Growing up as a millennial, I was as inspired as everyone by your books. I spent a lot of time immersed in your rich universe, about which I could go on and on. Equally inspiring is the story of how you scribbled Harry Potter’s life onto napkins in a warm Edinburgh cafe as you struggled to pay for heating and relied on government benefits to raise your daughter. Rather than let your newfound wealth shield you from empathy, you’ve been outspoken about your duty to pay tax to support the state institutions that kept you alive, for which I commend you. For someone with vast economic power and fame to support social justice is noble.
Unfortunately, in signing on to the Culture of Coexistance letter condemning cultural boycotts of Israel, you have wielded your tremendous power against the some of the most powerless people in the world. I hope you will reconsider how you can make it up to the Palestinians by opposing how their culture is boycotted and destroyed through violence, and calling for equal rights and an end to the occupation.
The letter you have signed onto says that “[o]pen dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance.” In the abstract this is an incontrovertible truth, but in the reality it obscures the basic fact: There is no moral equivalency between the occupier and the occupied. There are not two equal sides at play here who need merely to seek mutual acceptance. Israel has occupied and settled Palestinian land, denying the existence of a secure and self-determined state for going on 50 years now. While this type of both-sidesism is a common refrain, it is used to obscure the relative responsibilities of those with the greatest power and those with the least. On the one side, a cultural boycott may be a flawed tactic bordering on collective punishment. On the other side is a brutal unending occupation using a state-run machinery of death to inflict collective punishment.
It is ridiculous to oppose collective punishment of an academic or cultural nature, while others are violently collectively punished. Will you not come out against Israeli apartheid, a boycott far greater in horror and scale? Be consistent—no cultural boycotts should mean that Israel should not boycott the entire Palestinian culture though occupation, dispossession, and statelessness.
As Haaretz commentator Gideon Levy has pointed out, Israel already is effectively boycotting the West Bank and Gaza. The illegal blockade on Gaza intentionally creates malnourishment, destroys the economy, and prevents the rebuilding of 18,000 civilian homes. West Bank Palestinians have unelected foreign military law imposed on them. This is an act of violence, continuous for almost 50 years now, a war against the people of Palestine’s right to self-determination and security, which was affirmed at the same time as the Israeli state was created. The occupation is a boycott on steroids.
To be even more literal, Israel has multiple times boycotted Palestinian cultural institutions: the main difference between their tactics and those of BDS being, violently. Israeli journalist Amira Hass documented the vandalization of the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in no uncertain terms. Just in the recent war with Gaza, the Israeli military attacked 203 mosques, 73 of which were completely destroyed. They destroyed the English department of the Islamic University of Gaza—students there joked it was because they were producing PMDs—poems of mass destruction.
It is commendable you’ve been able to empathize with Palestinians through the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. But empathy is not enough: it needs to lead to action, and BDS is the primary tool supported by the very poets, artists, and cultural workers living under Israeli military occupation.
We don’t have time and can’t expect to wait for the minds of Israelis to change, not while they bear no cost to the occupation. International pressure is necessary, as was the case in South Africa. It was baffling in your Twitlonger explanation that you said you never heard of “a cultural boycott ending a bloody and prolonged conflict.” But by your logic, it seems you would have opposed the cultural boycott of Apartheid South Africa as well. Studying history matters, because it shows that things can change, and how. I find it hard to believe the JK Rowling of my youth would have played Sun City or defended Apartheid South Africa from being singled out instead of North Korea, which happens to already be under numerous sanctions and does not claim to be a western-style democracy dependent on good relations with the US and Britain, as Israel does.
Dissidents like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass risk their lives within Israel to report on the truth of what their country is doing in their name. Just recently, two self-described lifelong American Jewish Zionists came out for boycotting Israel, no easy decision on their part.
If Jewish people who love Israel can have the courage to stand up and call for action against Israeli apartheid, then you have no excuse for not marshaling your moral and financial power for the cause of justice.
If despite all this, you simply don’t agree that the cultural boycott is best tactic, while otherwise wanting the horror to end, then what do you propose? Talk has proven cheap—the “peace process” has done nothing but given time for more dispossession and more massacres, all while the US and Britain shield Israelis from accountable and the Palestinians remain a stateless underclass. What should we do?
When we see Israel wage aggressive military occupation, and ghettoizing a stateless people, violently segregating and legally separating two peoples as matter of state policy, then there’s no more time to waste, and certainly no Time-Turners around. Please Jo, call for equal rights and no more occupation.