Because BDS is a fundamentally radical and anti-peace movement at heart, its supporters are often prone to displays of violence and intimidation designed to bully others into compliance or silence. This page tracks examples of BDS proponents using intimidation and threats, both on the Internet and in the real world, to pursue their goals. BDS intimidation can often include committing crimes as well.
BDS Intimidation in Support of Cultural Boycott
In Auckland, New Zealand, in the fall of 2011, a group calling themselves Global Peace and Justice Auckland gathered together to protest the young Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer, who was about to play her opening match at the ASB tennis classic. Though they claimed to be merely against Israel’s governmental policies, one carried the placard “the Zionists are the Nazis of the Middle East.” Eight protesters were arrested for making excessive noise that annoyed tennis players and spectators, and six were convicted of disorderly behavior, though New Zealand’s High Court overturned the conviction.
BDS supporters have crossed the line between legitimate protest and criminal behavior on many occasions. In Edinburgh, Scotland in October of 2012 BDS supporters brought their protest against the Batsheva Dance Company into the theater itself. The protesters disrupted the shows repeated, standing up and harassing the dancers as well as the audience. Audience members present felt “alarmed and vulnerable” according to Jackie Kemp of the Guardian. Despite this, no arrests were made. Later, an Israeli peace festival in the same location was picketed by BDS supporters who chanted insults, prompting the police to be called.
When Israel’s Habima Theater Company was invited to perform The Merchant of Venice for the Globe Theatre in London, UK in the summer of 2013, BDS supporters pulled out all the stops to try and prevent them. Three dozen British celebrities, including actress Emma Thompson, wrote a letter to the Globe to try to convince them to cancel, allegedly because Habima had performed in Israeli settlements. When the Globe refused, the BDS proponents took matters into their own hands, disrupting the performance through shouting, waving banners and disturbing other audience members. Many were removed by security officials, six who had to be physically picked up when they refused to stop screaming or to leave. A protester was arrested on suspicion of assault after a security guard was injured. Despite this intimidating behavior, the Habima performance continued.
Also in London, in the fall of 2011 the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was invited to play in the BBC Proms. Again, supporters of the cultural boycotting arm of BDS demanded that the BBC cancel the concert. And again the BDS supporters refused to take “no” for an answer and 12 activists disrupted the concert both inside and out, thereby forcing the Proms to go off the air temporarily for the first time in its history. BDS activists bragged about their “victory.” Later in 2015 a performance by the Jerusalem Quartet was disrupted by protestors.
In the spring of 2013, Yossi Reshef, a pianist whose only connection to Israel is that he was born there, was stopped from playing at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa by screaming, vuvuzela-blowing protesters. Members of his audience were traumatized and manhandled. Ten student protesters were found guilty of misconduct for disruption or incitement, and were expelled from the University for one year.
Unfortunately this did not stick, because BDS struck again that fall with a protest against Daniel Zamir, an Israeli saxophonist. This time the protesters made international headlines when they chanted “Shoot the Jew” outside of the concert hall. Muhammad Desai, the BDS coordinator, tried to play down the incident and claimed the chants had been misinterpreted. Unfortunately for him, his fellow BDS advocates immediately distanced themselves from the protesters’ behavior and even criticized him personally.
In the Spring of 2014, a local art exhibit featuring the work of Israeli and Palestinian artists in Pittsburgh was forced was forced to shut down due to threats made by BDS advocates against the Palestinian artists for the crime of “normalizing relations with Israel.”
An Israeli theatre company called Incubator Theatre was scheduled to perform in Edinburgh in late July of 2014 but was forced to cancel after threats and protests from BDS supporters. According to reports on the ground, the protesters spat on a 14 year old girl and screamed at children (who weren’t even going to see the Israelis) that “you’ve got blood on your ticket.” Fortunately Incubator performed to sell out crowds in Glasgow, London, and Leeds. The ugliness of the BDS supporters was even noticed by the local media.
In New York City the Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv came to play a friendly game against the Brooklyn Nets. But when BDS is in town, no friendliness is allowed. Arguments and protests took place during the game, and after it was over a BDS supporter assaulted Leonard Petlakh, breaking his nose and requiring him to receive eight stitches. Police billed the incident as a hate crime.
