Paul Gross

An open letter to ‘Artists for Palestine UK’

I read your letter to The Guardian announcing a “cultural boycott” of Israel with some sadness, but little surprise.

Among your number are some incredibly talented individuals (and Alexei Sayle). Roger Waters, probably the biggest ‘name’ on your roster, is a songwriter of rare genius. I mention that not to flatter but because it does mean that you are no fools. So you’ll forgive me and others for questioning your motives. Because most of you are clearly intelligent people you must know that there are literally dozens of countries with regimes that routinely abuse human rights and engage in horrific oppression, in a manner and on a scale that is simply on a different planet to anything that can be laid at the door of the Israeli government.

Yet, where are your calls to boycott China, which imprisons political dissidents, denies its people the fundamental right of free speech, censors internet use  and whose occupation of Tibet is far more draconian than Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians – and which no Chinese leader has ever sought to end?

Why no campaigning against Pakistan, a country that has allowed fundamentalist Islamists to destroy the lives of tens of thousands of women, denied an education and, all-too-often, at the mercy of abusive husbands with no recourse to the law?

Why not a single statement of protest or an expression of condemnation for so many of Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East? Countries like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, where, to a lesser or greater extent, religious minorities are persecuted, women are second class citizens, and homosexuals are tortured and killed.

And if you care so much about the Palestinians in particular, why have I never heard a word from you about Hamas, which deliberately uses its own people – including children – as human shields to protect arms caches and terrorist leaders from Israeli rockets. Why not a crumb of compassion expressed for Palestinian Christians living in fear in Islamist Gaza?

Would you perform in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, increasingly authoritarian, anti-democratic and now aggressively invading its neighbors? I can only assume you would, because I’ve not heard or read a single word from you about boycotting, divesting from, or sanctioning the regime in Moscow.

No, just Israel, with its free press, independent judiciary and democratic government and legislature. A country where an Arab member of parliament can vilify the state that gives him citizenship and pays his salary, and grants him immunity from prosecution as an elected representative.

If you are as well-informed as you pretend to be, then you’ll know that, for about twenty years, polls consistently show a majority of Israelis supporting the principle of withdrawing Israeli forces and settlements from the West Bank and establishing a Palestinian state. But here’s the catch. Polls also reveal a consistent majority of Israelis are convinced that the day after a withdrawal, the entire country will be under attack from Palestinian missiles.

Unfortunately, while you’ll get no argument from me that Israel’s settlement policies have been disastrous for both Palestinians and Israelis, it is also the case that Yasser Arafat turned down President Clinton’s offer of a two-state solution in December 2000 (a decision which the then-Saudi Ambassador to the US called “a crime against the Palestinian people”); and that Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s more moderate successor, turned down an even more generous two-state deal put on the table by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2009.

As for the current stalemate, there may well be a future Israeli Prime Minister more willing to confront the West Bank settlers  than Benjamin Netanyahu, but Israel’s current Prime Minister did freeze settlement-building for ten months in 2009/10 and Abbas waited until the tenth month to restart negotiations then ended them when that month was over. Yes, settlements are a problem, but they are not the problem. That remains a Palestinian unwillingness – or, perhaps, a psychological inability – to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

I have long supported peace with the Palestinians and I am no supporter of Israeli settlements, or of the current Israeli government. However, when Hamas launched long-range rockets at Jerusalem last summer, and air-raid sirens sent me into the bomb shelter of my apartment building with my wife and two-year old daughter, I was forced to ask myself the question: Would an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank make this a regular occurrence?

My dear ‘Artists for Palestine’, this is not simple. This is not a straightforward case of racist oppression like apartheid South Africa, which you so predictably and simplistically compare it to. I would not seek to downplay the suffering of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, but I also know that they would have their own state by now if their leaders had not so consistently adopted an all-or-nothing approach, and ended up with nothing. And I know that the same Palestinians that you compare to blacks under white rule in South Africa receive first-class medical care in Israeli hospitals – where Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses work side-by-side.

Again, you are thoughtful people. You can’t not know these facts, yet you seem content to peddle your prejudice from every platform and to wallow in your own willful ignorance. Meanwhile, you’re singling out the world’s only Jewish state for pariah status at the same time as individual Jews in Europe are being singled out for, well, murder. Don’t worry if you don’t see any connection between the demonization of Israel and the return of homicidal antisemitism, that would be far too much to expect. You have all become comfortably dumb. (Forgive me Mr. Waters, I couldn’t resist.)

About the Author
Before moving to Israel from the UK, Paul worked at the Embassy of Israel to the UK in the Public Affairs department, and as the Ambassador's speechwriter. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Politics from the University of London. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem - though he writes this blog in a personal capacity. He has lectured to a variety of groups on Israeli history and politics and his articles have been published in a variety of media outlets in Israel, the UK, the US and Canada.