Dude, don’t boycott Israel


For the current crop of Jewish college students, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, or BDS, is a major stimulus for pro-Israel activism. BDS is wrong, and it is a challenge that deserves an answer. Yet most arguments in favor of Israel, despite their good intentions, seem tired and familiar.

Two weeks ago, Orthodox rapper Ari Lesser uploaded the video “Boycott Israel” onto YouTube and altered the tone of the conversation. As a voice of his generation, Lesser raps on top of a reggae beat and addresses directly those who argue that Israel should be boycotted because of her treatment of the Palestinians.

Boycott Israel if you think that’s just / But unless you have a double standard you must / Also boycott the rest of the nations / For allegations of human rights violations

The six-minute video has had nearly 60,000 views, thus far. In a rolling, numbing litany, Lesser points to injustices like the Chinese occupation of Tibet, execution of blasphemers in Pakistan, child labor used in harvesting cotton in Uzbekistan, and the epidemic of rape against women in India and South Africa.

We’re not perfect / But if you think we’re the worst / First take a look at the rest of the Earth

Lesser’s rap succeeds in putting Israel’s very real shortcomings in perspective, and reminds the viewer that just because there is more criticism about Israel, it is not a worse place than, say, the Ivory Coast or Brazil.

Lesser’s presentation is effective. Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss Israel’s problems or shortcomings simply because everyone is worse. Israel is a democracy, an open society, and we want her to be better than most — a light among nations.

“Boycott Israel” reminds us that injustice does occur all over the world and must be fought everywhere. And it is a perfect example of the medium being the message. Lesser’s creativity and artistry have rejuvenated some very valid, if time-worn arguments, and make them seem fresh and worth listening to. Lesser’s lesson is one Israel’s supporters should heed.

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