In support of the Jerusalem Quartet performance

After reading Gene’s reminder “Equally, boycott opponents have a right, and a duty, to express themselves as well”, I just sent this (which I’ve tweaked a bit since sending) to BBC and Cadogan Hall addresses listed on PACBI’s ‘call to action against the Jerusalem Quartet’s Proms Appearance’. I hope the links make it through their spam filter.


info at cadoganhall dot com
proms at bbc dot co dot uk
and the Quartet.


I understand you are coming under pressure from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to cancel the performance of the Jerusalem Quartet on August 29th.

Hopefully cancellation is out of the question, but given the intensity of PACBI’s campaign, I thought I should contact you with some reasons to go ahead.

If you look at the boycott, divestment and sanction calls PACBI references, it is clear that PACBI and other boycott campaigners such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign are not interested in establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Rather, they are interested in eliminating Israel. This was made clear when PACBI successfully cancelled joint simultaneous peace concerts in Israel and the West Bank. PACBI and the PSC cannot tolerate peace work and move to sabotage it.

Some Israeli political groups and human rights and peace-making NGOs draw a distinction between boycotting the occupation on the one hand, which they view as appropriate, and boycotting Israel in its entirety on the other hand, which they recognise as eliminationist. PACBI and other groups pursue the latter – the entire social, cultural and economic exclusion of Israel. PACBI seeks, indiscriminately, to break links between medical institutions and cultural ones alike. Nothing less than the total pariahdom of Israel will suffice. PACBI is attempting to end Israel’s existence.

Unlike the boycott of South Africa, to which the boycott of Israel is frequently compared, hardly any Israelis call for a boycott. Those who oppose boycott include the Israeli socialist party Hadash and peace-making NGOs such as Gisha (legal centre for freedom of movement), the Abraham Fund for coexistence, and Peace Now (for an end to the occupation). The boycott is widely seen by peace-makers on the ground as counterproductive to peace. It is inarticulate, it causes more of the difference and division which are exascerbating the conflict, and it abandons Israeli peace activists.

Israeli authorities have attempted to disrupt Palestinian cultural and academic affairs; I and other anti-boycotters have spoken out against these politically-motivated acts, as I do here.

Meanwhile even joint anti-war Jewish and Palestinian Israeli productions such as Plonter are prevented from staging performances in Israel’s neighbouring states; performances are held to ransom as if they could lever peace. And even joint Israeli and Palestinian Israeli relationships are the focus of PACBI’s ongoing attempts to drive a wedge into co-existence between Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Wafa Younis’s life was in danger after she took her youth orchestra, Strings of Freedom, to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

This is the nature of the cultural boycott.

Israel is unlike South Africa in a crucial way: its neighbours have only recently formally accepted its existence, this acceptance cannot be taken for granted, and there are enduring armed movements which hope to eliminate Israel. In South Africa anti-apartheid activists sought majority rule. In Israel there is majority rule. Israel is the world’s sole Jewish state, which came into existence after the attempted genocide of the world’s Jews. Hamas, Hesbollah and other factions continually preach hatred of Jews, and call this resistance to Israel. Beyond Israel antisemitism is a regional norm.

A total boycott of Israel – the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions of which PACBI’s cultural boycott is part – assists Hamas and other eliminationists by posing an obstacle to peace-making. In short, Israel is not and never has been the sole aggressor in this conflict, nor does it act capriciously or sadistically, as you might think if you were to read only PACBI’s, or only the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s, narrative of the conflict. The settlers must leave the occupied land, reparations must be made to refugees, occupation must end, resources must be equitably distributed, infrastructure must not be used to control and subdue, and Israel’s neighbours must permit Israel to live in peace. In Israel and the occupied territories violence feeds on violence, extremism on extremism. The reason the conflict is intractable is because the causes endure, not because Israel is a brutal state.

Anti-Israel politics are frequently expressed as hostility to Jews. PACBI has been complicit in this, and seeks to diminish concerns about this.

Boycotters will insist otherwise, but hosting an Israeli orchestra does not amount to acceptance of the decisions and actions of the Israeli government. Nor does it amount to a solution to the conflict.

