Poisonous Waters

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Hilary Swank collecting her paycheck in Grozny

It’s a weird, upside-down planet we live on. Consider this. Around the globe, there are almost too many savage, monstrous regimes to keep track of. They steal their people blind. They employ death squads. They imprison, torture, and murder members of the political opposition. They harass and kill independent journalists. They execute gays and persecute Christians. And so on.

And world-famous stars clamor to entertain them and eulogize them. As we’ve seen on this site, Hollywood actors like Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme have traveled to Chechnya to praise and perform for Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s puppet president.  Jermaine Jackson has fawned all over Yahya Jammeh, the brutal dictator of Gambia.  A boatload of luminaries – among them Steven Seagal, Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke – have partied with Putin himself. Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte palled around with Hugo Chávez. And soccer great Lionel Messi has cozied up to Gabon’s child-murdering dictator, Ali Bongo. 

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Sharon Stone with Putin and unidentified child

And yet which country on earth is the sole target of an organized campaign to pressure show-business figures into turning down invitations to perform within its borders? Israel, of course – the only democracy in the Middle East.

The BDS movement – the letters stand for “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” – has a wide reach. It’s not just concerned with entertainers. It’s out to cut off Israel as fully as possible, in every way possible, from the rest of the world. But the effort to break cultural ties is particularly high-profile – and alarmingly successful. In February, several hundred British artists signed a statement announcing that they would “not engage in business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel,” meaning that they would “accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government. Among the artists were Palme d’Or-winning film director Ken Loach; Mike Leigh, the Oscar-nominated director of the 2004 movie Vera Drake; and musician Brian Eno.

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Roger Waters

A number of entertainers have been outspoken in their support of the BDS movement. But few of them are as ardent as musician Roger Waters, formerly of the band Pink Floyd. For Waters, there are apparently no gray areas when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: consistently, he not only condemns Israel but also defends terrorists. He’s called the Israeli government a “racist apartheid regime” and accused it of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” He’s slammed what he calls the “Jewish lobby” in the U.S. and Israel’s “propaganda machine.” He’s accused Israel’s rabbis of viewing Arabs as “sub-human.” And he’s mocked Israeli concern about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, calling it a “diversionary tactic.”

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Waters’s pig balloon

In the summer of 2013, his concerts featured “a pig-shaped balloon adorned with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David.” In December of that year, he explicitly compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians to Nazi treatment of Jews. “The parallels with what went on in the 1930s in Germany are so crushingly obvious,” he told an interviewer. Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, a noted American author and public speaker, offered a memorable reply to these remarks. We’ll get around to that tomorrow.

Messi business

Messi-490728You may never have heard of Lionel Messi, but to millions of soccer fans the 28-year-old Argentinian is a superstar. A forward for FC Barcelona, which has a larger social-media following than any other sports team in the world, as well as for Argentina’s national team, Messi holds all kinds of goal-scoring records and is considered by some observers to be the best player ever in the history of the sport.

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Ali Bongo

He’s also, as it turns out, a useful stooge for none other than Ali Bongo, “president” of Gabon, whom we wrote about here a couple of months back. Bongo’s dad was “president” of the small country on the west coast of Central Africa from 1967 to 2009, and Bongo has been in charge ever since the old man shuffled off this mortal coil. As we noted in July, the Bongo family has made an art out of systematic, institutionalized corruption, treating the country’s cash as its own and using it to purchase dozens of luxury residences around the world, plus whole fleets of cars, boats, and planes, while the average Gabonese citizen squeaks by on $12 a day.

But Bongo’s shameless, large-scale embezzlement is only the most benign of his offenses. In recent years, as it turns out, many Gabonese children have been the victims of a practice that seems almost too terrible to be believe: they’re kidnapped, ritually murdered, and then cannibalized by members of the nation’s elite in the belief that this barbaric act will, by some supernatural means, bring them even greater wealth and power. It’s widely believed that Bongo himself is behind these twisted ritual crimes. In any event, Bongo’s government has refused to investigate them.

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Messi and Bongo

Enter Messi, who, as it happens, is an “ambassador” for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, in addition to having his own charity, which focuses on “access to education and health care for vulnerable children.” In July, construction of a new soccer stadium in Gabon – which is being built for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, to be hosted by Gabon – began with a cornerstone-laying ceremony at which Messi was the guest of honor. Messi reportedly was paid €3.5 million for showing up at the event, although both Argentina and Gabon have denied that he was paid anything.

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Messi and Bongo at cornerstone-laying ceremony

In any event, he went. In addition to laying the cornerstone for the stadium, he paid a visit to a hospital and took part in the opening of a Bongo-owned restaurant. And throughout the visit, according to the U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), he “displayed enthusiastic support” for Bongo’s regime – a PR coup for Bongo and, as HRF observed, a blow to the credibility of Messi’s foundation. There’s no indication that this UNICEF “ambassador” said a single word, at any point during his stay in Gabon – every step of which was covered extensively by state-owned television – about his host’s refusal to investigate the ritual murder of children.