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How Cultural Boycotts Undermine the Peace Process

In recent years we see the rise of the trend to boycott the Israeli academia and to cancel cultural performances in Israel. According to Wikipedia, such boycotts were inspired by the boycotts against the South Africa, in an attempt to pressure it to end the policies of Apartheid. Following the recent Israeli attack on the international aid to Gaza flotilla, the various calls for boycotts and cancellations have been growing like mushrooms after the rain.

In my opinion, such boycotts constitute poor and miserable solution, and do more service to the self-esteem of the boycotters than to the cause they apparently try to promote.

The only islands of critical thinking

The Israeli academia and artistic milieu are predominantly left wing. They constitute a major stronghold of critical thinking and argumentation against the government. In fact, it were the Israeli scholars in universities and research centres that first began a serious discussion and questioning of the Zionist narrative of Israel’s past and of the state policies toward the Palestinians. They also played a pivotal role in making the peace process into an important national agenda and once the dialogue with the Palestinians opened, were instrumental in the design of peace talks. Today, Israeli academics are a serious source of support for contemporary protest against the government actions, and many of them play an important role in the Israeli movement for peace. Academics provide their authority and support for variety of activities from demonstrations, sit-ins, newspaper editorials, to various initiatives for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Israeli artists, most importantly film-makers have been one of the strongest critical voices against the Israeli military actions, against the way the state conducts itself vis-à-vis it’s Arab neighbours, the Arab minorities in Israel, and the Palestinians. The arts have also been instrumental in exposing and criticizing the very cultural trends that breed hatred and fuel the dangerous right-wing politics: intolerance, bigotry, narrow mindedness and racism. Among the numerous examples for such works of art are Waltz with Bashir, Lebanon, the Syrian Bride, and mane many more. In fact, I am not sure I have seen a film in the past ten years that was not critical of that or another aspect of the Israeli culture, let alone a film that supports right-wing militancy.

Look at all the websites in which right-wing nutters list “traitors” and “self-haters” – 90% of the lists are comprised of artists and academics!

The boycotts are lethal for the arts and the academia

First, instead of granting an international cultural support for democratic and critical initiatives promoted by academia and the arts, the boycott helps to marginalize their critical voice. Instead of contributing their voices and critiques to the dialogue and supplying it with an international perspective and universal importance, the boycotting academics and artists undermine the supply of fresh ideas and additional perspectives to the debate.

The boycotts play into the hands of the nationalist and racist right-wing nutters, led by the current government

Among one of the most wide-spread rationalizations for the right-wing policies goes like this: “The world criticizes us because it hates us, and because the world is anti-Semite. If everyone hates us, no one will come to our aid once the Arabs from within and from without will attack us. Therefore we must be strong, always defend ourselves (incl. pre-emptively) and rule the Palestinians with force. It doesn’t matter how we conduct ourselves because everyone is anti-Semite and everyone hates us anyways.”

The Israeli nationalists view the left-wing academia and the artists as traitors of their own nation and as un-patriotic, because of their critical stance toward to government and its policies. In their twisted mind, international boycott of the left-wing academia and artists proves, the “world hates us no matter what we do” point. “Even those weak, submissive left-wingers”, they argue, “can’t please the rest of the world, because they are all anti-Semites”. So by boycotting, rather than supporting and engaging with, the international cultural community undermines the critical efforts of the remaining sane Israelis and plays to the hands of their enemies. In so doing they provide more ground for the already strong position of intolerance and bigotry.

Dear boycotters who claim that the fate of the Peace Process is important for you:

If you really want to help, stop undermining your only true ally in Israel. I know that organizing boycotts is really easy; it makes you feel good about yourself and doesn’t take much effort or imagination. It also helps you to present yourselves as the only liberal and democratic voice of protest, which is NOT the case.

In fact, you are no better than the Israeli government and its cronies, because the boycott makes you just as intolerant and narrow-minded. Instead, engage in dialogue with the left-wing academia and artists, invite them over, give them grants, trumpet their critiques and lend to their voice as much support and publicity as you can. This is the kind of international pressure that these people need, not the other way round.

Believe me, Bibi or Liberman don’t care if academics and artists loose their international partners and support. On the contrary, they’d be happy to see the left-wing critics more marginalized than they already are. Don’t help them, for the boycott only punishes those who dare to raise the voice against the right-wing sense-less government.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/langsamu Samu Láng

    Do you oppose academic and cultural boycott in general or do you think it's acceptable in some cases?
    Do you think it was justified or effective with South Africa?

  • http://dinafainberg.com Dina Fainberg

    In general, I think that cultural/academic dialogue is better and more productive than a boycott. However, if the academia/culture were enforcing and helping to facilitate racism and oppression, the boycott would have been more understandable perhaps. As of now, it's pointless.
    I am not sure what was the position of the South African academia on the Apartheid, so I can't tell whether that boycott was effective or justified.
    The only point where I think an academic dialogue becomes pointless is Holocaust denial.

  • Bbell120

    Hey, the Bull's Eye again. Bravo! Could not say it better. Best, BB