Et Tu, Emma?


It would appear acclaimed actress Emma Thompson has taken leave of her “Sense and Sensibility”. Thompson joins fellow British thespians in calling for a boycott that would bar the Habima National Theatre from participating in the Globe to Globe festival which is scheduled to take place at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. They claim that the Habima is complicit in “a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

It is a tragedy that would not be a misplaced plot line in Shakespearian literature.

Israel is certainly no stranger to calls for boycott. Hardly a day goes by without some organisation/activist/misguided celebrity seeking a cause du jour and jumping on the proverbial boycott bandwagon.

The motivation is simple. Constant comparisons of Israel to Apartheid South Africa provide the fuel for this fire. If you paint Israel with the same colours as that of Apartheid South Africa, an unflattering shade of pariah state and dish out the same treatment, then you can change the political status quo. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Except that in this case, changing the status quo in Israeli politics is not the end game result that detractors hope to achieve. In this case, questioning Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state is up for debate. Anti-Israelists will passionately argue that this treatment worked for South Africa and helped change policy but fail to realise that the South African paradigm is not one solution fits all. Two different regions. Two completely separate issues.

The question we have to ask ourselves is who really stands to lose in a boycott of Israel. We have seen attempts from academics to institute boycotts of Israeli academics and institutions, including the controversial endorsement by Ben Gurion University professor, Neve Gordon. Now stars of stage and screen are lending their voices. Perhaps they should lend their ears to listening to reason? When you look at the amount of intellectual know how that is exported from Israel to other countries, especially third world and developing nations in the fields of agriculture, science, technology and medicine one wonders what degree (pardon the pun!) of sanity is missing.

It serves no purpose to instigate academic boycotts because all this serves to do is close off intellectual discourse, after all, aren’t universities agents of free thinking and venues to challenge the status quo? It is not in the best interest of academic freedom to encourage boycotts as this seriously inhibits the flow of great ideas.

What about boycotts of goods? This is where civil society organisations around the world becomes a little noisier and we wonder if they have nothing better to do than to stick their noses into the events of other countries whose politics they know little about instead of concentrating on the challenges in their own countries. Oops, did I say that?  Genuine concern or just a convenient excuse to use intimidatory tactics against the opposition? It definitely begs the question.

And now it is thespians. Under the guise of “Artists with a Conscience” they have decided that the best move forward is to boycott or exclude Israel in creative exchange. It is my belief that peace will come from the ground up and it serves no purpose to cut off artists who express their opinions or issues through their art. I wonder how we can explain the mass failure of conscience when Israelis are being bombarded with rockets or blown up by homicidal lunatics. Artists with a selective conscience me thinks!

Advocating a policy of boycotts is not only naïve and based on ignorance but is divisive and counterproductive. It is disappointing that someone of Emma Thompson’s obvious talent and concern is so blatantly one sided.

It is very easy for activists on both sides to play armchair politician but the impact is on the citizens. Palestinians stand to lose a lot more than Israeli’. At a time when the economy of the West Bank is showing significant signs of growth and recovery and Israel have fulfilled their promises by taking down a significant amount of checkpoints wouldn’t boycotts set back the achievements significantly?

You can’t compare the situation with that of Gaza. It is exceptionally naïve to level the blame for the situation squarely on Israel. What about Hamas’ role in Gaza? Hamas have created a Taliban-esque regime that severely restricts the civil liberties of Gaza’s citizens not to mention a genocidal charter that openly advocates the destruction of Israel. This is disguised in the romantic language of resistance. These are the true villains in the theatre of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

While the situation in the Middle East is not an easy one to fix, though many have tried, perhaps the best way forward is to proceed with cautious hope and not to cry boycott at the drop of a hat.

This really is the theatre of the absurd or maybe just absurdity!

About the Author
Rolene Marks is a passionate advocate for Israel and has appeared on radio, television and has been published in numerous publications. Rolene is a member of the Media Team Israel, an advocacy body that fights media bias against Israel.