Artists must reject ‘bothsidesism’ – because it serves the powerful and entrenches injustice

Artists for Palestine UK is troubled that the British Actors Network (BAN) has chosen to host an organisation that is funded by the UK government and currently promoted by education secretary, Gavin Williamson, called ‘Solutions Not Sides’. The event is billed as an educational workshop for actors that aims to promote ‘conflict resolution’ as an approach for understanding the situation in Israel-Palestine. 

A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “the crime of apartheid and persecution” against the Palestinian population. We are saddened that BAN, an organisation that is working to challenge abuses of power in theatre and film, does not recognise that it is inappropriate and misleading to apply a conflict resolution model while the very grave crimes of apartheid and persecution – with all the violence and trauma these entail – persist.

When BAN invited expressions of interest from the acting community in a Solutions Not Sides event, we were highly critical because the framing appeared not to centre Palestinian lives.  We were delighted that BAN responded to our criticism on social media by publicly inviting us to submit an alternative event proposal for consideration.  Since sending a proposal for an event for and by artists on anti-racism, internationalism and Israel-Palestine, we have heard nothing.  In a follow up letter to Helen Raw, the person behind BAN, we outlined our concerns.

Today we are making this letter public in the hope of shining a light on some of the issues at stake.

“Our network is very concerned that BAN is engaging an organisation that uses an ‘anti-extremism’ framework – rather than a human rights and international law framework – to discuss British responses to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Framing the issue in this way presents a dehumanising and distorted narrative about what is taking place, about what Palestinians are asking for, and about the nature of antiracist solidarity. 

We sincerely admire your determination to challenge bullying and harassment within the industry, in a way that forces us to recognise unequal power relationships and how these work to silence victims of abuse.

We would never adopt a ‘conflict resolution’ approach to, say, the context of an abusive senior producer and young actor who has been victimised. Doing so would compound an abusive relationship because it erases the unequal power between the two sides, treating them as though they are the same.  This would benefit the powerful and silence the powerless. Instead, we would campaign to hold the powerful accountable before the law and we would amplify the voice of victims, as you are doing in your work.

By invoking a narrative of ‘extremists on both sides’, projects like Solutions Not Sides work to deny the fundamental abuses that are taking place, and seek to attribute blame to victim and perpetrator alike.  This is why SNS is promoted by the UK government and Israel advocacy organisations in the UK. Its approach is not supported any human rights organisations, and certainly no Palestinian groups or organisations. 

We appreciate your desire to make a positive intervention, and strongly feel that the Solutions Not Sides approach is one-sided and damaging. We hope you will consider a different approach, and are ready to help in any way.” 

Artists for Palestine UK urges people in theatre and film to fully engage with anti-racist, feminist and internationalist movements, and work to amplify the voices of marginalised people. They should also reject approaches that fail to hold the powerful to account – whether within our own industries, or when it comes to Israel’s military occupation of Palestine.

photo: Palestinian commuters caged as they approach an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West bank

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