Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is a cultural boycott "non-violent"?

From the acceptance speech of Amitav Ghosh and Margaret Atwood (via Adam Holland), awarded the Dan David prize in Israel:
We two fiction writers are very small potatoes indeed in the context of the momentous political events now unfolding. But writers everywhere are soft targets. It’s easy to attack them. They don’t have armies, they can’t retaliate. We have both received a number of letters urging and indeed ordering us not to attend, on the grounds that anything connected with Israel is tabu. (Oddly enough, neither the President of Italy, Giorgo Napolitano – winner of the “Past” category for reason and moderation in political affairs – nor the three computer scientists – Leonrad Kleinrock, Gordon Moore, and Michael Rabin – who were awarded in the “Future” category — were targeted by these correspondents.) We have both sent letters to many but not all of the urgers and orderers. (Not all, because in some cases the petitions etc. have appeared online without having been sent to us first.) The letters we have received have ranged from courteous and sad to factual and practical to accusatory, outrageous, and untrue in their claims and statements; some have been frankly libelous, and even threatening. Some have been willing to listen to us, others have not: they want our supposedly valuable “names,” but not our actual voices.

In other words, the all-or-nothings want to bully us into being their wholly owned puppets. The result of such a decision on our part would be – among other things – to turn us into sticks with which to beat other artists into submission, and that we refuse to do. We are familiar with what other artists of many countries have been put through in similar circumstances.
The metaphor of beating others into submission is apt. Even discounting the threats they received as the fringe of a movement (though I don't think it is the fringe), the boycott is fundamentally coercive. It is not about bringing people together. It is not in the tradition of nonviolent movements such as Gandhi's or Martin Luther King, Jr's. At least, not as I understand those movements. Looking through MLK quotes, I find:
At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.

It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.
The "white intifada" has yet to take this step, loving and sacrificing for peace, rejecting hate. I hope it evolves. Perhaps it will evolve as Israelis respond in kind. Perhaps as it becomes less bizarre to Palestinians to reject violence. But for now non-violence is a tactical choice, not a moral decision.

I recently saw the film Budrus. One thing (among many) that stands out is how shocked Ayed Morrar, an organizer of non-violent protests, was that there are Israelis who would join them in protesting the separation barrier. The impression was that he had imagined Israelis as evil. Eventually, peace activists who hope to be truly effective must come to love even those who hate.

I don't say that as someone who embraces non-violence the way Gandhi did; I think it is often the only acceptable option, but not always. In fact, I have real problems with Gandhi's stance on WWII. But I do hope, in part because I believe only non-violence will work, in part because I think violence against Israeli citizens is wrong, that it becomes the dominant strategy among Palestinians. I hope the white intifada continues to grow and evolve.

The cultural boycott against Israel is not about making peace through love and sacrifice. The Montgomery bus boycotts were about proving Blacks to be an integral part of society; the boycott of Israel is about proving Jews to be dispensible in the world. It is about proving the weakness of Jews, incapable of standing up against the world. It is about making Jews weaker by depriving Israel of support. So, we should ask how history will one day view a boycott against a weak minority.

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