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A double standard: Alicia Keys and sanctions on Iran

An example of distinctively Israeli, stone-blind hypocrisy. 

Alicia Keys performing at Tokyo Summer Sonic 2008 (Photo: LuxTonnerre/CC)

There seems to be a bit of a double standard in this country on the subject of BDS. For instance, we’re all supposed to be sneering in triumph over Alicia Keys’ decision to resist calls to cancel her Tel Aviv concert next month. No sane Israeli can support a boycott of this country, can he? Over what, the occupation? Out of the question.

But at the same time, no sane Israeli is supposed to oppose the UN sanctions on Iran, unless of course he thinks they’re too lenient or that they’re delaying the bombing of that country. For an Israeli to say he’s against the sanctions because they’re immoral, because they harm masses of innocent people – who’s ever heard of such a thing?

This is the Israeli mentality: Sanctions that cause massive, life-threatening medical and food shortages to the citizens of an enemy country are great, but a boycott that denies Alicia Keys’ local fans the chance to see her is evil. (I know the callousness toward the effect of the Iran sanctions isn’t limited to Israel, but that callousness combined with the steaming outrage over the merest symbolic boycott of this country – the stone-blind hypocrisy of that reaction – is what makes it distinctively Israeli.)

People will say: How can you compare sanctions on Iran to a boycott on Israel – Iran is a totalitarian, nightmarish country, an Islamic police state. That’s true, but that’s not why the sanctions are in place – they’re in place because Iran is en route to getting nuclear weapons, and the nuclear powers on the UN Security Council (egged on by Israel) do not have the right to wreak hell on the lives of Iranians because their regime wants a few nukes, too. Also, while Iran is a monstrous country for anyone who doesn’t toe the mullahs’ line, an incomparably worse violator of human rights than Israel, that doesn’t mean Israel is good, or morally immune from boycotts.

Let’s take a closer look at the effect of sanctions on Iran. From The Guardian in January:

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by the unintended consequences of international sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and bloodclotting agents for haemophiliacs.

From The Economist in October:

Six years ago, when America and Europe were putting in place the first raft of measures to press Iran to come clean over its nuclear ambitions, the talk was of “smart” sanctions. The West, it was stressed, had no quarrel with the Iranian people—only with a regime that seemed bent on getting a nuclear bomb, or at least the capacity for making one. Yet, as sanctions have become increasingly punitive in the face of Iran’s intransigence, it is ordinary Iranians who are paying the price.

On October 1st and 2nd Iran’s rial lost more than 25% of its value against the dollar. Since the end of last year it has depreciated by over 80%, most of that in just the past month. Despite subsidies intended to help the poor, prices for staples, such as milk, bread, rice, yogurt and vegetables, have at least doubled since the beginning of the year. Chicken has become so scarce that when scant supplies become available they prompt riots.

By contrast, no Israelis were going to die or even miss dessert if Alicia Keys didn’t play Tel Aviv, just like we’ll all survive Stephen Hawking’s no-show at Peres’s Presidential Conference this month.

And in the absence of any other foreign or domestic pressure on Israel to end its military dictatorship over the Palestinians, a boycott of this country is justified, while sanctions imposed by nuclear powers to prevent another country, rotten as it is, from going nuclear is not justified.

Sane or not, I wish Alicia Keys would have decided to pull out of her upcoming concert in Tel Aviv, and I hope to God somebody finds the decency to end the sanctions on Iran.

Stephen Hawking’s message to Israeli elites: The occupation has a price
On Alice Walker and cultural boycott: A debate
Could UNHRC’s settlement report put the ‘S’ back in BDS?

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    1. BOOZ

      Larry, you know damn well that the evil within BDS against everyone and everything labelled Israeli (including leftist academics such as Gideon Toury and Miriam Shlesinger, the Batsheva dance company Habima Theater, ….non-limitative list)is not in its practical consequences but in Ali Abunimah, Omar Barghouti and their ilk hidden agenda. I am not going to explain in my poor words of non-native English speaker what Norman Finkelstein himself described in a more talented way than I would be able to.
      This is why I will stay away from any blanket BDS as currently advocated, for IMHO boycotters are either manipulators or manipulated.
      They do not want a settlement.
      They want a victory.
      This will be without me-and even against me.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        A victory for justice, yes.

