Boycott recalls a darker era

The cultural boycotts of Israel are reminiscent of Nazi blacklists

By Alex Brummer, June 17, 2010

Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular, has long regarded itself as a home of cultural cool. It is the kind of place which ranks alongside Barcelona for its eclectic mix of bars, boutiques and Bauhaus architecture.

Moreover, it has developed a distinct cultural heritage with its world-class writers like David Grossman, prize-winning movies like Waltz with Bashir, and prize winners such as Yael Bartana who recently carried off the 4th Artes Mundi Prize at the National Museum of Cardiff.

It was therefore almost inevitable that those who seek to deligitimise the Jewish state would seek to move beyond academic and economic boycotts and seek to target its popularity with visiting artists.

The IDF assault on the Gaza 'aid' convoy has provided just the excuse to find new ways of punishing Israel. As the FT has reported, the trend started earlier this year when guitarist Carlos Santana cancelled his summer gig in Tel Aviv without explanation.

What looked to be an isolated incident has gathered momentum. Among those joining the boycott are rock bands The Pixies, Gorillaz and Klaxons, providing a range of musical styles from 1980s indie rock to British dance punk. The FT's correspondent noted that fans have been left seething and right-wing politicians have weighed into the debate accusing the artists of 'cultural terrorism'.

The flotilla incident provides just the excuse to punish Israel

The latest campaign, according to the Independent, apparently is the brainchild of Salaam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Fayyad's work in rebuilding the West Bank economy has been praised. Now, according to the Indy, some 25 politicians from right-wing and centrist parties are backing a bill which would force the PA to pay thousands of dollars of compensation to Israeli entrepreneurs damaged by the cultural boycott effort.

Among the first performers to join the cultural boycott was Elvis Costello, who said that "merely having your name added to a concert may be interpreted as a political act... it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent". The rock world looks to have caught the bug.

An unofficial Bob Dylan website, Dylanchords, apparently ignoring the singer's ethnic background, has put in place firewalls which block Israelis trying to access the site in the wake of the flotilla raid. According to Ha'aretz, Israeli users are redirected to a page which declares, "As a contribution to a cultural boycott of Israel ...Dylanchords has been blocked for visitors from Israel."

The boycott calls have even made the headlines in Billboard, one of America's most widely read showbiz papers and websites. It quotes Omar Barghouti, described as a choreographer and human rights activist, as saying the concert cancellations expose Israel for being a "colonial and apartheid state."

Billboard noted that many top-of-the-bill musicians still perform in Israel, including Madonna and the Black Eyed Peas, who played to full stadiums last summer.

This year Elton John and Jeff Beck remain on the calendar.

Other cultural reactions to the Gaza raid include the controversial decision by a small French cinema chain to cancel all showings of the Israel comedy Five Hours from Paris, according to the New York Times. It replaced it with a documentary about Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist killed in Gaza in 2003.

Closer to home, a letter to the Guardian by prize-winning author Iain Banks in the wake of the Gaza raid called for a cultural and educational boycott of Israel. He reportedly has told his agent to refuse any further book translations or deals with Israeli publishers.

It might, of course, be thought that the ramblings of a few aging pop stars and luvvie authors is unimportant. But for students of the blacklisting of Jewish culture during the Nazi era, it will have alarming connotations.

Alex Brummer is the City Editor of the Daily Mail

Last updated: 12:52pm, June 17 2010