dispute involving their country. Now it is Jews born anywhere else in the world who can be targeted in the same way. They are singling out Jews – Jews and only Jews.

“Spain has its own border issues. Perhaps Spanish performers should henceforth be quizzed about their political attitudes before they are allowed to perform abroad? Maybe the rest of the world should demand that all artists from Spain sign a statement or make a video supporting Catalan independence if they are to be allowed to perform in public?”

 

This is another in series of occasional dispatches dealing with those who are boycotting Israel and Jews.

Among previous dispatches (including a photo of the pig’s head):

BDS activists put severed pig’s head in Kosher section (& Iran hangs rape victim)

 

* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.

 

CONTENTS

1. Norwegian festival refuses to show film on disabled children because they are Israeli
2. A “unique desk accessory” for British and Irish children
3. After wiping Israel off the map, Air France succumbs to pressure and reinstates it
4. Paris mayor refuses to bow to pressure and dismantle “Tel Aviv” section of beach
5. American Jewish rapper banned in Spain for refusing to condemn Israel
6. “The Palestinian case against BDS” (By Bassem Eid, Fikra Forum)
7. “How the boycott hurts Palestinians” (By Brett Kline, Haaretz)
8. “Dilemma for Israel boycotters as scientists make HIV breakthrough” (By Sarkis Zeronian, Breitbart)
9. “The New Racists: Jew Hate” (By Douglas Murray, Gatestone Institute)
10. Israel: it’s not what the Arab and international media told us (By Haisam Hassanein)


[Notes below by Tom Gross]

NORWEGIAN FILM FESTIVAL REFUSES TO SHOW FILM ON DISABLED CHILDREN BECAUSE THEY ARE ISRAELI

A Norwegian film festival has rejected an international award-winning documentary on disabled children, telling its director that it will not screen the film because it was about Israelis.

Roy Zafrani, the director of the film, titled “The Other Dreamers,” called the decision “absurd”.

He said he received a letter from the Norwegian organizers saying his film could no longer be screened because it didn’t concern “the illegal occupation, or the blockade of Gaza, or otherwise is about the discrimination of Palestinians.”

Zafrani said “Film is meant to bring people together, not drive them apart. I see films from all over the world, from Syria to Iran, and learn about the people beyond their leadership. No one would boycott an Iranian director because of what his government does, so if he doesn’t get that sort of reception, neither should I.”

Zafrani emphasized that his film received no funding from the Israeli government or Israeli public grants.

“The Other Dreamers” (2013), which follows four Israeli disabled children as they courageously pursue their dreams, has been screened without problems at festivals in the United States, Italy, Australia and India.

 

A “UNIQUE DESK ACCESSORY” FOR BRITISH AND IRISH CHILDREN

A new globe sold for students and school children in Britain and Ireland at stores of the mass-market retailer Poundland has replaced Israel with “Palestine”.

The globe is described by Poundland as a “unique desk accessory” and a “great novel stationery product perfect for any school or university student”.

Subscribers to this email list confirm to me that as of yesterday they were still on sale at London branches of Poundland.

 

AFTER WIPING ISRAEL OFF THE MAP, AIR FRANCE SUCCUMBS TO PRESSURE AND REINSTATES IT

Air France has apologized for omitting Israel, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from electronic flight path screens in front of passengers’ seats. The Air France map did feature the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, various Egyptian cities, Lebanon and Cyprus – missing out only Israel.

The airline says it “deeply regrets” what it claimed was a “technical error”. The “error” occurred on the new Air France maps globally, including on Air France flights to Tel Aviv.

Supporters of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement celebrated but after the airline was criticized by French government officials and Jewish groups, it has now restored Israel to the map.

The airline claimed the “error” was due to “a map scale and display problem which is being resolved” – even though the airline did find space to write “West Bank” and “Gaza” over those small territories.

 

PARIS MAYOR REFUSES TO BOW TO PRESSURE AND DISMANTLE “TEL AVIV” SECTION OF BEACH

Paris’ mayor Anne Hidalgo ordered in police, some armed and dressed in riot gear, to stand guard while thousands of Parisians enjoyed the sun and sand last Thursday at the “Tel Aviv-sur-Seine” – a stretch of beach on Paris’ main river in honor of Tel Aviv.

