International entertainers of every color and creed are besieged by pressure to boycott Israel with an antisemitic smear tactic that spans the globe. Behind it all is the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, otherwise known as the BDS campaign, an intimidation network, masquerading as a human rights movement. In Artists Under Fire, industry insider and activist Lana Melman puts BDS on trial. She exposes its strategy of using celebrities like Scarlett Johansen, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, and The Rolling Stones, and more as pawns in its destructive crusade.
She calls out a vocal group of artists led by Pink Floyd’s co-founder Roger Waters who has joined the attack in created a star-studded battle between themselves and the thousands of musicians, filmmakers, and authors who refuse to speak out. Melman sounds the alarm about antisemitism’s newest weapon and she provides Israel supporters with a step-by-step action plan to take it on, she also prods BDS followers to question the motives of their leaders, a company they’re keeping, and the consequences of their actions.
Here’s my conversation with Lana Melman.
Welcome back to Author Hour. I’m your host Benji Block and today, we are honored to be joined by Lana Melman, who has just authored a new book titled Artists Under Fire: The BDS War Against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel. Lana, thank you for joining us here on Author Hour.
Lana Melman: Thank you for having me, Benji.
Benji Block: Lana, let’s start here for our listeners who may be new to your work, can you give us some context on yourself and a bit of your background?
Lana Melman: I was an entertainment executive, writer, creator, producer for over 20 years. I started off at Columbia Pictures Television and worked at Warner Brothers, Paramount, CBS, and on my own. For the last 11 years, I have been a leader in the fight against the cultural boycott campaign against Israel.
Benji Block: What originally got you interested and piqued your want to get into this movement and we should probably write here upfront as well, Lana, if you would, define what BDS is as well.
Lana Melman: Right now, we are in the midst of a global epidemic of antisemitism. Jews are being attacked on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, and London. I see it happening in my neighborhood in Los Angeles on Melrose. A couple of blocks away from my house on my synagogue, there is a scroll that said, “I hate your kind.” A huge factor behind this has been a campaign to demonize Israel, which is the Jewish homeland and this campaign traffics in classic Jew-hatred, classic lies about Jews that has fueled discrimination for hundreds of years.
That campaign is known as the boycott divestment and sanctions campaign and it seeks to isolate Israel. One of the most dangerous facets of the campaign is the cultural boycott effort, which targets entertainers of every nationality all across the globe, every race, every kind, every gender who want to perform for their Israeli fans. This campaign attacks them personally and claims that they are supporting its false changes – charges rather of Israeli genocide against the Palestinian people, Israeli Apartheid, Israeli human rights abuses.
It’s an attack on the artist in an attempt to use their celebrity, their fame, their brand, to draw attention to their propaganda and that as a consequence is not only affecting the hearts and minds of people around the globe about Israel but about Jews everywhere.
Benji Block: You’re aware of this and you’re fighting against this but to write a book is also a large undertaking. So I wonder, why did you feel now was the right time to write a book and what about the medium of a book did you feel like you need to get this out in this form right now?
Lana Melman: This issue is not a sound bite. I think I do a good job of simplifying this in my book. I’ve written tons of articles and I’ve been publishing on international publications. But when you’re doing that, you’re taking a particular bite of the apple and you’re tying it to a news event for a hook and you’re explaining something. I felt it’s imperative at this time when the world is changing everywhere, and we are really looking into our hearts and examining our feelings and our biases that we once and for all, take a look at and take a stand against Jew-hatred, probably the oldest hatred in the world.
Now is the time I brought it together, I thought it needed a thorough discussion and I wanted to describe what was going on in the world that I know, the entertainment industry. The book is filled with stories, it’s stories about entertainers who have been attacked for doing the right thing and stories of ramifications and fallouts. It’s all — it’s set in the entertainment world but it’s talking about a global phenomenon.
Benji Block: When you imagine who you want to read this, your ideal reader, is it for those specifically in entertainment, or do you think this is a message that you want to see go, obviously, you want more to be aware of this but who are you writing specifically for, Lana?
Lana Melman: Well, of course it’s important for the people in the entertainment field who are attacked regularly to have an understanding and it provides moral support. But I’m really writing to people who are deeply concerned about racial tensions in this world, about the hatred that is going on, and who want to understand and be able to make a positive contribution in changing this and not ignoring and not leaving Jew-hatred out of this discussion, who have an open heart and are willing to hear about this.