But societies in conflict are vulnerable to the prejudice, demonisation, dehumanisation and despair which haunts conflicts, and without cultural and social exchange there can be no coexistence. And yet cultural exchanges are under attack not from peace-makers but from those who wish to prolong division.

The last time the Jerusalem Quartet was targeted in the name of Palestine solidarity, the protesters were charged with a racially aggravated offence. Separately, protest leader Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign uses far right antisemitic materials in his arguments on behalf of Palestinians. He is part of a current of thinking that perceives anti-Jewish words and acts as a legitimate part of Palestine solidarity.

The attempt he led to disrupt the concert was met with boos from the large audience at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh.

I could think of many more reasons not to cancel the Jerusalem Quartet. Some of them would be to do with cultural exchange and some of them would be to do with art.  None of them would be to do with discrediting solidarity with Palestinians under occupation. Israel is engaged in a violent occupation and ongoing settlement of Palestinian lands beyond its own borders. Israel has demonstrated it is willing to turn large parts of Gaza to rubble and make security for ordinary Gazans meaningless in the name of protecting its own security. But the cultural boycott of Israel will not help end the occupation nor the violence – if anything it will exacerbate the division. Additionally I think (unlike boycotters) that the best way for international community to end the occupation is to learn about the conflict, represent it accurately, and demand and take action which addresses the causes of the conflict. The best way for artistic bodies in Britain to reach out to Palestinians living under occupation is to invite Palestinian artists and performers to this country and pursue their travel permits with the Israeli authorities. I would be more than happy to play a part here, should such an initiative arise.

Thanks for reading and best wishes,



23 Responses to “In support of the Jerusalem Quartet performance”

  1. Gordon Says:

    Fucking hell. That’s the most amazing, coherent, all-inclusive, anti-boycott piece of writing I’ve ever seen or could hope for.

    Must have taken some time.

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Hmmm….August 29, just checked the diary, we’re free that night, know and like the Cadogan Hall, classical music and the way the Jerusalem Quartet play. Now we just have to see if there are any tickets left. Might see you there, Mira, telling the boycotters what to do with their leaflets and one-sided programme of action.

    There’s a music club that runs concerts quite near us, and the Quartet have appeared there in recent years, and the Israel Piano Trio are due there in the current season. You’ll understand if I don’t say where and when, although I suspect that the mainly elderly audience, some of them Holocaust survivors and others emigres, would stand no nonsense from anyone who stood between them and their music.

  3. PetraMB Says:

    What a spirited call to anti-boycott action! While I’m afraid I would have quite a few differences with Mira’s take on the conflict, its reasons and chances for resolution, I cannot but admire this passionate and well reasoned response.

  4. duncan bryson Says:

    Good piece Mira. Do you have a name and address of the person we should write to if we want to add our voice to your appeal?

  5. Gordon Says:

    Apologies for my sweary comment, you may have gather I’ve had a long couple of days and have gone slightly manic…

    Oooh, it did get through, after all…

    Um, yeah, I will be referring back to this letter a bunch.

    Unfortunately it’s not going to win over my colleague in the SPSC.

    Thank you!

  6. Mira Vogel Says:

    Good of you all to say so.

    Duncan, I put the addresses at the top – they’re easy to miss because I tried to disguise them from spambots (I don’t actually know if this works but better safe than sorry). Can you see them?

    Petra, I really appreciate your restraint.

    Gordon, sorry for the late moderation. Consulted our comments policy (which I wrote) and thankfully there’s nothing about swearing. And it’s really good to know that you will be referring back. This is really my aim in writing on Engage. Produce resources and arguments that other people can use. So I’m deeply satisfied that somebody will be using it again.

    Brian, what kind of flower will you be wearing in your buttonhole?

  7. j.r. Says:

    This is also about defending the rights of musicians to work freely without discrimination on the grounds of race or nationality. It is about defending cultural excellence against philistinism. It is about recognising that musicians who promote dialogue, such as this quartet which works alongside Daniel Barenboim and Elena Bashkirova, are part of the solution, not the problem. And it is about permitting people in this country to hear one of the finest chamber ensembles in the world.

  8. Bialik Says:

    Excellent letter from Mira and good point from J.R. Art without cultural exchange becomes tradition. Protest in the form of non-discriminatory boycotts treats people as symbolic objects – which is what the protesters are supposed to be against.

