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Hollywood should engage with Israel

The BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) is against a lot of things.
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February 25, 2016

The BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) is against a lot of things.  It is against the Jewish State of Israel, its government, institutions and civil society.  It is against engagement and dialogue with the people of Israel.   And it is against other people experiencing the beauty, contradictions and complexities of Israel first hand. 

These are the motivations behind the current effort by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace, prominent leaders in the BDS campaign who are against Oscar nominees accepting an Israeli invitation to visit Israel.

While each recipient of this gift bag will decide whether to take Israel up on the offer, they should not decline it because of what those who only stand “against” say.

In their demonization of all things Israel, and the spurious and incendiary labeling of Israel as “apartheid,” this campaign is presenting one extreme view of Israel.  Yet as anyone who has traveled anywhere in the world knows, seeing the on-the-ground reality with your own eyes offers insights that underscore how superficial and simplistic second hand reports – and allegations – are.

Travel to Israel, China, India, Spain, or even the United States does not represent an endorsement of every policy of that country’s government.  Tourists are able to get the perspectives of the locals they meet in cafes and bars or in the back of a taxi — and as we have all experienced, much of it critical — and through this  gain insight into the politics and realities of the place.

The most memorable Oscar-winning films and performances are those that offer the audience a new and personal way of looking at a story, predicament or event.    It opens people’s mind to different perspectives.  So too does personal engagement with Israel.

A few months ago, British cultural figures published an open letter calling for cultural bridges, not boycotts, to bring about Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.  As these luminaries, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling wrote:  “Open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance, and it is through such understanding and acceptance that movement can be made towards a resolution of the conflict…Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change.”

It is this message of openness and engagement which Hollywood – even those who are not Oscar nominees – should get behind.

Amanda Susskind is the Pacific Southwest Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League

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