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Rejecting Boycotters

Here is an example of just how petty, vindictive and nasty Israel boycotters can be. From the self-styled Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC):

Saturday 24 April – evening, please join us as we urge Gil Scott-Heron to abandon his proposed show in Israel

The recent announcement that Gil Scott-Heron is to perform a concert in Israel has elicited considerable dismay and concern among his many fans and admirers of his work, as well as among the cultural and artistic community in general. The UK-based Gil Scott-Heron Boycott Israel Campaign has been launched to appeal to him to abandon his proposed show in Tel Aviv on 25th May.

Protest outside his concert in London this Saturday to urge him to cancel his gig in Apartheid Israel:

Saturday 24th April Meet at 6.15pm outside Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank (to protest as people go into the concert that starts at 7.30pm)

Bring banners. placards, flags, drums, etc……

The PSC has had a pretty easy ride in British politics. That may be changing. As reported here, Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) for Hammersmith Shaun Bailey turned down an invitation to a PSC meeting earlier this month. His office said he had:

“..no interest in attending ‘debates’ organised by biased organisations whose very existence is to promote one view”.

“Shaun believes that because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves two sides, it is not fair to call this event a ‘debate’ without having both sides present. Shaun appreciates the invitation however he will not be changing his decision.”

Here’s another development: Conservative PPC for Ealing Central and Acton Angie Bray turned down an invitation to another PSC meeting last night.

Abroad, writers Amitav Ghosh of India and Margaret Atwood of Canada have dealt the boycotters another blow. Both have confirmed they will accept the Dan David Prize.

From Ghosh’s statement:

Thank you for your message. I have received many others in relation to the Dan David Prize, which I am sharing with Margaret Atwood.

To begin with let me say that I am appalled by the enforced isolation of Gaza, by the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and by the intransigence and extremism of the present government in Israel. My sympathies go to all of those who have suffered, and are suffering, in this long and destructive conflict.

However I think it is of paramount importance to note that this prize is awarded by a university in conjunction with a private foundation: it is not awarded by the state of Israel. I would like to state clearly that I do not believe in embargoes and boycotts where they concern matters of culture and learning. On the contrary I believe very strongly that it is important to defend the notion that institutions of culture and learning must, in principle, be regarded as autonomous of the state. Or else every writer in America and Britain, and everyone who teaches in a British or American university, would necessarily be implicated in the Iraq war, and by extension, in Israel’s actions in Gaza and Palestine. Similarly every Indian writer and academic would also be complicit in the actions of the Indian government in areas of conflict. And if we don’t defend this principle how will we defend the rights of dissent of those who are employed in universities – especially, for instance, in times of war, when reasons of state can be cited to create an explicit complicity?

I do not see how it is possible to make the case that Israel is so different, so exceptional, that it requires the severing of connections with even the more liberal, more critically-minded members of that society. Is it really possible to argue that there is in that country such a unique and excessive malevolence that it contaminates every aspect of civil society, including private foundations and universities?

From Margaret Atwood:

Since I accepted the Dan David Prize and it has been announced, I have received several letters from different groups asking me to reverse my acceptance and boycott this event. For some reason, Amitav Ghosh of India, with whom the prize is shared, does not appear to be a target of this campaign. He and I have been chosen to receive the Dan David Prize for our literary work—work that is said to depict the twentieth century. In my case, women and the environment also feature. Here is the citation:

http://www.dandavidprize.org/index.php/laureates/laureates-2010/111-2010-present-literature-rendition-of-the-20th-century/276-margaret-atwood.html

I sympathize with the very bad conditions the people of Gaza are living through due to the blockade, the military actions, and the Egyptian and Israeli walls. Everyone in the world hopes that the two sides involved will give up their inflexible positions and sit down at the negotiating table immediately and work out a settlement that would help the ordinary people who are suffering. The world wants to see fair play and humane behaviour, and it wants that more the longer the present situation continues and the worse the conditions become.

As soon as I said that, in an earlier letter, I got yelled at for saying there were two sides, but actually there are (or possibly more than two). See:

http://www.islamidavet.com/english/2010/03/04/hamas-slams-arab-vow-to-resume-talks-with-israel/

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1126655.html

I certainly have no power to influence these events.

However, the Dan David Prize is a cultural item It is not, as has been erroneously stated, an “Israeli” prize from the State of Israel, nor is it a prize “from Tel Aviv University,” but one founded and funded by an individual and his foundation, just as the Griffin Prizes in Canada are. To boycott an individual simply because of the country he or she lives in would set a very dangerous precedent. And to boycott a discussion of literature such as the one proposed would be to take the view that literature is always and only some kind of tool of the nation that produces it — a view I strongly reject, just as I reject the view that any book written by a woman is produced by some homogeneous substance called “women.”

Good for Bailey, Bray, Ghosh and Atwood.

Perhaps the best days of the PSC and other vicious boycotters are behind them. They are extremists who contribute nothing to understanding and peace. With any luck more and more people will reject them.

Hat tip: Alfie

Gene adds: The BDSers couldn’t even win at the University of California at Berkeley. And if a fashionable “leftwing” cause can’t win at Berkeley…

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