Alicia Keys: Breaking the cultural logjam in Israel

July 4, 2013

Alicia Keys at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 10, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

JERUSALEM — The fireworks before the Alicia Keys concert in Tel Aviv on July 4 have been from activists demanding that the singer cancel her performance in Israel. But she was not swayed by these false comparisons between Israel and South Africa under apartheid.

Good for her. Israel is no Sun City, the race-restricted resort created by Pretoria in the 1980s to evade the international boycott against the apartheid regime.

Musicians were rightly targeted for giving credence to a renegade government by performing in that pretend resort. This effort was part of a legitimate rallying cry against injustice by entertainers worldwide. But today, musicians and other entertainers should come to Israel and speak their mind to audiences about the nation’s successes and failures. Just as Israeli musicians — Jewish, Muslim and Christian — do.

These activists who campaign under the banner of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) assert that Israel is an apartheid state similar to the former South African regime, where racial discrimination and separation was legislated in every aspect of public life. This is unequivocally untrue about Israel.

Anyone who visits Israel — which the BDS activists refuse to do — can see a complex situation. Arab citizens of Israel do still face discrimination in their lives — in areas of employment, allocation of educational resources, housing, land distribution and planning rights.

But this discrimination is vigilantly challenged by many lawyers in Israel, Jewish and Arab. The Supreme Court and the attorney general have ruled against the right-wing politicians who seek to press discriminatory policies.

Such xenophobic attitudes, marked by racism, must be confronted. These efforts should be supported by everyone who wants a better future for all peoples in the region — particularly those who believe in democratic rights.

There are major efforts now to improve opportunity in Israel. For example, the Council for Higher Education, with financial support from the Israeli government, just launched a multi-million dollar campaign, with additional funding from British and American Jewish philanthropies, to increase the numbers of Arab citizens in Israeli higher education.

Separation in public places, not legally permissible, has been challenged in court by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Jewish Movement and an array of civil liberties, civil rights and religious freedom organizations.

Israel now has its first Arab Supreme Court justice, Salim Joubran. There are Arab citizens of Israel in every critical professional sphere, from medicine to the arts — though their numbers must be expanded. Donors in the American and British Jewish communities have created task forces to advocate for an end to discrimination and to raise economic standards in Israel’s Arab sector, through venture capital funds, legal support and more.

The BDS campaign obfuscates the difficult issues that do exist regarding Israel’s shameful occupation of the West Bank and the need to achieve a two-state solution — a Palestinian state alongside the current state of Israel.

BDS activists, for example, make no distinction between the occupied territories and the 1949 Armistice Line, known internationally as the “Green Line,” between Israel and the West Bank. Why do BDS activists intentionally blur Israeli society with the issue of the occupation of the West Bank? Do they want to delegitimize Israel as it exists today? Do they want a one-state solution, which means a largely Arab population would hold sway in a nominally Jewish state of Israel? This is one explanation for the apartheid argument.

Ironically, the blurring of lines is primarily advanced by BDS activists and Jewish activists who support Israel’s grip on the settlements and occupied lands. Meanwhile, many Jewish federations and Jewish philanthropies refuse to fund programs beyond the “Green Line.”

If BDS advocates want to force a two-state solution and end the West Bank occupation, to create a unified state of Palestine with the West Bank and Gaza, there are other strategies that would be far more effective.

Why not mandate, as the European Union is considering, that they will not boycott any Israeli goods and products that are produced inside Israel’s 1967 borders, while openly refusing to buy goods made in the occupied areas? One leading Israeli businessman, Omri Padan, who owns the McDonald’s franchise here, just re-issued his announcement that he refuses to open any branch in the occupied West Bank.

What they should also do is come to Israel to perform and also perform in the Palestinian Authority areas. Come to meet with and talk to people of all beliefs and ideologies to unlock the complexity of the issues here.

The media in Israel flock to foreign entertainers. Performers will have plenty of opportunity to make their viewpoints known — and it will also help to break the logjam that fundamentalists have had on both sides.


