The interesting thing about Israel is that its government and registered citizens have a wonky spatial perception, which feeds off itself: In Israel, you’re not in the state, the state is in you. Due to this cyclical perception, along with the “standard” “nation branding” (a marketing lie on to itself, and that sick capitalist perception of a state- a geographic territory with obligations and responsibilities towards its respective inhabitants- as a product which is on the market for sale), known as Brand Israel, much of Israel’s propaganda is based on the blurring of the lines between the individual and the state (and army).
As a BDS activist, whose main focus is cultural boycott, I’ve come up against a very common Israeli claim (individuals, small business, and government officials) that “culture has nothing to do with politics”. Most commonly it comes in the form of a puzzled “rhetorical” question: “What does culture have to do with politics?!” As if asking this question closes the discussion, because it’s so obvious that art, music, books, films, theater and dance are a pure form of entertainment that has no intellectual, political, anthropological value. As if cultural products aren’t bought and sold as commodities and status indicators.
Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd. in the Service of the State of Israel
As anybody who lives in a capitalist regime knows, government and private business usually share mutual interests. Israel is no different. Somewhere in between the government of Israel and the individual citizen of Israel, there’s that special class of private business. Staying on topic, I’d like to look at Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd., a small, yet prolific production company in Israel, which main project is bringing big name rock bands to perform in Israel.
My regular readers already know the name Shuki Weiss, but for the benefit of those that haven’t read this bit of information, I quote myself:
Weiss and the Israeli government have a special relationship in which they include him in Knesset meetings about outlawing the protesting tool of boycotts [http://maxblumenthal.com/tag/shuki-weiss/], and he sends them VIP tickets to shows he produces [http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/tourism-minister-given-illegal-gift-of-vip-madonna-tickets-1.262006 ]. This is not just corruption within the system, but corruption that serves to whitewash Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people, using international artists such as yourself. As quoted in the latter article:
“Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Shira Koa said that the ministry had agreed with the producers of the concert that the event would be used to promote Israel as a safe tourism destination. “Madonna belongs to an exclusive club of mega stars, who draws thousands of fans from abroad to her concerts. For this reason, the ministry authorized an agreement with the producers that would give the ministry video and stills footage of the singer and her entourage, both during the concerts and her visits to tourist sites in Israel, to be used in international marketing campaigns. They also agreed to have four displays at the concert with films promoting Israel, supplied by the ministry, targeting the thousands of foreign tourists… Such promotion campaigns are regular occurrences both in Israel and abroad.”
These above two paragraphs actually answer the question of the connection between culture, economy and politics pretty straightforwardly. But it seems they are not enough to break through the state propaganda. Somewhere along the past few days, the Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production company, replaced the one and only page on their website, publicizing the May Depeche Mode concert, with a re-issuing of their 2011 statement (shamelessly promoted on Marianne Faithfull’s official Facebook page):
Due to the state connections of Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd., which I’ve outlined above, this statement is dishonest at best. But I’d like to delve into it a bit deeper, because it would seem that the Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production company has officially taken upon itself to channel state propaganda, from tourism; to technology, culture, arts, science, entrepreneurship and medicine; “The Only Democracy in the Middle East”; to freedom of speech; to an apologetic stance on a “questionable leadership and a less than positive foreign policy” (but what does culture have to do with politics?!). I’d argue that this is not an innocent attempt of a local individual, to communicate to foreigners, his pride in the beautiful views of his country. I’d argue that Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd. is war profiteering. And this statement is not a cultural product disseminated for free, but a crude attempt to secure these profits.
Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd. – War Profiteer
“War profiteering” doesn’t have a definition in the dictionary. The word profiteering is defined as such in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
prof·i·teer noun \ˌprä-fə-ˈtir\
: one who makes what is considered an unreasonable profit especially on the sale of essential goods during times of emergency
— profiteer intransitive verb
My understanding of this definition is that if someone is making profits disproportionate to what is common on the market, by abusing scarcity of essential goods, he is considered a “profiteer”. This is a strictly economical definition, which ignores political contexts with the undefined euphemism, “times of emergency”. It begs the question: What is the reason for scarcity of essential goods?
“War” is one possible answer to this question. But then, we find that applying this answer to the above very limited definition of “profiteering” leaves certain aspects of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine undefined. The situation in the Palestinian occupied territories is in fact that of a captive market (as been very clearly exemplified in the 2012 Who Profits “Captive Economy” report). However, there are additional aspects to Israel’s colonization of the territory formerly known as Falastin, which exemplify the systematized profiting off of a “war-like” situation (pardon the euphemism). This form of profiting isn’t necessarily disproportionate in the general market, and it doesn’t necessarily trade in essential goods, but it undoubtedly makes its profits as a singular part in a whole system which is killing and abusing a defined group of people in a “war-like” situation. These people (pardon the euphemism) have taken upon themselves the task of defining this form of profiteering, how it serves the system and what it gains from these services rendered:
- Cultural product is commissioned by an official Israeli body or non-Israeli institution that serves Brand Israel or similar propaganda purposes.
