Cross-posted on Engage.
After reading Gene’s reminder “Equally, boycott opponents have a right, and a duty, to express themselves as well”, I just sent this (which I’ve tweaked a bit since sending) to BBC and Cadogan Hall addresses listed on PACBI’s ‘call to action against the Jerusalem Quartet’s Proms Appearance’. I hope the links make it through their spam filter.
info at cadoganhall dot com
proms at bbc dot co dot uk
and the Quartet.
I understand you are coming under pressure from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to cancel the performance of the Jerusalem Quartet on August 29th.
Hopefully cancellation is out of the question, but given the intensity of PACBI’s campaign, I thought I should contact you with some reasons to go ahead.
If you look at the boycott, divestment and sanction calls PACBI references, it is clear that PACBI and other boycott campaigners such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign are not interested in establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Rather, they are interested in eliminating Israel. This was made clear when PACBI successfully cancelled joint simultaneous peace concerts in Israel and the West Bank. PACBI and the PSC cannot tolerate peace work and move to sabotage it.
Some Israeli political groups and human rights and peace-making NGOs draw a distinction between boycotting the occupation on the one hand, which they view as appropriate, and boycotting Israel in its entirety on the other hand, which they recognise as eliminationist. PACBI and other groups pursue the latter – the entire social, cultural and economic exclusion of Israel. PACBI seeks, indiscriminately, to break links between medical institutions and cultural ones alike. Nothing less than the total pariahdom of Israel will suffice. PACBI is attempting to end Israel’s existence.
Unlike the boycott of South Africa, to which the boycott of Israel is frequently compared, hardly any Israelis call for a boycott. Those who oppose boycott include the Israeli socialist party Hadash and peace-making NGOs such as Gisha (legal centre for freedom of movement), the Abraham Fund for coexistence, and Peace Now (for an end to the occupation). The boycott is widely seen by peace-makers on the ground as counterproductive to peace. It is inarticulate, it causes more of the difference and division which are exascerbating the conflict, and it abandons Israeli peace activists.
Israeli authorities have attempted to disrupt Palestinian cultural and academic affairs; I and other anti-boycotters have spoken out against these politically-motivated acts, as I do here.
Meanwhile even joint anti-war Jewish and Palestinian Israeli productions such as Plonter are prevented from staging performances in Israel’s neighbouring states; performances are held to ransom as if they could lever peace. And even joint Israeli and Palestinian Israeli relationships are the focus of PACBI’s ongoing attempts to drive a wedge into co-existence between Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Wafa Younis’s life was in danger after she took her youth orchestra, Strings of Freedom, to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.
This is the nature of the cultural boycott.
Israel is unlike South Africa in a crucial way: its neighbours have only recently formally accepted its existence, this acceptance cannot be taken for granted, and there are enduring armed movements which hope to eliminate Israel. In South Africa anti-apartheid activists sought majority rule. In Israel there is majority rule. Israel is the world’s sole Jewish state, which came into existence after the attempted genocide of the world’s Jews. Hamas, Hesbollah and other factions continually preach hatred of Jews, and call this resistance to Israel. Beyond Israel antisemitism is a regional norm.
A total boycott of Israel – the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions of which PACBI’s cultural boycott is part – assists Hamas and other eliminationists by posing an obstacle to peace-making. In short, Israel is not and never has been the sole aggressor in this conflict, nor does it act capriciously or sadistically, as you might think if you were to read only PACBI’s, or only the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s, narrative of the conflict. The settlers must leave the occupied land, reparations must be made to refugees, occupation must end, resources must be equitably distributed, infrastructure must not be used to control and subdue, and Israel’s neighbours must permit Israel to live in peace. In Israel and the occupied territories violence feeds on violence, extremism on extremism. The reason the conflict is intractable is because the causes endure, not because Israel is a brutal state.
Anti-Israel politics are frequently expressed as hostility to Jews. PACBI has been complicit in this, and seeks to diminish concerns about this.
Boycotters will insist otherwise, but hosting an Israeli orchestra does not amount to acceptance of the decisions and actions of the Israeli government. Nor does it amount to a solution to the conflict.
But societies in conflict are vulnerable to the prejudice, demonisation, dehumanisation and despair which haunts conflicts, and without cultural and social exchange there can be no coexistence. And yet cultural exchanges are under attack not from peace-makers but from those who wish to prolong division.
The last time the Jerusalem Quartet was targeted in the name of Palestine solidarity, the protesters were charged with a racially aggravated offence. Separately, protest leader Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign uses far right antisemitic materials in his arguments on behalf of Palestinians. He is part of a current of thinking that perceives anti-Jewish words and acts as a legitimate part of Palestine solidarity.
The attempt he led to disrupt the concert was met with boos from the large audience at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh.
I could think of many more reasons not to cancel the Jerusalem Quartet. Some of them would be to do with cultural exchange and some of them would be to do with art. None of them would be to do with discrediting solidarity with Palestinians under occupation. Israel is engaged in a violent occupation and ongoing settlement of Palestinian lands beyond its own borders. Israel has demonstrated it is willing to turn large parts of Gaza to rubble and make security for ordinary Gazans meaningless in the name of protecting its own security. But the cultural boycott of Israel will not help end the occupation nor the violence – if anything it will exacerbate the division. Additionally I think (unlike boycotters) that the best way for international community to end the occupation is to learn about the conflict, represent it accurately, and demand and take action which addresses the causes of the conflict. The best way for artistic bodies in Britain to reach out to Palestinians living under occupation is to invite Palestinian artists and performers to this country and pursue their travel permits with the Israeli authorities. I would be more than happy to play a part here, should such an initiative arise.
Thanks for reading and best wishes,