British Writers In Support of Palestine

January 5, 2017

Jenny Diski and John Berger: In Gratitude Both

One would be forgiven for thinking that the famously traumatic 2016 also claimed BWISP – my last post was in November 2015. But although my silence was in part due to a breast cancer diagnosis in June, I received the All Clear two days before Christmas, and attended a New Year’s Eve party full of Palestinian rights activists, so rest assured 2016 didn’t have things all its own way: both I and the organisation are still kicking. Though perhaps there won’t be the need to leap into action: as I said at the party, it looks like BWISP has been so effective that either Israel hasn’t dared to offer another British writer a prize, or no British writer has wished to accept one!

Joking aside, my illness, which followed a period of travel in the spring, sadly meant that I did not post a timely tribute to one of our most renowned members, Jenny Diski, whose public journey with cancer ended in her death on April 28th. Diski hated being called a ‘fighter’ of cancer – and even ‘journeyer’ probably made her wince – but she did not shy away from political conflict: as one of the 94 signatories to John Berger’s Dec 2006 letter to The Guardian, she joined the first international roll-call of supporters of the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), driving her legendary acumen straight into the mast of the Palestinian cause – and into the side of Zionism. Later she emailed support to BWISP in its early days. We never met, but also exchanged Tweets on the subject of fish and chips: a Jewish import to the East End, I had read. She replied: “We had cold fried fish on Fridays. & the Nautalus in NW6 serves fish battered with matzo meal. Gefilte fish never caught on tho”. I will be adding In Gratitude, Diski’s cancer memoir, to my growing collection of the genre, and now I’m recovering, I’ll make a trip to the Nautalus in her honour.

jenny-diski1

 

Diski’s loss is still keenly felt, and the death of BWISP ‘patron saint’ John Berger on January 2nd, felt like 2016’s final vicious swipe at the common good. Berger was a literary and political gentle giant, a man who combined an undimmed sense of wonder with moral leadership all the more persuasive for his playful nature. Like Diski’s, Berger’s death is summoning tributes from the most august journals; like hers too, few if any of these literary obituaries mention his deep commitment to the academic and cultural boycott. Yet, as the heartfelt tribute from PACBI makes clear, Berger was first among the ‘first responders’ to the boycott call and, as as author of the 2006 letter to The Guardian, was instrumental in ensuring the campaign gained traction amongst writers and artists. He too lent BWISP personal support, lending his name and telephoning me from France to discuss strategy. In particular he wanted to ensure that I was clear on his position: that the boycott did not apply to brave Israeli dissidents – or indeed to any Israeli as an individual. The conversation made me even keener later on to participate in ‘Redrawing the Maps’, the 2012 London celebration of Berger’s 86th birthday, for which I organised the event ‘Letter(s) To Gaza’, encouraging members of the public to write to people in the besieged strip. The panel included Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza – two young men who, as one commented, could never have met in their homeland, travel between the two territories being forbidden by Israel. Although himself absent, Berger occasioned this joyful reunion – just as his work will continue to generate fruitful encounters now he himself is gone.

With what I came to learn was his characteristic generosity, Berger also took a kind interest in my poetry, yet another genre of literature he breathed like mountain air. His Collected Poems (Smokestack Books, 2014) is dedicated to his late wife Beverly, ‘mistress of each page’, who also deserves our great respect and gratitude. Fondly remembered here by a high school friend for her impeccable taste in protest music, as the recent BBC documentary in honour of John’s ninetieth birthday makes clear, Beverly was not just simply Muse, but amanuensis. A librarian by profession, she gave John a vast amount of practical support, from typing his manuscripts to handling his voluminous correspondence. As a recipient of emails from her I know he could not possibly have accomplished all he did without her help.

