No more trade in words and ideas
This week writer Iain Banks announced he has cancer and may have just months to live. Here he explains why, in 2010, he decided his novels would no longer be published in Israel
By Iain M Banks, Guardian
April 05, 2013
I support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign because, especially in our instantly connected world, an injustice committed against one, or against one group of people, is an injustice against all, against every one of us; a collective injury.
My particular reason for participating in the cultural boycott of Israel is that, first of all, I can; I’m a writer, a novelist, and I produce works that are, as a rule, presented to the international market. This gives me a small extra degree of power over that which I possess as a (UK) citizen and a consumer. Secondly, where possible when trying to make a point, one ought to be precise, and hit where it hurts. The sports boycott of South Africa when it was still run by the racist apartheid regime helped to bring the country to its senses because the ruling Afrikaaner minority put so much store in their sporting prowess. Rugby and cricket in particular mattered to them profoundly, and their teams’ generally elevated position in the international league tables was a matter of considerable pride. When they were eventually isolated by the sporting boycott – as part of the wider cultural and trade boycott – they were forced that much more persuasively to confront their own outlaw status in the world.
A sporting boycott of Israel would make relatively little difference to the self-esteem of Israelis in comparison to South Africa; an intellectual and cultural one might help make all the difference, especially now that the events of the Arab spring and the continuing repercussions of the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla peace convoy have threatened both Israel’s ability to rely on Egypt’s collusion in the containment of Gaza, and Turkey’s willingness to engage sympathetically with the Israeli regime at all. Feeling increasingly isolated, Israel is all the more vulnerable to further evidence that it, in turn, like the racist South African regime it once supported and collaborated with, is increasingly regarded as an outlaw state.
I was able to play a tiny part in South Africa’s cultural boycott, ensuring that – once it thundered through to me that I could do so – my novels weren’t sold there (while subject to an earlier contract, under whose terms the books were sold in South Africa, I did a rough calculation of royalties earned each year and sent that amount to the ANC). Since the 2010 attack on the Turkish-led convoy to Gaza in international waters, I’ve instructed my agent not to sell the rights to my novels to Israeli publishers. I don’t buy Israeli-sourced products or food, and my partner and I try to support Palestinian-sourced products wherever possible.
It doesn’t feel like much, and I’m not completely happy doing even this; it can sometimes feel like taking part in collective punishment (although BDS is, by definition, aimed directly at the state and not the people), and that’s one of the most damning charges that can be levelled at Israel itself: that it engages in the collective punishment of the Palestinian people within Israel, and the occupied territories, that is, the West Bank and – especially – the vast prison camp that is Gaza. The problem is that constructive engagement and reasoned argument demonstrably have not worked, and the relatively crude weapon of boycott is pretty much all that’s left. (To the question, “What about boycotting Saudi Arabia?” – all I can claim is that cutting back on my consumption of its most lucrative export was a peripheral reason for giving up the powerful cars I used to drive, and for stopping flying, some years ago. I certainly wouldn’t let a book of mine be published there either, although – unsurprisingly, given some of the things I’ve said about that barbaric excuse for a country, not to mention the contents of the books themselves – the issue has never arisen, and never will with anything remotely resembling the current regime in power.)
As someone who has always respected and admired the achievements of the Jewish people – they’ve probably contributed even more to world civilisation than the Scots, and we Caledonians are hardly shy about promoting our own wee-but-influential record and status – and has felt sympathy for the suffering they experienced, especially in the years leading up to and then during the second world war and the Holocaust, I’ll always feel uncomfortable taking part in any action that – even if only thanks to the efforts of the Israeli propaganda machine – may be claimed by some to target them, despite the fact that the state of Israel and the Jewish people are not synonymous. Israel and its apologists can’t have it both ways, though: if they’re going to make the rather hysterical claim that any and every criticism of Israeli domestic or foreign policy amounts to antisemitism, they have to accept that this claimed, if specious, indivisibility provides an opportunity for what they claim to be the censure of one to function as the condemnation of the other.
The particular tragedy of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is that nobody seems to have learned anything. Israel itself was brought into being partly as a belated and guilty attempt by the world community to help compensate for its complicity in, or at least its inability to prevent, the catastrophic crime of the Holocaust. Of all people, the Jewish people ought to know how it feels to be persecuted en masse, to be punished collectively and to be treated as less than human. For the Israeli state and the collective of often unlikely bedfellows who support it so unquestioningly throughout the world to pursue and support the inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people – forced so brutally off their land in 1948 and still under attack today – to be so blind to the idea that injustice is injustice, regardless not just on whom it is visited, but by whom as well, is one of the defining iniquities of our age, and powerfully implies a shamingly low upper limit on the extent of our species’ moral intelligence.