        Reply to Comment
      • BOOZ, I wrote in “A Zionist defense of Hawking” (and elsewhere) that I have serious problems w/the BDS movement. By supporting Hawking’s boycott, or one by Keys, doesn’t mean I support the BDS movement in full – I understand that it’s riddled with sheer hatred of Israel. I would love to be able to oppose boycotts because Israel was moving toward an end of the occupation, or because the U.S. was forcing it to do – but that’s not happening. Nobody and nothing is pushing Israel to give up the occupation. So the choice is this: Support BDS actions on a case-by-case basis and accept being “soiled,” or opposed it completely and support only those action that are uncorrupted by Israel-hatred – i.e. NONE – and thereby have no effect on the status quo while standing against the only things that do. Given that choice, I prefer to get a little dirty.

        Reply to Comment
        • un2here

          It’s like this ..

          The proposed mild sanctions – the labeling of settlement products – will fail, there are numerous ways of routing around that problem. But the general idea, that sanctions are necessary will be rooted, paving way for even harsher sanctioning of all of Israel, similar to Iran – but this will also fail, as it failed in SA and as it is failing for Iran. It is only then that the bankwires will be cut, causing a full stop for the economy … And that is when the occupation stops, not one second before.

          So if you find BDS-light hard to swallow now,I don’t know how you are going to react in the future. My guess is that it will be a bumpy ride but in the end everything will turn out just fine. It would be nice if we could just skip all those intermediary steps, but I don’t see that happening.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      I think that a boycott of Israel is a gross violence, a siege in fact.

      Two wrongs don’t make a right.

      I get that you and many are frustrated at not being able to change Israel’s policies and behaviors, but that does not justify isolation of a people.

      It is not new in the slightest, extending from even before Israeli independence in some form or another.

      And, it has NO prospect of changing Israeli attitudes and behavior for the better.

      The sequence of the first intifada (a wake up call to Palestinians and Israelis, communicating that Palestinians desire self-governance), followed by the second intifada (closing the door on everything learned during the first intifada), ENDED the prospect that force of world opinion even is a viable means to change Israeli practices.

      Change must materially come from within Israeli society (and Palestinian), arguing determinedly of the value of democracy (majority rule AND color blind equal due process under the law) and of the commonality of all neighbors (rather than the divides, whether ethnic or ideological).

      BDS blocks those goals, those saving goals. It does not enhance them, as frustrating as it is to change Israeli attitudes, policies and politics.

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        A siege? A bit hyperbolic, no? It’s not like there’s an authority militarily and economically stronger than Israel that’s enforcing an embargo that counts calibrates each citizens daily caloric intake to ensure it isn’t very high but that isn’t catastrophically low… (for those who don’t know what I’m referring to, that’s the Israeli (most moral state, army and people in the world) policy vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip)

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard Witty

          A military siege is less violent, and less racist than BDS.

          In that in order to organize a mass boycott, you MUST organize mass dehumanization of the other, beyond a limited objective.

          Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            Why do you have to dehumanize? It makes complete sense from a rational choice theory. Since Israel is a democracy that reflects the will of the Jews living here, all we have to do is make the status quo for the Jews living here a worse option then either 1. Two-states, 2. one-state, or 3. Kosher occupation (i.e. maintaining a solely military presence beyond the green line).
            No dehumanization involved, just recognition that all humans are motivated by self-interest.

            Reply to Comment
          • Richard Witty

            I wouldn’t want that reasoning to be applied by me or to me.

            It is intentionally punitive. And, mostly affects civilian third parties.

            The same reasoning that is contested.

            It is loaded with ironies, like that a company like Sodastream is noted for egalatarian workplaces but is boycotted.

            Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            How is that ironic? Anyone profiting off the status quo is doing wrong (yes, I include the PA NGO-suckers in this regard). Don’t want to be boycotted? Resist the status quo!
            The status quo is beneficial to certain civilian third-parties. They shouldn’t be deriving benefits from occu-colonialism.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carl

            OK Richard, you boycott me and I’ll sort out a military siege against you: then let’s see who comes off worse. I think you might be confusing the figurative with the literal.

            Reply to Comment
          • richard witty


            Reply to Comment
          • richard witty

            What would it take to successfully boycott israel?

            What is that then in practice, in reality?

            Are you willing to do that, at the scale that it takes?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Doreen

      I must confess that I was a bit surprised reading this article, but in the end I agreed with mr. Derfner that if ms. Alisia had fallen for the bds people, nothing much would have happened, apart from some disappointed fans (I myself had never heard about this singer before the boycott activity). (BTW, this is my first time visit to this magazine)

      But I also understood something else, namely that mr. Derfner is doing his utmost best to boycott the sanctions re Iran. What exactly he is doing in this respect, I have no idea. Did he organize a demonstration in front of an embassy (which one?). Did he encourage his friends from Metulla to Eilat to support his sanctions and also to donate money or conserves, preferably medicines to send to the population in Iran which suffers from the situation?

