Boycott Cellcom (not Leonard Cohen)

Boycotts are in the air — billed as a peaceful alternative to war and conflict of all sorts. The definitive worth of the tactic is debatable — and in some circles it is being debated. Naomi Klein recently visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory [West Bank + Gazayes, the Israeli military allowed her visit Gaza] despite her support of an/the economic and cultural boycott of Israel to promote the publication of her latest book in Hebrew.

In an interview with Haaretz, Klein explained, basically, that she would not have come if the boycott committee had asked her not to.

The Haaretz article said that Klein and her publisher “carefully planned Klein’s itinerary in Israel to avoid the impression that she supports institutions connected to the State of Israel and the Israeli economy. ‘It certainly would have been a lot easier not to have come to Israel, and I wouldn’t have come had the Palestinian Boycott National Committee asked me not to’, said Klein in an interview before her arrival, at her Toronto home. ‘But I went to them with a proposal for the way I wanted to visit Israel and they were very open to it. It is important to me not to boycott Israelis but rather to boycott the normalization of Israel and the conflict’.”

She then gave several hair-splitting justifications about her visit to Israel, but was at the same time critical of the Israeli and pro-Israeli boycott of the UN’s Durban Two follow-up conference against racism held in Geneva not too long ago.

The Haaretz article quickly gets bored of the boycott issue, and veers into other areas, and can be read in full here .

In a conversation this afternoon a propos the demand from various quarters that Leonard Cohen  cancel his performance in Tel Aviv [apparently still scheduled for 24 September], an Israeli friend and admirable activist said to me that there is actually not a boycott of Israel at the moment.

But there is.  It is understandable that somebody could be confused, especially because there seems to be several different boycotts, and several different boycott committees, and the whole thing is unclear.

In any case, it was reported today by PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [apparently launched in Ramallah in April 2004] that “We are now pleased to announce that we have received confirmation from the Palestinian Prisoners‘ Club Society that they will not be hosting Leonard Cohen in Ramallah. A strong consensus has emerged among all parties concerned that Cohen is not welcome in Ramallah as long as he insists on performing in Tel Aviv, even though it had been claimed that Cohen would dedicate his concert in Palestine to the cause of Palestinian prisoners. Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel‘s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel. PACBI has always rejected any attempt to ‘balance’ concerts or other artistic events in Israel–conscious acts of complicity in Israel‘s violation of international law and human rights–with token events in the occupied Palestinian territory”.

We reported on the Leonard Cohen dilemma earlier here. In that earlier post, we mentioned that the decision was put into the hands of Fatah “Young Guard” leader Qaddura Fares, who is head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club Society, and who told us that “his suggestion was that Leonard Cohen should come if he would agree to sing for the release of Palestinian prisoners (there are over 11,000 of them, including several hundred children) — and for the release of the Israeli soldier who is believed to be still held captive somewhere in Gaza, Corporal Gilad Shalit. ‘Yes, why not?’, Qaddura Fares said, and smiled. ‘All of them are prisoners, and they have the right to be free …. Maybe if he [Leonard Cohen] comes for such a sensitive issue, it will be useful for Palestinians and for Israelis”.

A call to Qaddura Fares for confirmation this evening went unanswered.

In an informal poll I’ve been conducting in Ramallah the last two days, I didn’t find any Palestinian who knew who Leonard Cohen was.

On the other side of the coin, I have been wondering who would brief Leonard Cohen about what he would encounter on the other side — that is, in Ramallah — should he actually perform there. If he allowed himself to be booked into Tel Aviv without realizing that there might be a reaction, and without apparently thinking very much about the Palestinians penned into the West Bank (and Gaza), what would it take to brief Leonard Cohen about this alternate reality [which Haaretz’s Gideon Levy aptly calls the “Twilight Zone”]? Would Leonard Cohen know how reach out to the Ramallah audience?