Benji Block: Let’s dive into some of the content here. I have to say, I’ve been largely ignorant on how maybe antisemitism has been creeping back into society or in some ways flying under the radar but where have you seen this really coming into play, you mentioned on the streets of some of our cities but maybe a give a couple examples in how you see this happening in society at large?
Lana Melman: Well, I just give you one statistic that I happen to see from the New York Police Department. They were talking about an overall rise in crime in the last year from February to February. Of course we all recognize, it’s been dramatic, it was close to 60%, and then later down in the report, they took a different year, a gap, it was 2018 to 2019 and they focused in on specific groups, Asians, sexual orientation and these were the statistics.
The amount of attacks, criminal attacks against Jews escalated 409% between 2018 and 2019. To give you an example of something else, for example, attacks against blacks rose 100%, against Asians, 125%. The overall grand total of the difference was 189% but attacks against Jews, four times, four times that, 409%.
What is happening when an artist books a tour to Israel, these BDS supporters launched a multi-faceted attack on them. They use social media, protest, letter-writing campaigns, they misappropriate their songs and they accuse them of supporting genocide and apartheid.
These stories, because they’re celebrities and they involve famous people like Scarlett Johansen and Demi Lovato and Nick Cave of The Bad Seeds and Tom York of Radiohead and Bon Jovi and Lady Gaga and Rihanna, all of these famous, famous people get attention so when they make these – create these campaigns and call on them to cancel their concerts in Israel, it gets the attention of everybody.
Not just on social media where of course, it creates a huge surge but also, stories about these campaigns get picked up by mainstream media. As a result, because they’re able to capitalize and use these artists as pawns, they are able to spread their propaganda to hundreds, if not, billions of people around the globe. It’s that constant repetition of their lies that are seeping into the consciousness of people not just in the west but across the globe.
Benji Block: In the case of someone like a Scarlett Johansen or a Bon Jovi, some of these big-time artists and celebrities, even if they ignore the BDS campaign in some sense or they still choose to go, the message still spreads, right? Because it’s hard to — I mean, there’s the camping still runs and people are seeing it and so that’s how they kind of latch onto celebrity in a sense?
Lana Melman: You nailed it, Benji, that’s exactly it, that’s the strategy. Whether or not the campaign succeeds, they’ve gotten their propaganda out. There’s a chapter in the book called “Celebrities Make News” and I tell this story of what happened just to one example that I really flesh out and that’s what happened to the Rolling Stones when they wanted to perform and I show you how – and they never responded, there was no like, and many of these people by the way who get attacked do fight back and very, very few cancel.
But there was no pushback from the Rolling Stones, they remain silent through it all, and yet, it made huge news and the perspective was, I’d say, 85% was really one-sided where they simply talked about the allegations in the campaign and very few of them mentioned the hundreds of performers who ignore this campaign and go.
The only time it will make some news is when people like Nick Cave for example who really talked back and are engaged publicly in a public battle, do you see it occasionally make news? But typically, it’s the other way around so yes, just the mention of the campaigns is newsworthy in and of itself.
Benji Block: Let’s flesh out a little bit. Why these things, cultural boycott campaigns are such a serious threat to Israel and in Jews worldwide. Talk to me a bit about the ramifications there?
Lana Melman: For centuries, there had been – let me take a step back. Jews have been scapegoated throughout the centuries. Very much so in Europe, also, in the Middle East, it sometimes even in places that don’t have Jews, they have negative connotations of Jews and these are all based on the basic assumption that Jews are evil. So that anything that the society rejects as repulsive and evil is associated with the Jews, which is why Jews have been accused of being capitalists and communists.
Why we’re hated for being not white enough and hated for being too white. Thrown in, in all of this are classic lies about us. One is that well, again, that we’re evil. In today’s world, when what we could rightfully consider is evil, which is racism, colonialism, genocide, apartheid, that’s what they’re calling the Jews of Israel, that’s what they’re accusing, falsely accusing them of. Others would be that we’re greedy and thieving.