      If he did all this and more, chapeau! If he did nothing, but just tap this article, I think he himself suffers from stone-blind hypocrasy. I hope I am wrong……

      Reply to Comment
    4. Joel

      Alicia Keys wants the Bomb?

      Reply to Comment
    5. The Trespasser

      > but that’s not why the sanctions are in place – they’re in place because Iran is en route to getting nuclear weapons

      No. Sanctions are in place because Iran had signed a paper in which agreed not to develop nuclear weapons.

      Reply to Comment
    6. David

      Selective encouragement of bds activities is perfectly appropriate and sensible. As an America Jew, for instance, I do my best to boycott any product that comes from occupied territories. Others, such as Alice Walker for whom I have enormous respect, choose to go beyond the parameters I have established. I disagree with her, yet given the intransigence of the Israeli government (and there is no symmetry between oppressed and oppressor), I certainly understand her motivation.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Raymond Deane

      “This is the Israeli mentality: Sanctions that cause massive, life-threatening medical and food shortages to the citizens of an enemy country are great, but a boycott that denies Alicia Keys’ local fans the chance to see her is evil. (I know the callousness toward the effect of the Iran sanctions isn’t limited to Israel, but that callousness combined with the steaming outrage over the merest symbolic boycott of this country – the stone-blind hypocrisy of that reaction – is what makes it distinctively Israeli.)” Just thought this worth pasting: it’s excellent.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Piotr Berman

      “Iran is a nightmarish country …”

      This is actually false. It is authoritarian, but by no means totalitarian, and in terms of repressions, Israel does not seem to be any better. In terms of attacks on other countries, or kidnapping of innocent people in other countries, Israel is not better. One can find some comparisons that make Israel look worse, and some that make Israel look better.

      Neither Iran, nor Israel are “nightmarish” or “monstrous”. Accepting such propaganda does not give credit to the critical thinking of the writer.

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr, read an Amnesty Int’l report on Iran – dissidents are tortured, raped and murdered in prison by the hundreds annually. The Basij terrorize the “immodest.” Thieves get their fingers chopped off, flogging is a popular “corrective.” I call that nightmarish.

        Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        “in terms of repressions, Israel does not seem to be any better”

        how many Iranian sites like 972Mag do you know? Given the choice, where would you live? Where would you study? Where would you receive your medical treatment? Where do you think gay people would prefer to be? Religious minorities? Where would you more likely to feel safe to demonstrate (peacefully) against the government?


        Reply to Comment
    9. Mehrnaz

      Good that the author wishes for the sanctions on Iran to be lifted. Several correctives are necessary though.
      – Iran is NOT on the way to making nuclear bombs. Not only is this the assessment of the US intelligence agencies but Israeli intelligence believes so too. Israel on the other hand is armed to teeth with nuclear weapons and uses chemical warfare against innocent civilians in contravention of Geneva convention.
      – Iran is not a monstrous place and is not a dictatorship despite heavy securitisation and political and civil restrictions.
      – It is a total fallacy to compare Israel with Iran on matters of internal democracy and call Israel democratic! Unless of course the comparison, based on the principles of Apartheid, Ignores the second class status of the non-Jewish population and the atrocities of the occupation, killings, theft of land and water, illegal imprisonments and torture including of children.
      – As for matters of foreign policy and interaction with the outside world, Israel is an aggressive state perpetually engaged in offensive war and war crimes. Iran, on the other hand, has not attacked another country for over two centuries.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >Iran is NOT on the way to making nuclear bombs.

        Lie #1.

        >Not only is this the assessment of the US intelligence agencies but Israeli intelligence believes so too.

        Lie #2.

        >…and uses chemical warfare against innocent civilians in contravention of Geneva convention.

        Lie #3.

        >Iran is not a monstrous place

        Lie #4.

        >and is not a dictatorship despite heavy securitisation and political and civil restrictions.

        Lie #5

        >…the second class status of the non-Jewish population

        Lie #6

        >Israel is an aggressive state perpetually engaged in offensive war and war crimes.

        Lie #7

        >Iran, on the other hand, has not attacked another country for over two centuries.

        Lie #8. Even few lies.

        1 – Iran does not exsit for 200 years.
        2 – 218 years ago Persians had invaded Georgia and massacred few tens of thousands of civilians. Thankfully, soon after that Persia was defeated.

        Reply to Comment
        • Piotr Berman

          #1: American NIE was public, and no new facts altered the situation, #2: the use of white phosphorus can be interpreted this way, #3: Did you talk with Iranians who did not emigrate? #4: they have elections, division of powers etc., it is not like China or SA #5: they have a better status than they deserve, heh? #6: I guess the last war crime was two weeks ago, so it is not “perpetual”. touche! #7: the change of the official name Persia/Iran did not change the country, 218 > 200.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            #1: Iran has denied IAEA access to some secret underground facilities. Oh, but of course they are not developing nukes there. Probably growing pistaches.

