Israeli artists speak out
Israel Prize laureate David Tartakover, singer Rona Kenan, poet Meir Wieseltier and others join battle against bill punishing Israel boycotters. Writer Sefi Rachlevsky: Israel acting like a criminal state
Merav Yudilovitch, 15 March 2011
See also: JNews, Israeli anti-boycott bill approved for vote by Knesset plenary
Artists and intellectuals have joined a struggle organized by the Coalition of Women for Peace against an anti-boycott bill initiated by Knesset Members Zeev Elkin (Likud) and David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu).
Members of human rights groups operating in Israel say the proposal is directed at people calling for a consumer boycott on settlement products, as well as at artists who have refused to perform in the city of Ariel, located beyond the Green Line.
According to a letter sent to the Knesset speaker and members on behalf of 53 different organizations, “Instead of holding a democratic discussion on issues which are on the Israeli public agenda, this bill is being used to silence political rivals and block the possibility of a public discourse.”
The list of artists who joined the public protest last week includes poet Meir Wieseltier, musician Rona Kenan, author Nili Landesman, Israel Prize laureate David Tartakover, actress Einat Weizman, actor Yossi Pollak and writer Sefi Rachlevsky.
As part of the protest, the artists shot a series of short films directed by actress Romi Aboulafia, which have become part of a campaign titled “We’ll continue to oppose the occupation”.
The Coalition of Women for Peace says the campaign, distributed through social networks, is aimed at explaining that anti-democratic laws cannot cause deterrence or silence the growing political protest against the occupation.
“We won’t obey an attempt to force us to cooperate with the undemocratic and illegal control system created by the Israeli government beyond its borders in the territories,” the organization added in a statement.
‘Miserable and dangerous trend’
Singer Rona Kenan, who took part in the campaign, told Ynet that “keeping quiet is no longer an option. We don’t have the option not to take sides. It’s terrifying, it’s dangerous, and we mustn’t let it happen.
“I would like to stay in this place and start a family here one day, so I cannot sit idle. I must do my share even with a small and symbolic attempt to change the miserable trend which has been going on too long under the current government.”
“I know that even if this bill falls, others will follow. It’s a dangerous trend, and as long as I have the option of talking, I will join the struggle and express solidarity. I will do all I can with the limited tools I have.”
Poet Meir Wieseltier, who has refrained from taking part in protest rallies in recent years, decided to join the campaign as well.
“In the past few years I haven’t attended protests and haven’t signed petitions because I reached the conclusion that their main role in the Israeli culture is to give the people taking part in them a feeling that they are okay, that they are enlightened.
“As I don’t have the power to invest in real political activity for the things I believe in, I settle for the role of the person standing on the balcony and watching Rome burn. But now, when they approached me, I decided to accept, because sometimes one has to violate one’s principles.”
In one of the campaign’s clips, Wieseltier is seen saying, “If this law passes, as well as some other paranoid laws being cooked by Yisrael Beiteinu and the Likud, the country will become a real state of oppression – not just for those it occupies, but for its own citizens, even those living in Tel Aviv.
“The current leadership likes to talk about the State as if it was a villa in the jungle, but we are increasingly being pushed to become even worse – a Crusader fortress on the beach – with these kinds of laws.”
‘Settlement dictatorship law’
Writer Sefi Rachlevsky, who also took part in the campaign, told Ynet that “it’s not a boycott law but a settlement dictatorship law. One of the demands made by this bill is not to avoid a cultural connection to an area controlled by Israel, meaning the territories. If I see five guys raping a girl and refuse to cooperate with them, I’m not boycotting them but avoiding a criminal offense.
“The State of Israel, which has been building outside its territory, has been acting like a criminal state for years. The Israeli government has made insanity its flag, and is now saying that those who won’t wave this flag are criminals.
“On the contrary: The anti-legal situation has allegedly become normal. Forcing people to commit criminal offenses is disgraceful and dictatorial, and all we have to do is look at what’s happening around us. There are laws in Libya as well, and they aren’t democratic either.
“As dictatorships in the region collapse one after the other, those who think Israel will be allowed to continue doing what it does in the territories is wrong. Saying that ‘Hebron is here’ is a suicidal act. The Israeli colony is destined to vanish, and those who claim that the territories and Israel are one is giving up on Israel’s continued existence.
“This is an existential question, not just a moral one. The occupation is not Israel, but an Israeli perversion. My patriotism is for the Israeli democracy, not for a dictatorial regime, and that’s what we must fight against.”
The Coalition of Women for Peace said the artists’ support was extremely significant and relevant, as the opening of the Ariel culture hall and the artists’ letter revealed by Ynet were one of the primary reasons for the bill.
“The artists’ letter reignited the silenced dialogue about the legitimacy of the ongoing occupation,” the organization said.
Dramaturgist Vardit Shalfi, one of the initiators of the letter which sparked the row, told Ynet: “Instead of holding a discussion on the legitimacy of the settlements, we are holding a discussion on the legitimacy of those protesting against the settlements.
“I am happy that our protest, expressed in two artists’ letters last summer, stirred a public discourse which undermines distorted perceptions that some seek to turn into a norm.”