Hidalgo said the police were there “to prevent the disruption of public order” at the one-day beach event.

A visitor from Switzerland told French media that she was “shocked” that “in the heart of Paris, Jews have to be protected like in a zoo” from anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic bigots.

However, the day passed off without serious incident, and there were a host of games while Israeli food was served and Israeli music played by DJs to beach-revelers from all backgrounds.

French media showed a Russian tourist who said he has vacationed in Tel Aviv earlier this year, wearing a white T-shirt bearing the words “Tel Aviv non stop city.”

Paris’s mayor told Le Monde “Tel Aviv remains a city open to all minorities, including sexual, creative, inclusive, in short, a progressive city… the beach is to encourage rather than admonish, exchange rather than boycott, dialogue rather than excommunicate.”

Hidalgo’s move stands out because she is a Socialist in a continent (Europe) where left-wing parties are increasingly boycotting Israel – or in the case of some key supporters of Jeremy Corbyn (the front runner to become the new leader of Britain main opposition Labour Party in two weeks from now, are moving beyond anti-Zionism to blatant anti-Semitism and the Holocaust denial.

***

Among many related previous dispatches with items about France, please see this one from last year:

Jewish teacher in Paris has nose broken, swastika drawn on chest (& Iran leader again denies Holocaust)

 

AMERICAN JEWISH RAPPER BANNED IN SPAIN FOR REFUSING TO CONDEMN ISRAEL

Jewish-American reggae singer Matisyahu has been disinvited from a Spanish music festival because he would not publicly endorse the PLO platform for Palestinian statehood, the Spanish daily El Pais reported on Saturday.

Matisyahu, a former Hasidic Jew who is now more secular, was scheduled to perform on August 22 at the annual Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival near Valencia in Spain.

Matisyahu is not Israeli, but this didn’t stop the BDS movement from targeting him as a Jew. American Jewish leaders denounced the decision as blatant anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said “We always said that BDS was not connected to the Palestinian issue or the settlements but was nothing more than Jew hatred.”

The festival has in the past received backing from UNESCO for its “efforts in promoting multiculturalism and dialogue as a fundamental tool for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.”

The festival also receives funding from the County Council of Castellón.

Spain, which has a long history of anti-Semitism, including the inquisition in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed or exiled, still retains one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe. As noted in this dispatch, a major survey of over 100 countries by the ADL last year found that 29 percent of Spaniards harbored anti-Semitic views.

The rest of Matisyahu’s European tour, to Germany, Poland, Belgium and the Czech Republic, is expected to proceed as planned.

***

Among related items about Spain, please see item 11 in this dispatch last year:

U.S. State Department helps promote sale of Mein Kampf (& Iran bans ‘Zionist WhatsApp’)


Or item 8 in this dispatch:

Happy in Gaza (& arrested for being happy in Tehran) (& Disabled Saudi tweet)

***

I attach five articles below.

-- Tom Gross


ARTICLES

“EVEN IN PALESTINE, I HAVE NEVER WITNESSED THE KIND OF RAW HATRED AND SHEER UNREASONING AGGRESSION OF THE BDS SUPPORTERS”

The Palestinian case against BDS
By Bassem Eid
Fikra Forum
June 25, 2015

Whereas the movement’s spokespeople live in comfortable circumstances abroad, boycotts will result in increased economic hardships for actual Palestinians.

***

Everyone appears to have an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I learned on a recent trip, South Africans especially display an interest in solving the problem, even more, or so it seems to me, than the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. And others far away point to the South African history of apartheid as a warning to Israel about its occupation or alleged discrimination against Palestinians.

Unfortunately, almost all of those so ostensibly dedicated to finding a solution have their own agendas, and these may not be to the advantage of either Palestinians or Israelis. A prime case in point is the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. As a Palestinian dedicated to working for peace and reconciliation between my people and our Israeli neighbors, I do not believe that the BDS advocates are helping our cause. On the contrary, they are just creating more hatred, enmity, and polarization.