Upon hearing the news of John Berger’s death I summoned to mind one of my favorite lines of his poetry: ‘The tongue / is the spine’s first leaf”. This image, to me, expresses the intrinsic relationship between voice and courage that John embodied.  The line became an epigraph of a poem in his memory this week, published today by International Times. Here at BWISP I will leave you with John’s own words, his personal message to the signatories of the 2006 letter to The Guardian in support of PACBI:

john-berger

I would like to make a few personal remarks about this world-wide appeal to teachers, intellectuals and artists to join the cultural boycott of the state of Israel, as called for by over a hundred Palestinian academics and artists, and – very importantly – also by a number of Israeli public figures, who outspokenly oppose their country’s illegal occupation of the Palestine territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Their call is attached, together with my After Guernica drawing. I hope you will feel able to add your signature, to the attached letter, which we intend to publish in national newspapers.
The boycott is an active protest against two forms of exclusion which have persisted, despite many other forms of protestations, for over sixty years – for almost three generations.
During this period the state of Israel has consistently excluded itself from any international obligation to heed UN resolutions or the judgement of any international court. To date, it has defied 246 Security Council Resolutions!
As a direct consequence seven million Palestinians have been excluded from the right to live as they wish on land internationally acknowledged to be theirs; and now increasingly, with every week that passes, they are being excluded from their right to any future at all as a nation.
As Nelson Mandela has pointed out, boycott is not a principle, it is a tactic depending upon circumstances. A tactic which allows people, as distinct from their elected but often craven governments, to apply a certain pressure on those wielding power in what they, the boycotters, consider to be an unjust or immoral way. (In white South Africa yesterday and in Israel today, the immorality was, or is being, coded into a form of racist
apartheid).
Boycott is not a principle. When it becomes one, it itself risks to become exclusive and racist. No boycott, in our sense of the term, should be directed against an individual, a people, or a nation as such. A boycott is directed against a policy and the institutions which support that policy either actively or tacitly. Its aim is not to reject, but to bring about change.
How to apply a cultural boycott? A boycott of goods is a simpler proposition, but in this case it would probably be less effective, and speed is of the essence, because the situation is deteriorating every month (which is precisely why some of the most powerful world political leaders, hoping for the worst, keep silent.).
How to apply a boycott? For academics it’s perhaps a little clearer – a question of declining invitations from state institutions and explaining why. For invited actors, musicians, jugglers or poets it can be more complicated. I’m convinced, in any case, that its application should not be systematised; it has to come from a personal choice based on a personal assessment.
For instance. An important mainstream Israeli publisher today is asking to publish three of my books. I intend to apply the boycott with an explanation. There exist, however, a few small, marginal Israeli publishers who expressly work to encourage exchanges and bridges between Arabs and Israelis, and if one of them should ask to publish something of mine, I would unhesitatingly agree and furthermore waive aside any question of author’s royalties. I don’t ask other writers supporting the boycott to come necessarily to exactly the same conclusion. I simply offer an example.
What is important is that we make our chosen protests together, and that we speak out, thus breaking the silence of connivance maintained by those who claim to represent us, and thus ourselves representing, briefly by our common action, the incalculable number of people who have been appalled by recent events but lack the opportunity of making their sense of outrage effective.
John Berger
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November 20, 2015

Refuting J.K. Rowling + A Farewell to Irving Weinman

Followers of the UK debates around cultural and academic boycott will be well aware of the launch of the new anti-boycott group ‘Culture for Co-existence’, a response to this year’s significant formation of Artists For Palestine UK (APUK), which has to date garnered over 1090 signatures for its Artists Pledge for Palestine, and has in addition published a 64 page book The Case for a Cultural Boycott of Israel, a comprehensive response to all the questions that typically arise about the campaign.

In their recent brief letter to The Guardian (Oct 23) signed by, among others, J.K. Rowling and Simon Schama, ‘Culture for Co-existence’ argues that ‘Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory and do not bring peace’ while ‘cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change.’

I was sorry and frustrated, but not surprised, to see the cultural and academic boycott of Israel once again misrepresented by its opponents. Rather than research the issue and respond to the detailed case we have time and again put forward, the signatories have made veiled accusations of anti-Semitism, and in their own defense have offered only easy slogans that bear no relevance to how the arts are in fact leveraged in Israel.

