Feature: Boycott

“There’s an awful lot of people who don’t agree with the BDS movement, including us. I don’t agree with the cultural ban at all, along with JK Rowling, Noam Chomsky, and a long list of others.”

Celebrities Who Have Resisted BDS

By: Ilan Preskovsky


“There’s an awful lot of people who don’t agree with the BDS movement, including us. I don’t agree with the cultural ban at all, along with JK Rowling, Noam Chomsky, and a long list of others.”

“I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come here. I refused. I do what I think, and I have many friends who support Israel.”



Regardless of whether it’s antisemitic by design or just in practice – or whether that actually matters – BDS’s facade as a peaceful movement that uses the boycotting of Israel as a way to bring lasting peace to Israelis and Palestinians crumbles the minute you actually look at its methods, at its actual goals, and at its utter failure to do anything but sew discord and hatred worldwide for the world’s only Jewish state. In an organisation bristling with wrong-headed stupidity and duplicitous hypocrisy, though, one of its most purely asinine aspects is its cultural boycott against Israel – be it the blacklisting of Israeli films and artists, forcing musicians away from performing in Israel, or refusing to ally themselves with major Israeli universities.

We South Africans saw this first hand in 2021 when, under the influence of BDS (they’re basically card-carrying members), the ANC withdrew support from Lalela Mswane, the then current Miss South Africa, for her willingness to compete in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel. Lalela famously ignored the government and not only attended the pageant but came in as the second runner up. Similarly, all sorts of famous celebrities – some even extremely critical of Israel’s policies – protested BDS attempts to sabotage the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest and the 2021 LGBTQ film festival held in Tel Aviv.

Included among those who have openly defied BDS are famous Jews like Mila Kunis, Mayim Bialik, Aaron Sorkin, Stephen Fry, as well as non-Jews like Helen Mirren, JK Rowling, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some, like Stephen Fry, who has been extremely critical of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, sign on to oppose BDS for the simple reason that they see this sort of cultural boycott as being fundamentally counter-productive to fostering peace in the region and does nothing but punish artists and their audiences. Some, however, don’t just reject BDS’s methods but stand firmly with the State of Israel.

Take for example Scarlett Johansson – whose mother is Jewish if you’re wondering. She has been a particular thorn in BDS’s side over the years, especially for her unapologetic refusal to apologise for becoming the “brand ambassador” for the Israeli company SodaStream back in 2014. Or Emmanuelle Chriqui, the Canadian actress who may not be strictly observant herself, but comes from a traditional, Sephardi-Moroccan family and who signs off on Instagram every Friday with a “Shabbat Shalom”, and who spends much of her time on social media calling out anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments – not least by constantly reposting her good friend, fellow actor, and Israel’s antisemitism ambassador, Noah Tishby. Unsurprisingly, Israeli celebrities like Tishby, Gal Gadot, and, despite her well-noted hatred towards each successive Netanyahu government, Natalie Portman, have stood firmly with Israel, even as they have been subject to “anti-Zionist” trolling.

And it’s not just the Jews. One of my personal favourite funny people, Conan O’Brien, hosted an hilarious, poignant episode of his Conan Without Borders series in Israel (check it out for free at https://teamcoco.com/israel) where he hung out with regular Jews and Palestinians, paid a visit to Gal Gadot’s home, “interrogated” Fauda’s Lior Raz, and spotlighted an Israeli hospital on the Syrian border that was treating Syrian civilians injured in that country’s civil war. Or Leonardo DiCaprio, who invested in several Israeli startups, farms, and, um, Israeli women. Or Quentin Tarantino, who spends half his time in Israel with his Israeli wife.

Or the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has spent his life trying to distance himself from his father – with whom he had a, shall we say, less than wonderful relationship and who was a member of the Nazi party – by continuously advocating for Jewish causes and Holocaust education, and has long been one of the staunchest celebrity supporters of Israel. Among his numerous visits to Israel, he broke ground on the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem in 2004.

Perhaps the most visible and often intriguing manifestation of the battle for and against BDS’s cultural boycott of Israel, though, is in the world of music.

Comfortably Dumb

BDS has made a huge impact both on international musicians across numerous genres who wish to play in Israel, and on Israeli musicians who wish to play on the international stage. But it is also a musician who has become the sour face of the BDS movement worldwide. I’m talking, of course, about Roger Waters.

Waters, for those who don’t know, was the bass player, chief lyricist, co-lead singer, and, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the driving force of legendary art-rock band Pink Floyd. Not, perhaps, the best bass player that ever lived and certainly an acquired taste as a singer, but Rogers gave Floyd their conceptual focus. It was Waters’ exploration of the human condition on The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) that helped make that album one of the best and most successful of all time – a trick that he further applied to the Orwellian Animals (1977) and the warped coming-of-age drama of The Wall (1980).

I, personally, will always prefer Pete Townshend of The Who’s broken romanticism to Waters’ tiresome pessimism, but there’s no getting past it: Roger Waters was a towering figure in popular music and he contributed greatly to making Pink Floyd one of the greatest bands to ever walk this planet. I mention Townshend incidentally, as he was so enamoured by Israel in the ‘60s that he tried to write his own rock opera about the country – he never completed it, but what remains of it can be found in the song Rael (geddit?), on the Who’s 1967 classic album, The Who Sell Out.