Recently, I was asked to talk at the University of Johannesburg. I criticized Israel for its settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) for its lack of leadership in helping the Palestinians, and then began to speak about the BDS movement. At this point, my talk was disrupted by students wearing BDS and other radical T-shirts. They interrupted me and did not allow me to continue speaking, and in the end the event had to be abandoned. As a campaigner for peace and a human rights activist, I am used to hostile reactions from those who disagree with my standpoint. However, even in my own country, I have never witnessed the kind of raw hatred and sheer unreasoning aggression that confronted me on this occasion.

There is no connection between the tactics and objectives of the BDS movement and the on-the-ground realities of the Middle East. Israelis continue to come to the West Bank to do business, and most Palestinians continue to buy Israeli goods. Indeed, if you ask Palestinians what they want, they’ll tell you they want jobs, secure education, and health. And the people who are failing them in this regard are their own leaders: Fatah in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza. The focus of PA leaders is on enriching themselves and their families, rather than serving the interests of the Palestinians. They are not a generation of leaders who are able to bring about a viable end to the conflict. Indeed, they are not even interested in uplifting their own people. Unfortunately, there is no immediate alternative to PA president Mahmoud Abbas, who finds continuous excuses not to hold elections.

As for Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, it was they who provoked last year’s destructive war with Israel to gain support among their own people. They then cynically used their own population as human shields during the fighting to generate sympathy for their cause when innocent lives were inevitably lost. As in the past, Hamas will inevitably try to use some of the money it receives from international donors to reconstruct the terrorist tunnels and replenish its missile arsenal. There is no hope in the near future to solve this mess – except perhaps among the ordinary people of Gaza, who may compel Hamas to hold its fire against Israel.

For the time being, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in any case receiving less international attention than before. Rather, the focus at the moment is on the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. This is indeed a more urgent threat to the region and beyond. It is most dangerous to Muslims themselves, as it challenges the authentic message of Islam. Many Muslims feel let down by their own leaders and want to take revenge on them. The so-called Islamic State provides the worst extremists among them with the pretext to do this.

The Palestinians are tired of the peace process. Both sides have learned to manage the conflict, rather than solve it. That is why there is only one way to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and that is for both sides to have sufficient goodwill to negotiate their own peace deal. It cannot be imposed by outside diplomatic or economic pressure.

BDS spokespeople justify calling for boycotts that will result in increased economic hardships for the Palestinians by asserting that Palestinians are willing to suffer such deprivations in order to achieve their freedom. It goes without saying that they themselves live in comfortable circumstances elsewhere in the world and will not suffer any such hardship. It would seem, in fact, that the BDS movement in its determination to oppose Israel is prepared to fight to the last drop of Palestinian blood. As a Palestinian who actually lives in east Jerusalem and hopes to build a better life for his family and his community, this is the kind of “pro-Palestinian activism” we could well do without. For our own sake, we need to reconcile with our Israeli neighbors, not reject and revile them.

(Bassem Eid is a human rights activist, political analyst, and commentator on Palestinian domestic affairs.)

 

“THE BOYCOTT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT THE WAY TO END THE OCCUPATION. THE PEOPLE IN EUROPE AND THE U.S. DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT”

How the boycott hurts Palestinians
By Brett Kline
Haaretz
July 8, 2015

Thirty-four year old Samir is busy slicing wood on his ban saw for a kitchen cabinet he is building for neighbors in the Beitar Ilit settlement across the road.

The planks of wood were imported from Sweden and purchased in Israel. They are stacked in his carpentry workshop on the muddy main street in the village of Husan, in the Jerusalem hills near Bethlehem. “I have clients from Beitar and Gilo, and if I could make contacts in Efrat, I would,” he says in fluent Hebrew, referring to nearby Jewish settlements. “We trust each other. It is not about politics; it is about cooperation for survival.”

