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J.K. Rowling and Other British Luminaries Denounce Cultural Boycott of Israel

A star-studded group published a letter in The Guardian calling for ‘open dialogue’ to bridge Israeli-Palestinian divide

Yair Rosenberg
October 22, 2015
(Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)The Guardian
Author J.K. Rowling in London, England, September 27, 2012. (Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)(Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)The Guardian
(Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)The Guardian
Author J.K. Rowling in London, England, September 27, 2012. (Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)(Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)The Guardian

In a major blow to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, a group of over 150 British artists, intellectuals, and politiciansheadlined by J.K. Rowling, two-time Man Booker prize-winning author Hilary Mantel, and historian Simon Schamahave come out against cultural boycotts of the Jewish state.

In a letter published today by The Guardian, the authors rebutted a prior letter printed by the paper which endorsed excluding Israel from the cultural scene. Rowling and company beg to differ, labeling such practices “divisive and discriminatory”:

In February 2015 you published a letter from UK artists announcing their intention to culturally boycott Israel.

We do not believe cultural boycotts are acceptable or that the letter you published accurately represents opinion in the cultural world in the UK.

Therefore we are writing to declare our support for the launch and aims of Culture for Coexistencean independent UK network representing a cross-section from the cultural world.

We will be seeking to inform and encourage dialogue about Israel and the Palestinians in the wider cultural and creative community. While we may not all share the same views on the policies of the Israeli government, we all share a desire for peaceful coexistence.

Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not further peace. Open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance, and it is through such understanding and acceptance that movement can be made towards a resolution of the conflict.

Ultimately we all believe in a two-state solution so that the national self-determination of both peoples is realised, with the state of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.

Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change. We wholly endorse encouraging such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use.

In addition to Rowling, Mantel, and Schama, the letter’s signatories include past and present British politicians from across the ideological spectrum, as well as actors, political pundits, and media professionals.

The letter is not only noteworthy for its underwriters, but for its perceptive argument. Indeed, the missive perfectly paints the philosophical contradiction at the heart of the Israel boycott movement: On the one hand, BDS claims to seek peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, typically in a single binational state. On the other hand, the boycotters advocate shutting down the very cross-cultural dialogue that is a prerequisite to any such outcome.

The idea of silencing Israelis makes sense if one’s goal is simply to punish Israelis; it does not, however, if one aims to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians, whether in one state or two. Conversation humanizes the other, while shutting it down makes it much easier to demonize them.

Judging by this letter, then, some of Britain’s leading lights recognize that the Israel boycotters are not interested in solving the problem they claim to address, but in perpetuating it.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.