An award-winning Israeli filmmaker screened a film in Carpentras, France, or rather tried to before BDS got involved. While she was introducing the film, 20 BDS supporters stood up and began yelling insults while throwing stink bombs. They had to be removed by the police by force. A Palestinian from Gaza who was present at the screening told them to stop, that “this was not the way,” but they carried on protesting outside the theater, free from police interference, even though they did not have a permit. The Israeli filmmaker had to be escorted to her home by the police.
BDS intimidation has even made it to Ramallah where a group of activists disrupted a performance by an Indian dance group who had also performed in Israel. The Palestinian Authority arrested four of them and charged with “provoking riots and breach of public tranquility.” Khaled Abu Toameh explains:
A PA official in Ramallah explained that BDS and its followers make the Palestinians appear as if they are all radicals who are only interested in boycotting and delegitimizing Israel. “This goes against the PLO’s official policy, which is to seek a peace agreement with Israel based on the two-state solution,” he said.
A similar event took place when a group of Israelis and Palestinians met in Jerusalem to discuss peace and a two state solution. BDS activists stormed the event and broke it up under the guise of “anti-normalization.” They chanted slogans denouncing the Arab participants as traitors and their opposition to peace. One protester explained their goals: “This is not the first time that such meetings take place in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This phenomenon has to stop.” Hamas also praised the action.
Liberation Day is an annual event in Italy marking the defeat of the Germans and the end of the Second World War. During the 2014 march before a group of pro-Palestinian supporters verbally attacked marchers from the Jewish Brigade a group of Jews who fought against the Axis, and tried to assault them physically. In the spring of 2015 the Jewish Brigade was banned from participating at the request of pro-Palestinian activists who were involved in the planning of the parade. In protest, an Italian Holocaust survivor group refused to participate.
In Cape Town, South Africa a group of BDS protesters tried to stop a hockey game between the South African and Israeli teams. They delayed the match for 45 minutes when they threw marbles onto the rink, endangering the players, attacked security, and then proceeded to falsely claim that security had assaulted them when they were ejected from the arena. They also accused venue security of racial profiling. One protester was permanently banned from the venue.
When the Carey Academy, a dancing school from Ireland, decided to participate in the first Irish dancing festival in Israel, they were repeatedly harassed and attacked by the “Irish-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC).” This caused a columnist in the Independent to denounce their bigotry. Eventually the protests escalated to include threats directed at teachers, parents, and students, until finally the Academy canceled to protect the safety of their members. The IPSC called the cancellation “a victory for Palestinian rights.”
In Johannesburg, South Africa, 16 youth leaders went on an independently funded trip to Israel and the West Bank, in despite of heavy attempts by local BDS activists to “convince” them otherwise. “They kept sending intimidating e-mails saying that disciplinary action would be taken against us if we went. They tried to make us feel guilty,” said one. Another said that “”They called me a traitor and a sellout. The moment it got out that I was going on this trip, the hatred from the BDS [movement] flooded us, the entire group, and we were told we were selling out our people. In that moment, I knew something was wrong. How could I be a traitor for simply finding out the facts and seeing for myself? What is it they did not want me to see?” A BDS organization even offered to cover the cost of their deposit if they canceled, to no avail.
In Ireland, a novelist named Gerard Donovan was written an open letter by the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an organization with a long and sordid history, in which they demanded that he comply with the “cultural boycott of Israel,” or else. Donovan fearlessly fired back, calling the letter “outright intimidation” written by “idiots” and said that he would not be “bullied or cajoled” into complying or responding to it. Donovan had planned on a trip to Jerusalem, but had to cancel due to health issues. He said that if he had been well enough, he would have because “Nobody tells me where I can or cannot read my work. I’m not going to allow myself to be drawn into any political controversy for any people’s ends, I don’t care how many other writers they line up, it is completely irrelevant to me. They can brand me anything they want. I’m apolitical. Good people live everywhere. I’ll stick to my writing.”
