A concerted and well-organized campaign calling for “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) against the State of Israel has been in effect for several years. In spite of its constant use of belligerent, violent, and deceitful tactics, the BDS movement has very little to show in the way of success regarding sanctions or divestment. However, the cultural boycott is a different story.
In the academic sphere, while low-level bodies have declared their intention to divest from companies invested in Israel, higher-level and managerial bodies usually reject the idea. This same dynamic is manifested in boycott and divestment attempts by religious bodies.
The cultural field has proven itself the most successful tier of the boycott movement, when international artists cancel performances in Israel. One reason for bands canceling their scheduled concerts is in order to stop belligerent attacks from BDS operatives. Such attacks vary from bombarding the band’s website, Facebook, and Twitter pages to the point that the sites often collapse, to direct threats against the artists personally. Another reason bands cancel their concerts is in order to avoid negative press coverage.
The counter-effort often adopted by Israelis and Israel-supporters of engaging these operatives and attempting to debate, explain, and hopefully reach some sort of resolution, is usually counter-productive and may achieve the exact opposite effect. Arguing with BDS operatives online merely generates more exposure for their cause.
What, then, can be done? Counter-BDS efforts need to focus on direct contact with the performers, their producers, agents, or anyone involved in the decision to play in a specific location. In addition, artists should be encouraged to come to Israel and state their opinions, as critical as they may be.
Adam Shay is a senior program coordinator and researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, specializing in battling the cultural boycott. He holds an MA in political science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is regularly called upon by producers and concert promoters to help battle BDS activists in their attempts to pressure artists into canceling shows in Israel.