Once again it must be pointed out that pro-boycott campaigners do not ‘single out’ Israel. Many of us also reject funding or prizes from other authoritarian regimes. I’ve never been offered such a prize, but I didn’t watch a minute of the Sochi Olympics – and this was a sacrifice, as I love figure skating. Not watching TV is not, however, an effective political action. The boycott of Israel has gained such traction and visibility – and carries additional moral weight – because it is not simply a set of isolated refusals, but a growing collective response to an organised call made by the Palestinians themselves. This demand for solidarity from artists, writers and academics comes from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), whose existence ‘Culture for Co-existence’ signally fails to acknowledge.

In addition, far from being ‘discriminatory’, the entire boycott movement is grounded in respect for human rights and international law. It does not target individuals at all, let alone on the basis of religion or nationality. Rather, it rejects co-operation with Israeli institutions and the Israeli state,  insisting that we not accept cultural offerings funded by a government actively engaged in ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation in defense of an apartheid state. Like its great precedent against apartheid South Africa, the boycott also asks international artists to reject commercial ventures in Israel until such time as the country honours its responsibilities under international law. If signatories would not have ‘played Sun City’, then they should not play Tel Aviv.

I am a poet and novelist and I do believe in the power of art to generate empathy and understanding for others. But art exists within a globalised economy of money and power, and cultural products cannot be automatically assumed to nurture positive political change: in fact, they may well do the opposite. In the case of Israel ‘cultural bridges’ serve only to strengthen a highly privileged relationship with the West. Decades worth of literary prizes,  rock-n-roll concerts in Tel Aviv, and state-sponsored theatre tours of UK have not led to freedom for the Palestinians and peace for all in the region. Cultural engagement has not even put a brake on Israel’s relentless expansion of settlements, its demographic warfare on its Arab citizens, or its ruthless assaults on Gaza. In Israel the arts flourish, but the situation for the Palestinians simply gets worse. Cultural events are not neutral, either: they buttress the country’s self-styled reputation as a ‘liberal democracy’, a reputation that ensures its war crimes do not simply go unpunished, but are rewarded with sympathy, respect, and eye-watering amounts of military and financial aid.

In contrast, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement subjects Israel to sustained moral pressure, and provokes the honest and informed debate that all campaign proponents welcome. Finally, cultural and academic boycott does not burn bridges. Nothing in the PACBI call prevents cultural exchanges or intellectual collaborations between Israelis and Palestinians, or visits to the UK from Israeli artists, as long as these events do not involve Israeli state or institutional funding.

For further replies to the ‘Culture for Co-existence’ letter, please see PACBI’s Open Letter to JK Rowling, the astute analysis by BWISP member Sarah Irving of the Zionist actors driving the group, and statements by British artists for APUK.

* * *

Irving WeinmanVery sadly, I must also report in this update the loss of novelist, short story writer and BWISP co-founder Irving Weinman, who died suddenly on October 26th 2015, at the age of 78. His loss will be keenly felt by many. I first met Irving in 2007, when I came to Lewes to interview his wife Judith Kazantzis about her poetry. At the end of the interview, Irving joined us from the kitchen with three stubby bottles of beer on a tray, and we never looked back. I became a frequent visitor to their colourful home, often spoiled by Irving’s fabulous pescatarian cooking, always entertained by his marvelous raconteurship and inspired by his warm internationalism. Irving’s parents were shtetl Jews from Romania who lived in Paris before emigrated to Boston in the thirties where Irving was born. His mother spoke seven languages and Irving grew up hearing mainly Yiddish, Russian and French, and also much music in the house. A talented jazz pianist, Irving switched allegiance to literature in his youth. He attended writing classes with Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, called James Baldwin ‘Jimmy’, and co-founded the Key West Writers Workshop and Lewes Needlewriters. As well as successful crime novels, he wrote powerful literary fiction. Wolf Tones is funny and tough, a punchy, insightful portrait of a difficult father-son relationship, and ‘the sad arterioscleroris of America’.

