Last week, 100 British artists joined a so-called “cultural boycott” of Israel, pledging that they would not accept any invitations or funding from the Jewish State until Israel “ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians.” The artists, who include musicians Brian Eno and Richard Ashcroft, film director Ken Loach, along with perennial Israel hater Roger Waters, the former front man for progressive rockers Pink Floyd – join a list of 600 others calling themselves “Artists for Palestine UK.”
These artists aren’t concerned about Israel’s “best interests,” though. The BDS movement, of which they are a sad but willing part, won’t be satisfied until Israel no longer exists as a Jewish state. As such they are actually contributing to a dangerous, incendiary movement that is as much anti-Semitic as anti-Israeli and that, if left unchecked, could bring the violence against Jews that has been spreading in Europe – from Brussels to Paris to Copenhagen – to the United Kingdom as well.
The prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, speaking a day after the terrorist attacks in Paris, made this link clear. There is now a “new anti-Semitism born in our neighborhoods against a backdrop of the Internet satellite dishes, abject poverty, and hatred of the State of Israel, advocating hatred of the Jew and of all Jews. We must say this! We must utter the words to combat this unacceptable anti-Semitism.
Public figures like Artists for Palestine UK can’t have it both ways. They can’t make a distinction between people killing Jews and being anti-Israel. It’s all part of the same thing. Artists for Palestine UK – and the BDS movement in general – seek to further ingrain the insidious myth that saying you’re against “Israeli policies” doesn’t mean you have anything against the Jews.
The data shows that’s just not the case. During last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in the UK during the monthly of July – 302 – was the highest in 30 years. The previous record of 289 incidents was recorded in January 2009, which also coincided with military conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
During the height of the fighting last year, in August 2014, another poll found that Britons feel more “unfavorable” to Israel than towards any other country in the world except for North Korea. Thirty five percent said they “feel especially unfavorable towards” Israel, which was greater than the number who felt the same way towards Iran, which was only 33 percent.
The conflation between being anti-Israel and anti-Semitism came up during an interview by BBC reporter Tim Willcox following the terrorist attacks in Paris. Willcox shocked a Jewish woman – the child of Holocaust survivors – who expressed grave concern for Jewish safety in Europe. “We have to not be afraid to say that the Jews, they are the target now,” the woman told Willcox who then interrupted her. “Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well,” he interjected.
The BBC has launched an investigation and Willcox subsequently apologized (albeit via Twitter) for a “poorly phrased question.” The pro-Israel website Honest Reporting says this is nowhere near enough. “Tim Willcox must be held accountable for his latest outrageous interview. The BBC needs to openly acknowledge the seriousness of this incident at a time of growing anti-Semitism and physical attacks on Jews,” it wrote.
That wasn’t all at the BBC. Last month, as part of International Holocaust Remembrance Day programming, the BBC One show “The Big Questions” had the audacity to ask “is it time for the world to stop talking about the Holocaust?”
Is it any wonder then that, in a poll of British Jews taken just a few weeks before the Paris terror attack by the group Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, some 45 percent of the 2,230 people surveyed said they are “concerned that Jews may not have a long-term future in Britain.” The figure rises to 58 percent when asked if there is a future for Jews in Europe. Moreover, 56 percent said that the current situation showed some echoes of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s, and 37 percent indicated they tried to avoid wearing any public symbols of their Judaism.
Danny Cohen, the director of BBC Television sadly concurs. In a conversation with Israel Channel 2’s Yonit Levi, he said that, with rising anti-Semitism, “I’ve never felt so uncomfortable being a Jew in the UK as I’ve felt in the last 12 months.”
Britain is still one of Israel’s best friends on the world stage, and its recent prime ministers, from Tony Blair to David Cameron, have been very pro-Israel. But the same can’t be said about the British elite and its arts communities, and it’s this group that often leads public opinion. Indeed, at a Roger Waters concert last year, a deliberately provocative balloon of a pig sporting a Star of David floated over the crowd.
It’s not too late for Britain to stop the rise of anti-Semitism on its shores. The country’s leaders – in particular its elites and the media that has been so hostile towards Israel – must engage in some profound soul searching. They have to start thinking about how demonizing Israel is putting the Jewish community in England under threat; how this same kind of anti-Israel hysteria in Europe is leading to people getting killed. They must look deep inside and ask if Israel, one of the most liberal democracies in the world, is really worse than Syria and Iran?
To Roger Waters and the 700 artists who have called for a boycott on Israel: take an honest look at the world around you. Now is not the time to get comfortably numb.