Tel Aviv – In late March, Israeli concert promoter Shuki Weiss gathered the local media for an announcement of historical importance: The Rolling Stones are coming to town in early June for a huge outdoor show.
Weiss said that bringing the group to Israel for the first time was the fulfillment of a decades-long dream. “These days, when we hear calls for boycotts from around the world, it can’t be taken for granted that a band of this magnitude will come to Israel,” he added.
Weiss was referring to the Palestinian-run Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which was founded in 2005 to turn Israel into an international pariah state.
Since its inception, Israel has been boycotted by the Arab League and some fellow-traveling Islamic regimes. BDS is just the latest iteration.
The old Arab boycott was led by Saudi theocrats and anti-Western Nasserites. This one is operated by coolly professional Palestinian propagandists. But the goal is the same: to slander and delegitimize Israel.
BDS has attracted a few genuine celebrities to the cause, such as physicist Stephen Hawking and author Alice Walker. Most of its supporters, though, are an unappetizing collection of cut-rate academics, international Jew-baiters, armchair jihadists, faded Sixties activists like two-time Communist Party USA vice-presidential candidate Angela Davis, and, of course, the usual posse of Jewish anti-Zionists who are permanently at the service of Israel’s enemies.
The boycott hasn’t achieved much of any substance – Israel is doing just fine these days – but it has provided talking points to diplomats intent on pressuring Israel into concessions in what is still called “the peace process.”
The most obvious example came when Secretary of State John Kerry recently warned that “an increasing delegitimization campaign” was underway that could lead to “boycotts and other things.”
Like all good Mafia-style threats, this one came framed as friendly advice (“Nice little country you’ve got here. Be a shame if something happened to it”).
It didn’t go down well here. Shortly after it was issued, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without mentioning Kerry’s name, told a cheering crowd of Israeli supporters in Washington that the boycotters should, themselves, be boycotted, and that BDS stands for “bigotry, dishonesty and shame.”
Bigotry for sure; quarantining Jews, in or out of their national home, is a classic tactic. But BDS’s most distinguishing trait is dishonesty.
After the Stones announced their intention to sing for the untouchable, BDS spokeswoman Rafeef Ziadeh attacked the band for undermining a successful rock ’n’ roll boycott. “We’re now at the point where high profile performances such as this one are the exception rather than the rule,” she said.
This is a crock. Israel is a magnet for high profile stars.
In the last few years, Paul McCartney, Alicia Keys, Elton John, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan, Justin Bieber, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Leonard Cohen, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper, Rihanna and dozens of other headliners have appeared in Tel Aviv. This summer Justin Timberlake, Soundgarden, The Pixies, Neil Young, Paul Anka, Prodigy and Boy George are scheduled, along with the Stones.
The father of the failed boycott is Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, who not long ago compared playing for Israeli audiences with appearing in Nazi Germany. His main recruit is Elvis Costello (a fact that would have dismayed the original Elvis, an ardent Zionist).
Annie Lennox has also said she won’t play here again, but her ex-husband is an Israeli, so she probably has her reasons. Other boycotters proudly claimed by the BDS are nonentities; stars like Oi Palloi, which sings in Scottish Gaelic; Gorillaz Sound System, whose last hit was in 2001 and which no longer exists; a few anonymous jazz musicians (invariably described as “legendary”); and, most recently, Pal Moddi Knudsen, a self-taught Norwegian accordion player. Audiences in Tel Aviv would pay to see Costello, Lennox and maybe even Waters (Israeli fans tend to be tolerant). As for the others, they are like pimply teenage boys bragging about how they turned down a night on the town with Angelina Jolie.
In mid-March, after the suicide of Mick Jagger’s longtime lover, L’Wren Scott, there was concern here that the concert would be canceled (giving BDS a chance to claim another “victory” in its battle to isolate Israel). But Sir Mick and the boys are made of sterner stuff, and the show will go on. The band will play bigger cities this summer, but it won’t find a more appreciative audience. Not to contradict Sir Mick, but sometimes it isn’t only rock ’n’ roll.