  9. Jonathan Romer Says:

    What PetraMB said and, with reservations, what Mira said too. I admire your energy and your articulateness, Mira. It may be like emptying the ocean with a thimble but keep it up, please.

  10. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Well, tickets still available and we’ve bought ours.

    Mira, if the weather’s at all reasonable, despite my advanced years, no jacket for a buttonhole, so it’ll have to be a rose between my teeth. At least I can use the thorns to press home my points (any possible pun and/or weak joke absolutely intended).

    Looking forward to the concert: what better way of spending a Saturday morning than listening to wonderful chamber music from a magnificent string quartet?

    And the boycotters can go take a running jump: the Thames isn’t that far away. Or they can go and play with trains at Victoria Station.

  11. prelberema Says:

    There is no way Cadogan Hall will give in to PACBI pressure to cancel. Last year they hosted an event by the PSC. They will point this out to those who pressure them.

  12. James Mendelsohn Says:

    Belatedly reading this… Like PetraMB I would “have quite a few differences with Mira’s take on the conflict, its reasons and chances for resolution” but this is still excellent – well done Mira. Any reply?

  13. Mira Vogel Says:

    Yes James, a very minimal one from the BBC letting me know that invitations to perform are based on the international reputation of the musicians, not their political views, and that the performance would go ahead. End of.

  14. James Mendelsohn Says:

    Probably as much as can be hoped for 🙂

  15. Gordon Says:

    Are there links you can point to with some discussion of (i.e. past comments on) these differences of opinion? Need more context, but would prefer reading past… er.. exchanges than starting new ones.

  16. Mira Vogel Says:

    I’m happy with it. PACBI will of course be desperate to be televised and will try to shout down the Zio-music, taking non-violent protest to a new level of meaninglessness.

    • Gordon Says:

      p.s. Jew-sic would have been funnier…That’s just me in the spirit of all good comedy trying to rebuff the world’s idiocy with something slightly offensive.

      I’m off to boycott our local Polish bakery, because of their country’s appalling treatment of gay people. For the same reason I’m switching back from Havana Club to Bacardi. Or am I?!

      • Mira Vogel Says:

        I honestly didn’t have you down as a pun man.

        On the difference of opinion, I think that Petra and James have shown huge restraint in not dragging this thread into the history of the conflict and a weighing-up of rights and wrongs on every side. Although most people agree that the Palestinians and Israelis are involved in an asymmetric conflict, there is a great deal less consensus on the responsibility for prolonging that conflict.

        I am trying to think about whether I have come across a discussion which would cover a reasonable range of possible opinions (rather than the difference between Petra’s, James’ and mine, which I hardly know myself).

        I checked my bookmarks and can’t find a discussion, but Bitter Lemons is a good resource for getting a sense of different positions, although it’s more of a series of pointers and you have to do a lot of homework round it in order to figure out an opinion on the seemingly irreconcilable differences. There’s a free downloadable book of articles on key developments, too.

        Any other suggestions for web resources which try to get to the bottom of the conflict by articulating and dealing respectfully with different positions, rather than entrenching their differences?

  17. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Good concert this am, although we preferred the Pavel Haas quartet playing a Beethoven String Quartet (op. 18, no 4).

    Call that a demo? There were more police than PACBI people – all 2 of them, with one Palestinian flag. We refused leaflets and in reply to the one who asked us to “think of Gaza while listening to the music”, I said (unrehearsed, I promise you) that “I think of it every day”. I wish I had added “as I do of Darfur….Don’t you?”. Always think of these things afterwards.

    Overheard in the concert hall: “I said, truthfully but misleadingly, that I knew the viola player (presumably of the Jerusalem Quartet) and I’ve never heard him make a political statement in his life.”

    Useful phrase that: “truthfully but midleadingly”

  18. You Can’t Stop the Music « jewin' the fat Says:

    […] ladies with placards and pamphlets congregating near the entrance. Yep, you guessed it, the protestors were out in force, and after a few minutes, a fourth joined her fellow rabble rouser posse, and […]

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    […] This entry was posted in Feeds and tagged Israel, UK politics. Bookmark the permalink. ← what are my politics? I don’t really know to be honest. New Year’s Eve 1999 → […]

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