Stevie Wonder’s decision to call off a concert to benefit Friends of the Israel Defense Forces is probably not the most egregious example of anti-Israel incitement, and we somehow doubt that it represents any deep animus on the singer’s part. According to reports, Wonder had been scheduled to perform Dec. 6 for the organization when someone at the United Nations suggested his appearance would conflict with his role as an official UN “Messenger of Peace.” According to this logic, raising money to arrange care packages and home visits for Israeli soldiers does not promote peace, while recognizing a Palestinian state outside the framework of an agreed-upon peace process does.
In Wonder’s defense, the organization may not have been the best choice for a foray into Middle Eastern philanthropy. While the Jewish community knows that FIDF is above politics and policy, the activists who got to Wonder understood that anything connected with the military is simply poor optics for a mere entertainer. Had Wonder been singing for an Israeli environmental organization or coexistence group, we might not be having this conversation.
Or maybe we would. The boycott-Israel movement has had limited success compared to the noise it makes, but it has managed to attach the word “controversial” to a range of Israeli enterprises that would be considered innocuous in almost any other context. Israeli dance troupes, medical researchers, humanities professors, and tech mavens have all been targeted for boycotts at one point or another. And even when entertainers don’t cancel their visits to Israel, and venues don’t bow to the pressure of the boycotters, the impression is left that Israel is a special case.
Speaking in Baltimore last month, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, offered a modest vision for Israel’s future. He simply longed for a day when Israel wouldn’t be seen “as an issue, as a society either to be idealized, demonized, or ignored.” All Israel wants, he said, is to be seen as “a real country,” neither as a paragon of virtue nor an embodiment of evil.
Perhaps it is a little sad that Israel’s greatest wish is for normalcy. But until its critics accept the reality of a Jewish state, it will have to do.