Thursday, May 20, 2010

Elvis has left ...

In case you didn't hear about it already, Elvis Costello, part time Canadian and full time musical sensation, has cancelled two gigs he had planned for Israel this summer. He has cancelled these to express solidarity with "suffering innocents" (i.e. Palestinians.) You can read the bare facts, Costello's explanation and the condemnations of his "boycott" from the usual suspects, here at the CBC.

I am not a big fan of the boycotts, sanctions, and divestments (BDS) campaign. I don't think they are effective, and I think the message is to often not clear. (Are the boycotters against the occupation, against a Jewish State in any form, against Jews? It often gets conflated.)

But, I might have to rethink that position in light of this report from the Promised Land Blog, by Israeli journalist and blogger Noam Sheizaf.

Elvis Costello, who cancelled his shows in Israel for political reasons, is extremely unpopular here these days. I’ve read several articles condemning him for this decision, and not one supporting him. Culture Minister Limor Livnat declared that “Costello is not worthy of performing here,” and many people commented that they would never listen to him again.

But check this out: while claiming that a more honest and effective move by Costello would have been to come here and express his opinions publicly, many commentators and writers also argued that Israel should end the occupation ASAP, or it stands the risk of facing many more such incidents.

Furthermore, Costello’s decision has been the talk of the day for many people – I also had a ticket for his Tel Aviv gig – and even when people hated him, they had to think about the political issues and about their consequences, and especially on where they stand. Just like after Gil Scott-Heron had decided not to come here, in the past couple of days I saw friends who never discuss politics going into long debates on Facebook because of Costello. For a country that is in a constant state of denial regarding the occupation, this is no small thing.

Seems maybe some boycotts can be effective sometimes.

In any case, if the organized Canadian Jewish community starts to call for a boycott of Costello popular CTV show "Spectacle", I for one will make a point of tuning in.


Anonymous Shmuel said...


I understand your doubts re. BDS, but respectfully disagree. You refer specifically to doubts about effectiveness and a lack of clarity of message.

Effectiveness (as you concede in the case of Costello) remains to be seen, and is not, in and of itself a reason to oppose BDS. Sanctions against SA took many years (about 25) to get off the ground, and nothing was ever certain.

In terms of message, I think the message of the organisers and spokesmen of the BDS movement is crystal clear: human rights and justice. The focus is on rights and abuses, not on possible political solutions (in fact there is no agreement among Palestinian organisers and supporters regarding solutions), and have very intentionally and carefully avoided not only actions against Jews as Jews, but even against individual Israelis (focusing rather on institutions - see

I had the privilege of hearing Omar Barghouti (one of the organisers of the academic and cultural boycott) speak. When asked about the ramifications of the goals of BDS (1. end occupation, 2. equal rights for Palestinians in Israel, 3. ROR for refugees) for the future of Israel as a Jewish state, he replied that the existence or non-existence of a Jewish state is not his concern. His goal is to uphold the human rights of all (Jews and Palestinians) who live in the region.

For most westerners, this entails a shift away from a solution-based approach to a rights-based approach. Since all solution-based approaches tried so far have failed (and look like they will continue to do so), a rights-based approach, at this point, seems entirely logical.

Beinart said that he is willing to accept discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, for the sake of maintaining a Jewish state. For those of us who are not willing to accept such discrimination and inequality - regardless of the ramifications for the existence of a Jewish state - BDS is a principled, non-violent way of expressing that.

7:16 am  
Blogger Eric said...

Why does BDS sound like an alternate sexual lifestyle. They could have chosen better initials.

6:51 pm  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...


ROR (expect for those Palestinians 62 years old and older) is not a human right but a political/national demand. The children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the original 1948 refugees have about as much right to return to Israel as I have to return to Poland (My parents fled Poland in 1945.) What they do have, even at this point, is a right to compensation for lost property in Israel. What they also have - and this is a human right - is the right to citizenship and equal opportunity in the lands they where born in, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or the West Bank itself.

So right off, we see that the declared goals of the official BDS campaign are not just human rights.

The PA (as opposed to Omar Barghouti) has called for a boycott of products of Israeli settlements, and this is something I can whole heartedly support (and have been doing in fact for about 25 years.) It goal is clear. To end the occupation.

The BDS campaign against SA also had a clear goal - one person one vote.

Also, in the end a BDS campaign is just a tactic, and only as good as it is effective in achieving its goals.

And I am not convinced that it was BDS by itself that ended SA apartheid. It had at least as much to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, the ANC's distancing itself from its communist elements, and Mandela's generous personality. In the end what most white's wanted was not to be massacred and to keep their economic privileged. Once that was assured they where willing to give blacks the vote and put up with a few blacks moving into the neighbourhood.

But, I do agree with you that we need a rights based approach not a solutions based approach.

5:22 pm  
Anonymous Shmuel said...


The issue of ROR for descendants is not that easily dimissed, although I am familiar with the legal view you present. First of all, any direct refugees would have the right to family reunification. Secondly, the right is actually not a national/colective one, but an individual one, based on the illegal denationalisation of the direct refugees. The residency and citizenship they were denied would have passed to their children and so forth, had they not been barred from returning to their country of origin (a basic human right). So this is at least debatable as a human right (the BDS movement considers it to be one), and not a national/collective right.

Poland may in fact be a case in point. I am not sure of the precise requirements of Polish law, but many Israelis have recently acquired Polish (and so EU) citizenship. I recently spoke to an Israeli friend who plans to get Polish citizenship for herself and for her kids, on the basis of her father's former Polish citizenship.

I think there is also a basic misunderstanding of the Palestinian demand. Various studies have shown that very few Palestinian refugees would actually choose to return to areas that are now part of Israel, but all demand the right to do so. Furthermore Palestinian negotiators have repeatedly stated that any implementation of the ROR would necessarily be flexible, negotiated, very gradual, and in keeping with the practical needs of all concerned. It is by no means a case of "yikov hadin et hahar".

As you point out, I/P is not SA, and a "one man one vote" campaign in I/P would be doomed before it started. You are also right that it is simply a tactic. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. So far, it has had some moderate successes, and seems to be gaining momentum. O. Barghouti argues that even those who only wish to protest against the settlements, should be boycotting the government and institutions responsible (as with any boycott against policy), rather than merely the products of the settlements themselves. Also, Israeli government policy makes it almost impossible to tell what it from a settlement and what is not.

I don't think anybody claims that divestment and sanctions against South Africa alone defeated Apartheid, but there is significant evidence that it helped. I doubt that anyone actually believes that BDS alone will defeat Israeli apartheid, but proponents hope it will contribute - if only to raising awareness and changing hearts and minds.

6:08 pm  
Anonymous Shmuel said...


FGM (Free Gaza Movement) is much worse.

6:09 pm  

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