Outside, workshops, construction supply depots, garages and stores all have signs in Arabic and Hebrew, and they are relatively busy with contractor customers, both Israeli and Palestinian. A young, bearded Haredi man drives his van away from a gas station after filling up. Nobody looks twice.

The BDS movement in Europe and the United States, which includes activist groups and student unions, has been stepping up calls to cut off Israel in the fields of culture, business and education, in order to protest the occupation.

But why are they not calling on Palestinians in the West Bank to take part on a local level - to cut contacts with Israelis, and stop buying Israeli goods and services? It might sound like a logical move, but it is here, in the West Bank, that the boycott movement loses its logic.

The push by BDS leaders has made the boycott the most fashionable way for Europeans and Americans to protest against the Israeli occupation. But for Palestinians, this is a problem, to say the least.

How much contact do boycott proponents have with average Palestinians, not those who work in offices in Ramallah? If they were to come to Husan and dozens of other villages like it in the West Bank, the European and American activists would find that Palestinian entrepreneurs and workers want and need more contact with Israelis, not less.

“We small-time entrepreneurs in Palestine cannot survive without working with Israelis, and the benefits are mutual,” Samir states. “For us, the boycott, the moukata’a, is ridiculous. Nobody here likes the Israeli occupation, but cutting ties would be a death wish.”

It appears to many Palestinians - and to this journalist - that most BDS proponents in the West either have never been to Israel and Palestine, or do not know much about the ties between the two peoples that exist for better or worse. Or perhaps they care more about trying to damage Israel than they do about improving Palestinians’ lives.

In his busy building supply depot in Husan, Mahmoud Ibrahim al-Shushe, 51, sells materials and tools made in Hebron, Palestine’s industrial capital, as well as in Israel, Europe, China and India. Supplies are imported through Israel and Jordan.

“We have relationships and mutual interests with Israelis from Beitar and elsewhere,” he explains in careful English. “We must nurture these relationships and commercial exchanges. You know, the occupation is very difficult, and I wish it would end tomorrow. But even if it did, we would maintain and grow the same relationships. Our future is with Israelis - for me, my wife and my seven children.”

He adds with a trace of anger, “The boycott is absolutely not the way to end the occupation. The people in Europe and the U.S. don’t know what they are talking about.” I’m inclined to believe he’s right.

Two older men arrive - contractors from Gilo, I am told. They are clean-shaven, without skullcaps, and are not carrying pistols – not visibly, at least. Coffee is poured immediately, cigarettes lit, and conversation flows, all in fluent Arabic. The gestures are very clear: These Palestinians and native Arabic-speaking Israeli Jews are very comfortable with each other. I wonder what the boycott proponents would think of this little scene.

In fact, what would Palestinian Authority officials say? My friend Nadal, who works in Ramallah, but is from the Husan/Gush Etzion area, says PA officials are in a very uncomfortable position.

“Because the boycott, the moukata’a, has become the focus of the fight against the occupation, the PA feels forced to support it, even though they know that so many Palestinians would starve without work with Israel,” he says. “They certainly cannot make statements against the boycott.”

How to solve this situation? Bring the boycott advocates to Palestine, to villages like Husan. Here, they could speak to hundreds of Palestinian contractors and workers, ordinary people who want an end to the occupation, yes, but who also want more access to work with Israelis.

Samir and his family, and others like them, would be hurt more than Israelis would by a boycott. Enabling their economic survival is more important than winning politically correct propaganda points for international media consumption. The international community has – or must find - other tools to pressure Israel to ease or end the military occupation of the West Bank. Focus on these other means, and let the boycott fade away.

