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
It’s me again. After 11 letters from all around the world, a petition with over 6400 signatories that just keeps growing, and a couple groups on Facebook [1,2], it seems like you’re determined to go through the motions of a performance in apartheid Israel. Sure enough, after a long silence from you, we’re seeing the standard Shuki Weiss promotional video, reassuring fans that past cancellations won’t repeat, and that the world still in fact loves Israel. I can reiterate what was written in other letters and statements, but I much rather just respond to one thing you said in the video, which burns with irony: “We love playing for people. Children, middle aged, and old people. So come one come all.”
Since the second that I’ve realized that the only political action left for people who wish to see Palestinian rights realized is Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, it’s been immediately clear that the Palestinian produce and services, and culture and narrative would have to be simultaneously promoted. This would prove to be tricky after 60 years of ongoing ethnic cleansing and simultaneous economic buildup. The systems that have formed in Israel for the benefit of the Palestinian population have often artificially separated the “social” from the “political” and created institutions that are unable and unwilling to truly improve Palestinian lives. Without political analysis, we are left with institutions that’s sole purpose is to serve as a fig leaf, depicting Israel as a state which promotes Palestinian social care and voices, when in fact, all they do is pat themselves on the back for boxing the Palestinian population into a perpetual state of dependence and forced gratitude.
This panel is not only devoted to considering arguments about implementing the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, but also about broader problems of progressive political positioning and backlash in the academy. Although I do not deal with the April 2 case of Richard Goldstone’s unprincipled U-turn on the findings of the United Commissions commission into Israel’s 2008-09 Gaza invasion, the incident suggests the extent to which South African commentary on the oppression of Palestinians has become acutely politicized. For if Goldstone’s return to his Zionist past – recalling, too, his past as a minor apartheid-era judge (hence as a human rights ally, his zig-zag unreliability, reliability and now unreliability) – serves any purpose aside from empowering Israeli militarists, it will be to compel us to use South Africa as a base from which critical inquiry into the condition of Palestine must now be intensified. Fortunately, just such an opportunity arises in the case of the University of Johannesburg faculty Senate’s decision on March 23 to support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) struggle by breaking ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
The neutral Switzerland is about to host a yearly Culturescapes festival. Every year the festival focuses on a different country. This year- the most successful for cultural boycott, yet- it just had to play into Desmond Tutu’s hands and focus on Israel.
A Word about Culture
Culture is a word I’ve been hearing a lot lately. Israel’s Brand Israel campaign is focusing on PR apartheid; Hiding it’s atrocities as best it can, and highlighting it’s “advantages”:
In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 6 niches were identified in which Israel has a relative advantage… The 6 niches through which it is planned to promote Israel, in the world, are environment (with an emphases on desert agriculture); Science and technology (medicine, internet and hi-tech); Culture and art; Human variety and tradition; lifestyle and leisure culture; Tikun Olam [=Fixing the world] (support of populations of special needs).
The company, based in Mishor Edomim Industrial Park, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, markets its devices and bottles under a ‘Made in Israel’ label. By doing so, SodaStream (also known as Soda Club), world leader of home beverage carbonating devices, misleads consumers in Europe and the United States.
SodaStream misleadingly markets its devices and bottles under the Made in Israel label while in fact these products were manufactured in the Mishor Edomim Industrial Park, an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.
The company has recently faced a ruling by the European Court of Justice, stating that goods produced in settlements should not be considered as made in Israel and enjoys the tax exempt of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.
I’ve publicly declared that I won’t give up on you and I intend to keep to my resolution. You keep on asking how not playing in Israel will help the situation. You seem to believe that you are nothing but a 4 minute escape for people (the majority of which, as I explained in my last letter, are soldiers). I believe in each of our endless ability to change the reality around us. But in order to do so, we need to see the reality for what it is. This is what my letters to you are about. This is what the 20 Days to Macy Gray Facebook Project is about. It’s an opportunity for people to empower each other. I hope you’ll allow us to bring back your faith in yourself, that your voice matters, and that you can change this harsh world for the better, for the long run, and not only for the 4 minute duration of a song.
I’ll say it again, I truly appreciate that you took your contemplations public. I can tell by what you write that you’ve been thrown into a world that its intensity is unknown to you. I write to you consistently because your heart is on your sleeve, and even though you seem to have made up your mind, I feel the doubt in every public utterance you make.
I’ll introduce myself; My name is Tali Shapiro. I’m an Israeli citizen and I just came back from the village of Nabi Salleh in the West Bank and read your latest blog post. I’m an activist that joins the weekly demonstrations in the village. There are weekly demonstrations in many villages. Though it’s a part of a movement for Palestinian human rights, each village wakes to dissent for individual reasons. Nabi Sallah has had its land annexed by the near by Halamish settlement and its water spring closed off from them by military force. Ever since then, they’ve been demonstrating.
Demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories come with a heavy price. Whether its the wounded and dead, or the constant harassment. Nabi Saleh has been subject to military closure, houses sprayed with putrid water (another method of “crowd dispersal”), night raids, arrests of activists (regardless of age), and torture which includes threats, beatings and contorted body positioning.
I write to you as I come back from one of these night raids. I live in Tel Aviv by choice. I choose to come to a war zone at night, to witness exactly what is being done in the name of my security: