There must be another way

This piece, by Rachel Shabi, is from Cif.

The timing was doomed. Just as the Israel-inflicted death toll in Gaza reached 900, a third of those children, Israel’s entry to the Eurovision song contest was announced. It was the third week of Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza, in January, and an Arab-Israeli was going to sing to Europe with a Jewish-Israeli, a song about finding “another way”. Condemnation rained down on the duo. They were slammed as willing fig leaves for Israel’s deadly assault in Gaza, not to mention its stifling occupation of the Palestinian territories, not to mention its discriminatory treatment of non-Jewish citizens.

The objection was easy to follow: how could a Palestinian citizen of Israel, the actress-singer Mira Awad, choose to duet with the Jewish-Israeli singer Achinoam Nini (known as “Noa”), and thereby represent the very same state that crushes, maims and kills other Palestinians? The “radical” left wing both within and beyond Israel was unequivocal: Awad should refuse to sing on such a blood-soaked stage.

She didn’t refuse, and the two will appear at Eurovision this week. And while it might be easy to deride her decision, it is harder to dismiss her – or her creative partner, Noa. The Euro-entry song smacks of the sort of bogus peace PR at which Israel excels, but there doesn’t seem to be a lack of authenticity to the two singers. Of course they have polished the patter for the press. But I also saw them banter together once the TV cameras had gone, jokily flicking stereotypes at each other in the sort of dark, absurdist comedy that usually requires much more than a tokenistic understanding of co-existence.

I saw the duo – long-term friends and creative collaborators – sing something completely different, written and led by Awad, at an alternative ceremony for Israeli Remembrance Day. The event was staged by Combatants for Peace, an organisation of former fighters from both sides who are now battling together for an end to the occupation. Interviewing the two, I was struck by Mira Awad talking about staying friends and maintaining discussion with Noa despite their deep disagreements over aspects of the Gaza war. Sticking around for such conversations, when every part of you wants to walk away in disgust, is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of genuine peace work – and it deserves respect.

Those that slam the duo quite often hold that Israeli society is woefully incapable of changing from within; that the only way to improve the lives of the Palestinians trapped under Israel’s brutal rule is through exerting external pressure. That is a legitimate point and a tactic worth pursuing. But is it so bad to have another view – one embodied by the Euro duo – running in tandem to it? These two singers seem to be saying that, whatever the international community does or doesn’t do about this conflict, Palestinians and Israelis are still going to have to find a way to live together. That’s the draining, demoralising and largely invisible day-to-day work of conflict resolution. That’s what they seem to want to use the Euro stage to state. And you could say it’s a bit hippie and way too understated – but is it nonetheless worth broadcasting?

This piece, by Rachel Shabi, is from Cif.

The UCU boycott campaign is about fuelling hatred against Israel – John Strawson

John Strawson

John Strawson

The latest installment of the UCU saga reveals, yet again, the obsessive character of the boycotters.

In the week after the end of the Gaza war 1300 Sri Lankan civilians were killed yet this is not an issue for the Israel boycotters.  Nor is the fact that since, this number has multiplied many times – with reliable reports of schools, hospitals and “safe areas” attacked, sometimes with hundreds killed in one incident.

The boycotters appear unconcerned about the way in which Singhalese nationalism has been nourished within some sectors of Sri Lankan higher education.  It could be argued that the production and circulation of such nationalism which sets out to exclude the Tamils creates the atmosphere which legitimizes the Sri Lankan military attacks on Tamil civilians. Those who have intellectually sustained Singhalese nationalism through writing books, teaching courses, and working on strategic research could be seen a complicit with the Sri Lankan military – a situation which has existed for at least 30 years.  I think this is the kind of argument that the motion is using about Israel, is it not?  However, over the three decades of the Sri Lankan civil war – which has been marked by systematic attacks on civilians, racist thuggery, dispossession, targeted assassinations and national exclusion – our boycotters have never raised the idea of an academic boycott of Sri Lanka.

The resolution itself is factually inaccurate and erroneous on international law. First Israel did not set out to remove an elected government.  It is a myth that the Hamas was the elected government of Gaza.  After the Hamas-led front won the Palestinian Authority elections in 2006,  the organization attempted a coup against the elected President (Abbas) of the authority in 2007, and was constitutionally removed from office.  It then retreated to Gaza – not as the elected representatives of the people but as failed coup-plotters.

Nor is it legally tenable than Israel’s war (which I absolutely opposed) was “aggression”.  Even the rather pathetic Arab League’s report “No Safe Place” concludes “due to the uncertain meaning of ‘aggression’ it could make no finding on the question of whether Israel’s offensive constituted aggression” (16:2).  The UCU boycotters are clearly legal experts in a very special sense.

The truth is that the obsessive and irrational character of the boycotters means that for them the actual adoption of any resolution is neither here nor there.  What they want is the opportunity to continue to circulate crude anti-Zionist propaganda at every opportunity.  Attacking Israel and normalizing historical and political falsities is their aim. It is not the boycott but the continual fueling of hate against Israel, Israelis and Jews whose national identity is shaped by Israel that is the purpose. In this sense the twisted logical of debating a motion that cannot be legally adopted becomes a clear political campaign.

John Strawson