The solution to the dispossession and persecution of one people can never be to dispossess and persecute another. When we do this, or participate in this, or even just allow this to happen without criticism or resistance, we only help ensure further injustice, oppression, intolerance, cruelty and violence in the future.
We may see ourselves as many tribes, but we are one species, and in failing to speak out against injustices inflicted on some of our number and doing what we can to combat those without piling further wrongs on earlier ones, we are effectively collectively punishing ourselves.
The BDS campaign for justice for the Palestinian people is one I would hope any decent, open-minded person would support. Gentile or Jew, conservative or leftist, no matter who you are or how you see yourself, these people are our people, and collectively we have turned our backs on their suffering for far too long.
Extracted from Our People by Iain Banks, from Generation Palestine: Voices from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, edited by Rich Wiles, published by Pluto Press. To order a copy for £11.99 with free UK p&p go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846 [Or buy direct from Pluto Press for £13.]
In 2004, he tore up his passport and posted the bits to then prime minister Tony Blair, in protest over the Iraq war, only applying for a new one when Gordon Brown (who has a house down the road from him in North Queensferry) assumed the hot seat.
Teachers Union of Ireland calls for Academic Boycott of Israel in unanimous vote; first academic union in Europe to do so
Media release, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
April 04, 2013
At its Annual Congress on Thursday 4th April 2013, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) became the first academic union in Europe to endorse the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel. The motion, which refers to Israel as an “apartheid state”, calls for “all members to cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programmes” was passed by a unanimous vote during today’s morning session.
The motion further calls on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to “step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank, and agrees to abide by International law and all UN Resolutions against it”, and on the TUI to conduct an awareness campaign amongst members on the need for BDS. The motion was a composite motion proposed by the TUI Executive Committee and TUI Dublin Colleges Branch. It was presented by Jim Roche, a lecturer in the DIT School of Architecture and member of the TUI Dublin Colleges Union branch, and seconded by Gerry Quinn, Vice President of the TUI.
Speaking after the successful passage of the motion, Jim Roche said: “I am very pleased that this motion was passed with such support by TUI members, especially coming the day after Israeli occupation forces shot and killed two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank yesterday. BDS is a noble non-violent method of resisting Israeli militarism, occupation and apartheid, and there is no question that Israel is implementing apartheid policies against the Palestinians. Indeed, many veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa have said that it’s worse than what was experienced there.”
Mr. Roche pointed to the desperate situation of Palestinian education under occupation saying that: “Palestinians are struggling for the right to education under extremely difficult conditions. They are eager for it, as shown by the large numbers of students in third level education inside and outside the occupied Palestinian territories. Education has always been a target of the Israeli occupation, seeing forced closures of universities, disruption under checkpoint, closure and curfew regimes, and arrests, beatings and killing of both students and teachers. Sometimes, such as during the 2008-09 attack on Gaza, educational institutions have been militarily attacked. In fact I have just returned from a solidarity visit to Gaza where I had the opportunity to hear first-hand from Palestinian educators and students about their difficulties. The unanimous passage of this motion that shows that the Palestinian struggle for freedom, of which academic freedom is a key part, resonates with TUI members and sends a strong message of solidarity to their counterparts in Palestine”
Mr. Roche concluded: “We proposed this motion as we believe that, as with South Africa, the trade union movement has a vital role to play in helping apply pressure to end Israeli apartheid and occupation. I am proud that the TUI has taken a clear stand, and now support a full academic boycott of Israel in line with the Palestinian call for BDS”.
Dr. David Landy, a member of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and founder member of Academics for Palestine welcomed the motion saying: “This is an historic precedent, being the first such motion in Europe to explicitly call for an academic boycott of Israel. We congratulate the TUI and call on all Irish, British and European academic unions to move similar motions. Undoubtedly apologists for Israeli apartheid will complain that such motions stifle academic freedom, but this is nonsense. The Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel is an institutional boycott, not a boycott of individuals. Ironically, those that will jump to complain about this motion will have no words of condemnation for the de facto boycott imposed on Palestinian education by Israel, nor for its continuing attacks on Palestinian education, students and educators”.
The TUI Motion in full reads:
241. Executive Committee/Dublin Colleges(x4)
TUI demand that ICTU step up its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank, and agrees to abide by International law and all UN Resolutions against it.
Congress instructs the Executive Committee to:
(a) Conduct an awareness campaign amongst TUI members on the need for BDS
(b) Request all members to cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programmes.
The Palestinian Call for a Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel can be read here:
Jim Roche is a lecturer in DIT School of Architecture and a member of the TUI Dublin Colleges Branch He is also PRO of the Irish Anti-War Movement and a member of both the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Gaza Action Ireland.
David Landy is a lecturer in the TCD Department of Sociology, a member of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign national committee and a founder member of Academics for Palestine