Alicia Keys: Breaking the cultural logjam in Israel
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 nationâ€™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 Israelâ€™s Arab sector, through venture capital funds, legal support and more.
The BDS campaign obfuscates the difficult issues that do exist regarding Israelâ€™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 â€śGreen Line,â€ť 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 Israelâ€™s grip on the settlements and occupied lands. Meanwhile, many Jewish federations and Jewish philanthropies refuse to fund programs beyond the â€śGreen Line.â€ť
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 Israelâ€™s 1967 borders, while openly refusing to buy goods made in the occupied areas? One leading Israeli businessman, Omri Padan, who owns the McDonaldâ€™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