Figures show that the Zionist state has lost 46% of foreign investment due to BDS in recent years.
By Soraya Misleh
In addition to helping to cover up the Israeli apartheid regime, decisions by artists like Milton Nascimento to keep their shows in Tel Aviv, ignoring appeals of thousands of fans around the world, are used as propaganda against the central campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian people: BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions). Zionists celebrate the visit of these world-renowned artists as a demonstration of what they claim to be a failed movement. The reality is quite different.
Called by the Palestinian civil society on July 9, 2005, the BDS is just 14 years old. Based on the boycott campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa in the 1990s, it calls for an end to the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and the fall of the apartheid wall in the West Bank; the return of millions of refugees to the lands from which they were expelled; equal rights for the Palestinians who live in what is called Israel today.
In little more than a decade, it collects countless victories. Figures show that the Zionist state – founded on May 15, 1948 through ethnic cleansing of Palestine, whose day the Arabs name the Nakba (catastrophe) – has lost 46% of foreign investment due to BDS in recent years. On the occasion of the 14th anniversary of BDS, its website (bdsmovement.net) released a statement emphasizing recent victories. It points out that the #Apartheid was the second most popular hashtag trending during Eurovision in apartheid Tel Aviv, partly explaining the contest’s failure to attract more than 5,000, in contrast to the 40,000 to 50,000 that had been expected to show up. According to the report, “more than 100 commercial, cultural and sporting activities in Italy declared themselves free of Israeli apartheid in June, joining dozens of city councils and cultural spaces in the Spanish state and across Europe.”
Still among the achievements, the Argentinian national soccer team canceled a friendly match with Israel last year, as the movement informs, “after receiving appeals from Palestinians and international solidarity groups.” Also in 2018, Natalie Portman, Shakira, Lana del Rey, among other prominent artists, canceled shows in Israel and dozens of DJs and other musicians joined the cultural boycott of apartheid. Among them was the Brazilian rapper Linn da Quebrada, who heard the appeal made by the intellectual and feminist activist Angela Davis, also a supporter of the BDS campaign – as well as the South African leader Desmond Tutu.
These conscious artists join Roger Waters, Snoop Dog, Lenny Kravitz and Elvis Costello, among many others. And add to the 55 artists from different nationalities who released a repudiation open letter against the Israeli sponsorship of the 31st São Paulo International Art Biennial in 2014. As a result, in the year that Israel massacred 2,200 people, including 530 children, the Biennial Foundation complied with the request. In communicating to the world the important victory, the artists reiterated their refusal to “support the normalization of Israeli-led occupations in Palestine. The artists in this event not only showed they organized to demand accountability regarding funding of cultural events but also raised the fundamental question of how funding can jeopardize and undermine the reason for being of their work.” And they highlighted: “The struggle for self-determination of the Palestinian people is reflected in the work of many artists and participants in the Biennial, involved in human rights and popular struggles on a global scale. The oppression of one is the oppression of all.”
In the academic context, according to the BDS communiqué on 9 July, “two weeks ago, the British for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) adopted the academic boycott of Israeli universities over their complicity in planning, implementing and justifying Israel’s grave human rights violations. BRISMES joins a number of American academic associations that have adopted the boycott in recent years. Israeli Apartheid Week 2019 was a big success, despite rising anti-democratic repression in the US and Europe.”
In Brazil, in addition to BDS supporters following the agenda of global campaigns, hundreds of scholars signed a letter of support for the boycott – just as 300 scholars and researchers in England have done in recent years. Not to mention the brilliant scientist Stephen Hawking (1942-2018).
There are also several supporters among social and trade union movements. According to the BDS communiqué, the largest Dutch trade union, FNV, with 1.1 million members, has broken a contract with Hewlett-Packard, “over the complicity of HP-branded companies in Israel’s apartheid and violations of international law.” And, “the global online action #StopCemex reached over 1 million people, effectively transforming the annual propaganda effort of the cement giant into a powerful campaign against Cemex’s complicity in Israel’s illegal settlements and wall.”
As for government sanctions, the BDS stresses that “the pressure on governments continues. The National Congress of Chile overwhelmingly voted to ban products from illegal Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land last year, while the campaign to ban settlement products from European markets is ongoing.”
Israel’s largest private military company, Elbit Systems – involved in the construction of the apartheid wall and the development of drones responsible for attacks on Gaza, as well as other technologies and weapons – has faced both the divestment of insurance brokers and government sanctions. Pension funds in Sweden, Norway and Denmark withdrew investments made in the company and in 2016 France announced that it would no longer buy its drones.
In Brazil, activists were able to prevent the company from building a military aerospace park in Porto Alegre (RS) in 2014. The campaign continues to force the Elbit’s subsidiary – AEL Sistemas – to cease once and for all its activities in Porto Alegre. This action is part of the mobilization for the military embargo against Israel. Unfortunately, Brazil has become one of the five largest importers of technologies previously used in Palestinian “guinea pigs” in recent years, and the far-right president Bolsonaro has promised more deals.
The Israeli company Mekorot, which is responsible for water apartheid in occupied Palestine, has also been targeted by BDS. At the national level, two victories have already been recorded in recent years, with the end of technological cooperation agreements between the Israeli company and public sanitation companies in São Paulo and Bahia.
Repression and criminalization
BDS is a powerful tool of solidarity, to isolate apartheid as well as to make the world aware of the crimes against humanity committed by Israel – widely demonstrated by international law. Aware of this, the Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even considers it a “strategic threat”. His concern is so considerable that BDS is considered a priority issue by its government.
