It is now Nov 2010, as I write and so 18 months have passed. I find it interesting that despite Israel's outraged indignance at the growing global peoples boycott (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), Israel's leaders are themselves now calling for a global boycott of Iran. Since that time they have also refused entry to UN representatives, and a Nobel Peace prize winner who was to give a lecture in Jerusalem, and many other examples. So Israel is not against the concept of boycotting. It simply refuses to allow others to propose the notion that Israel itself deserves to be boycotted. This changes the argument, since in February 2009 the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel was being challenged by the Vancouver artist community primarily on the grounds that boycotts were not an ethical way to approach the situation and caused undue suffering to Israelis. I must therefore point out that apparently it is permissible for Israel to sanction & boycott others, but not permissible for others to do the same to Israel. You, reader, must decide for yourself. I remain convinced that it is both an ethical, and an effective means of grassroots protest. Governments cannot effectively fight against injustice when hog-tied by backroom alliances, debts and ulterior motives. Individuals can however make their voices heard and felt, and retain the unalienable right to choose who they do and do not support. Indeed the right to boycott lies at the heart of all non-violent direct action.
Some recent stories on cultural and academic boycott actions can be found at these links:
Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman Cancel Participation in Israeli Film Festival link
Elvis Costello cancels concerts in Israel in protest at treatment of Palestinians link
Britain’s largest academic union cuts ties with Histadrut link
Feb 17 2009
Dear Arts Community in Vancouver
Having answered the questions below for an arts feature on the boycott of Batsheva Dance, I felt some of the answers may be of interest to those involved in the initial debate, particularly with the performances approaching this weekend, and the inevitable discussions that will arise, both in support of and against a boycott, and that some of the links may be informative also. Although it appears a little long, please do read to the end. There is useful, relevant and up-to-date information.
What led you to boycott the upcoming Batsheva performances in Vancouver?
A global boycott raises the inevitable question “"Why boycott Israel?". Some people may find the answers hard to stomach, but they are readily available in the alternative and in the UN press news websites. People who may feel at first outraged or confused by the notion of a boycott against Israel are the very people that need to know more about the horrific situations on the ground there. The boycott also allows for exactly this kind of discussion of the issues that have been hidden. The masking of the current violence as being justified as a response to the Hamas rockets fails to address the most important issues, and when you read more about the history and the facts, this is quickly debunked as an invalid justification for "disproportionate" retaliation by Israel.
I have visited the region several times as a video artist working on arts-related projects, spending time in Israel (Haifa, Jerusalem and Ein Gedi) and the Palestinian West Bank cities of Jericho, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron.
I have witnessed first-hand, (since 1999) an ever-increasing brutality towards the Palestinians by the Israelis (by the army and citizens alike), and the subsequent diminishment of the hope of Palestinians for a peaceful end to the conflict. My first visit to Israel was as a videographer for a USO military entertainment trip with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, so I have seen the region from helicopter battleships and Israeli sanctioned tour guides, as well as from the grassroots, to being prevented by Israeli soldiers from visiting the mosque in Hebron with Islamic pilgrims, and spending a peaceful Easter Sunday at churches in Jericho. Many travellers are too afraid to travel into the West Bank, and Israeli citizens are forbidden to cross the West Bank checkpoints, by their own government.
From a sense of fairness and a desire to better understand the situation I have read about both sides, and seriously attempted to keep an even and unbiased position.
Over time this has become impossible for me to maintain. The recent assault on Gaza was my ‘last straw’. I am no longer able to side by default with Israel, and have come to the conclusion, supported by my own observations that Israel does not actually want peace, and is systematically working towards the elimination of Palestinians from the region.
Since the western press is dominated by news from the Israeli perspective, I feel that the boycott (which began in 2005, with an appeal from Israeli and Palestinian film-makers) is the very best (and perhaps only) way for the rest of the world to both voice their support of a fair and just resolution of the problems there, and to exert external pressure on Israel to curb its many daily illegal actions (from the settlement expansions to ex-judicial killings, destruction of people's homes, eviction from their farms and towns, and a complete disregard for international laws and UN resolutions).
How have you been leading this proposed boycott?
It is a personal standpoint. I am not part of any organization or group. As part of my ongoing ‘self-study’ on the issues, I have also studied the history of the region. I read about boycott campaign, and went to Naomi Kleins website. I considered the pro’s and cons myself and decided that I was in favor of the boycott. Life’s sometimes comedic sense of timing then brought me the news two weeks later that Barb Clausen and Jim Smith were bringing Batsheva to Vancouver. I felt deeply about the issue, but decided that I needed to know more about the dance company, and their history. Once I had researched the dance company I decided that the company fell clearly within my understanding of the boycott’s reach.
So I wrote an open letter to the presenters and to the other members of the dance and arts community, that I am personally connected with, with the goal of raising the debate, as well as to propose that this global Israeli boycott be applied to this dance company.
There have already been boycotts in London in the UK, and I found out later that many boycotts are already planned in many (all?) of the other cities on Batsheva's North American tour.
If there was not a boycott in Vancouver, we would be the exception rather than the norm. I felt it was my place to contribute to this discussion and raise the debate to publicize this issue.
What response have you gotten so far?
About 60-40 (for the boycott v. against) One thing I did find of note, however, was that those in the local dance community who were in support of the boycott, were highly reticent to tell others. They were happy to tell me ‘one-on-one’ and to thank me personally for taking a stand but did not want to compromise their own position in the arts community by standing up themselves to do so. I think the fear of being labelled anti-jewish is a part of that, rather than understanding that the issue is political not racist, and is about zionism and illegal warfare, not at all about being ‘anti-jewish’ or even particularly about being ‘pro-arab’.
