Monday, August 17, 2015

Why Boycotting Matisyahu is Reasonable, Even if You Don’t Agree with It

Update: Apparently, the Spanish festival has recently apologized and reinvited Matisyahu. The festival organizers' should not be confused with the BDS-País-Valencià, which initiated the action.  The latter will no doubt continue to call for a boycott of the concert and ask other reggae acts to cancel their participation.

The Rototom festival organizers should be criticized twice: for requiring Matisyahu to sign a pledge supporting a Palestinian state (which has nothing to do with the BDS movement or with BDS-País-Valencià, which opposed the action) and for caving into pressure from groups to reinstate. Well, I don't envy them since they were hit from both sides.

But the BDS-País-Valencià should not be criticized for calling for a boycott against an artist who has publically defended Israeli war crimes, or if that is too strong, actions that are considered war crimes by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. For links see below. And to consider their calls "anti-Semitic" is bigoted and offensive, and I don't care where you stand on the BDS spectrum.  

I find it extraordinary that those who sense "anti-Semitism" behind criticism of Israel's human rights abuse are willing to cut slack for Matisyahu on the grounds that his statements were "taken out of context", "immediately dismissed as apolitical", etc. If this is not hypocritical, I don't know what is.

Reasonable people can disagree with BDS-Pais-Valencià's call to boycott Matisyahu, as I said in the post below. But reasonable and decent people can agree. An artist doesn't get a pass for defending human rights violations. An American Jews doesn't get a pass for defending Israel's human rights violations.

An internationally renown reggae artist goes  on record supporting the IDF’s response in the Mava  Marmara fiasco. At the height of the Gaza Operation last summer, he posts on his Facebook page a one-sided defense of Israel’s actions in Gaza by hasbarita Sara Merson, igniting a firestorm of comments for and against.  He expresses love of performing in Israel, and he headlines a“"pro-Zionist festival”. He claims that as far as he knows, “there never was a country named Palestine.”
A Spanish BDS group protests the artist’s  invitation to appear at the progressive Rototom concert whose theme is Peace. At the same time they protest the Israel reggae duo Congo Beats the Drum. The organizers push back against the BDS group’s demand to the artist to clarify whether he supports the three goals of the BDS movement. Instead he is asked whether he supports a Palestinian state (Let us recall that Bibi Netanyahu is on record supporting a Palestinian state.)  The artist refuses both the demands of the BDS group and the organizers’ request to clarify his position on a Palestinian state.
When accused of anti-Semitism by the organizers, the Spanish BDS group writes the following:
The BDS movement is by no means against the Jewish people, in fact there are numerous Jewish and Jews around the world who are part of this movement. For example, the (IJAN its acronym in English), the Jewish Voice for Peace, the Boycott from Within, or other individual Jewish people. International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network A year ago, many Jewish people Holocaust survivors called the "total boycott" of Israel and Gaza bombing related summer with the word "genocide".Similarly, the BDS movement in the Spanish state (through its main coordinator, the RESCOP) consists of non-Jewish people and Jewish people, and recently has campaigned against fascism and anti-Judaism. Finally, it is worth noting that other world notables both Jewish and non-Jewish personalities have joined the BDS and / or have canceled their participation in events in Israel.
So does the Matisyahu cancellation prove that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic? If being Jewish means being automatically pro-Israel, pro IDF,and pro-Operation Protective Edge, I suppose it does. But that’s not how I understand anti-Semitism.
When Israelis cultural groups are boycotted simply because they come from Israel, regardless of their political views, BDS is attacked for being anti-Semitic. When pro-Israel artists are boycotted because of their views, BDS is anti-Semitic.
So why does the Matisyahu cancellation bother liberal Jews who support Palestinian rights?  Well, as liberals, they think that an artist should be free to think whatever he likes (unless, maybe, he is a glatt kosher fascist like the Israeli singer Ariel Zilber, who is routinely attacked by liberal Israelis). If somebody makes a political statement, it is his or her right, but that doesn’t mean to say that others don’t have a right to protest.
But  Matisyahu is not Ariel Zilber. He is just your average, everyday, pro-Israel musician who is clueless about politics and rarely speaks on it. So I can understand why many liberal Zionists may have qualms about this one. Still, they should view as reasonable the actions of pro-Palestinian groups, who are offended by his public defense of Israel have a right to point to his statements and to call for a boycott. 
Liberal Zionists tolerate uncritical Israel supporters because they are family. But we shouldn’t be surprised when others don’t. To be sure, I doubt this Spanish BDS group would have much sympathy for anybody who didn’t endorse the three goals of the BDS movement. But that is their right. Had Matisyahu, who has made political statements in the past in favor of Israel, endorsed a Palestinian state, or justice for the Palestinians, he would not have been cancelled, even with the protest of the Spanish BDS group. But an artist who has politicized his work should not be surprised if he is called out on it.