Irving, Judith and I founded British Writers In Support of Palestine in 2010, and Irving was a prime force behind BWISP’s early recruitment drive and letter writing campaigns. He also lent his significant presence to local supermarket protests, and spent four weeks in 2010 as a driver for the Road to Hope Convoy to Gaza, blogging en route.  In a tribute penned for his own anti-fascist blog and reposted by Jews for Justice for Palestine, Tony Greenstein notes ‘Irving stood in an anti-racist tradition that went back to the Jewish fight against anti-Semitism in Europe, not the Zionist tradition of anti-Arab racism. Irving was proud to be Jewish.  His attitude to Israel’s war crimes was ‘not in my name’.’

Recently, Irving published books on the craft of fiction, and was writing short stories based on his family history, including the experience of refugees fleeing the pogroms. He spoke of his mother to me after I returned from Odesa last year – he was very taken by the fact I had seen Isaac Babel’s drinks cabinet in the city’s small Jewish museum. I still have Irving’s copy of Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People on my shelves, and there are many more conversations I would dearly love to have had with him. He is survived by Judith Kazantzis and her daughter Miranda; his son and daughter in America, Michael and Zoe; as well as grandchildren. Farewell to a wonderful friend.

March 6, 2015

Mike Marqusee: A Journeyer On Many Roads

Filed under: BWISP members — Naomi Foyle @ 1:24 pm
Tags: ,
Mike Marqusee in 2009.

Mike Marqusee in 2009. Photo by Felix Clay.

 

 

It was with great sorrow that I learned of the loss of BWISP member Mike Marqusee, who died in January after a long illness. I did not have the privilege of meeting Mike, whose premature departure deprives his loved ones of a precious partner, brother and friend, but both the legacy of his work and his obituary in The Guardian make it clear that we have all lost a marvellous and deeply principled writer, poet and intellectual. A footloose American, Mike’s interests ranged from cricket and British labour history to Renaissance art and Indian culture, while his memoir If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew (Verso, 2008) remains an outstanding contribution to the struggle to bring about a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. BWISP is thankful for Mike’s support of the cultural and academic boycott of Israel, and will remain forever proud to count him among our number.  On behalf of the group, I send our condolences to his family and friends.

Naomi Foyle

 

May 2, 2012

Open Letter to Tracy Chevalier and Tom Rob Smith: reconsider your invitations to Jerusalem Writers Festival

Dear Tracy Chevalier and Tom Rob Smith,

We are disappointed to hear that you will be appearing at the Mishkenot Sha’ananim International Writers Festival in Jerusalem this month. Funded by the state of Israel, the Festival is a highly political event: in 2010 its keynote speakers were President Shimon Peres and Minister of Culture Limor Livnat (1). The festival has the stated aim of ‘improving the image of Jerusalem around the world’ (2) – yet in blind defiance of international law it celebrates the ‘reunification of Jerusalem’ (3). Let us be clear: the UN has designated Jerusalem as the shared capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state, and what the festival calls ‘reunification’ all right-minded people call occupation and illegal colonisation.

Israel has no sovereign rights over East Jerusalem, yet it has located its main police station and Ministry of Justice there; has erected a wall to annex Palestinian neighbourhoods; and grabs yet more land with illegal Jewish-only settlements. Arab East Jerusalemites are considered residents — but not citizens — of Israel, but even this dubious, second-class status is far from secure. Manipulating law and bureaucracy to suit its demographic purposes, Israel routinely revokes residency permits and demolishes Palestinian homes.(4) Protesters, including children, are brutally punished by detention in solitary confinement under conditions tantamount to torture. (5) Jerusalem, as a result, is a deeply divided city, carved up and scarred by the policies of an apartheid state.

We know you are both writers of conscience: Tracy is currently writing a novel about slavery, and Tom donates ten percent of his royalties to charity. We, members of British Writers in Support of Palestine (6), respectfully urge you to stand on the right side of history: to reconsider your invitations, and join us in taking up the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel. This boycott obtains until such time as Israel abides by its obligations to international law.

