This week, the pop star Rihanna played a gig in Tel Aviv, despite many requests made to her by Palestinian and solidarity activists to observe the cultural boycott of Israel. As usual, BDS campaigners tirelessly posted messages on Facebook and Twitter pages asking her to cancel her gig.
She went ahead anyway, so you’d think anti-BDS, anti-Palestinian ideologues would be happy. Not so. There was a furious reaction from right-wing Israelis and other Zionist fanatics when liberal Israeli paper Haaretz misreported the gig.
The paper initially claimed that the star modified the words of one of her songs to say “All I see is Palestine.” Was this a minor concession to the BDS camp, perhaps trying to please “both sides”?
It seemed highly unlikely. And Haaretz’s lack of video evidence (despite the thousands of phone-cameras present at gigs these days) made the story even more unconvincing.
My suspicions were confirmed, as the paper soon had to correct its story.
However, it also seems unlikely the story was a deliberate “lie” or an attempt to mislead, as some in the right-wing Israeli press claimed. It’s far more likely to have been shoddy journalism, based on rumours and hearsay.
But in my opinion, there was a further factor: Israeli paranoia. Call it Israel’s “The whole world is out to get us” syndrome.
One can easily imagine the rumours that might have swirled around Haaretz’s Amy Klein, in her section of the audience:
What did she say?
That wasn’t the usual lyric.
I think it was something about “Palestine”?
Maybe “All I see is Palestine”.
OMG, I knew it, she’s secretly on their side!
Cue freak-out and silly Haaretz story.
The very fact the bogus story spread around so quickly before being debunked (even making it onto popular American blog The Huffington Post) tells us something about the successes to date of the BDS campaign.
It is having a far-reaching impact amongst Israelis, showing that BDS activists are punching way above their weight, compared to their modest means.
There was another sign of this psychological impact earlier this month.
Eliezer Marom was the head of the Israeli navy during its murderous 2008-09 “Cast Lead” assault on the Gaza Strip, and during its deadly hijacking of the Mavi Maramara boat of Turkish activists who had been headed for Gaza.
On 14 October he landed at London’s Heathrow airport wanting to enter the country. As his passport was checked, he was asked a few standard questions. After only a few short minutes (according to the later account of Haaretz’s London correspondent), he assumed he was going to be arrested. He panicked, and called the Israeli Justice Ministry.
By the time everyone realised it was just standard questioning, it was too late and the story had leaked out. Cue another, albeit temporary, Israeli media freak-out.
Marom was overly paranoid. The Israel lobby has successfully persuaded the UK government to change its laws to make it much harder for Universal Jurisdiction law to be used to arrest visiting war crimes suspects like Marom.
But his paranoia was not entirely without substance. After all, the man reportedly has an arrest warrant out for him in Turkey, and Israeli officers have only narrowly avoided being arrested in Europe in the past. Most gleefully, in 2005, former general Doron Almog was forced to flee to avoid arrest in the UK before he even got off a plane.
All this shows that the Palestinian-initiated and led international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions is achieving something highly significant – only eight years after the BDS National Committee’s collective document that formalised the Palestinian call for BDS.
BDS is erecting a siege on Israel, an oppositional movement to Israel’s war crimes and apartheid.
Unlike the Israel-Egyptian siege on the Gaza Strip, which denies Palestinian basic necessities; like as foodstuffs, medical supplies and the right to visit other countries and return, the BDS siege is an ethical siege.
Ours is a campaign that aims to tell Israelis that things cannot carry on as normal for them while they control every aspect of the lives of millions of Palestinians who suffer under the yoke of Israel’s matrix of systemised racism, land theft and casual murder of civilians.
War crimes suspects like Almog should not be allowed to travel freely around the world. They need to understand that there is a price to be paid. I am glad he broke a sweat and panicked, even if it was only for a few minutes.
They should worry. A situation as unjust as Israel’s occupation cannot last forever. BDS is one contribution towards dismantling it.
Until Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Syrian Jolan; reverses all racist laws that discriminate against its Palestinian citizens; and ceases to block millions of Palestinian refugees from exercising their right of return to what was once Palestine, BDS will continue and only grow.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.