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Lorde faced backlash when she cancelled a concert in Tel Aviv. Photo: Daniel DeSlover/Alamy Stock Photo

Inflamed rhetoric distorts Israel boycott debate

Michael Coren weighs in on the whole Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement in his latest Observer column.

By Michael Coren

At the end of 2017, the New Zealand singer Lorde suddenly became known not only for her music, but for her opinions. After hearing from various supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, who work to change Israeli policy, especially around the country’s settlements in the West Bank, the 21-year-old musician decided to cancel her proposed concert in Tel Aviv.

Within a few days, a full-page ad appeared in the Washington Post, accusing her of bigotry and of participating in a culture of “Jew hatred.” It was harsh and unfair, and indeed the Jewish community in New Zealand condemned its tone and approach. But many others rushed to justify the ad and further attack Lorde and the BDS movement.

So how should Christians react to this? What should be the attitude to an issue that, whatever zealots on both sides may argue, is complex and nuanced? The United Church calls on members “to become involved in the search for a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis by contributing to the end of the occupation of the Palestinian Territories.” It agrees with most of the international community in believing the settlements to be illegal, and in 2015 its 42nd General Council passed a motion encouraging divestment “against all corporations and institutions complicit in and benefitting from the illegal occupation.”

A few facts. First, the Jewish people have suffered almost unparalleled persecution throughout their history, often at the hands of alleged Christians. Jews did not leave the European homes they had known for centuries for the Middle East just for fun. Never forget the blood libels, the pogroms and the Holocaust. And if you think anti-Semitism is of the past, I’d invite you to spend some time on this half-Jewish writer’s social media feeds!

Second, the notion that Israel was a land without people given to a people without land is a myth. While the Jews have a historic attachment to Israel, so do the Palestinians. Arab Muslims and Christians — and Jews for that matter — lived in sizable numbers in the region long before the first waves of Jewish immigration in the 19th century and the establishment of Israel in 1948.

As for the boycotts, that should be left to each person to decide. There are opponents of Israeli policy who disagree with the BDS movement, and others who actively support it. One of the most prominent of the latter is British musician Brian Eno. He told me recently, “I’m not in it for a fight with Israel, but for a result for everyone. I really think there are a lot of people on both sides who prefer the fighting to the result-getting — especially if the ‘fighting’ is being done from the cozy comfort of a computer.”

Quite so. Sweeping generalizations are easy and dangerous. Informed and sensible efforts to bring peace and coexistence to two valid but clashing narratives are much more difficult — but much more necessary.

Author's photo
Michael Coren is an author and journalist in Toronto.
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