A group of British artists and authors are calling for a network promoting coexistence and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians instead of a cultural boycott of Israel.
JK Rowling, Hilary Mantel, Simon Schama and Zoë Wanamaker are among more than 150 figures from arts and politics who have signed a letter, published on Thursday by the Guardian newspaper and announcing Culture for Coexistence.
“Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory and will not further peace,” the letter says. “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.”
The signatories endorse a two-state solution “so that the national self-determination of both peoples is realized”, according to the Guardian.
At the same time, they reject a boycott of Israel, saying, “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.”
Among the signatories is Eric Pickles, a former cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party, who is currently chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel. Several other Tory MPs who have signed the letter are members of or associated with Conservative Friends of Israel, noted the Guardian.
The group was established in response to a letter in the Guardian in February, signed by around 700 artists, which called for a cultural boycott of Israel.
Saying that “Israel’s wars are fought on the cultural front too”, the February letter called on the country to respect international law and end “its colonial oppression of the Palestinians”.
Loraine da Costa, who chairs Culture for Coexistence, told the Guardian supporters of the organization rejected boycotts.
“Culture has a unique ability to bring people together and bridge division,” she said. The organization wanted be “a tiny part of the jigsaw that can work towards breaking down barriers”.
The network was planning a seminar to discuss the merits or otherwise of boycott as a political tool, to which pro-boycott artists would be invited, added da Costa. It also hoped to “take people to Israel and the Palestinian territories to have a dialogue with cultural counterparts there”.
The February letter was blasted by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid as “shallow and lacking in coherence”. Lapid added said that those who are calling for a boycott of Israel “are ignoring some painful truths”.
One of the signatories to the February letter was Roger Waters, whose anti-Israel antics have frequently bordered on anti-Semitism.
In December 2013, Waters mendaciously compared Israel to Nazi Germany, saying in an interview, “The situation in Israel/Palestine, with the occupation, the ethnic cleansing and the systematic racist apartheid Israeli regime is unacceptable.”
He previously released a giant balloon pig bearing the Star of David during a concert in Belgium. Concert-goers said the Jewish star was among several symbols representing various corporations and fascist movements.