Peter Tregear (VIC) responds to Szego’s “Image is all for artists in cultural boycott” The Age, June 6, 2010

The Age: “Image is all for artists in cultural boycott” by Julie Szego, 5 June 2010

There are at least three assumptions behind Ms Szego’s piece which deserve to
be challenged.  The first is that culture is, or at least should be, somehow
‘above politics’.  This is view we all would like to believe in, but it is
hopelessly naive and wrong in fact.  In Israel, as elsewhere, culture is a
tool (sometimes even a weapon) for political influence, and pop music
concerts are no exception. I know from first-hand experience, moreover, that
the State of Israel is pursuing a deliberate policy to restrict cultural
expression by Palestinians, epitomized by the official order issued to
police in Jerusalem to close down any event linked to the ‘Jerusalem -
Capital of Arab Culture 2009′ celebrations. (A colleague of mine took part
in a concert in Jerusalem in August last year where police had closed the
road leading to the venue – they played to an audience of ten as a result).
You can read more about these events in the Israeli press at

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1089753.html and

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072679.html.

The second is that somehow we all wield a ‘double standard’ with regards
Israeli civil society (she points to the recent response to the Egypt
Musicians Union’s ban on Elton John for his pro-gay activism).   Let us
stare the argument down–we do indeed hold Israel to a higher standard (the
one, I hope we also hold ourselves to), not least because it itself claims
to do the same–it consistently tells the world it is a an island of Western
liberal democracy in a sea of middle eastern despotism.  Is the implication
instead that the world should instead hold Israel to the _lowest_ standard
of human rights in the region?

The third assumption is that the Israel-Palestine conflict is essentially a
‘fight between two peoples, each of them deserving and culpable to some
degree’, that it is inherently unfair to support a particular side over
another.  No one would contest that there have been grievous wrongs
committed by people representing either cause, but the situation there
cannot by any reasonable estimation be described as a a simple ‘dispute’–as
if we are dealing with equal parties equally resourced, and with equal
access to self-determination in political, cultural, military and economic
affairs.  We are not.  One state occupies land which rightfully belongs to
another, and is engaged in what in other situations we would unashamedly
describe as a programme of illegal (and often violent) colonization.

As was the case for cultural and sporting boycotts during the era of
Apartheid South Africa, International tours of Israel however, unavoidably
help create an impression that everything really is okay, that there are no
inherent problems with Israeli government policy, that, really, everyone
should just play and listen to music loud enough to drown out any criticism
or cries of anguish.  But everything is very definitely not okay.  It is a
matter of fact that the illegal “settlement” programme in occupied East
Jerusalem and the West Bank continues apace as a daily assault to the
world’s conscience.  And it is a fact that Palestinians are currently
prevented from participating in what we ourselves would consider to be
normal cultural activities.  It is not ‘bigotory’, or a cynical desire to
remain popular with a fan base, that has therefore driven many musicians to
refuse to perform in Israel. It is an honorable desire, in the face of over
forty years of failed negotiations and global moral hypocrisy, to try and
encourage genuine change in the region so that Palestinians are given basic
human rights, and an equal opportunity not just to experience the best of
our culture, but to practise theirs, and to share it with the world.


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