Organizers of a film festival in Oslo respecting the BDS against Israel missed the message when they banned Other Dreamers, a film by Roy(?) Zarfani about the lives of disabled children at a center near Tel Aviv. In the NYT article, which you can read here, Omar Barghouti explains that movement-BDS supports “boycotts against Israeli institutions that are complicit in Israel’s violations of international law, not against individuals.”
But maybe this incident illustrates just how slippery these kinds of distinctions get, no matter how “unambiguously” the guidelines state that “mere affiliation of Israeli cultural workers to an Israeli cultural institution is therefore not grounds for applying the boycott.” As the NYT reporter suggest, “The boycott movement seems both erratic and widespread.”
Not an untoward accident, these kinds of missteps and litmus testing (“send us instead a film about the occupation”) are worked into the very structure of BDS as a “discourse” that eludes any single actor’s good or bad intention. Based on a principle of bedrock opposition to the State of Israel, it should surprise no one when that kinds of things happen again, no matter how hard promoters of BDS try either to justify or to walk back this or that action that provokes critical scrutiny. It is simply impossible to police discourse, including and especially the boundary between individual and cultural institutions supported by the state.
Others will find it unnecessarily provocative, but my title for this blog post is tongue in cheek. Apropos to a recent post about BDS and singer Matisyahu in Spain, a friend suggested on FB that there’s no BDS that I would not reject, which would make my opposition unreasoning. But that’s not true. I don’t oppose targeting West Bank settlements, which could ultimately catch up the entire Israeli banking system. I especially don’t react viscerally when large European economic institutions begin to start hedging their bets about Israel. But I always oppose cultural and academic boycotts. In this particular case, it’s perhaps too simple to say that going after children crosses the line.