The antisemitism smear was the anticipated response of Israel’s apologists to the artists’ pledge for human rights. Indeed that is what makes signatories courageous individuals. What was feared but less anticipated was the extent to which that smear would be sharpened – and then given a platform in the mainstream press – to hold pledge signatories responsible for the deadly targeting of Jews.
In the Guardian last week, centre-left Israeli politician Yair Lapid – responding to our pledge launch – hypothesised what would happen if, ‘following a call in the Guardian, the IDF puts down its weapons and stops protecting the people of Israel for 24 hours? If you don’t share the imagination of an artist let me tell you: radical Islamists would kill us all. Women and children first.’
The renowned Israeli author and Ha’aretz columnist, Gideon Levy, was similarly perplexed by the space given over for Lapid ‘to sell cheap Israeli propaganda to [Guardian] readers… It was an insult to their intelligence.’ Levy continues:
But the apex of the article is its playing the victim. After all, what do Lapid and all Israelis want? What do they ask for, these peace seekers? A little quiet, a little security. But the bad Arabs don’t want it.
What Lapid wants is “for people not to try to kill me just because I’m a Jew. For Jews in Europe to be able to stand safely outside synagogues and do their shopping in a kosher supermarket and for Jews in Israel to be safe from the threat of rockets and mortars.” And the tears fall one after the other. For the Jews. And what about a little quiet for Palestinians? What about a little security for the residents of Gaza, who are killed in the thousands? And dignity? Freedom?
There can be no comfort taken from the idea that Yair Lapid represents a minority of heartless fanatics. His views, Levy reminds us, are shared too widely in Israel:
Lapid is Lapid, though: He faithfully reflects the Israeli average – the brainwashed mood of the majority, the people who shoot and cry, who love themselves to death and pity themselves ad nauseam, who self-victimize and accuse others, innocent of all guilt and certain of their absolute rightness.
This article is for those who do not understand why Lapid will once again attract voters, and for those who do not understand why there is no chance for real change in Israeli society. It is an updated version of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, reality as center-left Israelis like to picture it for themselves: duplicitous, disconnected, repressed and in denial.
It is hardly worth underlining the inevitability of media outlets in Israel such as Ynetnews publishing opinion pieces in which cultural boycott supporters are compared to the Copenhagen gunman; yet it is useful to keep a record. In an op-ed entitled ‘The intellectual terrorism of Roger Waters and BDS‘ with the tagline ‘If people like the anti-Israel musician and the boycott supporters had their way, Jews would once again be targeted, and left without shelter,’ the signing of our pledge is characterised as an ‘attack’ in the same vein as the murders in Paris and Copenhagen
Two more attacks, in Copenhagen and then London, have eradicated what was left of the distance between these two racist phenomena. On the one hand, there was another inciteful attack from the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) brigade, led by Roger Waters, who managed to sign up hundreds of artists in the UK to a boycott of Israel. And on the other hand, there was another double attack by anti-Western and anti-Semitic terrorism, executed by Omar Abdel-Hamid el-Hussein in Denmark.
It is certainly worth noting that the same smear has been recklessly repeated in the UK arts press. Last week, Artnet ran an article on high-profile artist signatories, with the headline: ‘Jeremy Deller, Ed Atkins, and Hundreds of UK Artists Support Cultural Boycott of Israel. Is European Anti-Semitism out of Control?’
They have since amended it. It is otherwise a fair and informative article.
Finally, there is ‘satire’, which comes dangerously close to defamation: the show Hakol Shafit that was broadcast on Israel’s Channel 1, on 19 February, names a number of well-known musicians who are signatories and strongly implies they are motivated by Judeophobia and are part of a neo-Nazi movement. It is also openly racist towards Palestinians.
As chilling as these smears are for the artists who have put their name to our pledge for human rights, the vicious accusations of antisemitism are a mark of a society resentful it is being held to account in the cultural as well as other spheres; in consequence of which it is indulging in a severe form of cognitive dissonance. As Gideon Levy puts it, ‘Lapid’s Israel is the height of temerity – the occupier that not only presents itself as a victim, but as the only victim. It is hard to believe, but that’s the truth.’