Another is that we’re all-powerful, all these lies about the Jews malevolently controlling the media and classically, the most recent one that has come up which came up after the Second World War is not seeing inversion, accusing us of doing what was done to us, committing the atrocity of genocide.
So all of the BDS messaging when they write these open letters to artists like Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, when they write those letters, talk about them on social media, they are repeating those exact lies. Instead of using the word Jew, they are replacing it with the Jewish state, Israel but it’s the exact same lies. Today, we have this incredible media both social and traditional that allows these lies not just to spread by word of mouth but to be distributed on mass.
Benji Block: Yeah, with the rise of the Internet and how easy it is for false information to spread, I can see how these messages get amplified so easily, unfortunately.
Lana Melman: Yes, also I just going to also add and they do it too in a very provocative way. There is lots of memes, which will have images of say Taylor Swift playing a guitar on a pile of – obviously photoshopped, on a pile of rubble and Bon Jovi with an aircraft behind them dropping bombs implicitly being an Israeli aircraft all photoshopped but all very, very emotional.
Benji Block: Let’s talk about some of the key players in all of this. You mentioned several but when it comes to dispelling this misinformation and the lies that are being spread, who are some of these people that are leading the BDS movement or that you see as spreading this propaganda of sorts?
Lana Melman: Well, the poster boy for this effort is Roger Waters. He is the co-founder of Pink Floyd and now does his own touring act. He came on board in 2011 and since then, really, he came on board himself in 2011 and in 2013 did an interview for Rolling Stone magazine in which he called upon all artists in the world to boycott Israel. He has spoken at UN, he goes on college campus tours, he has in his concert tour between 2010 and 2013, he floated this giant helium pig balloon that had a variety of symbols on them including the dollar sign and the Jewish star.
He dressed on stage in what was – looked like a Nazi replica uniform like a long black trench coat and a red armband. He takes every opportunity and what he also does is that he wishes that – and he personally writes letters to these artists who have scheduled tours. I have seen quite a few of them and oftentimes, so artists may begin to engage with him and he will initially agree to keep things private but oftentimes, turns around and post about their conversations on social media.
He is really very much at the forefront. There are other people that are very active that are well-known within their particular industry like Brian Eno, who is also an Englishman, and Ken Loach because a lot of this comes from England and the UK in general but then, so those are people who were outright advocates. I refer to them in my book as zealots. There is a chapter on that as well called “BDS Zealots” but there are also people that are a step-down.
They are not advocating for a boycott. I have never heard them say that but on the other hand, they do repeat the BDS propaganda and those people include Mark Ruffalo, Rosanna Arquette, Gigi Hadid, John Stewart, John Oliver, they’re what I call – Halsey, the singer Halsey, Dua Lipa, they’re people I call bashers. I try to make it clear to the reader, again when you see and hear examples of all these famous people, you understand that it is a continuum.
On the other side, by the way, the opposite side, are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Israel either supporters or people who are adamantly against the cultural boycott campaign but those are some of the players, and they even though they are not calling for a boycott, they are not explicitly calling for the isolation of Israel, they are – when they talk about Israel, they repeat misinformation.
They pay no attention and have no empathy for the victims of incoming missiles from Gaza. You know, our hearts go out to what is going on in Ukraine, and what is happening there is absolutely devastating but people – when artists report on conflicts that happen, they completely ignore the fact that Hamas is so heavily armed that it has more arsenal than many of the NATO countries have independently.
Of course, they use terror because they target civilians. They don’t target the Army, they are not going after the weapons caches, they are going after the civilians. That’s what they are aiming at. That doesn’t get attention, they’re not balanced. I don’t really hear a genuine call for peace. I’ve never heard that in BDS messaging by the way. I’ve never heard them say, offer anything, want to raise money for example for collaborations between Gazans and Israelis.
They’ve never done anything. In fact, they’re just the opposite. They really attack Palestinian or Arab Israelis because you know 20% of Israel is Arab and most of them are Muslim but there is never any talk and they have equal rights. They have equal rights, they’re in the government, they’re on the Supreme Court, they are doctors in hospitals, they go to universities, they vote, they sit on the beach, they wear whatever they like, they’re fully integrated.