 

DILEMMA FOR ISRAEL BOYCOTTERS AS SCIENTISTS MAKE HIV BREAKTHROUGH

Dilemma for Israel boycotters as scientists make HIV breakthrough
By Sarkis Zeronian
Breitbart News (UK)
August 12, 2015

Scientists in Israel have announced a breakthrough in HIV research, a development that will leave Israel boycotters with their latest ethical dilemma. The team from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev say their finding will result in a “revolutionary diagnosis and the key to the clinical solution that will prevent infection with HIV and will destroy the deadly virus.”

i24News reports that Dr Ran Taube of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics at the southern Israeli university said his team has discovered similarities between HIV (the virus that leads to AIDS) and leukemia. Conducted in collaboration with Dr. Uri Rubio of Soroka University Medical Center, the research aims both to stamp out AIDS and to slow the progress of a rare mixed-lineage leukemia mostly occurring in children.

http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/81715-150811-israeli-scientists-make-breakthrough-in-hiv-research

Despite the fact AIDS is now classed as a chronic disease treated with anti-retroviral drugs, to date there has been no treatment proven to prevent the spread of the HIV virus. The number of HIV-infected individuals still rises every year, so if this team of research scientists from Israel has made the breakthrough that leads directly or indirectly to the development of a workable vaccine they have done the world a great service.

Unfortunately a certain group of scientists from outside Israel will not be collaborating in this effort to develop a vaccine that would rid the world of HIV.

Since 2004 the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions on the grounds they are “deeply complicit” in the oppression of Palestinians. Those supporting the campaign, which include backers of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, believe in the “general overriding rule” that:

“…all Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are subject to boycott because of their decades-old, deep and conscious complicity in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence, actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, or indeed through their direct collaboration with state agencies in the planning and implementation of projects that contravene international law and Palestinian rights. Accordingly, these institutions, all their activities, and all the activities they sponsor or support must be boycotted.”

Certain research and development activities violate this Palestinian academic boycott. According to the PACBI website, institutional cooperation agreements with Israeli universities or research institutes, such as those involved in the HIV breakthrough, are frowned upon. More specifically, agreements between international and Israeli academic institutions for “the conduct of joint research” are to be avoided.

We cannot rely on Israel boycotters to add their expertise to Dr Taube’s quest for the discovery of the HIV vaccine. Whether or not they will want to take advantage of the fruits of his labour if he does eventually find what he is looking for is another matter.

 

“IF THE ROTOTOM SUNSPLASH FESTIVAL WANTS TO TAKE PART IN THIS RACIST BDS FEVER THEN IT IS THEM – AND NOT JEWS – WHOM THE WORLD MUST MAKE INTO GLOBAL PARIAHS”

The New Racists: Jew Hate
By Douglas Murray
Gatestone Institute
August 17, 2015

http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/6355/spain-jew-hate

Are you a performer who wishes to appear in public at any point in the future? If so, you might have to bone up on geopolitical affairs – and then ensure that you have all the “correct” views. If you had thought that the only qualification you would need would be to excel at your chosen art form and then see if you can gather audiences, you were wrong. That is not enough anymore – certainly not if you are Jewish.

This week the news came in that a Spanish music festival had cancelled a planned performance by Matisyahu, an American reggae star. Matisyahu became famous as the “hassidic reggae star,” although he left Orthodox Judaism in 2011. He no longer has a beard of wears a skullcap, but he does remain proud of his Jewish identity. Next weekend, on August 22, he was due to perform at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, north of Valencia.

Unfortunately for anyone simply interested in music, a group of local Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists found out about Matisyahu’s upcoming performance. They claimed that Matisyahu is a supporter of “an apartheid state that practices ethnic cleansing,” and demanded that the festival cancel the performance.

Matisyahu is of course not the first Jew to suffer this type of pressure. In Europe, and increasingly in America too, any and all performers who come from Israel can be abused and vilified in the name of “progressive” values. In London, the Jerusalem String Quartet and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra have been the targets of attempts to cancel their performances. When the performances have gone ahead, they have had to suffer obscene and threatening performance interruptions by protesters. The same has happened to Israeli theatre companies such as Habima – whose performers were insulted and vilified while on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, trying to perform “The Merchant of Venice.” None of the protesters seemed to see the irony of vilifying Jews on stage during that of all plays.

