Dancing Into The Trap

By Raymond Deane

Recently the popular Israeli internet news service Ynet published an article by Itamar Eichner called Foreign Ministry beats Israel boycotts (7 October 2011).

The article tells us that ‘Pro-Palestinian groups calling for a cultural boycott against Israel have experienced several failures recently thanks to the Foreign Ministry’s work.’

Note that this ‘work’ is deemed important enough to be undertaken not by the Ministries of Culture or Public Diplomacy, as one might expect, but by the Foreign Ministry itself. This accords with what Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, a former Foreign Ministry deputy director general, said in 2005: ‘We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and…do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.’ (Ha’aretz, 21 September 2005).

The necessity for boycott is established by surveying the situation in Israel/Palestine: Israel continues forcibly to displace Palestinian communities from occupied East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Negev; it continues colonial settlement construction in defiance of international law; its ongoing siege of Gaza causes drastic denial of basic rights; dozens of apartheid laws in Israel discriminate against the state’s ‘non-Jewish’ citizens; finally, Israel continues to deny Palestinian their basic right to return home.

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Dissident Jews: Unwanted in Germany?

by Raymond Deane

Norman Finkelstein

A European country that scapegoats a Semitic people, persecutes defenders of human rights by stripping them of employment, and denies freedom of speech to Jews: surely a description of Germany during the Third Reich?

Yes, but unfortunately also a description of Germany at the outset of the 21st century.

In the wake of German Chancellor Merkel’s craven speech to the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) two years ago, I wrote: “a penance is being paid for Germany’s past crimes… by the Palestinians to whose plight Merkel is so indifferent…. By scapegoating the victims of its former victims, Germany is compounding its past crimes.”  (Scapegoat upon Scapegoat, Electronic Intifada, 20 March 2008).

Just one year later I described the case of Hermann Dierkes,  forced to resign his position as representative of Die Linke (The Left Party) on Duisburg city council after tentatively advocating a boycott of Israeli goods. I commented: “It appears that freedom of speech, supposedly one of the proudest acquisitions of post-Fascist Germany, is readily suppressed when exercised to advocate positive action against the racist, politicidal institutions and actions of the Zionist state.” (A public stoning in Germany, Electronic Intifada, March 2009).

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Raymond Deane’s Open Letter to the Heinrich Böll Foundation on Norman Finkelstein

UPDATE: It now appears that the Rosa Luxemburg House has also cancelled the lecture. For shame.

Raymond Deane, renowned composer and founding member and former chairperson of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, sent this open letter to the Heinrich Böll Foundation after they cancelled Norman Finkelstein’s scheduled lecture in Berlin under the pretense that Finkelstein is a “controversial” figure.  PULSE is the first site to publish this letter in English.  The letter is also being translated into German, and will be appearing on several German websites shortly.  Finkelstein’s talk will still take place, but will be hosted by the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation.

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Utopia as Alibi: Said, Barenboim and the Divan Orchestra

by Raymond Deane

As a classical musician involved in pro-Palestinian activism, I frequently encounter the assumption that I am an unconditional admirer of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO). My reservations on this score tend to produce shocked disapproval: How could I not enthuse about such an idealistic project, particularly since it was co-founded by the late Edward Said, a figure for whom I have frequently expressed respect and admiration?

In truth, I have always been a little wary of Said’s veneration for the eighteenth/nineteenth century canon of European classical music. I look in vain in his writings on the subject[1] for a historical and political contextualisation of music comparable of that to which he so perceptively subjected literature in his indispensable Culture and Imperialism.[2]

In his 2002 speech accepting the Principe de Asturias Prize, Said claimed that he and his friend the Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim founded the WEDO “for humanistic rather than political reasons”. This surprising dualism implies that music belongs to a utopian sphere somehow removed from the dialectical hurly-burly of hegemony and resistance.

The paradoxes of Said’s position have been ably dissected by the British musicologist Rachel Beckles Willson.[3] She quotes her colleague Ben Etherington’s critique of Said’s tendency “to assert the intrinsic value of Western elite music without really exploring how that tradition escapes mediation.” Paraphrasing Said’s critique of literary scholars in his Humanism and Democratic Criticism[4] she convincingly claims that he “omitted to make ‘a radical examination of the ideology of the [musical performance] field itself.’” (Willson’s chain brackets).

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Resigning from Cohen and Amnesty

Activists leafletting a Leonard Cohen concert in Liverpool
Activists leafletting a Leonard Cohen concert in Liverpool

Renowned Irish composer and novelist Raymond Deane on the reasons why he has chosen to resign from Amnesty International. We encourage readers to follow Deane’s example.

When I first – and belatedly – began fretting about human rights and political injustice in the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf War, I joined Amnesty International and started writing letters and cards to political prisoners and to a variety of Embassies.

Although I was subsequently drawn deeply into activism of a more explicitly political nature – particularly on the Israel/Palestine issue – I retained my Amnesty membership out of residual respect for the organisation, but also because I wished to be in a position to say “as an Amnesty member myself, I completely disagree with the organisation’s stance on…” (fill in the dots as appropriate).

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