PHOTO (Insert): Alicia Keys performs during the MTV European Music Awards 2012 at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, Nov. 11, 2012. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach


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Racism and segregation are the same as the apartheid state in south Africa. The results are the same. This POV tries to justify Israel’s abuses by saying they are trying to change things. While at the same time taking, stealing land from the Palestinians. No, wrong is wrong.
On the issue of the occupation there is no defence. And those who advocate the ” Green Line ” do so for a reason. The land taken since the 67 war is illegal theft. There is nothing complicated about this issue. End the occupation and return the land. Open up the holy city to all and live in peace. Till this done nothing by trouble.

Posted by Dun | Report as abusive

Yes this is an apologia, under the guise of sympathy. I have never once heard of a BDS activist wanting a one-state settlement until you mentioned it here, sounds like obfuscation to me. The ones I have read all call for a two state settlement, under the premise that it is inadmissible to gain territory conquered through war. So, in fact Israel as it is today IS illegitimate, exactly insofar as it occupies Palestinian land. Were it to withdraw to it’s borders (green line), then there would be nothing to boycott, divest from, or sanction, and it would be free from the calumny it now suffers.

For the record, there were small pockets of activists and resistance under South African apartheid as well. The fact that some in Israel refuse to take part does not exculpate their government’s official actions wince 1967.

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

“since” 1967

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

Am rather amused this woman from NY (a PR CEO & publicist for pro-Israeli organisations 5/8bb/a33) thinks that she knows better about the appropriateness of utilising the South African apartheid analogy in the context of Palestine / Israel than the actual South African anti-apartheid movement leaders.

Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Ronnie Kasrils, Denis Goldberg, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the head of COSATU, & several ANC delegations, all utilised the analogy and on multiple occassions wrote to justify its used, comparing their experiences with what they saw first hand in Palestine / Israel.

Desmond Tutu:  /29/comment
ANC delegations: middle-east/this-is-like-apartheid-anc-v eterans-visit-west-bank-865063.html se-than-apartheid-1.249503

Posted by SashaSpark | Report as abusive

Israel is free to continue the fights against its neighbors and a billion muslims. They should not try to drag Europe and US in their wars. We have learnt the lessons from Iraq.

Posted by phoen2011 | Report as abusive

Did apac pay for this article ?

Posted by jajabinx | Report as abusive

The word apartheid is simply irrelevant in the context of Israel, and it’s a shame that our modernist addiction to sensationalism has us shooting big words, and thus they simply lose their meaning.
The true problem of Israel is the settlements: many are not aware the yet another “axis of evil” operates in the middle east, manipulated by the ridiculous connection between Evangelists in the US and right wing world Jewry(unfortunately way over 50% of Jews today are in the “center”-right political power house. This evil combination of religious fanaticism, insane amounts of money and scriptures that “prove them right” is a form of terror, which has taken Israel hostage. Palestinians and Israelis will never have a peaceful living until that changes, and Israel will never be a true enlightened modern state of law as long as a group of citizens can continuously break the law with the government’s cowardly support. On the other hand, all the boycott work and international critics are way off, by targeting an Israeli society which they actually simply don’t know. A week visit to Israel would expose them in their ignorance: the major part of the population lives in a “bubble”, ignoring the day to day clashes (albeit those being fought an hour’s drive away (and go about their lives. There is a deep and rooted mistrust that must be fixed, over a generation of reeducating both side’s you by telling them the true and sadly unheard stories of how their great grandparents simply got along, until western imperialism arbitrarily created a political reality that is impossible, followed by the world’s Jewry paranoid and relentless hunger for success and control (actually pretty understandable after being abused, tortured and murdered by anti-Semitism). Thus, I suggest we all educate ourselves about our “enemies”, ideologies and all other “absolute truths”, such as bombastic terms like apartheid or definitive statements as “land theft” of “terrorism”. Read Benedict Anderson’s: “Imagined Communities”, Edward Said’s “Orientalism”, or any of Yossi Sarid’s book. These are a good start, and no, for all of the haters that will read my comment and try to label me, I’m not a far left Israeli; just a person with some knowledge that refuses to minimize his existence to a ‘black and white’ ignorant and sensationalist intellect and opinion formatting individual. Knowledge is power.

