The appearance last week of some famous UK cultural names on a statement defending Israel against boycott has sparked a wave of incredulity and outrage from fellow artists.
Artists, actors, writers, editors, musicians and filmmakers are among those queuing up to defend the boycott tactic after JK Rowling, Hilary Mantel and historian Simon Schama joined well-known pro-Israel lobbyists in attacking it. Rowling and co urged cultural ‘coexistence’ and ‘dialogue about Israel and the Palestinians’ and called the Palestinian boycott campaign “divisive and discriminatory”.
“It is Israeli policies towards Palestinians which are divisive and discriminatory,” said actress Miriam Margolyes, one of more than 1000 UK artists who have signed a commitment not to cooperate with Israeli state-funded cultural institutions as long as Palestinian rights are denied.
“Artists used the tactic of boycott against apartheid in South Africa and we are doing it again in support of Palestine– because no one else is holding Israel to account,” she said.
Composer Brian Eno, one of a number whose letters were published in the Guardian on October 27, said he appreciated the desire for dialogue, “but what kind of dialogue is realistically possible between a largely unarmed and imprisoned people whose land is disappearing before its eyes, and the heavily weaponised State that’s in the process of taking it.”
Writer Ahdaf Soueif said, “Today there’s no question: an artist or intellectual who collaborates with activities funded or approved by the Israeli state is complicit in Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.”
Singer/songwriter Leon Rosselson called the Rowling/Schama declaration “an act of betrayal, the moral equivalent of crossing a picket line or buying goods from apartheid South Africa. I am shocked by their political illiteracy and their arrogance.”
Filmmaker and writer Omar Robert Hamilton said, “They are not actually talking about dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. They are talking about dialogue between themselves and Israel. The Palestinians are irrelevant.”
Writer Sarah Irving exposed the Israeli links of many of those involved and referred to the disappointment of a heartbroken JK Rowling fan who had grown up reading the Harry Potter books, with their message of anti-racism and the struggle for justice, as the story of her own Palestinian people.
Artists for Palestine UK, the artists’ and activists’ collective which last February launched the Artists Pledge for Palestine, said endorsements were pouring in for the following statement in defence of the boycott pledge.
ARTISTS FOR PALESTINE UK STATEMENT
The letter from 150 signatories (Guardian, 22 October 2015) calling for cultural ‘coexistence’ and ‘dialogue about Israel and the Palestinians’ would be more credible if a significant number of them had some record of engagement and empathy with the experience of Palestinians over the last half century and more.
Instead, we find the list thickly populated with the names of those who have consistently devoted their time and energy to protecting Israel from criticism and accountability. In some cases, such as that of Eric Pickles – former cabinet minister and chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel – they have shown their understanding of dialogue by intervening to suppress an academic conference on Israel earlier this year.
Not every signatory shares the views of Pickles. We ask those who genuinely desire a just peace to reconsider their decision, and to follow the example of more than a thousand of their peers who have signed the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine. There are better ways of defending the rights of Palestinians than keeping company with people for whom ‘co-existence’ is empty rhetoric, used to divert attention from the discomfiting realities of occupation.
196 endorsements received:
(And to read individual statements by artists, read here)