Opinion: Yesterday Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab penned an open letter urging Lorde to cancel her concert scheduled for next June in Tel Aviv. Here Dane Giraud, a member of the NZ Jewish community, offers a counterview.
I’m not often asked to be the mouthpiece for political movements. Funny that. Not really. Who’d want a schmuck like me to front anything? I can’t relate to the pressure you no doubt find yourself in constantly – with demands to endorse this and condemn that. What doesn’t help is that in this new age of social media, activism seems inescapably tied up with celebrity brands. Hell, I’m starting to think that the old days when sex was used to sell everything from Coca-Cola to bicycle pumps was a more innocent time. Today it’s a commitment to “causes” and artists like yourself don’t just have to take a position, you’re told to take the correct position.
Here’s what it comes down to: you’re being asked not to sing in front of a stadium full of Jews. Sounds pretty crappy when put that way. And, of course, Arabs, too. Israel has over 1.5 million Arabs – many of whom are no doubt fans of yours. Who isn’t a fan of yours? All right, my 80-year-old mother is a bit mystified by your success, but don’t let that get you down; Steven Seagal is her favourite actor.
Boycotts are tricky buggers, you know. I think people dig them because they feel both extremely dramatic and benign all at the same time. And it’s all about feelings, of course. It’s not like you’re dropping a bomb on anybody.
But boycotts are no laughing matter. To make a personal commitment to try to break a country’s economy and isolate them from the rest of the world is deeply serious – and all the more so if it risks fueling racial hatred towards the targeted group. Surely you need to be sure the moral grounds you stand on are firm. I know I would.
In a passionate open letter published on the Spinoff, the authors urge you to cancel your concert in Tel Aviv in June next year. They assert that the situation in the Middle East is “actually quite straightforward”. But that is to reduce complexity to a placard, to skate over a studied consideration of a long and turbulent history. That leads to the reductive idea that “exclusion” is the answer – the collective punishment of Israelis, 1.5 million Arabs included, through campaigns that seek to deny them participation in the world community.
I am as pro-Palestine as I am pro-Israel. That’s what support for two states means. The only moral solution to the conflict will come about only through direct negotiations between the two parties and anyone supporting movements that encourage intransigence from either side add to the misery of both Jews and Arabs.
The boycott movement only encourages intransigence. Isolating and demonising Israel, while asking absolutely nothing of the Palestinian leadership is part of the wider tactic of avoiding talks, a pattern that any close observer of events over there should be able to pick up.
Known as BDS (Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions), the boycott movement has some pretty eye-widening proponents. I often scroll past Pink Floyd’s creaky bass player Roger Waters talking about how Israel is as bad as Nazi Germany and stuff like that. People are welcome to their kooky views, but breezily drawing comparisons between the Jewish state and Hitler’s Germany? That just won’t do.
If the organisers of the boycott were committed to a two-state solution, why wouldn’t a return to negotiations be central to their kaupapa? A complete withdrawal from the occupied territories, with no serious consideration given to Israel’s security, is what is being asked of Israel, a demand that campaign organisers must know could never be accepted. This fantastical goal reveals the boycott movement to be a campaign-without-end, bent on demonising the Jewish state while absolving the Mahmoud Abbas-led leadership of their responsibilities as a peace partner.
Of course, your summary of a conflict is going to be “straightforward” if you ignore the obligations of one of the major players. Of course, the “occupation” is going to look like apartheid – another facile analogy – if you fail to mention that the checkpoints are motivated by very real security concerns.
I can point to a number of what I’d consider incredibly cynical Israeli policies myself. But what is without dispute is that there is an argument. There is a discussion to have. Boycotts are only justified where there is no debate, not when the so-called victim side is actively avoiding negotiations.
If the BDS fails, and it should, hope won’t be lost. Hope will return. If all Abbas is left with, finally, is no other option but a chair at the table with Israel, then we may get peace. But calling upon artists such as yourself to collectively punish Jews and Arabs of Israel, by buying into a one-sided movement designed to avoid talks, only prolongs the conflict.
I am writing this making a plea for dialogue, not exclusion. L’Shalom and my sincerest well wishes to all over the holidays.
Dane Giraud is a comedy writer and creator of Find Me A Maori Bride.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.