I am responding to the letter writers in Monday’s edition of the Guardian who called for Radiohead to not perform in Israel. There were many inaccuracies which I would like to address, but there is just not enough room in the Guardian’s letters page for me to do so!
First of all I want to address the points raised in the letter by a group of Palestinians in support of a boycott of Israel, who paint Israel as the ogre of the conflict.
The military campaigns in Gaza have been a response to a missile campaign aimed at Israeli civilians since 2005 when Israel withdrew from Gaza. Indeed since 2005 over 11,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza, including regularly at border towns such as Sderot.
The travel restrictions, as well as the checkpoints and other security measures in place are a response to the constant terror attacks Israel has faced over a number of years from a range of Palestinian terrorist groups. I do not enjoy seeing Palestinian hardship and I wish those carrying out the terror attacks thought not just of the consequences on Israeli civilians, but on Palestinians civilians as well. The terrorist threat is real: in the sixteen months prior to February 2016 there were 333 terror attacks, where 46 civilians were killed and 636 others wounded.
Israel regularly allows Palestinians into Israel for medical treatment if they are sick. Indeed in October 2014, Hamas’s then leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh’s daughter, was admitted for a week to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.
Comparing Israel to an apartheid state is an insult to all those who suffered under real apartheid in South Africa and completely erroneous. For a start, 14.2% of Israel’s Parliament is made up of Israeli Arabs and 77% of Arab citizens of Israel say they prefer living in Israel compared to any other nation and there is an Israeli Arab judge on the Supreme Court. It also ignores the fact that all citizens of Israel, including Israeli Arabs who make up 20% of the population enjoy religious freedom, equality under the law and full civic rights, as outlined in Israel’s declaration of independence. This is in comparison to apartheid South Africa, whose legal system was based on segregation and discrimination, and domination based on race. It is no wonder that Benjamin Pogrund, a former South African anti-apartheid activist, has said “applying the word apartheid to Israel is both factually wrong and politically naïve.”
In any peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, where Israelis can live in peace without the fear of terror and Palestinians can achieve their dream of nationhood, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would have rights. The occupation of the West Bank only remains whilst peace talks continue to fail and as I will outline below boycotts won’t bring about peace.
Now I want to address the problems I have with those calling for boycotts of Israel, including trying to stop Radiohead playing in Tel Aviv. Music such as Radiohead’s is a beautifully complex expression of human nature, which can make you feel joy, sorrow, happiness, excitement and anger, whatever language you speak, whatever gender, race, religion or nationality you are. In other words music like Radiohead’s can be a fantastic unifier.
A cultural boycott of Israel assumes that despite Israel being the only thriving and stable democracy in the Middle East that all Israelis take an oath of allegiance every day to Benjamin Netanyahu and refuse to disobey him. All that boycotts do is collectively punish every single Israeli citizen for the alleged crimes of the Israeli Government.
We also have to question the motives of those behind the boycott movement who seem to have an irrational fixation on Israel. They seem to turn a blind eye to those who are far worse human rights abusers worldwide and who are on Israel’s doorstep such as Iran, Turkey, Belarus and North Korea.
Those who are leading the boycott of the Jewish state of Israel also have a tin ear when it comes to sensitivity. Given the history of boycotts against Jewish people, culminating in the burning of Jewish books in Germany and boycotts of Israeli businesses, those leading the boycott movement should be unsurprised why so many Jews are offended by their actions.
If you want to bring Israelis to the peace table and feel that it is in their interest to talk to the Palestinians, you are not going to bring that about through boycotts. Boycotts make Israelis feel more isolated, more picked upon and strengthens those voices in Israel who oppose compromise.
At the same time it infantilises Palestinians, suggesting to them that they don’t need to make any difficult compromises and that their leaders can continue to incite terror against Israelis, because at the end of the day the international community will continue to put pressure on Israel until Israel eventually caves in.
Culture actually has a role to play in building coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, creating settings where they can enjoy the arts together and build relationships of mutual trust and respect. If you want to help, ask Radiohead to perform in Ramallah too, so that Palestinians as well as Israelis get to enjoy Radiohead.
We need to support ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to work towards a two state solution based on a secure Israel and a Palestinian state by supporting peace projects on the ground and funds for peace as outlined by Ned Lazarus’s report for BICOM on the value of peace and coexistence projects. Stopping Israelis from enjoying Radiohead in Tel Aviv will provide none of that and divide Israelis and Palestinians further, leading each to hate the other more.