Even LGBT events aren’t free of BDS intimidation. When an Israeli gay group, including people who were left-leaning and often criticized Israel’s policies, tried to have an event in Chicago, USA, BDS supporters first pressured the venue to cancel the event. When that failed, they surrounded the gathering, chanting slogans and screaming insults at the participants, eventually succeeding in stopping the event by force. A member of the gay group described the protest as “pure anti-Semitism.” The actions of the protesters were condemned by more than 90 LGBT actvists.
A prominent BDS activist in Montreal, Canada named Francis Mounadhel was recently arrested for leading a physical attack on Jewish Defense League members outside of a pro-BDS conference. He is scheduled to appear in court in October 2016.
BDS Intimidation of Musicians
Musicians coming to play in Israel are often threatened with boycotts, marginalization, or even death by BDS supporters. Scooter Braun, the manager of teen singer Justin Bieber, said that he had received “plenty of death threats from different groups over him coming to Israel [in 2011]. But most of the death threats were that ‘the Jew manager will die.’” Eric Burdon, the vocalist of the 1960s band The Animals, almost canceled his August 1st show in Israel because of threats. “We’ve been receiving mounting pressure, including numerous emails, daily,” his management said.
The management of Salif Keita, a superstar of Afropop, canceled his performance in Israel due to BDS intimidation. He wrote on his Facebook page:
“[We were] bombarded with hundreds of threats, blackmail attempts, intimidation, social media harassment, and slander…These threats were made by a group named BDS, who also threatened to keep increasing an anti-Salif Keita campaign, which they had already started on social media, and to work diligently at ruining the reputation and career that Mr. Keita has worked 40 years to achieve not only professionally, but for human rights and albinism.
Of course, we do not agree with any of these tactics or false propaganda, but management’s concern is to protect the artist from being harmed personally and professionally. Although, we love Israel and all his fans here, and the fantastic spirit of unity of the Sacred Music Festival, as well as the important work your hospital is doing for albinism, we did not agree with the scare tactics and bullying used by BDS; therefore management decided to act cautiously when faced with an extremist group, as we believe BDS to be.
It is unfortunate that artists like him are threatened by this group who falsely claim to defend human rights, when they should take their concerns to governments or ask for support of their cause in a lawful way, and not by endangering the freedom of expression of artists, or using harassment and intimidation of artists who play for peace and for all people, in order to bring some kind of justice to the Palestinians they claim to represent.”
Just about every prominent artist that performs in Israel will be targeted in this manner. There have also been rumors that Paul McCartney was threatened in 2008 and that Macy Gray’s family was threatened when she performed in Israel in 2011. Protests against the Pet Shop Boys immediately took on a personal tone, prompting a response from the band itself.
When asked to condemn this threatening and highly illegal behavior committed in its name, the leadership of BDS traditionally begins by accusing the victims of lying or exaggerating the claims before attempting to distance their movement from the threats:
“Recent claims of threats from ex-Animals singer Eric Burdon in an article published by Ha’aretz are vague and unsubstantiated. We do not know if they are made up by media hostile to the BDS strategy, or by artists and/or their agents, or if they are inflated reports of remarks made by individuals who do not represent the movement. USACBI advances the BDS movement not through threats, but rather by exposing Israel’s wrongs, and promoting non-violent ways to redress them, and achieve the rights of the Palestinian people.”-US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
“[He is] resort[ing] to unsupported claims of “threats” and potentially defamatory statements may be a tactic that some artists resort to when they do not wish to violate the Palestinian call to boycott Israel, but do not have the courage to take a political stance….Burdon did in fact travel to Israel despite the supposed “threats.”-Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
Although it may be true that death threats against musicians performing in Israel were not officially made by BDS campaigns, it is also true that BDS supporters encourage their fellows to harass chosen targets with virtual lynch mobs, and they don’t hesitate to make it personal. The rapport between those making the threats and BDS as a whole might be compared to that between a Mafia hitman and godfather; they are very clearly working toward the same goal even if they have no formal relationship.
The manager of French musician Jacky Terrasson wrote a scathing attack on BDS in January of 2013 after an unsuccessful campaign to “convince” him to cancel a performance in Israel:
“We noticed that Erik and Jacky’s Facebook pages were overrun with intimidating comments, not from our fans, but from activists. Some of these comments are really obnoxious, rising to the level of sheer harassment and blatant denigration. Facebook has become a battleground for BDS campaigners, our fans, Israelis and those supporting Israel. How sad!”
