Even More… Responding to the Call for a Cultural Boycott of Israel

from DAI (Enough) creator/writer/performer, Iris Bahr:

We artists must keep pushing and stretching and prodding and moving and I pray that no further life is given to such ridiculous proposals of boycotting the very people that are part of the solution, not the problem. Isn’t collective punishment what we are fighting against?! I find the fact that “enlightened” segments of the population entertain notions of such boycotts as useful and legitimate, beyond discouraging.

from 1001 playwright Jason Grote:

I don’t really think a boycott of Israeli culture will ever really get a foothold. Does anyone? I’m pretty sure that it’s yet another tempest in a teapot, another boring distraction, another excuse for the left to fetishize losing and for non-Israeli Jews to feel victimized (I should add that I am both leftist and Jewish, and sick to death of both losing and feeling victimized).

If anything, it would be far more intellectually honest to boycott American artists (of whom I am also one), as it’s our own state apparatus and military-industrial complex which are supporting both the very real crimes of the state of Israel and the worst of the thuggish Arab governments in the region. No one seems to be discussing that.

from Theater J Council Member, Peace Cafe pillar, and DCJCC Dialogues Director, Stephen Stern:

I think we at the Washington DCJCC and Theater J have shared in an extraordinary range of experiences in culture and dialogue. We share artistic expression about the Middle East, yes through Israeli and Jewish eyes, but increasingly opening to Arab and other visions. We take part in invaluable, sometimes harrowing, encounters at the Center — and through the Peace Café as part of a disputatious local and international community.

We have created dialogue across what often seems like unbridgeable difference, conflicting narratives that are hard for the other to hear. Humane encounter with friends, frustration over lack of political progress or possibility of projects together, endless killing and some personal hurt, even in the safe spaces we’ve created.

As I’ve read all these comments on a proposed (and in some places active) cultural boycott, I am heartened by colleagues worldwide who understand the vibrancy of Israel in its fierce will to live, and in its capacity for self-criticism. But I know that that understanding or even solidarity isn’t enough to get us to the next humane stage. From our Arab friends and critics, I have learned so much about their solidarity, will to live and aspiration to overcome dispossession as well. I have been touched by souls for whom the State of Israel is not the beacon of enlightenment and promise it is for me. As much as I know some of them hate to hear me so identify myself – listening to their voices, looking in their eyes, if not through them – has made me a better Zionist. I know that somehow (through hopefully not too many more vales of tears unknown) its fulfillment must be aligned with realizing many of their dreams and aspirations. So I say yes to continued cultural engagement and respectful, even if painful, dialogue. I say yes to hearing all stories and senses of the past, present, and future as essential to building leadership which will see an easing of conflict and the flowering of peoples’ rights and opportunities.
-Stephen Stern
Director, Dialogues and Public Affairs
Washington DC Jewish Community Center

from Theater J great friend, Marc Leland, former assistant secretary of the treasury for international affairs:

Was interested in the exchange and of course agree that usually boycotts are not useful especially cultural ones. I was glad that ruth brought up all the arab countries that discriminate against women and are dictatorships but disappointed that noone said what was the purposeof this proposed boycott against a democratic country(the only one in the middle east) was it to say hamas should be given the land when it is committed to the destruction of israel. At least in a boycott of arab countries it could be for the right of women or free speech.
PS – I see Robert Brustein to a large degree expressed my thoughts.
Best, Marc

2 thoughts on “Even More… Responding to the Call for a Cultural Boycott of Israel

  1. Ari my brother and fellow artist, I read the responses with great interest, first over e-mail and then over the blog. I read the NAMES of the respondents with greater interest. How many Jews would you sincerely expect to advocate a cultural boycott of Israel? I care less how diverse you claim the politics of the Jewish community to be. Double snore. Before I share my comments as a Palestinian-American who sings professionally and has performed at the DC JCC, personal notes are in order to two respondents on this blog:

    * Ruth Futrovsky, are you the same Ruth with whom I went to high school? If so, shalom v’ahava! Please contact me offline so we can catch up. I googled you and learned that (a) we’re the same age and (b) until last year, you lived in Silver Spring. I consider that strong, though not conclusive, evidence that we went to high school — and junior high school — together.

    Just to put you squarely on the defensive, and because you can handle it: your use of the anti-Semitic card (o we poor Jews are treated so miserably in the Arab world) is tired, weak, and so last century. I expect more from a Director of Communications and Marketing. If you didn’t know, and I expect you do, Palestinian Arabs are treated no better, and usually much worse, than Mizrahi Jews in the Arab world today.

    You can’t play the anti-Semitic card when Aliyah by Birthright is available to you, and not to me.

    Palestinians today live the pain of Diaspora, where many of us cannot settle in any one place. Many have to keep moving. If the world sincerely wants to solve the Palestinian refugee problem, compensation is irrelevant when a huge proportion of us are unable to obtain citizenship in the countries where we live. That includes descendants of the Nakba who were born in those countries. And you can’t plop ’em all into what remains of the “22% solution”, as the Wall and the matrix of Bantustans that are the Occupied Territories have made that solution far less than 22%. This makes an economically viable, economically independent Palestine less possible, day by day.

    Ruth, I’m sure you know every bit of this, so please refrain from playing the anti-Semitic card. I find nothing inspiring about grandiloquent histrionics…though I often go there myself. (smile)

    * Stephen Stern, a short comment: Some day, some time, I wish you would meet your counterpart, the Super Stephen Stern with whom I have enjoyed amazing dialogue. The Super Stephen Stern who is Professor of Judaic Studies at Gettysburg College. The Super Stephen Stern who sponsors Hillel at that college. I find his thoughtful nuance truly inspirational. I consider him a friend of peace, a bridge builder for peace. Please meet him, Stephen, preferably in person. You will not regret it.

    Now that I have assaulted my fellow bloggers with egregious posturing, it’s time for me to respond to the original question. Caveat: I do not speak FOR Palestinians. I speak AS a Palestinian-American in Diaspora who grew up in a Jewish community hearing competing narratives, and today lives within walking distance of a Lubavitcher Center. I would be delighted if more Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans would reply to this blog, but seeing as none have, you’re going to hear from me.

    I would be delighted to see a military boycott, an economic boycott, and a tourist boycott of Israel. Yes, indigenous Palestinians in both Israel and the Territories will suffer, but as we saw with South Africans under Apartheid, and in Gaza today, Palestinians will endure.

    I’m flat out against a cultural boycott.

    Two names should speak volumes: Daniel Barenboim and Edward Sa’id. I claim that they were the greatest peace bridge builders in the history of our 100-year conflict. They engaged each other, and the rest of us, in what beautiful music we make when we stand together. In Ramallah. I am most proud that my family’s former soap factory in Old Jaffa is now the Seraya Theatre, the Arab-Hebrew Theatre, where joint productions are performed in both languages.

    As I have stated publicly, I believe that there are three groups within our communities that will bring us to a warm peace: artists, comedians, and women. Artists create, not destroy. Comedians help us learn to laugh with (and sometimes at) each other, and not take ourselves too seriously. And women, especially at the heart of our conflict, are too busy providing for their own to have any time or patience for conflict.

    Okay, I was long-winded. Since I’m the only Palestinian-American to respond thus far, I thank my brother and fellow artist Ari for his generosity. I leave you with humor. What’s the difference between Catholic guilt and Jewish guilt? Jews enjoy it more…at both ends! (smile)

  2. Pingback: Comment from Aref Dajani « The Theater J Blog

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