You can see that and that is one of the reasons why I think they don’t want their farmers to go to Israel because all you have to do is walk downstairs and out of your hotel room in Tel Aviv and you see the integration there. You see all sorts of people particularly in Jerusalem actually, you see even more over there all cohabiting, all living together and what was the question? I am sorry, I got carried away.
Benji Block: No, that was fantastic. We took a little bit of a detour there from Roger Waters and some of the key players in that but I think that that gives some great context to the greater picture of the image that’s maybe painted, right? Versus what it is in actuality from that side of things, which I think leads to this next question for me, which is there is so much knowledge in the book and in the work that you’ve done but I thought you had a really good job of also providing an action plan and some next steps.
For our listeners who are listening to the podcast today, I wonder now that they’re aware of what’s going on like what can we actively do to take action and stand up against these BDS campaigns?
Lana Melman: Well, speak up. Speak up. One of the primary things in the book is that I really go into and explain the classic antisemitic lies that it lead to the murder of Jews throughout time and then I show you the correlation between BDS messaging and I also draw distinction between demonizing Israel, which is antisemitic and legitimate criticism of its policies. I urge people to pay attention and if you hear the Israelis and when as Martin Luther King said, when people talk about Israelis, they mean Jews.
When you hear people on social media or you see publications talk about the situation and they repeat accusations that describe the Israeli Jews as monstrous and as accuse of them things, I speak out. Call it out for what it is, which is Jew-hatred. I urge people to follow me on social media, like my post, retweet them, and importantly talk to the artist, respond. You can do that on social media, it is not just the detractors by the way, not just the people who are spreading lies but the people who are going to Israel.
That you know, follow them, write them a nice note and if you don’t like social media, you can write to their publicists. Write letters, write an open letter, talk about it on your Facebook page, and spread the news that way but the most important step is to be aware and to understand what you’re hearing. This is not just a battle. People get too bogged down in exchanging all of this. It seems like that they’ll be battles and people want to resuscitate facts.
You don’t need to do that, you don’t need to know everything there is about Israel. You don’t have to know the whole history of the conflict. What you do have to know that Jews have been the victims of this exact same kind of hatred for thousands of years that we have a right to our self-determination in our ancient homeland. We have a 3,000-year-old connection there. We’ve never ever left.
We’ve been pushed out and killed and slaughtered but we always pray to return. We’ve got that land fair and square. It was given to us at the same time, all of those little countries, we are being farmed in Syria and Jordan, all of them we got it in the same time in history, the Jews got this little piece of land and you have to be attuned to the messaging and understand the connection between what they’re saying about Israel and what they’ve always said about Jews and saying no, saying that it is time to end Jew-hatred. We can’t tolerate these anymore.
Benji Block: As we wrap up when a reader is done with the book, we kind of just I think how you ended there may have answered this question but I want to pose it anyway to see if there is anything you’d like to add, when a reader finishes the book is there a feeling you hope they walk away with? Is there a main takeaway that you hope they walk away with that is it simply speak up and be more aware?
Lana Melman: Yes, awareness, and I hope they feel empowered and inspired to do the right thing, to understand that you cannot be an anti-racist and be anti-Zionist because being an anti-Zionist means your demonizing the people. You cannot do that. If what you truly want is to rid not just the world but yourself of those things you have to speak up against racism and all its forms.
Benji Block: That’s good. Lana, for those that want to stay connected to the work that you’re doing, you mentioned Instagram maybe it’s Facebook but what are some ways that people can stay connected to you outside of just checking out the book?
Lana Melman: The organization I run is called Liberate Art, the tagline there is “Liberate Art from BDS.” “Liberate” as in set it free. So they can find me on Facebook, they can also find me on Twitter under my Lana Melman handle. I’m on Instagram under Lana Melman and under LiberateArt and please, check out my website if you’d like to be educated about it. The website is liberateart.net.
Artist Under Fire I think will give you a very full understanding of what is going on and keep you interested in reading because of these really personal and important stories that I share about celebrities that most of you know.
Benji Block: Well again, the book is titled, Artist Under Fire: The BDS War Against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel. It’s going to be an insightful read for many so we encourage you to go check it out, buy it on Amazon now. Lana Melman, thank you so much for spending some time with us here on Author Hour.
Lana Melman: Thank you, Benji.
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