Signed

Felicity Arbuthnot
Prof Mona Baker
Hugh Dunkerley
Naomi Foyle
Fred Johnston
Ghada Karmi
Judith Kazantzis
Eleanor Kilroy
Wendy Klein
Diane Langford
China Miéville
Jeremy Page
Khadiga Safwat
Seni Seneviratne
Irving Weinman
Eliza Wyatt

1. http://blogs.forward.com/the-arty-semite/127688/shimon-peres-limor-livnat-and-nir-baram-start-fest/#ixzz1sTv9eIIk
2. Jerusalem Foundation Writers Proposal Page 2
3. Jerusalem Foundation Writers Proposal Page 4
4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8390717.stm
5. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/22/palestinian-children-detained-jail-israel?newsfeed=true
6. www.bwisp.wordpress.com

April 6, 2012

Shakespeare’s Globe: Disinvite Habima!

Many thanks to BWISP member Eleanor Kilroy for her sustained work on the on-going Shakespeare’s Globe ‘Disinvite Habima’ campaign, summarised here in her comprehensive article for Mondoweiss, reposted with permission.

English effort to boycott Israeli theater is likened to…. ‘Nazi book-burning’

In the one week since their Guardian letter, ‘Dismay at Globe invitation’ to the Israeli Habima theatre, was published, signatories such as Emma Thompson and Mark Rylance have been vilified in some quarters. The Jewish Chronicle was expected to hit back the hardest; it has been following the story since late last year, even before Habima’s planned involvement in the Globe to Globe Shakespeare festival aroused opposition, initially from the Israeli organisation Boycott from Within.

In an October 2011 JC article, ‘Israelis fear protests at Globe Shakespeare festival‘, a Habima spokesperson, Rut Tonn, described the Palestinian theatre company Ashtar’s appearance in the same festival as “a blessing”, and an example of “collaborations which will help with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” But Ashtar has refuted any suggestion that its appearance in the festival four weeks before Habima’s implies any sort of balance, and said in a letter to the Globe this February:

“They have insinuated cooperation with us to undermine the growing cultural boycott of complicit Israeli institutions.”

Now The Jewish Chronicle has fashioned its best headline yet out of a quote from a British playwright:

Theatre ban ‘like Nazi book burning’ say West End stars

The call for a boycott of Habima, which was founded by Jews in Moscow in 1905, was condemned by Sir Arnold [Wesker], who said that “depriving an audience of an artistic experience is like the Nazis burning the books of the finest minds and talents of Europe”.

Habima’s artistic director Ilan Ronen, responding to the Guardian letter, reiterated this week in Haaretz the falsehood that illegal West Bank settlements are part of Israel. This is the line that Habima co-manager Odelia Friedman took in front of the Knesset in 2010:

“As a national theater company, Habima will perform for all residents of Israel. Residents of Ariel are residents of Israel and Habima will stage shows for them”.

The same Odelia Friedman declared just two months ago that the Globe invitation was ‘an honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel’, in the spirit of the infamous 2005 statement by Israel’s Foreign Ministry: “We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.” Yet the Globe and its apologists insist on equating the Palestinian boycott of Israeli institutions with an attack on individual (in some cases, Jewish) artistic freedom.

Last night, at a rather chaotic Dash Café London event “Art & Conflict – The Case of Syria”, my Reel Festivals colleague Dan Gorman gave an example of the Syrian Ba’athist regime’s attempt to co-opt their independent cultural festival in 2011, months after the uprising began. The Reel Festivals organisers abandoned plans to stage events in Syria upon seeing the Syrian authorities’ use of cultural events to support their narrative of popular support for the government, with events such as the “Oath of Loyalty to the Homeland festival” last July.

In this interminable propaganda piece by the SANA news agency on the ‘festival’, the following quote is typical: ‘Artist Subhi al-Rifa’ai said “We came here today to show the world that no one can undermine our country and national unity”.’ Crude rhetoric compared to the whitewash of The Jewish Chronicle and Ynet, and yet the parallels should be noted.

