Bridges, Not Boycotts

By August 6, 2015Blog Post

Bridges, Not Boycotts

By CCFP Staff

Singer Pharrell Williams is expected to face protests and boycotts of his shows in South Africa. Why? Because of his partnership with Woolworth’s, a retailer which imports 0.1% of its produce from Israel. People have threatened to block off roads to the concerts or even occupy the venues to prevent Pharrell from being heard.

While these tactics may sound extreme, they are merely the tip of the iceberg for supporters of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), a political campaign seeking to isolate Israel, and only Israel, in the diplomatic, economic, academic, and cultural spheres.

International artists who book shows in Israel face almost daily harassment from cultural boycott supporters, and sometimes, as in the case of Eric Burdon, Paul McCartney, and Salif Keita, to name a few, actual threats of physical violence. Israeli artists abroad face protests and intimidation. Last year, when the Israeli film “Dancing in Jaffa,” a wonderful film about Jewish-Arab coexistence through dance, was screened in France, protesters entered the venue, screamed anti-Israel slogans, and threw stink bombs on stage.

All of this can be described with one simple and terrible word: Censorship. There is no other way to put it. Using harassment, threats, and intimidation to silence artists and/or force them to adopt a certain political outlook is artistic censorship.

Last year in the Islamic Republic of Iran, seven young people were arrested and sentenced to jail time and lashes for making a video of Pharrell’s song “Happy” in Tehran. They were punished because their actions did not conform to the ideology of the government.

Will Pharrell be prevented from singing “Happy” in the Republic of South Africa because his actions do not conform to the ideology of BDS? We in the free world must insist that art and artists never be beholden to a political agenda.

Art is a powerful force that can inspire and unite. It is our shared human language and rises above politics in ways that little else can. It helps us to understand and empathize with one another, overcoming biases and misconceptions, laying tiny bricks on the path to peace. The world needs more cultural bridges, not cultural boycotts.

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