The problem with this question is its framing. In my reading, Israelis are far too comfortable with the status quo and will never make any sacrifice or question their tribalist and commonly racist ideology without increased incentives to do so. And one of the primary ways Israelis are made to feel comfortable is by their (largely erroneous) self-image as a modern “Western” democracy, which includes, among other things, gay pride parades and visits from prestigious internationals.
Today, JJ Goldberg captures this argument about normalization to an immaculate degree in The Forward. It really is one of the finest arguments for cultural boycott I have ever heard:
If you’re one of those people who tries to follow the news out of Israel, late June probably found you feeling anxious about the impending launch of the next Gaza protest flotilla. You’re worried about a repeat of the May 2010 fiasco, when the Israeli navy boarded a Turkish protest ship to enforce Israel’s Gaza blockade and ended up killing nine Turkish citizens. You’re saddened and angry about Israel’s growing isolation, and hoping its navy gets it right this time.
If you actually live in Israel, on the other hand, there’s a pretty good chance your thoughts were focused on Bob Dylan. You might be one of the 25,000 people who paid to hear him June 20 at Ramat Gan stadium outside Tel Aviv and left feeling confused, annoyed, cheated and perhaps wondering why, after the fiasco of his last appearance in 1993, he couldn’t get it right this time. And, yes, saddened and angry about Israel’s isolation. Fans expected Dylan, the maverick moral voice, spiritual seeker and sometime Chabadnik, to show some sign of love. What he gave was a flat, mechanical performance, 15 songs and then back to the airport without so much as a hello or goodbye, leaving Israelis as alone as before.
Mind you, there’s a part of Israel that revels in isolation, believing it is meant to be, in the Torah’s words, “a nation that dwelleth apart.” For most Israelis, though, it’s a source of mounting dismay. Most Israelis believe their country is unfairly blamed for a conflict that isn’t their fault. They pack their sons off in uniform, worry about rockets and bus bombs and then read that their leaders have been indicted for war crimes and international rock stars are canceling local appearances in protest. Sometimes it feels as though the very walls are closing in.
When celebrities do show up to perform, therefore, it’s more than just a night out. It’s an affirmation that Israel is still part of the world.
Obviously, JJ Goldberg thinks this a fine thing. But for anyone concerned with Israel’s reckless, continuous program of ethnic cleansing and apartheid in service of 19th century ideals of ethnic purity, then this statement is one of the best arguments for cultural boycott you are likely to find.