I have little doubt that several of the participating Syrian artists were too fearful for their lives to decline the invitation to front this state-sponsored event – the very antithesis of culture, just as the ethnically privileged Jewish Israeli actors in Habima dare not risk careers and government subsidies. As BWISP colleague, Naomi Foyle has stated in response to the Globe’s repeated claim that all Habima company actors are closet dissidents:

“If I were a conflicted Habima actor I would be glad of a boycott that might pressure my employers and state funders to rethink their illegal and profoundly destructive policies.”

July 2, 2011

Freedom Flotilla II: No, Howard Jacobson, no.

As the captain of  The Audacity of Hope is arrested at sea, BWISP co-founders novelist Irving Weinman and poet Judith Kazantzis respond to Howard Jacobson’s attack on Alice Walker’s decision to join the Freedom Flotilla II.

I’m writing as a novelist, like Howard Jacobson; as a Jew, like Howard Jacobson. Unlike Howard Jacobson, I’m American, though resident in England. Also unlike Howard Jacobson, I’m not a Zionist.

In writing what he has, Jacobson reveals his arguments for anyone to read and comment upon. And the fact is, his arguments are nonsensical. Does he really believe that Palestinian children in Gaza have the same sort of quality of life that Israeli children do? Do 80% of Israeli children depend on UN food relief for basic nourishment? No, Mr. Jacobson, this flotilla is about helping Palestinians in need. No, Mr. Jacobson, this flotilla is not going to enter Israeli waters, and stopping it outside Israeli waters breaks international maritime laws. No, Mr. Jacobson, the boats will willingly be searched for weapons. No, Mr. Jacobson, Israel will not take the cargo and deliver it. They didn’t with any of the other flotilla boats they stopped and whose cargo they took. And mostly, no, Mr. Jacobson you are not going to change the subject to the kids of Israel. This is about the kids of Gaza, the ones who get to go hungry, go without clean drinking water, get white phosphorus dropped on them by Israeli grownups who indeed were once Israeli kids.

Irving Weinman

So Israel supporter Howard Jacobson derides the brave Alice Walker and all the others on Flotilla II.  It’s as if a Somali pirate were to blame a ship for being in the Indian Ocean. The UN makes the two points over and over again that, first, Israel is blockading Gazan waters – which do not belong to Israel – and, second, Israel has no right under international law to arrest any other ship in international waters. Should we infer that Jacobson as a British citizen denies established international maritime law?

Howard Jacobson may think that the only good Americans are in AIPAC or the AIPAC packed Congress.  Most of the left and the liberal left will see Alice Walker’s presence as heroic witness in a woman of 67 who needs no publicity but is ready to run the blockade in the name of justice and humanity. Perhaps in the long watches of the night, Mr. Jacobson finds himself a little bit jealous of such courage; but don’t bet on it. He sounds more likely to hero-worship one of those tough Israeli pilots whose play-station childhoods (bang – splatter) train them to button-push unmanned drones to bomb Palestinian children (bang – splatter) and to consider such murdering a patriotic virtue.

As for the super weapon(s) with which it seems Mr Jacobson fears Gazans would annihilate Israel if they weren’t starved and besieged, this is official Israel Press Office paranoia – code name Tell It Like You Mean It – looped like a spider web round the world’s media to justify the eternal occupation of the Palestinians. The Big Lie. Not as pretty as a spider web.

Judith Kazantzis

June 12, 2011

[July 10th] Southbank Debate: Why Boycott Culture?

BWISP is very pleased to announce the following high-profile debate on cultural boycott, featuring the architect of BDS, Omar Barghouti, and BWISP member Seni Seneviratne.  We look forward to seeing you there, and to hearing your questions from the floor.


Sunday July 10th
7 pm, The Purcell Room
The Southbank Centre
£10 / £5 concessions (limited number)

WHY BOYCOTT CULTURE?

Where basic freedoms are denied and democratic remedies blocked off, cultural boycott by world civil society is a viable and effective political strategy; indeed a moral imperative.

Supporting the motion:

Omar Barghouti – author of BDS: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Haymarket Press).

Seni Seneviratne – British-Sri Lankan poet and performer, author of Wild Cinnamon and Winter Skin (Peepal Tree Press).

