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Are Israel boycotts really anti-Semitic?

  • 14 February 2018


In late 2017, New Zealand singer Lorde (pictured) announced she was cancelling her upcoming 2018 concert in Israel. This was in response to an open letter by New Zealander women Justine Sachs (Jewish) and Nadia Abu-Shanab (Palestinian), urging the singer not to perform in Israel due to its ongoing oppression and occupation of Palestine.

In their words: 'Our part in movements for justice and equality shouldn't just be a memory that gathers dust. We can play an important role in challenging injustice today.'

Lorde's decision made waves. While many artists applauded the decision, which sees her join ranks of others who boycott Israel — such as Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Pixies, Lauryn Hill, and Annie Lennox — Israel's ambassador to New Zealand asked to meet with the singer, saying that the boycott of Israel represented 'hostility and intolerance'. The ambassador concluded by inviting Lorde to discuss Israel's role 'as the only democracy in the Middle East'.

A month after Lorde's announcement, in 'the only democracy in the Middle East', several Israelis decided to sue Justine and Nadia for their role in Lorde's cancellation. To me this is an ironic turn of events — in a democracy, free speech, freedom of thought, and dissenting views ought to be protected. Suing individuals for exercising these rights seems ... somewhat undemocratic.

For those in Israel/Palestine activist or Jewish circles, BDS is a topic of contention. Standing for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, BDS is a Palestinian-led movement calling for economic, political, and other non-violent pressure on Israel, until Israel abides by international law and ends its illegal occupation of Palestine.

Launched in 2005, the movement gained significant traction in recent years due to some high-profile campaigns. One, targeting SodaStream, caused the company to close its factory in the West Bank and move it to the Negev Desert.

Opponents of BDS argue that the campaign didn't take into account the welfare of Palestinians: the closure of SodaStream in the West Bank meant many Palestinian workers were laid off, as work permits (Palestinians need permits to enter Israel) were approved only for a small percentage. Supporters of BDS consider the SodaStream campaign a success as it demonstrated the movement's influence.


"In another ironic twist, we end up with Jewish groups being targeted by a law meant to protect Israel from a supposedly anti-Semitic movement."


But BDS isn't just about putting economic pressure on Israel. A cultural boycott has seen hundreds of artists and performers cancel shows in Israel. Academic boycotts