So writes J.J. Charlesworth, associate editor of ArtsReview magazine, regarding the recent notorious boycott statement by 100 "Artists for Palestine" (AFP) and 600 spear carriers.
He continues, inter alia:
'To claim to be acting in solidarity with the Palestinians against their oppressors sounds grandly left-wing, but this is where, in my mind, the politics of Artists for Palestine get muddled. AFP declares that Israel has never faced “sanction, or any threat of sanction, from Western governments." What does that statement imply? AFP seems to be saying that Israel should be punished by the West, with economic isolation, with sanctions, maybe even with military intervention (who knows where it would draw the line?) if Israel doesn't conform to the standards of behavior acceptable to liberal and left-leaning Western artists.
What AFP is really saying is that it treats Israel as no more than any other pariah state that needs to be dealt with sternly by the well-meaning, paternalistic Western powers, in just the same way that they deal with all those other misbehaving rogue states out there. AFP writes approvingly of the “many countries around the world that face retribution by some or all of the ‘international community' for breaching international norms." And while that term “international community" is put in weirdly embarrassed scare-quotes, AFP seems happy for the international community (meaning, I guess, the big Western powers) to get stuck in, only disappointed that it has not done so in Israel. “We" bomb and sanction Syria, Iran, Russia, Zimbabwe etc., etc., so the logic goes, why not Israel too?
AFP's position, then, while sounding like an old-fashioned left-wing declaration of solidarity with those oppressed by the puppet states of Western powers, turns out to be something more like a chorus of liberal cheerleading in favour of yet more Western intervention. As if that hadn't already caused enough chaos and bloodshed in the world. AFP would like Israel to bow down to the “international community's" own proper regard for those other convenient constructs of Western power, “human rights" and “international law"─principles which never seem to apply to our governments when they intervene in the affairs of other, less morally pure states (and always for “humanitarian" reasons, of course).
This isn't really solidarity with the Palestinians, it's moral condescension by the self-righteous and self-regarding over a foreign state they have decided they have the right to pass judgement on. But the tragedy is that the relationship of subservience to Western interests that AFP seeks to impose with regards to Israel, is the same one that will eventually be applied to Palestinians. Any settlement based on bringing Israel “to heel" won't mean the liberation and self-determination of the Palestinian people; it'll mean forcing them, and Israelis, to accept whatever arrangement Western governments will decide is best for them. Whatever AFP may think, the cultural boycott of Israel is an instrument, unwitting or otherwise, for the moral vilification of Israel whose consequence can only be greater interference by Western governments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict....
[T]o mount grandiose displays of your own moral rectitude, while refusing to think through what power relationship you are actually lending support to, is not something the rest of us should feel obliged to support. Luckily, another group of artists and art world people have mounted their own criticism of the UK boycott, gathering hundreds of signatories to their more critical questioning of the logic of the cultural boycott....'Read more here
As Charlesworth reminds us, there's an alternative statement from arty types online, roundly condemning the boycott of Israel. Dating to last October, it's long, and observes in part:
'.... Over the past months topics including the occupation of the West Bank, Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, Palestinian resistance and its struggles, international solidarity and boycott movements, and criticism of Israeli policies, have been taken up in the arts arena with heightened intensity. We are deeply concerned by several aspects of how such issues are approached.
....We see dialogue as a critical part of any conceivable peace resolution between Palestine and Israel, and are troubled by the tendency among international boycott movements—particularly cultural boycott movements supported by individuals in the arts—which make dialogue impossible. Such dialogue inside Palestine and Israel is difficult, and is only made more precarious by unilateral international boycott. Underlying these movements, we fear there is an upswing of anti-Semitic attitudes and attacks, which seem to convey varying degrees of intentionality. Neglecting or simplifying significant historical legacies, Israel is treated as a paradigmatic colonial power, and is boycotted in a way that no other country is. Such discrimination and double standards, whether explicitly stated or implied, demand to be addressed.
.... Boycott is not necessarily an emancipatory act of solidarity with the oppressed and in opposition to the oppressor. The Jewish experience especially in Europe reflects a contrasting effect: anti-Jewish boycotts were once organized against the Jews to exclude them from social, economic, and political life. In these cases, boycott had no anti-colonial implication. Instead, it functioned as a means of oppression by the dominant societies toward Jewish minorities. We are concerned that the language used and political strategies advocated by international boycott movements—among other Left-identified political groups—take the conflict between Israel and Palestine to epitomize neo-colonial evil as such. This view frames the conflict as part of a non-specific eternal battle between good and evil, between “oppressed” and “oppressors.” We ask for a critical approach to dichotomous narratives: Within the tendency to reduce the conflict between Israel and Palestine to that between good and evil, boycott is often romanticized as a political strategy and there is a great danger that the nature of colonial oppression, or of evil, is simplified. Particularly in the case of internationally-staged cultural or academic boycott movements, we fear the tendency to support polarized views.
....If boycott, divestment, and sanctions are considered as appropriate strategies to contest injustice through international solidarity movements, why are they not applied to the other uncountable countries committing injustices? Why didn’t anybody boycott cultural workers from Serbia and Croatia because of the genocidal war crimes committed by their respective countries? Why not boycott Spain for occupying the Basque country, Great Britain for oppressing Northern-Ireland, India for occupying Kashmir or Angola for occupying Cabinda? Shouldn’t we divest from Germany for waging war on Afghanistan, from Russia for invading Chechnya and Crimea or from Turkey for occupying Kurdistan? Why not lobbying for sanctions against China and Myanmar for suppressing freedom of speech, against Brazil and Canada for denying the First Nations’ rights, and against the US for maintaining and deploying the world’s largest military complex? Is it because “someone” decided that Israel ranks as the most unjust country in the world? And if yes: why is that the case?
It is important to not ignore the history of anti-Jewish discourse. Anti-Jewish boycott has often accompanied anti-Semitism as one of its dangerous manifestations. Contacts with Jews have been historically avoided; Jews were not accepted in merchants’ guilds, trade associations, and similar organizations. In many European countries toward the end of the nineteenth century, the anti-Jewish boycott became one of the basic weapons used for victimizing the Jewish population. After the Nazi rise to power in Germany the government publicly announced a general anti-Jewish boycott.
....The BDS movement has been criticized by various actors across the political spectrum for applying the double standards we hereby mention. The conflict is emotionally highly charged, especially for most Palestinians and Israelis and for a lot of other Jews, Arabs, and others related to it. It is also understandable that activists are attracted to the subject. But when the emotional and political engagement in this conflict grows out of proportion to the extent that it becomes virtually and publicly a mass phenomenon, it may be time to ask: why Israel?
....In our view, BDS’s simplifying narratives, together with its biased demands, foster an atmosphere that enables and even provokes attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. We are concerned by the under-representation of positions in support of both the Palestinian cause and Israel’s right to exist—and by the tendency to dismiss any questioning of the international Palestinian solidarity movement as right wing pro-Israeli propaganda....'Read it all here
Meanwhile, what impact is BDS having?
A deleterious one for the Palestinian economy, according to this recent article.