If only Waters himself would have left his legacy alone. Instead, he has been steadily eroding all the goodwill that he built up in his heyday by allowing his increasingly unpleasant personal views to take the focus. There’s a reason why his former bandmates pretty much despise him. His assessment of the war in Ukraine would be laughable if it wasn’t so abhorrent (effectively, he praised Putin, blames the Ukrainians for being invaded, and sees “the West” as being primarily responsible for the invasion), but it’s made all the worse when viewed in light of his basically becoming the poster child for the BDS movement.


I write this just after it has been announced that Frankfurt cancelled Waters’ upcoming concert, calling the rock star “one of the world’s most well-known anti-Semites”, but perhaps the most scathing attack on Waters recently came from Polly Samson, the wife of Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who wrote on her Twitter feed: “Sadly @rogerwaters you are anti-Semitic to your rotten core. Also a Putin apologist and a lying, thieving, hypocritical, tax-avoiding, lip-synching, misogynistic, sick-with-envy, megalomaniac. Enough of your nonsense.” Gilmour himself then retweeted it with the caption “every word is true”.

Now, whether Waters is as bad as all that or if he’s just an ignorant idiot about world affairs and this is just another shot fired in the war for the Pink Floyd name, there’s no getting past the indisputable fact that he endlessly pesters those who wish to perform in Israel.

We’re Not Gonna Take It

One musician who was very public about just how relentless Waters and other BDS members are is Thom Yorke of Radiohead – the art-rock band whose debt to Pink Floyd is undeniable. “I’ll be totally honest with you,” Yorke told a Rolling Stone reporter, “this has been extremely upsetting. There’s an awful lot of people who don’t agree with the BDS movement, including us. I don’t agree with the cultural ban at all, along with JK Rowling, Noam Chomsky, and a long list of others.”

Yes, that Noam Chomsky.

Yorke went on to vent his frustrations at being talked down to by Waters and his cohorts, as if he and the rest of his band didn’t have any idea of what was actually going on in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This, despite Radiohead’s lead guitarist, Johnny Greenwood, being married to an Arab-Israeli woman.

As Yorke went on to explain, “The person who knows most about these things is Jonny. He has both Palestinian and Israeli fans and a wife who’s an Arab-Israeli. All these people to stand there at a distance throwing stuff at us, waving flags, saying, ‘You don’t know anything about it!’ Imagine how offensive that is for Jonny. And imagine how upsetting it’s been to have this out there. Just to assume that we know nothing about this.”

Yorke readily admitted that he was very much not a fan of Benjamin Netanyahu in much the same way he was not a fan of Donald Trump or then British Prime Minister Theresa May, but that the actions of a government were no reason to deprive Israelis and Palestinians of one thing that actually brings people together: music.

Yorke’s view is one, in fact, that is held by a number of other musicians, including gigantic acts like Madonna, Elton John, Rihanna, and The Rolling Stones (who actually delayed their concert by a couple of hours when they learned that they were playing on motzei Yom Kippur). Australian musician Nick Cave was even more blunt in his disdain for BDS, saying that “the cultural boycott is cowardly and shameful.” Like Yorke, he is no fan of Netanyahu’s government, but says that BDS “is partly the reason I am playing Israel – not as support for any particular political entity, but as a principled stand against those who wish to bully, shame, and silence musicians. Further, he believes that the boycott actually alienates more liberal Israelis and “risks further entrenching positions in Israel in opposition to those you [pro-Palestinian voices] support”.

And then there is perhaps the beloved elder statesman of popular music, Paul McCartney. Some forty years after The Beatles were barred from entering Israel by – well, that’s not actually clear, but someone in Golda Meir’s government, who believed The Beatles to be a bad influence on Israeli youth (astonishing to believe, I know!), McCartney finally announced in 2008 that he would be playing in Tel Aviv in commemoration of the “great” State of Israel’s 60th anniversary. This, after Israel’s foreign ministry sent a letter to him apologising for banning the Beatles in 1965, and personally inviting him to take part in the celebrations.

He did ultimately perform in Israel to a rapturous reception from a very mixed audience, toured both Israel and the West Bank, and became one of the biggest proponents of the grassroots peace initiative, OneVoice. Before this, however, he wasn’t just pressurised to cancel the gig by BDS, but threats were made on his life by Islamist extremists. McCartney refused to be cowed, however, explaining in an interview with Tel Aviv newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth: “I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come here. I refused. I do what I think, and I have many friends who support Israel.” Including, presumably, the woman he had just started dating and who would later become his third wife, American Jewish businesswoman, Nancy Shevell.

Needless to say, these are only a few examples of those who have stood up against BDS and also needless to say, this is not to discount the many politicians, professors, artists, actors, directors, and “media personalities” that have joined the cultural boycott against the Jewish State. It’s just important sometimes to remember that however much it might seem that we Jews and our beloved homeland are on our own out there, we do actually have allies – and that some of those allies just happen to be among the most famous people on the planet.

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