Campaigners for the cultural boycott of Israel don’t tend to discuss how it would work to achieve its objectives. This is partly because there’s no consensus about objectives and focusing on them reveals the extent to which the boycott is an attack on Israel’s actual existence. It’s also because cultural boycott is primarily about the self-image of boycotters and without power to change the circumstances of the conflict. It is ostensibly a lever seeking to use ordinary Israelis as political tools – but in open denial of their complex circumstances and interests. Often, cultural boycott is an expression of disgust. As an inarticulate wedge, well-meaning people need to understand that social isolation is the chosen method of groups which express hatred of Israel and Jews. Boycott has existed since numbers of Jews began to increase in Mandate Palestine, and most Jews view its current incarnation as continuous. And although it’s unfashionable to mention it, boycotters have readily permitted their campaign to become a conduit for antisemitism – in fact perhaps it was never anything else. As an instrument of peace, cultural boycott is a dead end.
Nevertheless, it has won some important converts recently and the trend is bad. When Elvis Costello’s late cancellation of his Israel gigs was called a ‘turning point’ in the The Forward, my thought was that it has now become easier to boycott Israel than to resist, and that performing there would take daunting amounts of independence, spine and integrity.
Editors are an indie band from Brummie land who must have come under pressure to boycott Israel. They discussed it seriously and responsibly and decided that boycotting wouldn’t do any good and that they wanted to see their Israeli fans. Afterwards vocalist Tom affirmed their decision on the band’s blog:
“Thank you Tel Aviv for a beautiful evening, one that will linger on in our memories for a very long time. When Pixies cancelled their headlining performance at PicNic we talked long and hard about if it was the “right thing” for us to still go or not, as we did when we initially got the offer for the show all those months ago. But the simple fact is we do not believe that playing a show in a country is an endorsement of its government. For example, our shows in Northern America during the Bush administration did not mean we were comfortable with the invasion of Iraq. Right now there is no global concerted effort to change the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians as there was from the world’s media, sports stars and musicians etc with apartheid era South Africa. Sure, given the recent events and the way Israel and the whole of the middle east is discussed and viewed through the western media it would have been the easier thing to do for us to cancel, to forget about it and wait until Israel is out of the news again.
We live in complex times, there are terrible things that happen the world over, but a country’s people are not it’s government. Tonight we played one of the most memorable shows of our career, 1004 people singing their hearts out, 1004 people who hope for peace and resolve wherever the troubles may be, be it on the door step or the other side of the world. Thank you for tonight Tel Aviv, we hope to see you again soon. Peace. Tom (and the other Editors) xxxx “
Anti-boycotters (no less diverse in their objectives than boycotters) shouldn’t seek to appropriate Editors, or any other artist who refuses to boycott. They shouldn’t be treated as ornaments to this or that political cause and beatified without their consent. But it is tempting to lavish them with approval.