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The Jewish Report Editorial

Are BDS billboards on SA roads acceptable?

  • Geoff mugshot
When BDS places a huge billboard “advert” along the busy highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria presenting an inaccurate or simplistic view of the complicated Israeli-Palestinian conflict, showing Israel to be the guilty party alone, is it an example of the free speech South Africans fought for in the Struggle, or the propagation of false and potentially defamatory information?
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Oct 22, 2014

Can a three-second glimpse of the billboards over a highway by speeding motorists provide a proper depiction of the conflict? Most drivers passing by lack sufficient knowledge to judge for themselves, simply accepting the billboards’ message as accurate. Approaches have been made to the Advertising Standards Authority to have the billboards removed, so far to no avail.

A fight with similar resonances is going on in New York around the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer”, which some Jews have called anti-Semitic, an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the conflict, and romanticising of terrorism.  

The opera portrays the Palestine Liberation Organisation's murder of a Jewish wheelchair-bound man in 1985. Leon Klinghoffer was a passenger on the Italian liner Achille Lauro. PLO terrorists, after hijacking the ship, shot him and then forced employees of the cruise ship to throw him overboard with his wheelchair.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has said the Metropolitan Opera definitely has the right to produce the show, but called it "factually inaccurate”. He contended: “It romanticises terrorism. I think that the storyline makes it appear as if the Palestinian people had some kind of justification for murdering Leon Klinghoffer, which they didn’t have.”

Giuliani had been a regional prosecutor for the Justice Department, and investigated Yasser Arafat. "I can say with some certainty that this murder was a pure act of terrorism for which there was no justifiable reason," he wrote in an article. Rather, it "was part of an overall campaign of numerous terrorist acts intended to make Arafat and his organisation bigger players on the world stage". Klinghoffer’s murder was not done to help the Palestinian people but to further the PLO’s own aims, Giuliani said.

Some 400 people, including politicians like Giuliani and Republican Peter King, demonstrated outside New York’s Metropolitan Opera on Monday over the show, which runs until November 15, chanting: "Shame on the Met!" and carrying signs saying "The Met glorifies terrorism". Giuliani said: "If you listen, you will see that the emotional context of the opera truly romanticises the terrorism... and romanticising terrorism has only made it a greater threat," he said.

In the show, a baritone portraying “Leon Klinghoffer”, appears on the stage singing the “Aria of the Falling Body” as he falls into the sea. Different Jewish and Palestinian narratives of suffering and oppression are highlighted by separate choruses. Klinghoffer’s daughters have issued a statement saying: “The four terrorists responsible for his murder will be humanised by distinguished opera singers and given a back story, an ‘explanation’ for their brutal act of terror and violence. Opera-goers will see and hear a musical examination of terrorism, the Holocaust and Palestinian claims of dispossession - all in fewer than three hours.” Nobody, however, is claiming that the opera is outside the bounds of free speech.

The BDS billboards are not an opera, however. There is nothing wrong with people attacking Israel in a way in which they can be answered rationally and inaccuracies challenged.  And there is nothing wrong with works of art portraying a one-sided perspective on the conflict, even if it is contested by others. When Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef’s concert at Wits University was disrupted by anti-Israel protesters in 2013, it illustrated how blurred the line is between art and politics.

If an artist is Israeli-born, does it mean his performance of a work by Beethoven is unacceptable, no matter how brilliant? These debates are legitimate parts of an open society which values freedom of speech.

But billboards over a highway are not works of art, which people can choose to look at or not - as people can choose whether to go to the Klinghoffer opera or Yossi Reshef’s piano recital. They should be taken down.

 

2 Comments

  1. 2 me 22 Oct
    how about explaining what's incorrect/inaccurate on the billboard
  2. 1 Gary Selikow 23 Oct
    ''me' says how about explaining what's incorrect/inaccurate on the billboard
    '''That Israel did not 'steal'the land, that there never was a Palestinian state, that just because there where some Arabs living there does not mean we had no right to return to our homeland. that many Arabs came into Eretz Yisrael in the 20th century. that 78% of the originalPalestine colony is today Jordan 

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