In the Guardian: Israel needs cultural bridges, not boycotts

In the Guardian: Israel needs cultural bridges, not boycotts


norman lebrecht

October 22, 2015

I never sign collective letters.

I’ve made an exception this once because (a) the request came from someone who was in my class at school and (b) I agreed with every word he had written.

So did J K Rowling, Hilary Mantel, Melvyn Bragg and others of greater or lesser celebrity (Rachel Weisz, where are you?).

Here’s the letter (below) and here‘s the Guardian link:



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 Coexistence – an 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.
Naomi Alderman
Shay Alkalay
Bennett Arron
Jonathan Aycliffe
Daniel Battsek
John Battsek
Guto Bebb MP
Gina Bellman
Michael Berg
Josh Berger
Bob Blackman MP
Neil Blair
Iwona Blazwick
Elli Bobrovizki
Gabi Bobrovizki
Melvyn Bragg
David Burrowes MP
Teresa Cahill
Colin Callender
Simon Chinn
Danny Cohen
Frank Cohen
Prof Susan Collins
Wendy Cope
Loraine da Costa
Marcus Davey
Oliver Dowden MP
Daniel Easterman
Ruth Dudley Edwards
Michael Dugher MP
Brian Elias
Yigal Elstein
Allie Esiri
Michael Etherton
Moris Farhi MBE
Niall Ferguson
Stanley Fink
Larry Finlay
Amanda Foreman
Michael Foster
Andrew Franklin
Nick Fraser
Mike Freer MP
Julian Friedman
Sonia Friedman
Jonny Geller
Adèle Geras
David Glick
Taryn Gold
Amanda Goldman
Richard Goldstein
Michael Grade
Maurice Gran
Linda Grant
Miriam Gross
Tom Gross
Stephen Grosz
Peter & Martine Halban
Jan Harlan
Ronald Harwood
Noreena Hertz
John Heyman
Lilian Hochhauser
Tom Holland
John Howell MP
Judy Ironside
David Japp
Andrea Jenkyns MP
Zygi Kamasa
Jack Kirkland
Evgeny Kissin
Michael Kuhn
David Kustow
Norman Lebrecht
Sam Leifer
Teddy Leifer
Camilla Lewis
David Levy
John Levy
Maureen Lipman
Andrew Macdonald
Hilary Mantel
Stephen Margolis
Dan Marks
Laurence Marks
Denis MacEoin
Charlotte Mendelson
Yael Mer
Ivan Moscovich
Maajid Nawaz
Anthony Newman
Gavin Newman
Hayley Newstead
Paula Noble
Tracy-Ann Oberman
Matthew Offord MP
Cosh Omar
Martin Paisner
Robin Pauley
Leo Pearlman
Daniel Peltz
Andrew Percy MP
Eric Pickles MP
Stuart Polak
Monica Porter
Gail Rebuck
Charlie Redmayne
Andrew Roberts
JK Rowling
Paul Ruddock
Prof Carol Rumens
Marc Samuelson
Charles Robert Saumarez Smith
Prof Robert Saxton
Joanna Scanlan
Kenny Schachter
Simon Schama
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Francesca Segal
Anthony Seldon
Rick Senat
Zaab Sethna
Jonathan Shalit
Bernard Shapero
David Shelley
Clive Sinclair
Daniel Silver
Lucy Silver
Dan Silverston
Chloe Smith MP
Karen Smith
Mark Smith
Prof Ashley Solomon
Claire Speller
Rob Suss
George Szirtes
Paul Trijbits
Kevin Tsjiuhara
Gabe Turner
Moni Varma
Rebecca Wallersteiner
Minette Walters
Zoë Wanamaker
Angela Watkinson MP
George Weidenfeld
Fay Weldon
Heather Wheeler MP
Robert Winston
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg
David Young
Toby Young


  • CDH says:

    It might be easier to endorse this worthy cause if one could believe the government of Israel believed in a two-state solution. Precious little evidence of it in recent years.

    And their disgrace of a Prime Minister and his warped version of WWII history — I’m still reeling from that, as must be most of the civilised world. One would have thought if anyone was pretty clear on Holocaust history, it would be Jewish leaders. He ought to be impeached.

    • Dave T says:

      The Israeli government has been consistent over the years in stating its desire for a two-state solution. You are certainly entitled to doubt the strength of its commitment.

      I wonder whether any comment such as yours was voiced in response to the BDS Guardian letter or any such pro-Palestinian pronouncements in recent times. What is their commitment to a two-state solution? Where is the Palestinians’ interest in negotiations that would lead to this? Where is the responsibility and accountability of Abbas and the PA towards achieving peace? Why are they not held to the same standard that the maligned Israeli government is?

      • Gerhard says:

        Perhaps because there is no state organized oppression and theft of land and property of Israelis by Palestinians, even if only for lack of a state and similar military power?

      • CDH says:

        Anyone listening to Netanyahu, ever, has reason to doubt official Israeli commitment to two states. If they do not stop with the settlements, they are goading every enemy to continue to protest against them. And, cocooned by the powerful US, they have ignore and/or flouted one UN resolution after another regarding the settlements and other treatments of Palestinians. I do not endorse BDS, but I do not blame those behind it — their frustration must abound in the face of such implacable obstinacy. Israel will do a lot better when it stops electing these right-wing thugs..