As the boycott grows, especially in Europe, the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – passed a law in 2011 allowing a person or organization calling for BDS to be prosecuted by the targets of the boycott without the need to prove that they were affected. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz at the time, “the court will then decide how much compensation should be paid.” According to the news, “the second part of the law says that a person or a company that declares a boycott of Israel or settlements cannot compete in government bids.” And on March 6, 2017, the amendment n. 28 to the Knesset-Approved Entry into Israel Law, international BDS supporters are banned from entering occupied Palestine.
Laws that criminalize supporters of the movement also spread across Europe and American states due to Zionist lobbying. An emblematic case is that German parliament has recently labeled the BDS Movement as “anti-Semitic” movement – an old and lying argument to embarrass critics of the Israeli apartheid state, falsely equating discrimination against Semites with opposition to the colonial Zionist project. Peter Schäfer, director of the Jewish Museum Berlin Foundation was forced to resign by the Zionist lobby last June after the Museum’s twitter shared a petition signed by 240 Jewish and Israeli activists and intellectuals against the new German law.
In the same month, in Germany, the Palestinian writer Khaled Barakat was banned from participating in any activity on Palestine or making statements on it under threat of expulsion (there is an international campaign of denunciation and solidarity promoted by Samidoun – Solidarity Network for Political Prisoners). He is not the only one facing the curtailment of freedom of expression in Germany. In the same month, a festival in the European country cancelled a performance by rapper Talib Kweli for his refusal to renounce his support for BDS.
The Palestinian feminist activist Rasmea Odeh is another example. In March she was barred from speaking in an activity in solidarity with the Palestinian women’s struggle, specially with poet Dareen Tatour, sentenced to five months of detention by Israel after reciting verses against occupation in social networks in 2018. Rasmea had been under house arrest for more than a year and was subsequently ordered her expulsion from Germany.
Propaganda and complicity
Alongside the repressive actions, the invitation to artists like Milton Nascimento is part of the initiative called “Brand Israel”. It is a propaganda effort in which millions of dollars have been invested to reverse the growing negative external image of the country.
It is not restricted to artists. It also seeks to attract tourists, exhibitors, intellectuals. Something that is not outside the standards of a state based on ethnic cleansing: Israel historically spends as much in militarization as in public relations – two important factors to sustain a colonial project for more than 71 years.
The BDS coordination has already denounced that caches for artists who accept to come and serve apartheid marketing are often higher than those paid in Europe, and the cancellation clauses are much stricter. Even so, after being told what their concert would represent, many have backed down in respect of the call for a cultural boycott by the Palestinians.
Milton Nascimento is regrettably not one of them. He went beyond ignoring the appeals and the warnings made by solidarity groups and individuals from Latin America to Europe. After a month and a half without paying any attention to innumerable requests, as well as a letter signed by several Black organizations, indigenous leaders and the writer Milton Hatoum, he posted on his Facebook page on June 29 – the day before his performance in Tel Aviv – a public response that seems to have been written by the so-called “left Zionists” (who confuse solidarity by speaking in dialogue and peace, but do not give up “defense” and “security” of a colonial and occupying state and historically were at the head of ethnic cleansing in Palestine).
Nascimento’s post brings the same diversionary arguments to justify the normalization of apartheid seen on the website of the Brazil-Israel Institute (IBI) – and to which BDS released a response, sending it to Milton Nascimento’s agents. Among ill-fated allegations, that he had been invited by a Brazilian and that his show had no incentive from the State of Israel he went on to the questioning of the boycott campaign: “During the Brazilian military dictatorship I never stopped playing in my country. So why should I stop playing now? Why would I stop sharing experiences of love and change while a far-right government rules over Brazil? Even diverging from the ideas of a government, I will never abandon my public,” says the artist in his post.
In response to IBI, BDS Brazil pointed out: “The claim that we should boycott other countries by their governments, such as Bolsonaro or Trump, is designed to divert attention from the occupation, apartheid, colonization and ethnic cleansing that Israel has historically pursued since 1948. It is not about governments. Israel illegally occupies Palestinian territories, does not respect any United Nations resolution, violates international law and human rights on a daily basis. Brazil is not occupying a sovereign territory of another nation. Therefore, we reiterate that the problem is not the current Israeli government, it is the behavior of an institutionalized state of apartheid, based on a colonial and segregationist project. Moreover, we fight against all forms of oppression and exploitation, whether in Brazil or in Palestine. The boycott connects these struggles, since the military technologies that serve the Israeli apartheid are the same ones that promote the genocide of the indigenous and black people in the Brazilian outskirts. It’s only one fight!”
Although he says the invitation was made by a Brazilian, Milton Nascimento had been warned that those who had Palestinian origin could not be there to enjoy his performance. So, an apartheid – as in South Africa. As for the artist’s claim that he used to sing during the Brazilian dictatorship’s period, perhaps he might have forgotten that in 1968 he wrote the song Menino (Boy) in honor of the student Edson Luís, assassinated by the regime in the same year. The letter asking him not to be an accomplice of apartheid quoted “Who hush up dies with you! Who screams lives with you!” from that song.
Milton Nascimento’s response came only after Roger Waters’ public address – he had previously written two private letters to the Brazilian artist. Regrettably, his decision also confused and divided oppressed and exploited people. However, there is no defeat in this to the BDS – which continues in its arduous struggle to clarify and raise awareness from the debate generated, inspired by the Palestinian resistance, which does not bend.
The only defeat is the taint on the singer’s reputation, admired and respected by his stances, expressed in equally beautiful lyrics. That Milton and other artists who have crossed the international cultural boycott picket line repent and make proper self-criticism. May other Brazilian artists understand this huge mistake by refusing to complicit with apartheid and really listen to the voice from their heart.