Don't boycott songs of peace

A sold-out crowd of Chicagoans, including Jews, Christians, and Muslims, applauded an Israeli export that, the next morning, Prof. George Bisharat argued should be banned: musicians David Broza and Miri Awad. (“Applause for the academic boycott of Israel”Chicago Tribune,Jan. 30, 2014.)

Broza, an Israeli Jew, and Awad, a Palestinian Israeli of Christian descent, together performed energetic songs of love, loss, hope and peace with their fellow Jewish and Muslim band members.

How do I know there were Muslims in the audience? I invited Muslim friends to the show so that they could witness a side of Israeli and Palestinian reality that Prof. Basharat and other supporters of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel would rather bar them from experiencing.

Several years ago, I heard the brilliant Iranian musician Mohammad-Reza Shajarian performing at Symphony Center. Chicagoans would have been deprived of his genius also, had the kind of boycott the anti-Israel crowd desires been applied to people holding passports issued by the butchers of Tehran. (Note that no one proposes an academic or cultural boycott of Iran in order to end that country’s nuclear program, let alone its gross human rights violations.)

Those who favor such a boycott of Israel commit three wrongs that add up to something that, to me, walks, talks and acts like anti-Semitism.

The first wrong is to distort Israeli and Palestinian reality and history. Like an image seen in a funhouse mirror, the boycotters manipulate the century-old conflict between Arab and Jew (for the conflict began before Palestinians or Israelis referred to themselves as such), blowing Israel’s alleged crimes grotesquely out of proportion while minimizing Palestinians’ vocal and violent rejection of the Jewish right to self-determination. Were fair measures applied, the resulting image of each side (part victim and part perpetrator) would appear far different from what the boycotters portray.

The second wrong is to seek to deny the stage to those Israelis (Jewish, Muslim and Christian) and Palestinians who have the temerity to proclaim their mutual humanity and jointly cry for peace and coexistence. Hearing that cry incites the boycotters, who masquerade as human rights advocates, even more than Israel’s policies. Why? Because allowing others to see Israel’s human reality, complicated and flawed as it is, undermines the boycotters underlying agenda, which is to demonize and ultimately end Jewish sovereignty in the only nation state of the Jewish people.

The third wrong is hypocrisy. The messages that Broza, Awad and performers like them deliver are not universally embraced in Israel; some consider them naïve, wrongheaded or even dangerous. Still, in Israel they are free to deliver those messages. So too, should they be free to sing about peace and reconciliation in Chicago. Were they or others to attempt to deliver those messages in Gaza, Damascus, Baghdad or a thousand and one other places across the Middle East, a price would be put on their heads.

Stifling any voices of humanity in this troubled world is hardly the antidote to suffering that Professor Bisharat and others claim to seek. Better to let the voices of Broza, Awad, and Shajarian ring out.

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