Jewish Israeli artists have become used to being targeted and vilified in this way. But the treatment of Matisyahu is something new. For Matisyahu is not an Israeli – he is an American. Yet after the intervention of the BDS protestors, the festival’s director tried what he presumably thought was a perfectly reasonable request: Filippo Giunta asked Matisyahu to produce a “signed statement or video” stating “in a very clear way” that he supported the creation of a Palestinian state. This was made a precondition of performing. “If you sign these conditions, you can continue the performance,” the festival’s director told the artist.

Understandably, Matisyahu refused to respond to this ultimatum, and festival organisers cancelled his performance, which was due to be just one of a number of performance stops Matisyahu is making in Europe and America.

It is to be hoped that everybody who believes in artistic freedom and rejects political intimidation can now make for the nearest performance by Matisyahu, whether they like reggae or not. Personally, the actions of the Spanish festival organizers have created the only inclination I have ever felt to attend such a concert.

But perhaps we could also initiate some other geostrategic questions that might be demanded of all other performers in the future. Spain has its own border issues, as nearly every country in the world does. Perhaps Spanish performers in the classical and pop world should henceforth be quizzed about their political attitudes before they are allowed to perform abroad? The whole question of Catalonia, for instance, is deeply fraught and fought over in Spain, with exceedingly strong views over independence on all sides. Maybe the rest of the world should demand that all musicians from Spain sign a statement or make a video supporting Catalan independence if they are to be allowed to perform in public? We could go back and forth in our allegiances of course – and make the Spanish artistic community jump to our every whim and U-turn. Perhaps then we could decide that citizens of other countries could be made to jump through our whims on the Spanish border questions too?

Of course, such a course of action would be obscene, as it would be with any other country. But it is always instructive that only one country and one geopolitical question is addressed in this way. To my knowledge Turkish artists are nowhere in the world asked to condemn their country’s illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus – an occupation, lasting more than four decades, of half an EU member state. Such a demand would be far more appropriate in Spain or any other EU country. And it has certainly never been demanded of people of non-Turkish nationality that they call for the withdrawal of Turkish forces and Turkish people from Cypriot territory before they be allowed to perform in public.

Nor do demands on the tortuous Western Sahara question come up in this way. Both of these issues – to seize just two – are far closer to home for Spanish citizens. One lies only a few miles south, while the other involves a fellow EU member state. But to demand such an action or statement from an artist as a prerequisite to perform would be not just outrageous, it would be regarded as surreal. Why then is the BDS campaign able to normalize such a demand, and for a festival to cancel a performance based on non-compliance with such grotesque demands?

The answer is the fever of our time. For a while, only Israeli Jews were made pariahs among the nations because of an unresolved border dispute involving their country. Now it is Jews born anywhere else in the world who can be targeted in the same way. They are singling out Jews – Jews and only Jews. And their singling out of Jews, wherever they are from, makes their racist motivation abundantly clear. If the Rototom Sunsplash festival wants to take part in this racist BDS fever then it is them – and not Jews – whom the world must make into global pariahs.

 

ISRAEL: IT’S NOT WHAT THE ARAB AND INTERNATIONAL MEDIA TOLD US

My graduation speech at Tel Aviv University
By Haisam Hassanein
August 2015

Good evening. It is my pleasure to speak to you on this evening that represents the end of one chapter in our lives, and the start of another. I’d like to invite you all to take a moment to reflect about the beginning of your adventure in Israel. Do you remember receiving your acceptance letter? You were probably excited to come to Israel.

Then, you started telling people you were coming to Israel, and maybe you started to get a little nervous.

Everybody is in this room has had a friend or a family member who warned him not to come to Israel.

There’s war there! Aren’t you afraid of being blown up? Do they even have water there? Do Jews speak English? If you think you heard a million reasons why not to come to Israel, I heard a million and a half. Growing up in Egypt, my entire country had opinions about Israel, and none of them were positive. All we knew was that we had fought bloody wars, and they were not like us.

My exposure to Israel was through music and television. On the radio, there were anthems about the destruction Israel had caused. In the movies, Israelis were spies and thieves, and in spite of the fact that our countries struck a famous peace accord in 1979, the Israelis, I was told, were our worst enemies.

