DC’s newest superhero movie, “Wonder Woman” has grossed over $440 million worldwide, received rave reviews and has broken barriers as the most successful comic book film with a female lead, and the largest ever budget for a female director.
However, not everyone can experience the film; it has so far been banned in Tunisia and Lebanon, along with efforts to ban the film in Jordan. Many individuals are choosing not to see the film either, and not necessarily due to taste in cinema. Rather these bans and personal boycotts are just another incarnation of the insidious Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel.
An American comic book superhero movie is being banned and boycotted solely because the lead actress is Israeli. For a movement that claims to try to impact policy mainly through targeting institutions, the BDS movement and its proponents are showing their true colors through the discriminatory targeting of actress Gal Gadot.
Gal Gadot is an Israeli model turned actress. Like most Israeli citizens, Gadot was conscripted into service with the Israeli Defense Force where she served as a combat trainer. Her time serving has been brought into the spotlight recently, with opponents attempting to paint her in a negative light due mainly to a 2014 Facebook post of her and her daughter lighting Shabbat candles with the caption:
“I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens, especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children…We shall overcome!!! Shabbat Shalom! #weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistance #loveidf.”
Gadot’s condemnation of terror and support for her fellow citizens during a war has become controversial enough that people will not see a film that she stars in, despite her personal beliefs having no role in the plotline nor her having any actual sway in policy.
The Palestine Project, which bills itself as “a non-profit organisation promoting the Palestinian narrative,” (although it is not much more than a social media presence based out of Australia) put out a direct call for the boycott of the film, releasing the below infographic through its social media feeds.
Australian commentator Ruby Hamad, who has said she is “sympathetic to the motivations of BDS,” also discussed calls to boycott Wonder Woman over Gal Gadot, even while not directly supporting them herself, largely on the grounds such a boycott would be ineffective. She wrote that:
“The Wonder Woman boycott, on the other hand, is less compelling; partly because it centres on a single person. The problem is, unless they are politicians directly responsible for bad policies, targeting individuals, no matter how awful their views, is not only unlikely to effect systemic change, it also risks turning them into martyrs. And given Wonder Woman is not even an Israeli film, it should lie outside the parameters of the BDS campaign.”
The calls to boycott Wonder Woman, and the bans against it only prove once again that proponents of BDS are disingenuous in their claims about what they are doing – especially when they insist they are engaged only in targeting Israeli institutions, not in encouraging discrimination against Israeli or Jewish individuals.
The BDS movement tries to differentiate itself from the decades long Arab League boycott, which was a blunt instrument opposing all forms of interaction with Israelis – and even in many cases boycotted people and organisations which were not Israeli merely because they had contact with Israelis. This includes restriction on entry to Israeli passport holders – something still in place in many countries – which clearly targeted individual Israelis.
The BDS movement however claims to only target Israeli institutions and international corporations that conduct business with Israel.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), one of the founding organisations behind BDS, included the following in its boycott guidelines which were revised in July 2014.
“Anchored in precepts of international law and universal human rights, the BDS movement, including PACBI, rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion. If, however, an individual is representing the state of Israel or a complicit Israeli institution (such as a dean, rector, or president), or is commissioned/recruited to participate in Israel’s efforts to “rebrand” itself, then her/his activities are subject to the institutional boycott the BDS movement is calling for.”
Additionally, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), which serves as an umbrella coalition for organisations pushing the BDS agenda, released a statement in February 2013, explicitly stating, “BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views. Of course, any individual is free to decide who they do and do not engage with.”
However, it seems very clear that many individuals supposedly participating in BDS do not care about the official organisational positions of the BDS movement, and are instead choosing to pursue boycotts of individual Israelis, or any individual that they feel is too pro-Israel, often times in a discriminatory manner.
The calls to boycott “Wonder Woman” are not the first time that BDS has targeted and acted in a discriminatory manner against individuals that have no say nor sway in policy:
A not too dissimilar incident made the news in 2015. A 13-year-old Israeli schoolgirl had written to a professor at Cambridge University, in the United Kingdom, to ask about horses. In response to the girl’s questions, the professor wrote back saying, “ I’ll answer your questions when there is peace and justice for Palestinians in Palestine.”
Another infamous incident took place at the University of Sydney with the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) under then director Jake Lynch. An Israeli academic, Dan Avnon had requested support in obtaining sponsorship for a fellowship to come to Australia. Lynch refused to sponsor Avnon, citing a CSPCS policy to support BDS. The incident raised serious legal questions about discrimination based on national origin, with lawsuits ending up being filed.
In August 2015, Matisyahu, a Jewish American singer, was scheduled to perform at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Spain. Facing pressure from BDS activists, festival organisers demanded that Matisyahu denounce Israel, a country of which he is not even a citizen. Upon his refusal, his performance was originally cancelled, until global outrage convinced organisers to reinvite the singer.
In other recent Australian examples, the youth wing of the New South Wales Green Party, NSW Young Greens, refused to partner with the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), ostensibly due to how they viewed AUJS’s stance on foreign policy involving Israel. This policy, breaking ranks with their parent party, resulted in them effectively boycotting the umbrella body for Jewish students. They claimed this was in line with their support for “Palestine and its citizens,” and was their way of enacting BDS.
Meanwhile, in 2015, another Jewish organisation for students and young adults, Hillel Sydney, had tried to hire the Red Rattler Theatre in Sydney to conduct performances related to the Holocaust. An employee of the theatre responded to their request by announcing the Red Rattler does “not host groups that support the colonisation and occupation of Palestine.” The board of the theatre later apologised for the employee’s behaviour.
Countless incidents can be recounted of BDS advocates – including people with leadership roles in BDS organisations – calling for the boycott of individuals, a tactic that BDS promoting organisations claim to disavow. In reality, the disavowals appear to be an often-disingenuous attempt by organisations to avoid both the stigma and legal claims arising from open ethnic discrimination.
A closer look at what the BDS movement claims to be doing compared to what it actually is doing, as AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro documented in 2012, shows that BDS claims about their boycotting decision-making are all pretexts and propaganda. There is no real belief in the movement that it will have an economic impact on Israel, and that is not really the overall goal. Rather, it is about attacking Israel in any way that can be done, and picking BDS targets, not because of anything they have done, but to make a splash, thus getting anti-Israel slogans and talking points in the media. Once a target is picked, some pretext is found – it supports the Israeli army, it has a branch outlet in a settlement, it is supposedly stealing Palestinian resources; it has some tie to Israeli defence industries.
As Shapiro noted, “the boycotts are intended to inject the language of the anti-Israel narrative into media coverage. Impacting the bottom line for some Israeli companies is merely a bonus.”
The BDS movement, which is modelled after the Arab League boycott, began in 2005 as a global movement that supposedly aims to apply political and economic pressure on Israel to comply with its stated goals. The stated demands it has of Israel are:
“Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall, Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”
These goals are meant to seem innocuous, but do not acknowledge facts or reality, and in fact do not aim to create a lasting peace but rather cause Israel to cease to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
When used against institutions it is wrong in many ways. When BDS is used against individuals due only to their nationality, it is downright discriminatory, and in many jurisdictions is probably illegal. Had Gal Gadot been born in any other country, calls to boycott her movies because of where she was born would have likely been ridiculed, however because she is a Jew from Israel these calls are somehow seen as acceptable. There are probably plenty of legitimate reasons not to see “Wonder Woman”; but surely the country of origin of the lead actress is not one of them.