He even wrote a letter to the BDS campaign in France:
“We refuse to be made into instruments, and we won’t give in to your pressure, whether by email, by mail, by telephone or on Facebook…Your activism and your intolerance are abominable. Phony Facebook “fans” have posted messages expressly asking our musicians not play in Israel. This is sheer harassment. Moreover, it’s really quite surprising because these fans purporting to sway the artists are not fans at all, but simply your army of little soldiers polluting the calm and positive spaces of our artists’ Facebook pages.
“What bothers me the most about your effort…is your hatred of Israel, a pathological hatred, blind and most assuredly hidden behind a veil of “political correctness.” Your actions don’t demonstrate a love or defense of Palestinians but rather a hatred for Israelis.”
When Sir Elton John announced in 2010 that he was planning a concert in Tel Aviv, he received a long communication from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine that could be interpreted as nothing else but an attack on him: “When you stand up on that stage in Tel Aviv, you line yourself up with a racist state.” Despite this, Sir Elton went ahead with the concert explaining that nothing was “gonna stop me from playing here” and that musicians aren’t supposed to “cherry pick our conscience.”
The Irish band Dervish canceled a planned concert in Israel after being targeted by the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, a local pro-BDS group. They did so, according to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, not because they wanted to but because they were subjected to a “cyberbullying” campaign from the BDSers which included an “avalanche of negativity” and “venom” directed toward them on social media. The singer of Devish said in a Facebook post that she was saddened by all the anger that their decision to play in Israel had unleashed. The attacks were denied by the IPSC.
Alicia Keys was defiant in the face of BDS when she performed in Israel in July of 2013, despite claims by Roger Waters that doing so would mean she would “lend your name to give legitimacy to the Israeli government policies of illegal, apartheid occupation.” Alice Walker also wrote to Keys saying that she must boycott Israel to “save your soul.”
Pharrell Williams is a South African musician who didn’t even go to Israel, he merely signed a deal with a South African company that does business with Israeli farmers. Even so, the BDSers there went all out to force him to change his mind. Braam Hanekom, a BDS board member, said that Williams was going to face a “a very angry, unhappy environment” and that protesters could block roads on concert nights, potentially delaying proceedings, or even rally inside venues.
BDS campaigners in Spain made a major misstep when they pressured Rototom Sunsplash, a European Reggae festival, to cancel the performance of Matisyahu. This pressure included “attacks” which the festival labeled as strong in “hostility.” Even though Matisyahu is an American Jew and not an Israeli, the organizers demanded that he sign a statement criticizing Israel’s war against Hamas and endorsing Palestinian statehood. When he refused to do so, Rototom canceled his performance. The festival was immediately criticized as anti-Semitic by the World Jewish Congress and the Spanish government, as this was not a boycott against an Israeli but against a Jew. No artist other than Matisyahu was asked to sign or say anything before being allowed to perform. A tea company severed ties with Rototom over the issue. Quickly the festival reversed their decision and invited Matisyahu to perform. They also publicly stated that threats and intimidation from BDS activists were what caused the cancellation in the first place:
“Rototom Sunplash admits that it made a mistake, due to the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS País Valencià because it was perceived that the normal functioning of the festival could be threatened. All of which prevented the organization from reasoning clearly as to how to deal with the situation properly.”
Even when Matisyahu was on stage, the intimidation didn’t end: pro-boycott activists waved large Palestinian flags from the crowd while he sang a song about Jerusalem. The man himself said that it was one of the few times in his career that he had felt threatened before and during a performance and that “It was intense. It was not peaceful. I’ve never had the experience of anything like that, as a Jew or anything in my life.”According to the Israeli foreign ministry, BDS was compared in the Spanish media to the Basque separatists, opposition to BDS’ actions came from both sides of the political spectrum, and that the Spanish press now see it as a “violent organization.”
Patrick Losinski, the producer of the Titans of Metal Festival in Tel AViv, revealed that BDS activists have already threatened a number of the festival’s musicians, and that four participants said the disturbing messages left them “truly fearing for their lives.”
