Friday, September 16, 2011
BDS Update: An Eventful Summer
Festival season is winding down in Israel, as it is most other places. There's certainly no denying that the Israeli concert industry was able to dodge the slew of cancellations that it experienced the previous summer. There weren't the large groups of acts and artists backing out of fests in protest. In fact, with the concerts by Dylan, Paul Simon, Moby, Justin Bieber and others, it's safe to say that there were some real boons for Israel's summer concerts.
Does this mean that the call for cultural boycott is waning? Certainly not. True, there hasn't been the kind of sensationalism this past summer that we saw last year with the assault on the Freedom Flotilla. In fact, Israel's skillful maneuvering of this year's flotilla represents how much last summer's events put them on the back of their heels. What's more, the Arab revolutions have really upped the pressure. It stands to reason that last week's storming of the Israeli embassy in Egypt is only the start; the long-standing hatred of the US' watchdog runs deep through the region, and the progressing revolts are guaranteed to unleash that outrage even further.
Combine this with the protests within Israeli itself, and it's fair to say that Bibi and company feel themselves tightly cornered. Over the course of the summer, these protests have evolved from being centered around housing demands to challenging the broader hold of neo-liberalism in Israel. That Netanyahu was completely unable to diffuse the housing protests with his (admittedly mild) assault on Gaza speaks to how the quick-fix of "bomb now and ask questions" later isn't so much an option as it once was, and to how much the state's credibility has frayed at the seams. While these protests have yet to substantially take up the issue of the occupations, right of return or Zionism as a whole, the potential for them to do so is undeniably there.
All of this means that there is more fertile ground for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions than possibly ever before. Just as the Arab revolutions have found themselves in a state of consolidation and regroupment, a reassessing of position and demands, so has the global BDS movement. This fall will, for example, see the first ever nationwide conference for Students for Justice in Palestine in the US.
It makes sense, then, that the targeted campaigns of the cultural boycott movement carried actual weight. Some have simply been very successful publicity stunts--such as the disruption of the Israeli Philharmonic in London. These are moments when the panicked reaction of the pro-Israel camp is as much a propaganda score as the event itself.
Then there have been the handful of artists that did indeed cancel this summer--most prominently the last-minute back-down of Tuba Skinny from the Red Sea Jazz Festival and the successful campaign to get Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine to cancel their Tel Aviv gig.
While neither of these reached the level of last summer, they nonetheless reveal that targeted campaigns have the room to work. As always, the space for them to be successful is contingent on how much work is done on the streets, campuses and communities.
On the subject of the "No Room For Jello" campaign, Punks Against Apartheid is still planning for a relaunch of its site, and a Points of Unity document for punk bands who refuse to entertain Israeli apartheid. If you or any artists you know are interested in signing on then don't hesitate to get in touch through Rebel Frequencies.