Note to “The Hindu”: There is a Cultural Boycott of Israel.

As soon as I finished yesterday’s blog post, I returned home to unwind while reading the Sunday newspaper with a cup of tea. I turned to the culture pages first where I found an interview with Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai who was apparently in India for the Kolkata International Film Festival. Apparently, the folks in Kolkata are not aware that there is a cultural boycott of Israel in India. This interview, by Anuj Kumar, as with all other articles about Israeli “culture,” treats Gitai as if he were a normal filmmaker from a normal country. Although Kumar gestures towards the Israeli colonization of Palestine by asking Gitai about hiring Palestinian actors, he seems to be completely oblivious to the conditions that Palestinians endure whether in the film industry or life.

Here are some reminders why the cultural boycott is necessary, first from Ben White:

Culture does not operate in some special, apolitical space – just like academic institutions in Israel are also not removed from complicity in systematic human rights abuses. As the Habima general manager put it, the invitation by The Globe is an “honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel in general”.

Furthermore, the Israeli government and advocacy groups are deliberately seeking to use culture as a means of ‘rebranding’ a country increasingly linked in the pubic imagination to its crimes against the Palestinians.

Likewise filmmaker Ken Loach expresses his support for the cultural boycott of Israel:

First of all you are a citizen, a human being. When you are confronted by such crimes you have to respond as a human being, regardless of if you are an artist, a VIP or whatever. First of all you have to respond and do what you can to bring this to people’s attention. A boycott is a tactic. It is effective against Israel because Israel presents itself as a cultural beacon. It is therefore very susceptible to cultural boycott. We should not have anything to do with projects that are supported by the State of Israel. Individuals are not concerned; we have to concentrate on the actions of the Israeli State. That is what we have to target. We target it because you cannot just stand by and watch people live their lives in refugee camps forever.

Finally, here is a succinct response by the national boycott committee in Palestine addressing those who would rather be independent than join the call to boycott:

Some artists argue that, instead of boycotting, they prefer to visit Israel and use the performance opportunity to express their views against Israeli injustices. This ostensibly noble idea is not only — unfortunately — too rare to be viewed as significant; it is ill conceived. Such a hypothetically courageous stance cannot possibly outdo or neutralize the far more substantial harm done due to these performances taking place, as Israel, with its formidable influence in mainstream Western media, cynically uses them to project a false image of normalcy that enables it to maintain its occupation and apartheid.  Ultimately, a conscientious artist is expected to heed the appeals of the oppressed as to what they really need from them in the struggle to end injustice and colonial oppression. This was true in the South African anti-apartheid struggle, too.

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