- Product is funded by an official Israeli body, but not commissioned (no political strings).
- Event is partially or fully sponsored or funded by an official Israeli body or a complicit institution.
- Event or project promotes false symmetry or “balance”.
As in the case of the so-called “Creative Community for Peace” (or the so-called “Think Tank”, the Reut Institute), political statements of privately owned businesses and business-people, are not a non-profit, a-political, non-governmental, civil society endeavor, championing freedom of speech, and other civil liberties. The Israeli government, identifying the threat to its current policies of apartheid, executed via a military regime, is in tight contact with its cultural industry, and employs it in it’s “nation branding campaign”.
The Only Democracy in the Middle East: Shut Up and Eat Cake!
By the strict (with good reason) Who Profits criteria, Shuki Weiss is not profiteering off of Israel’s occupation. However, I argue that Shuki Weiss, on his part, talking high and mighty of TheOnlyDemocracyInTheMiddleEast™, has everything to gain from the encroachment on civil liberties and freedom of speech, as exemplified in the Boycott Prohibition law.
For a businessman and corporation, which trades on cake rather than bread, without a doubt it’s a matter of survival: If artists stop booking shows in Israel- his venue- he will be out of a job. But there is a choice of conscious that he can make, that judging from his statement, not only doesn’t occur to him to mind, but is against his political agenda. Shuki Weiss can choose to:
- Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
- Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
- Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;
- Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;
- Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.
So how could Weiss and capitalists like him be persuaded to act in at least 1, if not all 5, of the above mentioned PACBI criteria? I suppose we can start by translating this “radical speak” to the liberal language that Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd. professes:
In 2010, the UN Human Rights Council issued the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework (“UN Framework”), “concerning the responsibilities of business in relation to human rights”. The idea was basically that the state has a duty to protect human rights by making sure that corporations respect human rights:
The corporate responsibility to respect human rights means acting with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others, and addressing harms that do occur… It is a global standard of expected conduct acknowledged in virtually every voluntary and soft-law instrument related to corporate responsibility, and now affirmed by the Human Rights Council itself.
A company’s responsibility to respect applies across its business activities and through its relationships with third parties connected with those activities—such as business partners, entities in its value chain, and other non-State actors and State agents. In addition, companies need to consider the country and local contexts for any particular challenges they may pose and how those might shape the human rights impacts of company
activities and relationships.
Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd. have actively participated in the infringements of human rights, by assisting the state of Israel in whitewashing its war crimes against the Palestinian people; co-opting human rights organizations (who should also be ashamed of themselves for selling human rights for a handful of hard candy) in a non-transparent interaction of offering bribes (who payed for this very political action?); [update 7.12.2013] attempting to bribe big name artists to break the boycott, assuming state propaganda rhetoric, which has a clear goal to distract attention from these violations in its communication with its business partners and clients; and willfully participating in parliamentary debates that aim to stifle the freedom of speech without protestation.
In TheOnlyDemocracyInTheMiddleEast™- which is a signatory on the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises- and its jurisdictions, there are no “effective grievance mechanisms” where “victims may seek redress” to this type of rights violations by a corporation, as the UN Framework stipulates. In fact, just by writing this article, I may be sued under the Boycott Prohibition Law.
This is exactly why Palestinian civil society took it upon itself to analyze and articulate these violations. And why it chose to appeal to the international community to boycott such companies and institutions. And why it chose to appeal to international cultural workers, not to be complicit in these violations, not to mention not to make a profit off of them.
This final paragraph goes out to international artists, many of whom are brand names, especially Shuki Weiss Production affiliated Marianne Faithfull, Mark Lanegan (who preformed in Israel for the second time in 2 years, just 2 days ago) and Depeche Mode, who will be preforming on 7th of may 2013: By preforming in Israel you are complicit in violations of human rights and you profit off of them. The UN Human Rights Council and international civil society calls on you to respect human rights.
6 thoughts on “Israel 2012, The Question of a Nation: What Does Culture Have to Do with Politics?”
Good to see you still alive and kicking. I see that, somehow, Israel are the host nation for the 2013 Under 21 European Football Championship. Always did baffle me how Israel found itself in Europe. Convenient though as I’d be surprised if anyone else would play them.
I think I “get it” about why you feel BDS is particularly suitably aimed at cultural targets. Some of these, at least, are close to the government and when such folk are hurt by BDS, their pain is likely to be reported particularly sharply to the government.
Just as insurance companies might (after the storm “Sandy”) squawk in the USA about climate change enough to catch government ears, so Shuki Weiss might squawk about what settlements are doing to his business.
But, of course, if (as I believe) the purpose of BDS is to make every facet of Israeli society and economy feel pain until the settlements are rolled back or the occupation ended, then cultural targets of BDS are only a part of the story.
One thing about them, though — they do get a bit of press! And that helps BDS on all fronts. I mean, who reads about “Veolia”?