As Israel continues its murderous purges across the West Bank and Jerusalem, alongside its brutal siege of Gaza, there’s no shortage of zealots defending such wickedness. Just consider Hillary Clinton’s latest right-wing pledge of support, and rant against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, for one.
The core cause of the ‘conflict’ and reason for Palestinian resistance shouldn’t even be up for debate. What part of the words ‘illegal occupation’, a reasonable person might ask, are so hard to understand?
But if that level of fanatical entrenchment and denial seems inexplicable, what about those seemingly more ‘liberal’ voices calling for ‘engagement’ with Israel in the name of ‘peace’ and ‘coexistence?
Responding to a statement showing more than 600 (now over 1000) artists saying “we will not engage in business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel”, Culture for Coexistence insist that, whatever the issues behind the “conflict”, the need for “interaction” and “dialogue” must prevail.
It’s a typical liberal Zionist pitch. But with particular insidious effect, coming from a popular figure like Rowling, providing another line of respectability for Israel’s crimes.
Rowling is deeply mistaken in lending her name to Culture for Coexistence. Others within the group seem even more suspect. One only need look at the Israel-supporting links and backgrounds of some of the signatories to see where their real motives lie. But in opting to take such a public stance, Rowling invites similar critical challenge.
She and her associates are protecting Israel by peddling a fantasy land narrative, a state of make believe, in which, after decades of ethnic cleansing, enforced exile, continued occupation, refugee camps, mass killing, siege containment, settlement expansion and apartheid discrimination, we’re still expected to buy the fiction that Israel is remotely interested in discussion, a ‘peace process’, the idea of basic human justice.
Such people help sustain a mythical world of ‘bridge-building’ and ‘peace tables’. It all seems so noble and well-meaning. Yet it gives enormous cover to the oppressor, legitimising Israel’s violent founding, its stolen lands, its ‘need for security’, while characterising the Palestinians as some enduring ‘problem’ and ‘terror’ entity.
In the letter, Rowling and her co-signatories claim that:
Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory and will not further peace.
[Israel] is a settler-colonial state which operates on the apartheid of an indigenous people and has broken international law and UN resolutions every single day since its existence. The practices Israel enforces in its culture and every day functioning are in themselves divisive and discriminatory. No cultural engagement between Palestinians and Israelis will ever build bridges, because…there are no two sides.
How can we, as Palestinians, sit and conduct peaceful dialogue with Israelis, as equal sides, both to blame for a “conflict” [given such an] uneven distribution of power?…Israel and Palestine are not two sides, but the oppressor and the oppressed.
[Boycott] is the only logical way that this madness will stop. We have spoken until our tongues have dried out – dialogue is a method that has gone stale. We need action and that action is BDS until Israel recognises international law, like every country on this planet should.
But the effect of their call for dialogue is to create a soothing soundtrack to just such a record of brutality. “Dialogue” and “cooperation” are lovely words, but they are often disingenuously used by propagandists for Israel, to suggest a way forward that Israel’s own actions are responsible for blocking.
In a subsequent response, taking issue with the theme ‘talking wouldn’t stop the Wizarding War’, Rowling acknowledges Palestinian suffering, yet still hopes ‘both sides’ will “come to the hilltop” and engage:
The Palestinian community has suffered untold injustice and brutality. I want to see the Israeli government held to account for that injustice and brutality. Boycotting Israel on every possible front has its allure. It satisfies the human urge to do something, anything, in the face of horrific human suffering. What sits uncomfortably with me is that severing contact with Israel’s cultural and academic community means refusing to engage with some of the Israelis who are most pro-Palestinian, and most critical of Israel’s government.
PACBI’s Cultural Boycott Guidelines reject, on principle, boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion, and does not boycott Israeli individuals – cultural workers, academics or otherwise. BDS does not entail, as you say, ‘severing contact with Israel’s cultural and academic community’ nor ‘refusing to engage with some of the Israelis who are…most critical of Israel’s government,’ quite the contrary.
The University of Haifa has “trained hundreds of senior officers in the Israeli Defence Forces” through “a special programme of graduate studies in national security and strategic studies.” Bar Ilan University offers teaching certificate scholarships to “outstanding fighters”, in order to harness their values “for the benefit of Israel’s next generation.”Ben-Gurion University offered a special grant for each day of service to students who went on reserve duty during the ‘Operation Cast Lead’ assault on Gaza. Israeli universities similarly offered enthusiastic support for the ‘Operation Protective Edge’ offensive of 2014. Hebrew University, meanwhile, has a joint programme with the Ministry of Defense for students heading to the army’s R&D units, who live in a special base located on campus.