17 comments:

Alex Stein said...

So you think BDS should now legitimately boycott those - Israeli or otherwise, with state support or not - who don't support Palestinian statehood? Surely this is quite clearly a departure from the earlier BDS guidelines which you have defended on these pages?

Unknown said...

Post-Auschwitz it was vile to found a state in post-Auschwitz genocide.

This vile state claims both to serve as arbiter of Jewish identity and also to belong to conceptually fake "Jewish people". Propagandists supporting the state use "people" like Volk in the völkisch racist sense.

Matisyahu makes and has made a big deal of his Jewish identity -- qui tacet consentire videtur.

Requiring Matisyahu to clarify his views makes a lot of sense.

Jerry Haber said...

Alex, it's more complicated than that. The Palestinian statehood idea was not a demand of the local BDS movement; it was a "compromise" put forward by the organizers. The BDS movement was opposed to it. They wanted Matisyahu to support the three goals of Palestinian civil society -- end of occupation, equal rights for Palestinian Israelis, and promotion and respect of the right of return of Palestinian refugees according to Resolution 194.

Now do I support that demand? Read carefully my answer. I support the right of groups to call for boycotts of artists of all races, creeds, nationalities, and sexual orientation, who defend actions that constitute war crimes in the eyes of international human rights bodies -- whether those are by Israel or by Hamas. I do so for the same reason that I would support the right of LGBT groups to boycott artists that defend policies that violate their human rights. Whether I would observe such a boycott would depend on a lot of factors -- whether I thought that those groups were correct in their judgment, for example. That is why I said that the local BDS group's position was reasonable, but one could disagree with it.

Had I been the organizer I would not have cancelled the concert. But I would have boycotted it in solidarity with Palestinian activists, and to show my displeasure for M's support of actions that constitute war crimes (e.g., Gaza and Mavi Marmara). You cannot take a political stand and then say that your music is above politics.

Shaun said...

Interesting that you use the LGBT example. The one issue that you have not addressed is the fact that “the Jew” was the only performer asked to clarify his political stance. No other artists at the festival, some with reportedly questionable lyrics and positions regarding sexual orientations were asked to make any kind of clarification.

Your claim the problem about “Liberal Zionists tolerate uncritical Israel supporters because they are family” But BDS tolerate those shouting “Shoot the Jew” and “question the Jew” because they too are family.

Most BDS forums are suspiciously silent about Matisyahu and Mohammed Desi is still a leading figure in the BDS movment.

berlioz silvia said...

Poner el vídeo de "One day" en su Facebook teniendo en cuenta lo que dice la letra es más bien una petición de que pare todo, que una defensa de la actuación del Gobierno de Israel en Gaza:http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/matisyahu/oneday.html
Y que politiza su trabajo no estoy de acuerdo, si en una entrevista le preguntan ¿Qué tiene que hacer, callarse, negarse a dar su opinión? O sólo está bien si dice lo que nos gusta. Y yo hasta ahora tampoco le he oído, ni leído nada más que un par de respuestas en dos entrevistas, pero no es un defensor, ni un activista defensor de la política del Gobierno de Israel.
No sé, pero creo que está bien la idea de boicotear pero no creo que se deba vetar a nadie por dar su opinión sobre algo en una entrevista puntual.

John Welch said...

Is "...Mohammed Desi is still a leading figure in the BDS movment."? I'm a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and United Methodist Kairos Response. I've met Rebecca Wilkomerson, Philip Weiss (was tempted to ask for his autograph), and many less-well-know Presbyterians and Methodists. Never heard any mention of Desi.

Incidentally, many US BDS groups are working hard for approval of the nuclear agreement with Iran. The usual people are funding robo-calls and web advertisements that say "give war a chance". The neo-conservatives, the Republican presidential candidates, FOX News: they argue over whether to bomb Iran or to bomb and invade.

Peter Schwartz said...

Jerry, this link doesn't belong here, but I read one of your posts yesterday about a law disallowing Israeli groups from getting money from abroad and wondered if this is the same issue (obviously from a different perspective!) mentioned in this article:

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/2015/08/27/israels-human-rights-record/

Unfortunately, I've mostly stopped reading posts about the I-P conflict because the weeds are so thick and it's so hard to trust that anyone's analysis isn't entwined with a heavy slant. I don't mean to disparage you by saying this. I've enjoyed your posts in the past and learned much, but there is so much said and it's so hard to separate truth from partial truth from outright lies.

