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Boycotting Boycotters?

Jennifer Lipman of The JC asks a question that I’ve asked myself:

As a staunch supporter of Israel, in fact, the question comes up all the time, not with those who have given the peace process reasoned analysis and drawn their own conclusions, nor with those artists who position themselves at the forefront of every campaign to rout any real or perceived injustice, but with those who appear to have taken the knee-jerk path at the first mention of the Palestinians.

Take Emma Thompson and the pack of artistes demanding that Shakespeare’s Globe withdraw its invitation to Israel’s Habima Theatre Company for a range of political reasons that, while perhaps of valid concern, would certainly not be resolved as a result of the presence or absence of the actors involved. Leaving aside the ludicrousness of an artist who clearly views herself as a purveyor of freedom and justice seeking to block a fellow artist from a platform that represents those very things, the Globe dispute has left a nasty taste.

I adored Thompson as Shakespeare’s feisty heroine Beatrice and enjoyed her turn in Love, Actually. Now I hear that she could take on the role of PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. As a child there were times when I wanted to live at 17 Cherry Tree Lane; it’s a film I’ll certainly want to see. Yet Thompson’s woefully limited perspective on the Middle East – her unwavering support for boycott and banning over discussion and dialogue – makes her an actress part of me wants to steer clear of.

Is that how it works? Must I forever avoid Ken Loach films and Mark Rylance plays, and delete all Coldplay songs from my playlist (all have weighed into the Israeli Palestinian debate unhelpfully at one time or another)?

A comedian who makes a nasty jibe about Israel? Strike one. A singer who gives in to the petitions of anti-Israel activists and cancels their Tel Aviv show? Strike two. A director who singles out Israel for rebuke yet is silent on all the world’s other problems? Strike three.

If that’s the solution, then no thank you. There has got to be a better way to advocate for Israel, one that does not confuse protest with tantrum, one that does not force me to plan my leisure activities around the latest letter to the Guardian from artists out to delegitimise and divest. I refuse to answer boycotter with boycott. I just wish I knew what answer to give instead.

I absolutely agree with Jennifer that it would be insane to have – still less, try to enforce – a boycott of the boycotters.

And yet…

I have to say, I would find it impossible to go and see a Caryl Churchill play again.

I was offered tickets to go to see Elvis Costello recently with a friend. His wanky letter of boycott turned my stomach. I couldn’t go.

After Gorillaz cancelled their Israel gig, but played one in Syria instead – now slaughtering its civilian population – I kind of stopped listening to Damon Albarn.

I’d switch off Eurythmics after Annie Lennox’s appearance at various pro-Hamas demonstrations. But, oddly, I’d happily still listen to early Roxy Music, despite Brian Eno’s similar political involvement.

What ties all these people together is that they’re cocks. Their political stance is a reflection of their arse-ness. It is quite difficult to feel warm and fuzzy about tossers.

How do you feel?

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