I believe you mean well, Ms. Warwick, but you are showing yourself to be profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947, and I am sorry but you are wrong, art does know boundaries. In fact, it is an absolute responsibility of artists to stand up for human rights – social, political and religious – on behalf of all our brothers and sisters who are being oppressed, whoever and wherever they may be on the surface of this small planet.
a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major “crime” is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own. Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel’, Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place. This is actually a wonderful opportunity for you to learn about something sorrowful, and amazing: that our government (Obama in particular) supports a system that is cruel, unjust, and unbelievably evil.
These projects provide a false symmetry between the oppressor and oppressed, which only serves to empower the oppressor, and contribute to perpetuating and normalizing oppression. In addition, they have often played into the hands of persistent Israeli official propaganda, especially its well oiled, but so-far futile, ‘Brand Israel’ campaign which serves to mask Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.
Did the fact that the first ever human heart transplant took place in 1967 in Apartheid South Africa absolve that country’s regime of its crimes – or invalidate the boycott? Contributions to technological or cultural progress cannot exonerate a persistently criminal state from accountability.
Like Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian, and other liberal Zionists, Rowling tries to tell us a comforting story of Israel’s ‘basic decency’, that it’s somehow ‘got lost’, and how they are helping to ‘save’ it by deploring the ‘bad guy Netanyahu’ and his government. But Netanyahu and Likud are only part of the problem. The central issue is the occupation itself, an oppression maintained by every successive Israeli leader, supported by all the mainstream ‘opposition’, with the whole weight of the Zionist state.
Many of these same ‘peace’ figures are keen to portray themselves as ‘friends of Palestinians’, not just Israel. Yet their positions are every bit as bad, and arguably worse, than more seemingly fanatical Zionists; their mitigations only helping to shroud the wicked actions of the Israeli state even more.
They serve to mystify the issue, confusing what is, in essence, a very simple choice: to support the oppressed or the oppressor, the occupied or the occupier, the bombed or the bombers, the legal or the illegal.
They also help perpetuate a Western/Orientalist view of the imagined ‘peace table’, with the US sitting at its head as ‘benign, neutral arbiter’, rather than Israel’s direct sponsor, while Israel gets to define what can ever be on the ‘peace menu’. For all the ‘deep concern’ of such two-state liberals, the Palestinians are still treated as some hopeful beggar seeking crumbs from Israel’s loaded table.
Implicit here is the appeal for Palestinian ‘compromise’, the possibility of ‘resolution’ if only Palestinians would learn to know their place, not to expect an end to their colonisation, to accept that Israel itself can never be subverted, that Israel’s ‘security’ is, somehow, paramount, that Jewish rights to stolen land will always stand above any Palestinian right of return.
As Hanan Ashrawi asserts:
the Palestinians are the only people on earth required to guarantee the security of the occupier, while Israel is the only country that demands protection from its victims.
This is the state such ‘peace’ adherents are defending, the ‘two-sides’ distortion all part of the welcome hasbara fantasy of Israel’s ‘fundamental goodness’, its ‘readiness to engage’. As with those who maintained cultural links with South Africa, they are on the wrong side of history.
Meanwhile, we see the actual facts on the ground, the real story: intensified occupation, the pain of Gaza and Israel on the rampage; a state murdering Palestinians with impunity, a deeply-militarised, vigilante-minded society, its citizens urged on by its political leaders to carry guns, its army and police standing casually aside as settlers shoot down Palestinians in the street. What kind of ‘civilized state’, a self-proclaimed ‘democracy’, would demolish an entire family’s home because one of the family had carried out an attack?
For any citizen with a conscience who is mindful of the rights and the dignity of peoples, to promote BDS is not only a right but a moral duty.
All of which confirms the growing need to resist not just reactionary authority but the liberal story-tellers churning out more ‘peace-pulp’. Palestinians haven’t just read The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, they’ve lived it. Beyond the tall tales of Israel’s ‘engagement’, the faux morality play of liberal ‘coexistence’ and ‘dialogue’, Palestinians know the reality of suffering. It’s their own ‘daily text’. Those of real conscience should know, help spread and show appropriate solidarity with that authentic and continuing story.