Opposing the motion:

Carol Gould – ex-patriate American author, film maker, and ‘a vocal critic of what she sees as increasing anti-Americanism and antisemitism in Britain’.

plus one other speaker TBA.

Book tickets here.

April 17, 2011

Invite to the Catastrophe Club

You are warmly invited to join the next Catastrophe Club – an excellent documentary from Connie Field (‘The Life and Times of Rosie the Rivetter’) and a discussion about the ethics of Cultural Boycott with Naomi Foyle of British Writers in Support of Palestine.
Please do circulate to interested parties

Invite to April Catastrophe Club

April 5, 2011

Three Poems for Palestine

Filed under: BWISP members,Poems — Naomi Foyle @ 10:56 pm
Tags: ,

Rockets are the jokes of the weak
Palestinian saying

The jokes land in ploughed fields
or bash into a wall or two.
Laughing so hard killed one soldier
in a year and wounded several civilians.
Still, fun in the wheat,
whistling over a closed border,
a blockade and a siege to boot,
we were not amused.

Finally we couldn’t resist.
Unable to stifle our own
more democratic laughter,
and ever eager to impart our
more civilized sense of fun,
we ran a hilarious sitcom
over three weeks
for 1400 Gazans.

What a show!
They fell over laughing.
They crawled, howling. No surprise.
We have perfect timing, delivery,
state of the art material.
See what happens to clumsy jokes
about the birth town
of the Minister of Defence.

Judith Kazantzis

8th March 2009

Happy International Women’s Day
to the women of Gaza
from the international community.

Sorry we have been unable to take your call
Sorry you have been held in a queue
Your call is important to us.
Press one for the usual disillusion
two for a no state final solution
Press nought for nothing, nada,
zero, zilch, absolutely jack shit and sweet fuck all

Hold for an operator. Hello. Hello? Hello?

Frankie Green

How to Settle

Get a title deed from God,
and a blank cheque from your sponsors.
It also helps to bully the U.N.
Lie. Build. Kill.
Build, build, build.

Ignore that shape at the corner of your eye.
Like a man on a planet with twin suns
you have a double shadow.
One thrown down on the hot hard road
built by the army purely for you,
the second lying faint on the grass behind you.
Watch as you pause on a hilltop,
overlooking your conquest:
here comes the Other,
whose invisibility lets you be seen.
His silence gives you speech.

Here, where your every presence marks
an absence, this land is haunted
by the woman always thinking
of this valley, this field, the ruins
of this house, whose door is remembered
only by the flesh of cactus
and she whose olive trees you harvest,
who follows you, clasping a ghostly key,
whispering in your ear, louder and louder:
my place, my place.

Carry on ignoring them. Of course you belong
God has given you the nuclear bomb to prove it.

Frankie Green

Judith Kazantzis is a poet, novelist and activist based in East Sussex. Frankie Green is a writer, musician and activist living in Kent.

March 14, 2011

McEwan in Context

Thank you to BWISP member Eleanor Kilroy, for this incisive summary of the BWISP McEwan campaign. Her article for The Morning Star discusses the writer’s shameless acceptance of The Jerusalem Prize in relation to other, more principled artists who have, in contrast, decided to heed the Palestinian call to boycott the ethnocratic state of Israel.

Two weeks ago the celebrated British novelist Ian McEwan attended this year’s Jerusalem International Book Fair to receive the Jerusalem Prize, awarded biennially to writers whose work explores the theme of “individual freedom in society.”

The prize is funded by the Jerusalem Municipality, a key institution of the Israeli state and a major instrument in the illegal colonisation of occupied east Jerusalem.

McEwan decided to reject a public appeal made to him by British Writers In Support Of Palestine (BWISP) to respect the Palestinian civil society boycott call to end Israel’s occupation, colonisation and system of apartheid.

After making one official defence of his position, he ignored replies, including a letter from Israeli citizens who warned that by accepting the award he would be “legitimising the actions of Jerusalem’s racist Mayor Nir Barkat.”