A recent Egyptian action film called Cousins, a box-office hit, told the story of an Israeli spy who married an Egyptian woman and had a family with her, only to kidnap her and her children to Israel. When I told my mom I was coming to study in Israel, she was understandably terrified that I would get a girlfriend.

I arrived to Israel knowing only what I had learned in the movies and in the media. So, at the airport, when the security official asked why I decided to come here, I half-joked, “I always heard the Jews are bad people, and I came to see this for myself.”

I expected to find that people here were unfriendly, and especially unhappy to meet Egyptians. I was pleasantly surprised to find just the opposite. I was invited everywhere, from Shabbat dinner, to Ramadan Iftar meals, to plays and even to political gatherings. And the diversity I found here was as surprising as the warmth of the people.

On my very first day here at the university, I saw men in kippot and women in headscarfs and hijabs. I saw soldiers walking peacefully among crowds of lively students. I learned there were people of every kind on campus, and that the university had a space for all of them – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druse, Beduin and even international students.

I discovered that the diversity of the Tel Aviv University campus was reflected in Tel Aviv too.

How fascinating is it to be in a country where you can to go a beach and see a Muslim woman, a gay couple kissing, and a Hassid sharing the same small space? Where else can you find a Christian Arab whose apartment is decorated in posters of Mao and Lenin? Where else can you see a Beduin IDF soldier reading the Koran on the train during Ramadan? Where else can you see Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews arguing about whether or not Ashkenazi families had kidnapped Yemenite babies in the 1950s? To be sure, my experience here has been defined by the unexpected.

While traveling beyond Tel Aviv, one can not help but notice the proximity of kibbutzim to Arab villages, and the easy relationship they seem to share with each other.

Perhaps the greatest revelation of my being here was that in spite of all the conflicting histories and identities, people are still able to live their daily lives in a spirit of cooperation.

One particular instance stands out for me when I think of this paradox that plays out in Israel on a day to day basis. In my first weeks here, I had a conversation with a nice Arab-Israeli student, wherein she lectured me on the importance of Arab nations boycotting Israel. As our conversation came to a close, a Jewish boy, about eight years old, skipped up to us, excited to see her. It turns out she was his teacher. She gave him a big hug, and a kiss on his cheek – their affection looked like an exchange between a brother and sister.

I could see how much she truly loved the boy, and how that boy loved her too. No matter how deeply rooted the conflicts, the human side always prevails.

I often reflect on the strangeness of coming to this country, where the people I was taught to think of as enemies were transformed into my teachers, classmates, vendors, doctors and guidance counselors. When Israelis ask me, how does it feel for you to be in this country, I have to be honest. I tell them, before I knew you, I didn’t like you. But I never considered that my “enemies” would accept me to their school, to their country, and moreover into their society.

Interestingly, at the end of my experience, one of the biggest surprises came not from Israel, but from Egypt.

Each year, during Ramadan, there is a special series of soap operas which families all over the Arab world gather to watch after breaking the fast. This year’s soap opera was called Haret el-Yahoud, “The Jewish Quarter,” and it told the story of Egyptian Jews in the wake of Israel’s establishment.

The series deals with questions of identity and politics, and features a cast of Jewish and Muslim characters, and there is even an inter-religious love affair.

As a student of history, I can’t say that the series was perfect, but the depiction of Jews for the first time as human beings, as people with a love of family and country, rather than mortal enemies is nothing short of extraordinary. And while Egypt has a ways to go before accepting Israel as a friend, perhaps this series will inspire more Egyptians to at least be willing to rethink “the enemy.”

After a year of countless surprises, I came to realize that there is a lesson in all this, one that I think we call can use. Moreover, I think it is something we MA students, who strive to understand things more precisely, uniquely understand: we must always question our assumptions. Being here in Israel has taught me that life is full of paradoxes and complexities – that nothing is straightforward, and that things are often not as they are made to seem. No matter how much education and life experience we acquire, we must always dig deeper.

So, today, as we celebrate the end of a great year, let’s also remember to go forward with a sense of renewed curiosity, knowing the only thing one should truly expect in life, is for life to defy your expectations.

Thank you.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.