It’s not clear that the last act of this boycott drama has played out yet, but today’s PACBI statement argued that “Those sincerely interested in defending Palestinian rights and taking a moral and courageous stance against the Israeli occupation and apartheid should not play Israel, period. That is the minimum form of solidarity Palestinian civil society has called for. We feel that this is an occasion to reaffirm our position first articulated two years ago in relation to visits to the occupied Palestinian territory by artists, performers, and academics who wish to show solidarity with Palestinians while primarily coming to Israel to perform or participate in academic or artistic activities. As we noted then, Palestinians have always warmly welcomed solidarity visits by international visitors; however, most Palestinians firmly believe that such solidarity visits should not be used as an occasion to organize performances, film screenings or exhibits in mainstream Israeli venues or to give lectures at Israeli universities; collaborate in any way with Israeli political, cultural or academic institutions; or participate in activities sponsored or supported — directly or indirectly — by the Israeli government or any of its agencies”. This statement is published in full here ,

The boycott success story par excellence is supposed to be South Africa — though there was as much evasion as compliance [including certain well-connected Palestinians, with connections all the way to the top, who had fun and helped finance the revolution by selling oil from countries in the Persian Gulf to South Africa, avoiding the boycott by changing the flag of the tanker ship while at sea, or substituting new bills of lading, or new ports of destination… ]

And if we’re going to talk about sanctions, did either Saddam Hussein or Hamas “change their stripes” after heavy-hitting international sanctions? (Even more importantly, did those sanctions avert war?)

However, a new Israeli Cellcom that nonchalantly uses The Wall as a prop, and just-fun-loving Israeli soldiers and Border Police-persons as the actors, is so extraordinarily insensitive that it merits a boycott call.

Adam Horowitz has an unsettling post on Mondoweiss here contrasting what we see in the Cellcom ad with how Israeli soldiers and Border Police usually behave at The Wall [even when it is a fence as it is in Bil’in and Nil’in].

CORRECTION: The video referred to just above was of Friday’s demonstration in Ni’lin, not Bil’in.

The video of Friday’s demonstration in Nil’in in the Mondoweiss post is particularly creepy because it shows that at least ten undercover Israeli agents were pretending to participate as demonstrators, before they revealed themselves as uniformed Israeli forces rushed through the hole that had been cut in the fence to seize two of the Palestinian demonstrators and carry them off in army vehicles. Was this the first time that this Trojan-Horse tactic has been used at these weekly demonstrations in the two villages about 20 minutes drive east of Ramallah? 

(One savvy Palestinian commentator said last evening that these weekly demonstrations had done much more to explain and advance the Palestinian position than the current Palestinian government).

The Cellcom ad is posted here on Youtube  (as are videos of the Bil’in and Nil’in demonstrations).

It seems that the ad agency that produced this Cellcom ad did not use the real Wall, but built a set with a small section of identical 9-meter-high concrete slabs. What shows it’s not the real thing? First of all, section in this set ends abruptly, instead of extending as far as the eye can see (in later shots, an extension seems to be Photoshopped into the film). Secondly, the “soldiers” in the ad are patrolling next to an area decorated with grafitti. In reality, most of the graffiti is on the Palestinian side of the Wall, while the side that the Israelis usually patrol is much more bare concrete (in the Jerusalem area there is some graffiti on both sides, but the Palestinian side is definitely much more decorated).

The Wall is a Wall in residential areas, which is not what is shown in the ad. In a rural or uninhabited area, The Wall becomes a fence.

And, all those high kicks over what the ad calls a 10-meter-high wall are not so credible, either.

The English-language Israeli-centered blogosphere is going wild on this Cellcom ad — here and here, with excellent comments from a journalist for Maariv; as well as here and here.

Anyway, why arent’t we hearing immediate calls for a boycott of Cellcom (Israeli cellcom mobile phone numbers begin with 052, or, from abroad, 972 52 …). There are plenty of Palestinians (and radically progressive Israelis) who have Cellcom sim cards or subscriptions, so there could be a real impact in boycotting Cellcom until this truly offensive ad is pulled, and The Wall is torn down — and why not until the Israeli occupation is ended, as well.

And, why not also boycott the advertising agency too (McCann Erickson) — until it Repents? At the very least, it should take its account executives, and art directors, and other creative types out on a tour of The Wall and some of the most infamous (and still there) Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank. They should also be called on to replace this lousy ad with a public service announcement discussing the real impact of The Wall on the lives of millions — yes, millions — of Palestinians, and debunking the self-serving myth that The Wall [still open in many areas, so any determined attackers could easily get through if they wanted] has stopped suicide attacks within Israel.

So, boycott Cellcom!

Or, is it that boycotts are only as good as they are convenient, and the minute they start really pinching, we’ll start hair-splitting and justifying why and how we are not obliged to comply, though we really do support their goals — we really, really do.