In which a fool snares a playwright

on 3 Comments

Who currently sets the terms of the West’s interventions in Israel/Palestine? Criminals, fundamentalists and fools. The last invite ridicule, but their crude methods are consistent with the first’s: demonize the victim and immunize the perpetrator of gross violations from accountability.

In a recent open letter to Emma Thompson, signatory to the artists’ Guardian letter of 29 March supporting the boycott of Habima theatre, the ‘fool’ sets out her stall:

Do you know that the biggest health problem in Gaza is obesity? In case you haven’t noticed, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza so any human rights violations there (of which there are many) are down to the Hamas government not Israel.

Offensively, laughably ignorant, right –  who is going to take this joke seriously? Then for the punchline:

There is another aspect to your downright nasty and disingenuous call for a boycott. As Jews we remember another boycott started in 1933 in another country, when ugly mobs stood outside Jewish shops and Jewish performers were barred from performing. We all know how that ended. Tell me what is the difference between you and those previous groups calling for expulsion of Jewish performers?

The logic is nonsensical. And yet even well-intentioned progressives are cowed by it. For fear of being perceived as anti-Semites, they let Zionist ideologues and fools define their boundaries and self-censor accordingly. This week a British playwright, David Edgar, attempted in a Guardian comment piece to, at once, defend the boycott of Israeli national theatre, Habima, as legitimate, and justify his decision not to sign the aforementioned artists’ letter.

How, you might ask, did he square this contradiction? 

The Globe is being invited to make the kind of editorial judgment that any publisher or editor makes every day. It’s not about the product: the letter-writers would be protesting whatever Habima was performing. They are pursuing a form of non-state, non-violent action that follows the precedent of the sports and cultural boycott that effectively isolated apartheid (and which is being called for over the grand prix in Bahrain). If you supported the South African boycott, you can object to the call for the Globe to withdraw its invitation on the grounds that it’s disproportionate or unfair. But you can’t call it, in Jacobson’s words, “treasonable” to art, and thus objectionable per se.

All of the above makes complete sense to me. So why didn’t I sign the letter? I didn’t sign because Habima is not just an Israeli but a Jewish theatre company. I think the behaviour of Israel in the settlements, in Gaza, in Lebanon, is outrageous. I don’t want to contribute to an economy which supports the military machine that commits these acts, so I can see the argument for not buying Israeli produce. But I see how easily boycotting Israeli foodstuffs morphs into calls for boycotting stores that sell them, particularly when owned by Jews. I just don’t want to be part of a campaign that can be summed up in the slogan “Boycott Jewish stores”.

Summed up by whom? By the fools?

In the UK, for example, exported Israeli goods are stocked by large supermarket chains, which are the main targets of the boycott; even in the case of small, independent shops that choose to promote Israeli produce, how many of these self-define as ‘Jewish’ businesses (as opposed to Kosher)?

Tellingly, the playwright states that “Habima is not just an Israeli but a Jewish theatre company”; this is true, and historically its Jewish identity was a symbol of resistance to Russian persecution. But in the present-day ethnocratic Jewish state of Israel, it is an anachronism and a symbol of racial exclusion. To respect an Israeli state institution’s self-declared Jewish nature is not a show of tolerance and anti-racism, but the opposite.

Either intelligent writers like David Edgar have the courage to stand with those who have explicitly stated their intention is to force a nation state to comply with international laws, or they agree to be bullied into silence by fools and criminals who scream ‘Jewish pogrom!’ to shut down dissent.

About Eleanor Kilroy

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3 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    April 18, 2012, 1:30 pm

    He is not a fool; he is a coward. He explains how this is like the boycotts of South Africa and then, in a stunning non sequitur, he says that Habima is not just an Israeli institution but a Jewish institution.

    Imagine, an Israeli institution which is Jewish! (Well, there are some which are not Jewish, of course, however much some right-wingers might wish it otherwise, but REALLY!)

    Why doesn’t he propose a non-Israeli Jewish theater group to produce Shakespeare? If there are none, then shame on the Jewish people. why should the Palestinians have to pay, finally, for the failure of the entire world’s Jewish population failing to have a theater company outside Israel? (How they must suffer! something to ponder.)

    • pabelmont
      April 19, 2012, 11:42 am

      “Today, I’m watching the bits of democracy that exist here tremble under the weight of the occupation. I watch the conversation about Israel grow increasingly divisive in the Diaspora. I consider the vibrant Jewish cultures and languages that were virtually wiped out for the sake of forging an Israeli identity. I see Jews turn away from Judaism because of Israel’s ill-doings. I wonder if my great-grandmother saw all this coming, if she knew the trouble that lay ahead.”

      From 972 mag

  2. RickB
    April 18, 2012, 3:06 pm

    The author of the letter to Emma Thompson calls her a scumbag on her twitter account:
    link to twitter.com

    Her timeline is also pretty revealing as to her mindset.

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