Jerry Haber said...

Hi Peter,

According to Evelyn Gordon in Commentary, B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence broke no laws, and didn't misreport anything. Like other human rights organizations in the Middle East, they receive money from the agencies connected with the European Union. Both of them publish that prominently on every publication. Their only "sin" was that they didn't whitewash Israeli ar crimes, which is what Gordon, a rightwinger, writing in a rightwing mag, would have liked.

So yes, this is the same issue, from a ultra-nationalist perspective. One finds the same phenomenon elsewhere in the Middle East, e.g., in rightwing regimes like Egypt and India, where human rights organizations are hounded.

BeautifulSingers said...

If boycotting Matisyahu is reasonable then so is boycotting Charles Manekin. Sometimes the boycotter becomes the boycottee. Are you okay with that?

Charles Manekin said...

Well, the next time Charles Manekin is performing on stage with the Encore Israel Educational Theater, I will understand if somebody wishes to boycott the performance -- but not if it is merely a reaction to the blog piece above, and that for several reasons:

First of all, it is never reasonable to boycott an artist or a company without a good reason. When Jews boycotted the Moscow Symphony in the 1970s in protest of the Soviet Union's treatment of Soviet Jews, a counter-boycott would have been reasonable only if it could be justified -- and boycotting boycotters simply because they boycott doesn't seem to be a good justification. The same can be said for the Israeli artists who refuse to perform over the green line. Now, of course, nobody has to pay to see a artist they don't want to. But if you call for a boycott, you should explain why.

Second, I don't boycott personally any individual on the planet.I have friends and acquaintances who are Kahanists, bigots, and racists. If I don't talk to them, who will I talk to? Almost all of the FB friends of Charles Manekin are way to his right. I have never called to boycott individuals in the sense of putting them in cherem, or cutting off ties. That's is childish and immature. I would be happy to talk to Matisyahu or Ariel Silber or Rabbi Dov Lior, etc., if I had anything to say to them. I certainly don't boycott Israeli academics, and actually I run a program in which there is a large Israel Studies institute which has joint ties with Tel Aviv University, etc.

Third, I tried in the post above to say why it was *reasonable* to call for an artistic boycott of Matisyahu, but I also said that there good reasons not to. My point was that it's not anti-Semitic. By the way, apparently Matisyahu doesn't think so, and that's to his credit.

All that said, if somebody doesn't want to talk to me (and a lot of people, for some reason or other don't want to talk to me), that's their business. What I don't like is people who hide behind pseudonyms and don't have the courage of their convictions to tell me point blank if I ask. For people like that I suggest to take a time-out, sit in the corner, and let their righteous indignation give way to some rational thought.

Jerry Haber said...

Well, the next time Charles Manekin is performing on stage with the Encore Israel Educational Theater, I will understand if somebody wishes to boycott the performance -- but not if it is merely a reaction to the blog piece above, and that for several reasons:

First of all, it is never reasonable to boycott an artist or a company without a good reason. When Jews boycotted the Moscow Symphony in the 1970s in protest of the Soviet Union's treatment of Soviet Jews, a counter-boycott would have been reasonable only if it could be justified -- and boycotting boycotters simply because they boycott doesn't seem to be a good justification. The same can be said for the Israeli artists who refuse to perform over the green line. Now, of course, nobody has to pay to see a artist they don't want to. But if you call for a boycott, you should explain why.

Second, I don't boycott personally any individual on the planet.I have friends and acquaintances who are Kahanists, bigots, and racists. If I don't talk to them, who will I talk to? Almost all of the FB friends of Charles Manekin are way to his right. I have never called to boycott individuals in the sense of putting them in cherem, or cutting off ties. That's is childish and immature. I would be happy to talk to Matisyahu or Ariel Silber or Rabbi Dov Lior, etc., if I had anything to say to them. I certainly don't boycott Israeli academics, and actually I run a program in which there is a large Israel Studies institute which has joint ties with Tel Aviv University, etc.

Third, I tried in the post above to say why it was *reasonable* to call for an artistic boycott of Matisyahu, but I also said that there good reasons not to. My point was that it's not anti-Semitic. By the way, apparently Matisyahu doesn't think so, and that's to his credit.

All that said, if somebody doesn't want to talk to me (and a lot of people, for some reason or other don't want to talk to me), that's their business. What I don't like is people who hide behind pseudonyms and don't have the courage of their convictions to tell me point blank if I ask. For people like that I suggest to take a time-out, sit in the corner, and let their righteous indignation give way to some rational thought.

