This week, the Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival issued a public apology to Jewish-American singer Matisyahu for canceling his invitation to perform after pressure from the local BDS chapter. So far there’s been no word on whether Matisyahu will accept the re-invitation to perform, but given his scathing condemnation of the festival organizers earlier in the week, I’m guessing we won’t see him at Rototom.
The Matisyahu incident highlights a whole slew of issues with the BDS movement and what academics like to call “new anti-Semitism”. New anti-Semitism developed in the late 20th century and is espoused by the far-right, far-left, and radical Islam. The ideology manifests itself in illegitimate criticism or demonization of the State of Israel.
I must stress that legitimate criticism of Israeli governmental policies is perfectly reasonable and acceptable in civil discourse, and conducive to a free, liberal society. I consider myself a proud Zionist and I have no problem criticizing Netanyahu’s far-right government, the occupation of the West Bank, continued Jewish settlement construction, and an apparent leniency in prosecuting Israeli settler terrorism against the Palestinians.
However, by definition, anti-Zionists are not just critical of certain policies of the Israeli government. They are in fact opposed to Zionism: the belief in self-determination for the Jewish People in their ancestral homeland, manifested today in the “Jewish and Democratic” State of Israel.
Anti-Zionism itself is not anti-Semitic, as long as it’s tied into a larger argument about why ethnic nationalism should not exist for any group. Nonetheless, the tendency for anti-Zionism to devolve into implicit and explicit anti-Semitism is all too common. “New anti-Semitism” takes many forms:
Calling for the genocide of Israelis and/or Jews; attribution of Israel to all the world’s evils (including the creation of ISIS); equating Zionism/Israel with Nazi Germany (I refuse to link to any of that narishkeit); international legal discrimination against Israel and Israelis; violence and incitement to violence against Jews; Holocaust denial; and singling out Israelis/Jews for discriminatory actions.
This brings us back to Matisyahu and the BDS movement. Let’s assume that BDS is morally correct: Israel needs to end its “colonialist” treatment of the Palestinians, the descendants of all Palestinians who fled or were expelled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War must have a “right of return,” and, just for fun, the founder of the BDS movement isn’t a hypocritical student at an Israeli university.
You’re all in favor of #justice, #humanrights, and #liberation for the Palestinian people. So how do you get others to join your cause? What righteous action can you take to show the world that BDS is the anti-apartheid movement of the 21st century?
You pressure a reggae festival to drop the only Jewish (and not Israeli) performer from its lineup, because he refuses to interject politics into his music?
In its response to criticism from around the world, the Valencia BDS chapter admits that its latest stunt was “not in line with the cultural boycott guidelines of the global BDS movement.” Said guidelines clearly state that “the BDS movement…rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion.”
The inclusion of this fact from the BDS chapter is confusing because, while they admit that they did not follow their own rules, they refuse to admit that they did anything wrong by targeting Matisyahu, and only Matisyahu, for a boycott. Apparently, you don’t have to be an Israeli cultural institution, a radical right-wing Israeli group, or even a regular Israeli individual, to become a legitimate target for the BDS boycotts. You just have to be a Jew that doesn’t toe the BDS line.
Now of course, the actions of one BDS branch cannot speak for the entire, global BDS movement. Sure, BDS Valencia has leapt from criticizing Israel to anti-Semitic discrimination, but the best we’ll probably hear from other BDS chapters and anti-Zionists is a poor attempt at defending the actions of their Valencia comrades. We would need more evidence than that to indict the BDS movement at large for anti-Semitic incitement.
We would need to hear about a Jewish student getting punched in the face after being called a “kike” and “baby killer” by SJP members at Temple University.
We would need to read about Northeastern University’s BDS chapter slipping mock “eviction notices” under students’ doors to effectively intimidate Jewish (and non-Jewish) students, followed up, of course, with swastikas on campus.
We would need to see swastikas painted on a Jewish fraternity’s building at UC Davis two days after their student government passed a BDS resolution.
In fact, we would need to see swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti popping up on campuses around the country as the BDS movement continues to grow at American universities. I would personally be very upset if swastikas were painted on dorms at my alma mater, which prides itself on multiculturalism and diversity in the heart of the United States’ capital.
While swastikas and hateful language would be pretty bad, we’d also need evidence of other anti-Semitic actions, such as BDS-affiliated student government members rejecting a well qualified student for a position due to her being Jewish. It would probably boost the argument further if all these events occurred at the same time a study finds that most Jewish students feels discriminated against on campus for their support of Israel or their religion.
However, this “new anti-Semitism” can’t just be confined to the United States and Canada. We would have to see evidence from other countries too, like if the student government at a South African university passed a resolution to expel its Jewish students. And maybe at a different South African university, the student body president could proclaim “I love Adolf Hitler” and then unapologetically defend the remark in an interview.
Don’t worry though, even if new anti-Semitism did happen in some developing nation in the Global South (or a developed nation in the Global South like Australia), it certainly wouldn’t occur in Europe, a bastion of democracy, tolerance, and multiculturalism. You’d have to read a headline like “Anti-Semitic attacks in UK at highest level ever recorded”, or “France’s Jews flee as rioters attack burn Paris shops, attack synagogue” in order to be worried. Assailants would have to target a young Parisian couple because they are Jewish, before raping and robbing their captive woman. A Jewish schoolboy would have to be beaten and robbed by six men shouting “Take that, dirty Jew!”
And of course, we would have to see some global trends as well before the BDS movement seriously considered its contribution to anti-Semitism. There would have to be an article about pro-Hitler hashtags trending on Twitter during last year’s war in the Gaza Strip, or an academic study documenting the rising worldwide occurrence of antisemitic attacks and incidents.
Most importantly, even if all of these anti-Semitic acts occurred at campuses and cities around the world, they certainly shouldn’t be taken seriously by the Jewish community at large. When innocent civilian Jews are targeted and killed by assailants in places like Tolouse, Brussels, Paris, or Copenhagen, slayings that are always committed “in the name of Palestine,” we shouldn’t try to jump to conclusions about any anti-Semitic motivation.
I don’t even need to point out the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories touted by BDS leaders as to how the Paris shooting was a “Mossad false flag operation” to show how ludicrous this line of thinking is.
No, we should listen to the objective reporting of BBC’s Tim Wilcox. While interviewing an elderly Jewish woman who said French Jews were being targeted in the wake of the Hyper Cacher shooting, Wilcox assured the woman that “many critics though of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.” See, no anti-Semitism here, just “justified retribution for the righteous anger” over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict!
Why stop there, when even former President Jimmy Carter blames the dead Paris Jews on Israel? Hell, even President Obama’s press secretary and State Department spokeswoman were quick to assure the press that the Hyper Cacher shooting was a “random act” not linked to antisemitism!
When we become desensitized to countless, worldwide instances of antisemitism, always under the guise of anti-Zionism and BDS, to the point when only having a popular Jewish reggae singer shunned from a festival is considered “crossing the line,” then we have a major problem on our hands. The Matisyahu flap is not an isolated incident by a rogue BDS chapter. It’s just one point on a continuously downward spiral of new anti-Semitism.