BWISP, which endorses the 2004 call of the Palestinian Campaign For The Academic And Cultural Boycott Of Israel (PACBI), stayed on the case with McEwan.

They asked if he would have accepted a state-sponsored award from apartheid South Africa, reminding him that an anti-boycott bill that would severely penalise advocates of the boycott is currently one step away from being made law by the Israeli Knesset.

But despite the author’s stated commitment to “courtesy, dialogue and engagement,” he failed to respond.

For the Israelis McEwan’s presence at the award ceremony was crucial because, as an Israeli literary agent told Publishers Weekly, “It is more than a metaphor to say that the Jerusalem Book Fair is an essential, irreplaceable cultural and intellectual lifeline between Israel and the world and the world and Israel.”

Proponents of the Palestinian boycott call concur with the metaphor.

Official cultural events nourish an ailing apartheid and settler-colonial state and if Israel’s growing international isolation is a proportionate response to grave violations of international law, then it is morally reprehensible to give sustenance to this “lifeline.”

Much has been made in the mainstream media of Ian McEwan’s criticism of a selection of Israel’s illegal practices in his acceptance speech, but regardless of the author’s half-truths, the Book Fair is principally a photo opportunity for Israeli establishment figures and the artist’s presence as a guest of the Israeli state far outweighs the impact of his words.

In spring last year, the singer Elvis Costello announced he was pulling out of two concerts in Israel.

On his website, Costello wrote: “There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent. It is a matter of instinct and conscience.”

In acting on his conscience, he joined a growing list of artists who have decided to boycott Israel, including performers Gil Scott-Heron and the Pixies, British filmmaker Mike Leigh and writer John Berger.

Costello’s positive response to the boycott call is repeatedly and angrily brought up by Israel’s apologists and the state has since intensified its aggressive public relations campaign to brand Israel – against all available evidence – as an enlightened democracy.

The Israeli state and those opposed to a cultural boycott consistently seek to obfuscate the fact that the boycott does not prevent dialogue, engagement and the exchange of ideas and culture – PACBI guidelines clearly state that the boycott applies to institutions, not individuals and an artist can always deliver her or his message to the Israeli public outside any establishment venue.

The Palestinian-US author and journalist Ali Abunimah argues in a recent piece for Al-Jazeera that it is time for the unelected Palestinian Authority to have its “Mubarak moment.”

Given that the Arab revolutions were leaderless, the Palestinians should not worry about creating representative bodies. Instead they should focus on powerful, decentralised resistance, particularly boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

“The BDS campaign is powerful and growing because it is decentralised and those around the world working for the boycott of Israel – following the precedent of apartheid South Africa – are doing so independently.

There is no central body for Israel and its allies to sabotage and attack,” he says.

Last month founding PACBI member Omar Barghouti wrote a riposte to French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy’s attack on BDS, in which he reflects on the changing situation in the Arab world.

“With more of Israel’s friends in the region being dethroned,” he says, “it is becoming abundantly clear how much Israel and its Western partners have invested in safeguarding and buttressing the unelected, autocratic regimes in the Arab world, partially to make a self-fulfilling prophecy of Israel as the ‘villa in the midst of the jungle,’ the myth often repeated by Israel’s lobby groups.”

Yet it was this mythical villa with its “precious tradition of a democracy of ideas,” that McEwan praised in his Jerusalem acceptance speech.

Two years ago the Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan turned down the opportunity to be part of a retrospective co-organised as part of the international centenary celebration campaign of Tel Aviv.

Insisting that he and his Palestinian colleagues made art not thanks to Israel’s democracy, but in spite of it.

In so doing he avoided falling into the trap laid for artists and intellectuals. “From the very beginning I have carefully avoided being appropriated and manipulated into becoming the evidence of Israel’s liberal attitude, freedom of speech and tolerance, on behalf of the Israeli establishment,” he declared.

Sivan and many others are choosing instead to express non-violent opposition to the ongoing apartheid regime in Israel with this act of boycott. It’s a principled stance which other artists would be well advised to follow.

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