Posted by secretera | Report as abusive

BDS is clearly not interested in a 2 state solution. They opposed the last peace talks. They are clearly not interested in peace and reconciliation. Dun and Benny27 ,show me in the BDS agenda, one word about Peace and reconciliation. Show me one place where they accept Israel as a State that can live in peace within any borders.IT DOESN”T EXIST ! BDS is a mildly veiled anti-Semitic cultish bunch. It’s all about the clenched fist, not an open hand reaching out. Blame and hate. That’s it! I don’t claim that Israel hasn’t made huge mistakes, but you guys’ remarks are bull. I don’t agree with everything in this article but it is pretty balanced.

Posted by Tibs | Report as abusive

I love how Jews label anybody opposed to anything they do as “Anti-Semitic”. That could not be possible you morons, becuase THE PALESTINIANS ARE SEMITES!!!!!!!!

Isreal is an apartheid state, PERIOD!

Posted by KyleDexter | Report as abusive

I love how Jews label anybody opposed to anything they do as “Anti-Semitic”. That could not be possible you morons, becuase THE PALESTINIANS ARE SEMITES!!!!!!!!

Isreal is an apartheid state, PERIOD!

Posted by KyleDexter | Report as abusive

I love how Jews label anybody opposed to anything they do as “Anti-Semitic”. That could not be possible you morons, becuase THE PALESTINIANS ARE SEMITES!!!!!!!!

Isreal is an apartheid state, PERIOD!

Posted by KyleDexter | Report as abusive

@KyleDexter….Israelis are Palestinian too….!

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

I find Ms Keys’ performance in apartheid, racist Israel deplorable. She has lost a long-time fan.

Posted by Patriot99 | Report as abusive

If it were not so tragic, practically all of the comments would be amusing for their lack of sensibility. Do those using the terms Green Line or 1967 Borders realize what they mean? Both refer to the same thing, the Armistice line defining the boundaries set up at the ceasefire lines halting the fighting in 1949. There were supposed to be negotiations between the Arab governments, the Arab Higher Committee and the government of the Jewish State of Israel taking place to end the conflict and establish the borders of an Arab State to live side by side with Israel in the areas formerly governed under the British Mandate of Palestine. No negotiations took place because the Arabs refused to recognize that Israel should exist. Jordan and Egypt ruled over the lands that they occupied and did nothing to establish a Palestinian State.
Israel is “occupying” lands that it conquered in a Defensive War. The have the right to remain there until a treaty is signed ending the conflict.
Whether or not there is Apartheid in Israel is only raised by those seeking to demonize Israel. It does not exist within the lines of Israel. Apartheid does exist in many of the Arab States. Try wearing a religious symbol of any other religion except Islam in many of those states. If you want to find Apartheid in Israel, try visiting there. I don’t think you’ll be too successful.
There is no ban on ignorance being able to freely express itself as shown in many of these comments.
Congratulations to Alicia Keys and all those others who have and will travel to Israel to see for themselves.

Posted by howiej | Report as abusive

I’m a South African Jew who was involved in the struggle against apartheid. Believe me, Israel is an apartheid state. Mort avoids the conclusion only by refusing to see Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as the single de facto jurisdiction that they are. Israel within the 1949 armistice line is more like Protestant Ulster, a crudely majoritarian ethnic democracy that discriminates against a minority.But when taken together with the West Bank and Gaza bantustans, and the votelessness and enforced segregation of the vast majority of Palestinians in the Israel control area, the resemblance with apartheis South Africa is uncanny.

Posted by DarylGlaser | Report as abusive

Alicia Keyes should be commended for ignoring attempts to bully her out of her performance. Israel is not and never has been an Apartheid state. False comparisons only trivialize the true horrors of Apartheid.

Instead, Israel has long battled for survival against hostile actors–both states and non-state actors–that have sought to vanquish it. Not only has it survived, it has flourished. At the same time, it has eagerly seized the initiative to conclude peace with countries seriously interested in ending their historic dispute. Peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and Israel’s acceptance of President Clinton’s parameters for Israeli-Palestinian peace (a historic opportunity that a short-sighted Yasser Arafat passed up) offer concrete examples.

Posted by donsutherland1 | Report as abusive