            #2 Use of anything can be interpreted as anything, which does not mean anything. Phosphorous is not listed as a chemical weapon. Period.

            #3 Yes, and rather often.

            #4 Since (even theoretically) they are not able to elect a secular party and change the nature of the state, these elections are pretty much like those in China or Russia.

            #5 You haven’t heard about Iranian Kurds, had you?

            #6 Israel has waged none (zero, 0) wars of aggression.

            In 1948 it was attacked by Arab states

            In 1967 the 6 Day War was purely defensive as Syria, Egypt and Jordan were preparing an attack

            1973 war was purely defensive as well.

            1982 war was a response to rocket fire from Lebanon

            2006 war was a response to a crossborder attack and kidnapping of soldiers.

            2008 Gaza war was a response to missile fire

            2012 Gaza war was a response to missile fire as well.

            You see, response to aggression is not aggression.

            As of “war crimes” – Palestinians (and Arabs in general) have carried out a few magnitudes more of war crimes.

            #7 Are you suffering from a dyslexia of something?
            “for over two centuries.”

            Reply to Comment
    10. BOOZ


      There is no way you can support specific BDS actions without endorsing its goals-both explicit and implicit.
      This time I will have Bradley Burston expressing it better than me:

      “If a boycott is to work, it has to have clear aims, honest momentum, and a time frame that doesn’t say, as Barghouti essentially has, “We’ll boycott Israel until the end of Israel or the end of time, whichever comes first.”

      It could just be, that the right boycott, run the right way, could help end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, an occupation which stands in the way of a future for Israel as much as it stands in the way of a future for Palestine.
      But not this boycott.

      Stay strong, Alicia Keys. Be fierce. Come to us. Speak your mind. Let us hear you. “

      Reply to Comment
    11. Antiochus

      By the logic of Larry’s post, is there a country that doesn’t deserve to be boycotted by someone? Name the country, and I’ll give you a reason to start applying economic pressure to change their policy on [fill in the blank]. Let’s give credit to some Israelis who want to work toward a solution to the conflict, but don’t think economic and cultural isolation is the tool that will get them there — and, if anything, only serves to strengthen the alarmists and doomsayers who actively work against peace. They have faith in Israel’s internal democratic system, or at least suspect that it’s not just the belligerence of their government that maintains the status quo, but the actions on the other side as well. There is no contradiction between believing this and believing that there is no hope for moderation in Iran without a concerted international effort, and that the stakes there are infinitely higher, since the Iranians’ stated goal is not occupation, but genocide and destabilization of the entire reason.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ittai

      Hi, Larry!
      While I fully agree with criticizing “double standards” – I find it difficult to accept that sanctions are punishing the people because of its regime. In politics among the nations – we deal with “a sovereign state” not individual politician. And true – the people pay for the leaders follies.

      See Israel.


      Reply to Comment
    13. Noevil9

      Excellent article to point out the hypocritical attitude of the Israelis and Israel defenders . Maybe it is time for them to see what is good for the goose,is good for the Gander !But Iam sure, they already know that. And they wander why Israel is considers a rouge nation. How do they disregard all their crimes and only see others? How are they able to convert all criticism as just a hate toward Israel or Jews? Why do they feel that the whole world need to express love to them? On what bases? Being the chosen ones? I don’t want to say anything, but somebody needs to take a deep look at this Psyche. Unless they need to have that sentiment from others to keep feeling that they are victims and the world is against them. I can’t help it but it seems like a self fulfilling prophecy,in a vicious circle of no end. I for one don’t agree with many crimes Israel has and still is committing against the Palestinians and humanity, but I still don’t wish the death of any Jewish person because they happen to be Jewish. But yes I would like the people whom are responsible for those crimes to be brought to justice,just like most Nazis were. I did not hear any one say we brought them to justice because they are Christians victims? Even though, they were targeted by mostly Jews for their crimes.Bottom line is,I think this Jewish card has been played for too long to the disasterous results that we have seen for centuries . Can’t we all just stick to being humans and do what is humane, basing judgement on our acts and not what religion we were born into? Didn’t we set a whole bunch of international and local laws to abide by? Don’t most of us have a real sense of what is wright and what is wrong? If so, why then the bias and Hypocrisy,if not to hide our crimes and point out the others? Then what has happened to the claim of the values of Judaism ? The good values ,not the bad ones as in all other religions,be like us or else ,you will be doomed ! Hypocrisy , will creat injustice, injustice will lead to crimes .

      Reply to Comment
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