BDS Intimidation in Support of Economic Boycott
Generally BDS intimidation in support of economic boycotts takes the form of standing outside a shop known to be selling Israeli products and scaring people away from it. However it often escalates into attacking the store, its products, or its customers.
In Melbourne, Australia, in the summer of 2011, protests against the chocolate store Max Brenner became more and more radical. Paul Howes, the Australian Workers Union secretary, said he thought the protesters were “mimicking the behaviour of the Nazis thugs.” It is also worth noting that Australians for Palestine did not join forces with the Brenner protesters. 11 protesters were arrested and charged with “besetting premises” and “willful trespass in a public place,” though this was later overturned in court.
A group called “the Nesheron Gathering” in Amman, Jordan is intimidating stores into not selling Israeli products through depictions of a bloody Israeli flag over the products in question.
The most famous example of BDS intimidation in support of economic boycott was the furor over Scarlett Johansson appearing in a Sodastream ad that would air during the 2014 Super Bowl. Due to Johansson’s celebrity status, BDS proponents were unable to use the usual intimidation tactics that had served them in the past. Having failed to force FOX to pull the ad they helplessly attacked Johansson from the safety of the Internet: creating insulting depictions of her in memes, videos, and cartoons, which they then spread through social media. BDS supporters also tried to convince Oxfam, a charity for which Johansson is a global ambassador, to fire her over the ad. However, Johansson took the initiative and resigned, leaving BDS with nothing but anger.
In London, UK, there was an Israeli cosmetic store in Covent Garden. It sold Ahava products, which have long been a target for BDS, and so weekly protests took place there for four years. Four demonstrators were arrested and forced to pay a fine in 2011 after they chained themselves to a concrete block inside the store. However, the store was ultimately forced to close when the landlord did not renew its lease due to complaints from nearby store owners who claimed that the riots had affected their sales. “On some Saturdays it was a real nightmare being here,” one said. “We couldn’t walk on the street because of the protests and the area looked like a scene of a terrorist attack.”
In Birmingham, UK, 100 demonstrators gathered to protest at Tesco store in Hodge Hill, claiming to be inspired by the current conflict in Gaza. They entered the shop and immediately began destroying property there, taking pictures of the damaged products and spreading them through social media. According to witnesses, they were “getting aggressive” toward innocent shoppers and staff.
“If they say it was peaceful. It was anything but a peaceful protest inside the store.”
One person was arrested for assaulting a police officer and two more were escorted off the premises. Local MP (and BDS ally) Shabana Mahmood condemned the boycotters:
“Shoving people, intimidating people and throwing things as I am told happened by a small group of people at the Hodge Hill Tesco on Saturday are not the actions of people committed to taking part in a peaceful protest movement. It’s criminal behaviour that damages the cause that we fight for.”
A similar event happened at Manchester, UK. Pro-boycott activists laid siege to a store that sold Israeli cosmetics. According to a witness the boycotters made comments such as “Jews killed Jesus” and distributed anti-Semitic literature. One boycotter was photographed making a Nazi salute, and others intimidated and threatened Jewish passersby.
In Cape Town, South Africa a group of boycott supporters proved their anti-Semitic and radical nature by bringing a severed pigs head into a store that carried Israeli products, ostensibly to prevent “people who will not eat pork to pretend that they are eating clean meat, when it is sold by hands dripping with the blood of Palestinian children.” It’s hard to see how this could be interpreted as anything other than an attempt to keep Jewish people out of the store. Although this group was not a part of the South African BDS campaign, the BDSers wasted no time in justifying their behavior. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies treated the incident as a hate crime.
Also in South Africa, in the winter of 2014 twenty-one teenage boycott supporters were arrested after a riot at a store that sold Israeli products in Pretoria. The incident started with a protest involving signs that said “Israel is the devil,” but quickly escalated into throwing rocks, breaking equipment, and looting food products. Employees of the store were assaulted and damage was estimated in the thousands of dollars. Police confirmed that the criminals were part of a pro-boycott group.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, a pro-boycott group wanted to put advertisements called for BDS onto city buses but were refused. One week later four buses were set on fire and one was vandalized with anti-Israel graffiti.