Rattling the Cage: A little culture, comrades

It seems this boycott in Ariel is more about preserving the imagined moral purity of the boycotters than about striking a blow against injustice.

As one who identifies with the peace camp, with the Zionist Left, I think the 200 or so authors, theater people and academics now boycotting the settlements are wrong. They’ve taken a political dispute with their countrymen – and the settlers are their countrymen – and made it more personal than it already is. They’ve given credence to the stereotype of Israeli leftists as holier-thanthou types, and deepened the public’s alienation from them.
This has not been the Left’s finest hour.
If Amos Oz, David Grossman, Meretz, Peace Now and other Zionist doves want the country to listen to them, they can’t slap the settlers in the face, which is what this boycott does. It’s not only a mistake, it’s an insult. I, too, wish the settlements had never been built, and hope to see many of them evacuated one day, but in the meantime the people living there are entitled to a decent life, which includes such things as culture, entertainment and higher education.
Why deny them that? Because these left-wing artistes don’t want to set foot on occupied territory, because they don’t want to lend their hand in any way to the settlement enterprise?
It seems to me this boycott is more about preserving the imagined moral purity of the boycotters than about striking a blow against injustice. I agree that the creation of Ariel was an injustice, but so long as it’s there and people are living in it, what is unjust about performing for an audience at its new cultural center, which is the boycott’s main target? If putting on a play or concert in Ariel is an injustice, who is the victim?
If the boycotters say the victims are the Palestinians, then I say there are any number of more direct, more effective ways to aid the Palestinians than by withholding one’s artistry from the settlers.
For instance, if you are a soldier, you can refuse to serve in the West Bank, and if you’re not a soldier, you can support Yesh Gvul, New Profile or other groups that promote refusal. And if you don’t want to do that (as I don’t), you can support Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Yesh Din or one of the range of NGOs that expose Israeli abuses of Palestinians. You can join the protests in Sheikh Jarrah, Bil’in, Na’alin and other spots where Palestinians are losing their homes or land.
All these acts are political, not personal. They’re aimed at the occupation and at settlement expansion, not at the day-to-day life of those already settled. There is no reason why you can’t protest at Bil’in and also give concerts in Beit El. The settlers are also people, and you can’t refuse to engage them on the human level and claim it’s nothing personal.
THE BOYCOTTERS defend themselves by saying that if and when the settlers either move back across the Green Line, or their settlements are annexed in a land swap with the Palestinians, they’ll appear before them just like they would before an audience in Tel Aviv.
I think this attitude lays all the blame for the occupation on the settlers while letting everyone else off the hook. Who was more instrumental in building the settlements – the theater-lovers of Ariel or Shimon Peres? The answer is Peres, so why not refuse to perform or speak at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem instead of at the settlements? Politically, it would make more sense.
Why not boycott the real estate companies all over the country that have made fortunes in the West Bank? Why not boycott the defense industries that arm the occupation? Why not boycott the IDF? Why not boycott the government, the Knesset, the state bureaucracy and the courts that have been making this whole catastrophe possible for the past 43 years?
The list of people who’ve been vital to the settlements yet who’ve never lived in one is endless. They go to plays at Tel Aviv’s Habima, to concerts at the Jerusalem Theater; they read novels by A.B. Yehoshua and they’ve been educated by academics at every university in the country.
Why are they off-limits, and only the settlers are targeted? Why doesn’t anybody boycott the thousands upon thousands of Friends of the Occupation who live in “Israel proper”?
Because there would be no end to it, and this is what I meant by the boycotters’ “imagined” moral purity: If you’re a citizen of Israel, if you take part in its national and economic life, you have a hand in the occupation.
So if you’re going to boycott the settlements, be fair and boycott the state. And if you think it’s unfair to boycott the state – which is what the Zionist Left thinks – then be fair and don’t boycott the settlements.