BeautifulSingers said...

In that case the answer is yes. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, and if it is reasonable to boycott Matisyahu then it's reasonable to boycott Charles Manekin for opposite reasons. At least you are consistent.

I assume that means you object to the American Studies Association's boycott of professors representing Israeli institutions, and don't adhere to it. That could mean sponsoring a talk by an Israeli academic dean or department chair.

I wonder how you have reacted to revelations about the anti-Semitism in Heidegger's black notebooks. Heidegger is arguably the most studied 20th-century philosopher. Many hold him in high esteem even today.

If (continental) philosophy couldn't stop Heidegger from holding idiotic and hateful views then what good is it? What is its purpose, beyond maintaining a historical record of what noted philosophers said? Can it benefit the non-academic? It doesn't seem to have benefited Heidegger other than professionally.

When I see you posting opinions that I consider at minimum unwise, I tell myself that if philosophy couldn't protect Heidegger from ideas far worse than anything you post then it surely won't protect less highly-esteemed philosophy professors either.

Jerry Haber said...

Well, if somebody wants to boycott me as a performing artist because I find it reasonable for others to boycott an artist who defends war crimes (Gaza) and occupation (West Bank), that's his or her business. As you point out, I can't very well complain, can I, since I believe that some boycotts -- e.g, the Montgomery bus boycott, the boycott and sanctions of the Soviet Union in the Jackson-Vanik amendment, and the boycotts of settlements and companies that profit from the settlement enterprise -- are permissible and desirable.

With respect to Heidegger, he is, of course, the classic case of somebody who defended a tyrannical regime because he thought that its manifest destiny allowed, no, required it to deny human and civil rights to those under its authority. I would have agreed with a boycott of Heidegger and Freiburg University then; I am not an absolutist when it comes to academic freedom. Were I part of Palestinian Civil Society, I would be a bit more lenient than they are in interpreting the PACBI guidelines on individual vs. institutional. For example, I would have cut Adi Ophir some slack at Brown last year, not because of his leftwing views, but because he did his best to dissociate his conference from the Minerva Center, which he heads. But as you point out, I certainly don't observe any boycott of Israel, artistic or academic, and I actually facilitate meetings of Israeli scholars. (Agav, they also have changed at least twice their guidelines.)

But I don't think that Palestinian civil society is unreasonable in having an academic boycott as a non-violent way to put pressure on Israel and Israeli society. That's why I express sympathy and solidarity with them. Innocent academics may be inconvenienced but, with all respect to my guild, that's a small price to pay for calling attention to a greater injustice. Strikes hurt people; boycotts hurt people. But so do rocks, stabbings, and suicide bombings, not to mention militarily subjugating an entire population for decades.

By the way, I am no expert on continental philosophy, and, frankly, I haven't studied any of it since college. But I can tell you that expertise in analytical philosophy is no guarantee against possessing hateful views either. My shul rabbi was a well-known scholar of Jewish law, but he received a six year jail sentence for taking pictures of women before they entered the mikveh, including those he had taught Judaism to for their conversion. Should we infer from this that there is a problem with Jewish law? If Jewish law and tradition couldn't stop by rabbi from sinning, should we ask, what good is it?

Look, I have no problem in your considering my opinions "at minimum unwise". But why Heidegger? Heidegger was a hyper-nationalist. What his views have to do with my views, which place individual human rights over the rights of the collective is beyond me. Put Heidegger and Rav Kook and Rav Ginsburg and a lot of Kabbalah in the same breath, not Heidegger and me.

Anyway, a view may be reasonable and wrong; so I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. Sometimes I change my mind.

BeautifulSingers said...

(1) My point wasn't that you are like the Nazi Heidegger. My point was completely different.

Philosophy as I conceive it is supposed to make philosophers wise. Heidegger was not some obscure professor. He and Wittgenstein are the most studied 20th-century philosophers. Heidegger is by far the most esteemed continental philosopher even today after the black notebooks.

If continental philosophy couldn't even make Heidegger as wise as the average German of his era (Heidegger unlike most Germans was a dues-paying Nazi Party member 1933-1945) what hope is there it will make the average person wise? It's not as if continental philosophers are about to disown Heidegger. His Nazism reflects poorly on not just him but on those who admire his work.

Heidegger himself in Italy told Karl Lowith that his politics were an expression of his philosophy.

And if I cannot rely on Heidegger to be wise then I cannot rely on philosophers in general to be wise. And if I cannot rely on philosophers in general to be wise then I cannot rely on Charles Manekin to be wise. And if I cannot rely on Charles Manekin to be wise then an argument from authority that his views must be reasonable and deserve consideration fails.

