Critically exploring the complexities of Israeli life and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the play was a target for boycott, divestment and sanctions activists in New York. More than 80 artists signed a letter, posted on the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel’s website, calling on the Lincoln Center to cancel the three scheduled performances of the play.
That letter was part of an effort to ostracize Israeli cultural workers who perform with institutions that have government financial support or put on shows in West Bank settlements and to boycott them from participating in international events, regardless of their work or political views.
One of the most vexing issues surrounding this story is that Grossman, a left-wing activist and recipient of the prestigious 2017 Man Booker International Prize, is one of Israel’s most outspoken and longtime critics of governmental policies in the territories. Likewise, the play offers unambiguous critiques of many of those policies.
While the BDS movement’s boycotting of a play based on a Grossman book may seem counterintuitive to those unfamiliar with the movement’s practices, such tactics have become commonplace.
In early June, the Jewish Press reported that well-known Israeli singer Achinoam Nini (who performs as Noa), likewise an outspoken critic of Israeli policies in the territories, has found herself the subject of BDS protests while performing outside Israel.
Frustrated and perplexed by these circumstances, Nini responded: “I do a lot of cooperation with Palestinians, and I draw a lot of inspiration from what I do. But it’s not easy for me, and there’s a price to pay (within Israeli society). The BDS are boycotting me. … Why should they try to silence me? Are we not fighting on the same side?”
According to the BDS movement’s Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel “urges international cultural workers (e.g., artists, writers, filmmakers) and cultural organizations, including unions and associations, where possible and as relevant, to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation of events, activities, agreements, or projects involving Israel, its lobby groups or its cultural institutions, or that otherwise promote the normalization of Israel in the global cultural sphere, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights, or violate the BDS guidelines. … At this level, Israeli cultural workers should not be exempted from due criticism or any lawful form of protest, including boycott; they should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse.”
Thus, the simple answer to Nini’s questions is no. Regardless of your politics, beliefs, body of work or perceived ability to effect change from within Israeli society, you are not “fighting on the same side.”
Grossman and Nini, both with long personal and professional records of working toward undoing Israeli government policies that they disagree with in the territories, are pushing for what they see as a brighter future for Israel and the Palestinians.
The BDS movement, on the other hand, as their literature and statements show, seems to be working toward the annihilation of the Jewish state.
Eli Sperling is the Israel specialist and assistant program coordinator for the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org).