Thursday, 7 August 2014

To boycott, or not to boycott

A reaction, including that by my friend Gary Lewis, to the IDF's disproportionate actions in Gaza is to call for a boycott of all things Israeli. However, even assuming that boycotts below national level are effective, a more nuanced approach is called for.

There is legal and commercial justification for stopping the import of produce from illegal settlements, as Aldi did last year and the EU has done this year. (There are earlier examples here.) On the cultural front, there will be few outside the "Israel right or wrong" brigade who would welcome the IDF orchestra at present - or any entity which the IDF sponsors.

On the other hand, blanket bans on any cultural or academic contact with Israelis are surely illiberal and verging on the anti-Semitic. They may also be self-defeating, as some of the most pointed criticisms of Israel's collective punishment of Palestinians have come from her cultural elite and in any case interchange of views must aid mutual understanding.

In between, there are some hard cases. I am grateful to Archie Bland in the Indy for presenting the fine detail of what headlines implied was a simple cancellation of a Jewish film festival in London. It seems that the Tricycle Theatre's artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, insisted that the UK Jewish Film Festival return a grant from the Israeli embassy if it wished to continue at the theatre’s Kilburn venue. Tricycle offered to make up the shortfall, but the UKJFF felt that it could not accept that offer. Anyone who has seen "Waltz with Bashir"  or the first series of "Homeland" which was based on an Israeli original will have realised that the Israeli film industry is not a monolithic apologist for the government. Bland's opinion is that the Tricycle's line was not inherently anti-Semitic, but he draws some uncomfortable parallels.

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