(2) As regards your not boycotting Israeli universities, if you as a Jewish studies chair were to announce you are boycotting Israeli universities then you would not be doing your job properly. You would be denying your students access to a significant source of expertise in their field. And it would be appropriate for you to lose your tenure if you engaged in such malfeasance.

So while I commend you for doing the right thing and not boycotting Israelis, you have little choice. Were you to openly do the wrong thing and boycott Israeli universities you would suffer adverse professional consequences, and properly so.

(3) The purpose of Jewish law or Judaism itself is not to make its practitioners wise. Jews who eat pork are as wise as those who do not. Non-Jews are as wise as Jews.

Being from the DC area I am familiar with "Rabbi" Barry Freundel. A real shonda fur der goyim. Some of those women he spied on were converting to Judaism. I hope none of them leave the faith because of that creep. And I hope he dies in prison.

Jerry Haber said...

Does philosophy makes people wise? Why would anybody think that?! Wisdom makes people wise, but it doesn't make them infallible, and, as you know, philosophers famously disagree with each other on very basic things. I assure you, Heidegger was the not the first famous philosopher whose philosophy was, at least in parts, mistaken. Criticism is part of the philosophers' work. Of course you can't trust Heidegger. You shouldn't uncritically trust any philosopher. You won't see Bertram Russell, another 20th century philosopher, saying great things about Heidegger. Philosophy doesn't, or shouldn't, make appeal to authorities. It should appeal to reason. Notice I say, "appeal to", not "trust"

So I agree with you that you shouldn't rely on Charles Manekin because he has degrees in philosophy. No philosopher worth her salt would say that you should. Don't rely on Plato because Plato said it. Or Descartes or Heidegger or Chomsky. That's not how philosophy works.

Academic philosophy is an academic discipline, like anything else. One can be an expert in ethics and cheat on one's taxes. One can be a cancer researcher and also a chain-smoker. Mastering the tools and knowledge of one's trade is one thing; how one lives is another. I know people who take the kernel of Heidegger worth preserving and throw away the rest. You can't blame continental philosophy for Heidegger any more than you can praise it for Sartre or Levinas. If you like the latter's work, that's good enough.

Boycotts: There are many things that people admire that they cannot do themselves. I have tenure, so I am pretty protected. But for many reasons I won't take an active role in academic boycotts in Israel, although I support in principle the BDS call. Were a colleague to ask me what I advise, I would present her with the arguments on both sides and let her make an informed decision. My goal, in this post and otherwise, was to remove the opprobrium from the call for boycott. Boycott is a non-violent tactic, and so one can argue for or against it as a tactic. It sure beats violent tactics, although those too may, on occasion, be necessary (e.g., as in wars).

As for the third point, the Torah is identified with wisdom, and vice-versa. "It is a tree of life for those who hold on to it," is said literally of wisdom in the scripture, but that is identified with Torah. "The Torah of the Lord is perfect; it makes wise the ignorant." But as I said before, one can be an expert on cancer and still be a chain smoker. One can be a rabbi and a pedophile or crook. That's not a problem with the system per se, especially since this is not true in the majority of cases.

Be well.

And that returns me to philosophy. As a class, philosophers have been a rather peaceful lot. Not bad, in my opinion.

BeautifulSingers said...

I understand that you have a job to do and cannot play comments ping-pong with me. But my response is as follows:

After Heidegger's disgracefully pro-Nazi inaugural speech at the U. of Freiburg, philosopher Benedetto Croce said that Heidegger had dishonored philosophy by delivering it.

Karl Popper attacked Heidegger's Nazism and said "I appeal to philosophers of all nations to unite and never again mention Heidegger."

Thus there are philosophers who do feel that a philosopher's unwise actions can invalidate his philosophy.

The question is whether your views on Israel receive additional attention because some members of the public think that as a philosophy professor your views are wiser than those of less educated people. Since you do not make that claim and neither do I we have no disagreement on that matter.

tscholent said...

When people bring up Heidegger and what you do or don't do in live doesn't that make you go hmmm?! What these people are trying to tell you is exactly the opposite of what you are trying to tell them about philosophy and philosophers.They are trying to tell you wake up you are a person that people listen to because you are religous and you teach and write in Israel.You said yourself that having wisdom does not make you wise.So if knowledge of philosophy a title,tenure and religion to back up your life do not prevent you from becoming "a bad person" (as us uneducated people would say) well according to Lenin a person not supporting the group he belongs to is just another useless person...please don't become another useless person.Btw...Heidegger in german definitely sounds brutal even though I don't understand all of it's philosophy.