[Boycott - Cultural]
John Berger rallies artists for cultural boycott of Israel
Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent, The Guardian
15 December 2006
The celebrated novelist, critic and artist John Berger today calls on British writers and artists to undertake a "cultural boycott" of Israel. In a letter to the Guardian, co-signed by, among others, the artist Cornelia Parker, the musician Brian Eno, and writers Arundhati Roy and Ahdaf Soueif, Berger calls for support for "our Palestinian and Israeli colleagues". He suggests boycott tactics; in his case it meant declining to be published by a large mainstream Israeli publisher, he says.
Yesterday he said of the boycott: "It could be a factor in Israeli policy changing. Of course its effects will not be gigantic but it is a way of not staying silent. It is a very personal call ... a way of encouraging the very courageous Israelis who oppose their government and an encouragement to Palestinians to somehow go on surviving." He made a clear distinction between individuals and state-sponsored events or institutions. "It is not a question of boycotting Israeli artists," he said.
The film-maker Ken Loach, who backs the boycott, said he would not take part in state-sponsored Israeli film festivals.
However, Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, said: "There are countless Israelis who vehemently oppose their government ... many are artists and academics, and none of them are prevented from expressing their opposition ... It seems profoundly counter-productive to cease contact with precisely that section of Israeli society most likely to provoke a change in direction within Israel."
Richard Eyre, the theatre director, said: "I would have said during apartheid in South Africa sanctions ... were effective, but so many people since then have said they were counterproductive. It's not cut and dried. Anything that boycotts Israel means we are in danger of cutting off access to [those] we should be speaking to."
The playwright Mark Ravenhill said it was good to keep a dialogue open with those challenging the government. "A cultural boycott runs the risk of stopping that dialogue and support." Michael Berkeley, the composer, said: "Sometimes it is only through the arts that a link remains open."
John Berger, novelist, painter, art critic and philosopher
Brian Eno, electronic musician, music theorist and record producer
Sophie Fiennes, film director
Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer
Reem Kelani, Palestinian singer
Leon Rosselson, musician and writer
Steven Rose, scientist
Ahdaf Soueif, author
Arundhati Roy, Booker Prize winner
Elia Suleiman, film director and actor, and 85 others
Israel boycott may be the way to peace
There is a fragile ceasefire in Lebanon, albeit daily violated by Israeli overflights. Meanwhile the day-to-day brutality of the Israeli army in Gaza and the West Bank continues. Ten Palestinians are killed for every Israeli death; more than 200, many of them children, have been killed since the summer. UN resolutions are flouted, human rights violated as Palestinian land is stolen, houses demolished and crops destroyed. For archbishop Desmond Tutu, as for the Jewish former ANC military commander now South African minister of security, Ronnie Kasrils, the situation of the Palestinians is worse than that of black South Africans under apartheid.
Meanwhile, western governments refer to Israel's legitimate right of self-defence, and continue to supply weaponry. The challenge of apartheid was fought better. The non-violent international response to apartheid was a campaign of boycott, divestment and UN-imposed sanctions which enabled the regime to change without bloodshed.
Today, Palestinians teachers, writers, film-makers and non-governmental organisations have called for a comparable academic and cultural boycott of Israel as offering another path to a just peace. This call has been endorsed internationally by university teachers in many European countries, by film-makers and architects, and by some brave Israeli dissidents. It is now time for others to join the campaign - as Primo Levi asked: "If not now, when?" We call on creative writers and artists to support our Palestinian and Israeli colleagues by endorsing the boycott call. Read the Palestinian call pacbi.org.
and 85 others
John Berger and Michael Berkeley write at commentisfree.co.uk
John Berger and others' call for a cultural boycott of Israel (Letters, December 15) is wholly to be supported. The appalling human rights record of Israel during its 39-year occupation of Palestinian territories is amply documented, not least by Israel human rights organisations and in the writings of Uri Avnery, Norman Finkelstein, Baruch Kimmerling, Tanya Reinhardt and many others.
Yet while continuing to carry out murder, torture, dispossession, the building of a wall on occupied land, as well as settlements, and the maintenance of an apartheid-like situation, Israel has continued to maintain full diplomatic, trading and cultural relations with other western states, not to mention its large US financial support. Israel is in receipt of trading privileges with the EU conditional upon its observation of certain norms of human rights, according to the Euro-Mediterranean Association agreement, but the latter clause remains a dead letter. A cultural boycott would be a first step towards demonstrating that such relationships must not be allowed to continue until Israeli policy and actions change significantly.
As a signatory of the letter supporting a cultural boycott of Israel, may I make the following points?
1) The boycott is not, as the objectors seem to think, aimed at individual Israelis but at state-sponsored events and institutions.
2) There are apartheid-like laws in Israel - for example, the right of return that applies only to Jews, the ban on non-Jews owning state land, the bar on any Palestinian Israeli from living in Israel with a Palestinian spouse not resident in Israel. In the occupied territories roads are maintained for Jews only.
3) By defining itself as a Jewish state, Israel denies full citizenship to its non-Jewish population.
4) Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is threatened, in the long run, by what Israelis like to call "the demographic problem". To put it crudely, too many Arabs. The policy of "transfer", one way or another, will be put into practice, continuing the ethnic cleansing started in 1948.
5) I may not live to see it, but I believe the only just solution is a single secular state with equal rights for all its citizens.
Wembley Park, Middlesex
As a university student during the apartheid regime, the international cultural boycott was seen by all students as a necessary corrective to the falsity of the notion of a "liberal enclave", untouched by establishment influence. Unfortunately, rogue states - notably Israel - continued to trade with, and supply arms to, the regime.
Brighton, East Sussex
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