Lana Melman: It really came out of my two big passions – my love for arts and entertainment and love for Israel. I first became aware of the cultural campaign in 2011, and saw it as an attack on Israel as well as an attack on artistic expression. And what has happened in the last 11 years is that I watched this growing connection between this vicious antizionism and the growth of antisemitism worldwide. The statistics are staggering: for instance, overall crime in New York City has risen 58 percent between February 2021 and February 2022, but hate crimes against Jews rose over 400 percent.
So I have this very unique experience, being involved as an activist, deeply involved in the grass roots fight against the cultural boycott campaign. I've spoken to the reps and agents of over 1000 artists who have been attacked personally, their reputations and careers threatened, and also I've observed it from a birds-eye point of view, keeping on top of stories and current events. And I realized it was crucial to expose this to the public – that BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] and especially the cultural boycott campaign – which I think is the most dangerous aspect of BDS – needed to be put on trial. And I thought I was in the best position to do that.
So I believed it was time to take this to the next level, which was the public. Take it to the public square and challenge the BDS movement – not just go on defense, but offense, and call them out as anti-peace activists. I wrote a lot of op-eds, this kind of thing; but this isn't a sound bite topic. Someone needed to pull all this evidence together – and they needed to be inspired to take these small steps that I supply at the end of every chapter. With very little effort you can make a big difference.
ARE: Those little steps that you include are very helpful; it's a way of showing how people can make a small difference just within their own social or community circles without having to take on actual "activism" as such.
LM: The response has been fantastic. I urge people to write thank you notes to artists who have turned their backs on these attacks against the Jews and question the comments of BDS and Israel Bashers to look at it through the eyes of whether or not they're repeating classic antisemitic tropes. Almost everyone says it's eye-opening and a legitimate call to action.
ARE: How did you become involved in the issue in the first place?
LM: My background is in TV – I'm an entertainment lawyer but also as a writer/producer. In 2011 I was called upon to helm a non-profit called Creative Community for Peace who opposed the cultural boycott campaign. And I worked there for four years and did a tremendous amount of good preventing cancellations. And it was important to me to show the public the devastation that is happening – first of all and primarily to artists and Israel, but also to audiences. Some third party with a political agenda is coming between artists and audiences.
ARE: Do visual artist and writers experience the same pressures?
LM: Israeli artists are among the most injured victims in this entire scenario. They are humiliated, they are discriminated against, and they are censored or banned.
And when artists or writers want to come to Israel they face the same kind of boycott campaigns as musicians do, either to promote their work, to show in an exhibition, to accept an award –inevitably they experience the same kind of anti-Zionist BDs campaign.
But with Israeli artists, I want to be clear: It is mostly Jewish Israeli artists. But not all. Arab Israeli artists also experience backlash – but only if their work is not critical of Israel. If there is something in their work that promotes reconciliation with Israel, they face BDS threats especially from Arab nations and peoples. But mostly from BDS activists, the target is Jewish Israelis – and even though there is nothing in the BDS literature that says specifically "Jewish Israeli," that has been the de facto reality. Not based on the content of their work or their political activism – which even sometimes aligns with the views of BDS – but no, that doesn't matter.
ARE: Obviously this is a problem for Jews worldwide. But explain to me why non-Jews should also care.
LM: They have to care about the way this will impact them – and does impact them – in terms of a third party interfering with their right to experience the art of their choosing. A third party is censoring art, and they should object to it on that basis alone. They should care about it because they are people of good will and good conscience. And they should care about a hate campaign that is targeting a minority that has been the victim of discrimination and expulsion and mass murder for centuries. They should care for the sake of their communities. Jews have always been the canary in the coalmine. How the community treats its Jews is a sign of the moral health of the community.
ARE: BDS seems to be particularly popular among young people now. Why do you think that is?
LM: They are coopting the social justice causes of the left. They are making false comparisons between Israelis and white colonists of Europe. They are making false comparisons between Jews who return to their indigenous homeland and discrimination against minorities in the U.S. and elsewhere. At the same time, BDS are appealing to youth with emotionally evocative slogans that are baseless in fact. They have rewritten history and are attempting to influence the future by indoctrinating the younger generation.
ARE: What kind of slogans?
LM: Things like "Zionism is racism." That's very emotionally evocative. Racism is bad. Just by making an equivalence between them you are staining an entire country. They are literally demonizing one minority while they are championing the cause of other minorities. And that is classic antisemitism.
ARE: Which is different than, say, the civil rights movements of the '60s.
LM: Right. That was not the case in the sixties. Jews were not singled out as a minority group. That was a generation divide against Jews throughout history. Vicious lies about Jews have always preceded violence against Jews. And that's what's happening now.
IPT Senior Fellow Abigail R. Esman is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands. Her new book, Rage: Narcissism, Patriarchy, and the Culture of Terrorism, was published by Potomac Books in October 2020. Follow her at @abigailesman.
Copyright © 2022. Investigative Project on Terrorism. All rights reserved.