It’s one of the more confused and self-absorbed boycott undertakings you’ll have read. On the one hand he talks about his conscience. On the other hand he talks about having no choice, catharticly exclaiming “I cannot come, I do not want to come, and I am not coming”. On the one hand, he’s rightly outraged by the Israeli cabinet’s approval of a loyalty oath and the resumption of building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and on the other indicates that it is the profile of his visit rather than the visit itself that’s his ultimate headache. To his correspondent, who opposes the Israeli government, he writes accusingly about “your government” but, as if Israel acted in isolation, glosses the conflict and wider regional turmoil. He designates responsibility for the conflict entirely to Israel while boycotting Israelis who are active in building for peace.
He refers to “what would unquestionably appear as my implicit support for Israel”, yet he was offered, and turned down, a platform to sharply oppose the acts of the Israeli government. You get the impression that his hosts had attributed to him a desire to use the visit as an opportunity to promote peace which he didn’t actually have, and continued not to have even after the ignominious prospect of being spotted in the pariah state panicked him into cancelling.
In the end, the dilemma he sets out is a solipsistic one between commitment to his friend on the one hand, and antipathy to Israel on the other. There is no mention of the impact of his decision on the cause of peace he espouses, nor to what can be done practically to strengthen Palestinian – let alone Israeli – civil society to stand against the forces of conflict. The letter may be confused but it’s consistent in one thing: it’s exclusively about Mike Leigh.
“Thousands of Israelis are active in hundreds of organizations that champion peace and coexistence, roundly denouncing acts that are non-democratic or unethical, and promoting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Hundreds of protestors take to the streets each week to oppose their government’s policy, and they do this despite the strident condemnation and criticism of large portions of our population here. Over the decades Israeli filmmakers (joined by artists from the full cultural gamut) have used documentaries and features to grapple with the myriad strata of the conflict’s complexities. Those carrying out these courageous, controversial endeavors are people who see no contradiction between their being Israelis, Jews and Zionists and their belief in humanitarian, ethical principles, or identifying with the suffering of others. They fight, to a great extent, against the denial of this harsh reality by other Israelis.”
I realise that boycotting Israel must feel like a weight off a famous person’s mind in these weird and avid times, but I dispute that Mike Leigh has grounds for feeling less of a coward now.