However, beyond that, the fear is also financial in this uncertain economy; simply one of not wanting to take a stand that could backfire on them locally. The politics in the Middle East are complicated and many people feel too ill-informed to know what they should really feel, let alone do. They also don’t want to lose local clients who may disagree with them.
What has surprised you the most from the response?
The amount of back-room discussion going on about the boycott in the arts community. I think this can only be a good thing.
Since I am not a seasoned political activist, but rather only an artist who is acting from a personal belief system, I have been surprised by the immediate email and hacking attacks I have had from zionist extremists (particularly the ‘Jewish Internet Defence Force’) that have been directed against me via the internet, since writing the letter. I have had to remove myself from Facebook, and tighten security on my artist website. My laptop was destroyed by one vicious attack and has had to be rebuilt completely. There was even some evidence that my browser was being monitored for five days before my laptop was attacked. I have had to take my other work and video editing computers offline from the internet. A friend of mine who is a depression counsellor, but has also supported the boycott, had his Facebook identity vandalized, and his Yahoo contact list stolen. His counselling website was also disrupted by the same group mentioned above, that purports to be 'non-violently' fighting anti-semitism online. This appears to include attacking anyone who does not agree with Israel, rather similar to George Bush's "with us, or against us" attitude. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1037253.html
Considering that artists all over the world, including Canada, receive government funding to tour, present and produce work, to what extent do you feel artists are representative of their country, and of their government's actions?
This is the most difficult aspect of a boycott. However by its nature a boycott is ultimately designed to exert pressure within the boycotted country for internal discussion and change (as it did successfully in South Africa in the 70’s/80’s). Those in support of an economic boycott are not always in support of a cultural boycott as well, since artists are not politicians or soldiers. However, I think it is up to each individual to decide upon their personal ‘boycott-comfort-zone’, and to think deeply about it, perhaps on a case-by-case basis. Many Canadians are not aware that most British Universities have already refused Israeli academics as part of this boycott and Israeli fruits and vegetables are not being imported by some supermarket chains there.
UAE/Dubai has this week refused entry to Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer, as a new sports boycott of Israel. In retaliation the Israeli response (although at first he appears to speak against boycotts in general, then appears to propose his own boycott of the UAE... so in effect he us simply saying boycotting is ok, unless it is Israel you are boycotting. Even the terminology he uses, is similar to the disproportionate response espoused by Israel's military in Gaza.
Michael Klein, chairman of the Israeli Tennis Association, said the WTA had to make sure that Peer's ranking was not harmed because of her exclusion from the tournament.
He said it also needed to send a stern message that such behaviour was unacceptable. "The sanction has to be so severe that no one will ever attempt to boycott an athlete again," he said.
The Batsheva dance tour has aligned itself with the 60th year anniversary celebrations of the creation of Israel and the tour has been made possible only by large government funding increases. I do not feel this celebration is appropriate when so many devastating actions are being carried out against civilian Palestinians. The celebration itself is a topic of contention to the peace process. A boycott is a grassroots response to extreme & unacceptable conditions within a society, such as it was in apartheid South Africa, and as exists now in Israel/Palestine.
“The latest Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) – supported by a large majority of Palestinian civil society – does not target Jews or Israelis qua Jews; on the contrary, it actually addresses conscientious Israeli Jews, urging them to support efforts to bring about Israel’s compliance with international law and fundamental human rights, both necessary elements in reaching true peace based on justice. Many around the world recognize the extent of Israel’s breach of international law. The real challenge now is to do something about it.
Only by applying effective international pressure against Israel similar in scope and comprehensiveness to that successfully used to end apartheid in South Africa will intellectuals and academics be fulfilling their moral obligation to stand up for right, for justice, for equality and for a chance to validate the prevalence of universal ethical principles. By doing so, they will also serve in the most effective manner the cause of coexistence and real peace.”
-- Omar Barghouti (a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel)
A cultural boycott is a clear message to Israel that the allies they have depended on for so many years are not OK with the current behavior of Israel. It goes beyond politics and sends a universal humanitarian message from the grassroots around the world, that they are in fact acting alone.
Just as my own voice is one small voice, and my own actions I must live with for the rest of my life, so must the individual actions of each Israeli citizen live with theirs. If they choose not to speak out within Israel, then they are in support of the status quo. In my mind that makes the cultural boycott valid.
I feel it is somewhat disingenius to suggest that this affects all artists that receive any kind of public funding from their governments elsewhere in the world, including Canada. I find it highly unbelievable (having witnessed the pressure within Israel on its citizens) that if Batsheva were to create work that was critical of Israel that they would continue to receive their extra funding from the government. Our own government has already cut funding to its own touring arts programs. Arts funding is political. Wishing it were not, is simply wishful thinking and naive. It is a knife-edged (and usually under-funded) game that all artists play to exercise their democratic rights to make art. However it is my democratic right to boycott a massively well-funded Israeli dance company, that has no Arab-Israeli dancers, (1 in 5 Israeli citizens are of Palestinian heritage), and some of whose junior members currently serve in the Israeli army as reservists.
I do hope that at least some of their members will realize that the world is watching Israel’s actions, and not just mindlessly applauding ‘so-called non-political choreography. The right to make art is the same as the right to free speech. Palestinians nor Israeli peace-niks do not currently enjoy the right to free speech in Israel. A broad-based boycott is the strongest non-violent message that an individual can send, that Israel does not have your support.
QUOTE FROM BATSHEVA's OWN PAMPHLET (attached)
"With over 200 annual performances in Israel and abroad, Batsheva is proud to be considered Israel's leading ambassador."