INTERVIEW: BDS campaign against Israel violates freedom of expression

In an exclusive interview with JerusalemOnline, Lana Melman, an expert on the cultural boycott, stressed that BDS is not popular in the US entertainment industry and over 300 international artists continue to come to Israel regardless because the whole campaign violates the concept of freedom of expression.
Lana Melman Photo Credit: Lana Melman

In the wake of recent boycott calls against the State of Israel by the French company Orange and the British Student Union, it would seem that the BDS campaign is on the ascent.   However, it is reportedly not so strong among artists.    In an exclusive interview with JerusalemOnline, Lana Melman, an attorney and 25 year veteran in the US entertainment industry who worked with CBS, Warner Bros, and Paramount, who formerly served as the director of the Creative Community for Peace and is an expert on the cultural boycott, stated: “BDS is not popular at all in the entertain industry in the US.  It’s actually not popular among artists anywhere, but seems to have the most traction in the EU and UK.”

“In fact, the word movement is falsely aggrandizing when applied to the cultural boycott of Israel,” Melman explained.  “It suggests a sweeping change and there is nothing remotely like that going on.  In a typical year, over 300 international artists book visits and concert dates in Israel and less than 5% cancel due to BDS pressure.  It is hardly a tidal wave.   I have often used the word campaign to describe BDS activity, but I think the most accurate word is effort which is defined as a vigorous or determined attempt.”

Melman does not believe the BDS campaign is an Israeli issue but rather relates to a violation of freedom of expression: “There are two essential ingredients necessary for freedom of expression to thrive: the freedom to create and the freedom to share. And that is true for every form of art whether it is music, dance, the written word, visual art or anything else. Art is a shared experience. Artists want to take their personal experiences, thoughts and emotions and put them in a form that resonates in the hearts and minds of another human being, hopefully millions of human beings, hopefully over many, many years.  The cultural boycott effort against Israel seeks to separate artist from audience to advance its own political agenda.”

According to Melman, the BDS campaign has adopted the same tactics as totalitarian regimes that “burn books, cut off means of communications and jails performers.  BDS has embraced these dictatorial tactics to achieve its goals and we need to call them out on that.  Where does it stop? What’s the logical conclusion? Why just Israel? Why don’t we boycott any and every country with whose policies we don’t agree with?  Open, liberal societies like Great Britain, France, the U.S and Israel have administrations, not regimes. Politicians are voted in and voted out. Freedom of expression is not just tolerated; it’s encouraged.  In the end, art brings us together in ways that politicians fail and we must fight to defend it.”

Nevertheless, despite the lack of popular support for the BDS campaign among American artists, there are some who are very vocal and they have impacted American society for the worst: “One of the most outspoken of these is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker (The Color Purple). Walker wrote an open letter to Alicia Keys in 2013, calling her a ‘soul sister’ and ‘beloved daughter and friend,’ and falsely compared Israel to Apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow South. Her statement was picked up by BET.com, the preeminent television network targeting African American audiences with a current reach of more than 88 million households."
 
Given the fact that The Color Purple is considered a classic in American literature, Melman believes that Walker’s statement did have an impact but she noted that other artists who have a positive view of Israel have influenced American society as well: “Justin Timberlake posted a photo of himself praying at the Western Wall with #Israel. Madonna has described Israel as ‘the energy center of the world’ and Claire Danes has called Tel Aviv ‘the most party time place in the world.’ Depending on the audience’s demographic, the latter comment might be the most influential of all.”

Melman believes that it is of utmost importance to prevent artists from supporting BDS, even if they already have views that are highly critical of Israeli policy over the green line: “One way to impact the conversation is to call their attention to the fact that numerous American artists have been critical of U.S. policies at different times yet did not advocate for a boycott of American films, T.V., and music. So why, when expressing a negative opinion on Israel’s policies, would they advocate for a cultural boycott against Israel?”

According to Melman, even though the BDS campaign has not influenced the US entertainment industry and the vast majority of American artists, they have been successful in creating an atmosphere full of intimidation and pressure: “Hundreds of artists perform in Israel every year and a majority of them receive some sort of pressure to cancel. BDS strategy is simple. Falsely accuse Israel of something horrible like racism, genocide and child abuse. Then imply or explicitly state that if the targeted artist keeps his or her concert date in Israel, he or she is racist and condones genocide and child abuse.”   
 
“This is a direct and very public assault on the artist’s character,” Melman declared.   “It can take ten seconds for someone to slander your name and ten years for you to clear it. The threat to the artist’s career is obvious. Who wants to attend the concert of a racist? And in case the threat to the artist’s livelihood isn’t clear enough, individual zealots typically will post comments on Facebook and Twitter that goes something like, ‘I used to buy all your music but now…’”

“At times, the vitriol becomes so intimidating that artists like Eric Burdon and Salif Keita have been brought to fear for their physical safety,” Melman noted.  “Worse are the overt threats, as in the case of Paul McCartney.  The favorite vehicle for intimidation is social media but BDS proponents also use emails, written letters, petitions, phone calls and demonstrations. They are particularly adept at using legitimate, mainstream publications like Rolling Stone, CBS and, quite frankly, Israeli publications to help disseminate their propaganda.”     
 
For example, Salon.com published an op-ed by Roger Waters in which he called Dionne Warwick profoundly ignorant and disingenuous for her decision to perform in Israel: “It got over 84,000 Facebook shares. With 84,000 shares, I can only imagine how many additional people read the article. And, by the way, artists don’t even have to go to Israel to get attacked. When Morgan Freeman was honored by the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University with a Key of Knowledge Award, he was vehemently attacked and urged not to go to Toronto to accept it. And when Katie Perry and Kim Kardashian posted sincere messages of peace for Israel on their social media platforms, they were vilified.”

Melman stressed that while Israelis often feel hurt or betrayed when artists succumb to the pressure of the BDS campaign, it is critical to remember “not how many artists stumble but how many stand tall.   Often, they do not do this for Israel or political reasons.   They do this for an ideal that beats in the hearts of all men and women----freedom of expression.”  

 



Click Here for more reports by Rachel Avraham

Found mistakes in this report? - Click Here

JerusalemOnline News Feed