It’s All Right to Enjoy a Good BDS Fail


It is tricky to assess the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. On the one hand, one does not want to underestimate the damage to Israel’s reputation done by even unsuccessful campaigns. The campus boycott movement, about which I have written extensively, succeeds not only when students actually vote to divest but also when onlookers, who have no dog in the fight between pro-Israel and anti-Israel activists, come away with the impression that Zionism is, if not a dirty word, at least suspect. We have been fortunate that BDS has done so much of late to discredit itself, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the campaign’s potential.

At the same time, BDS thrives on the appearance of momentum. Even in the midst of astonishing losses, like the most unlikely one it suffered at the hands of the Modern Language Association, BDS does its best to make it appear as though it is on the right side of history and history is coming at us faster and faster. We do not want to do the work of BDS propagandists for them by making it seem as if they are gaining momentum when they are not.

With those considerations concerning campus boycotts in mind, I welcomed Lana Melman’s injunction over at Algemeiner not to underestimate the parallel cultural boycott of Israel. As Melman pointed out, that movement has its ups and downs. Sometimes a rock star like Elvis Costello decides not to play Israel. Sometimes, resisting considerable pressure, other rock stars, like the Rolling Stones and, most recently, Radiohead, perform there. Arguably, 2017 was a good year in this regard. But, as with academic BDS, the cultural boycott succeeds when artists are compelled to question whether Israel is a place they can, or even should, do business.


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