  • william osborne says:

    It’s a good letter. Those seeking dialog and cultural exchange between Israel, Palestinians, and the world defy the extremism of both Netanyahu and Palestinian radicals. The difficulty is that we are now in a situation where people need to stipulate what they mean by a two state solution. Would this mean Israel appropriates all of Jerusalem and keeps all the West Bank settlements? Would that be just? What sort of cultural dialog can we create that would help resolve these seemingly impossible issues?

  • David says:

    Do the UK artists really believe signing a document will change the minds of recalcitrant politicians? If only the the world worked that way.

  • william osborne says:

    Cultural dialog is essential, but we have to remember it might include things we don’t want to see or hear. It’s a two way street. Here’s a link to a NY Times article about the cancellation of a Palestinian play at the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1989.

    Ironically, the play had been performed in Israel without cancellation.

    These sorts of cancellations in New York became something of a pattern and took on tones of censorship. A few examples are the cancellations of a play about Rachel Corrie, John Adam’s “Death of Klinghofer,” the cancellation of a Pro-Palestinian exhibition at the Undercurrent Projects on East 5th Street, and the cancellation of a talk by Columbia professor Rashid Khalidiand at the Ramaz High School (a prestigious private Orthodox Jewish school on the Upper East Side.) There was also the reduction of 34 performances in Washington D.C. of Motti Lerner’s play “The Admission” to workshop productions in a lesser known venue. (Motti is an Israeli playwright whose play addressees the Palestinian perspective in the war of 1948.) These are a few I recall, but there have been others.

    And of course, there’s the other side ranging from the death threats to Salman Rushdie to people with machine guns murdering a bunch of cartoonists.

    • Dave T says:

      Please remind us of the cancellation of “Death of Klinghoffer”. That work went on as scheduled in all its performances at the Met at this time last year.

    • Gerhard says:

      Doesn’t in this context juxtaposing the tendency of some circles in New York to suppress anything they perceive as pro-palestinian with the fatwah against Salman Rushdie and the murderous assault against Charlie Hebdo on the other hand make a really odd argument? Neither is the responsability of Israel or the Palestinians, but it seems to me that both sides have plenty of other terrible things to account for.

  • Eddie Mars says:

    Frankly I would be ashamed to sign anything which bears the signature of warmongering lout Eric Pickles.

  • nancy says:

    Thanks Norman for publicly standing up against a brutal deeply funded BDS. Thanks for your leadership and courage.

  • Simon Behrman says:

    Never mind that the current Israeli government doesn’t appear at all interested in a two-state solution, in my view such a thing is impractical and, even were it possible it would not resolve the conflict.

    Two-states are impractical because both groups of people have so much invested in certain key places, most obviously Jerusalem. There is also a paucity of decent land, access to water etc. Current arrangements mean that a Palestinian State would have the least productive land and much less access to either fresh water or the sea than Israel. In addition, the borders of a Palestinian State that would be accepted by Israel would entail an archipelago of cantons separated by corridors of Israeli territory. I cannot think of any other state that currently does or would be able to function on such a basis.

    Two states would also leave certain fundamental wrongs unresolved such as the seizure of Palestinian lands and homes which currently sit within Israel, and the denial of the right of return of the 1948 refugees and their descendants. Anger and resentment over that would simply continue. Furthermore, what would likely become an exclusively Jewish state jostling for space, resources etc. with an exclusively Palestinian state would almost certainly lead to ongoing hostilities. A rough analogy would be the partition of Pakistan and India which has hardly resulted in harmonious and peaceful relations, even after almost 70 years of separation.

    That is why I think only a one-state solution is possible, secular, democratic and inclusive of all groups of historic Palestine. This might seem utopian, but then does anyone really think that either the Zionists will accept a viable, strong and prosperous Palestinian State, or the Palestinians will ever be reconciled to exile from their land.

    • CDH says:

      But the proponents of BDS are angling for decent treatment of Arab/Palestinian “citizens” of Israel as it is. It is hard to project a larger multicultural state treating an even larger population of Arabs sufficiently well to give anyone confidence in peace on their streets. And what about right of return? Any Jewish person in the world can apparently go to live in Israel. Can’t see any deals getting signed if the Palestinians were not granted the same for their people.

      And wouldn’t a Palestinian state be contiguous if Israel would get. out. of. the. bloody. settlements?

      • millicent jones says:

        Right of return? Do you mean the right of return for the Iraqi Jewish community who lived in Iraq for 2500 years until the famous pogrom of 1941 in Baghdad or the disappeared Jewish community of Syria or Lebanon ? Even strong supporters of the Palestinian plight agree that more Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries than Arabs from Israel. There has to be some realism here. Are you equally concerned about the fate of Finland that lost great tranches of land to Russia in 1945?. Probably not because Russia is a serious size country to take on. Better to be indignant about a country that is a fraction of the size.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Sensible words. If Israel would formally admit that it was based upon a grave injustice, an important sting would be taken-out of Palestinian resentment and open the way for integration of all people living there. But a large group who democratically elected a terrorist organisation, needs a long and strong integration process to become normal civilians, and also that would then be the responsibility of the Irsael state. The claims that historically the territory is Jewish by right, going-back to the year 70 AD, was absurd in relation to the people happening to live there already for ages.

      Hannah Arendt had already pointed-out (in the forties) the basic mistake of the nation’s foundation and predicted endelss rounds of violence and counterviolence, and history has proven her right.

      How can you peacefully talk to a crazy terrorist who has a righful ax to grind? Or else, how to conduct a fair discussion about the Christmas meal with the turkey?