The author of the Harry Potter series of novels, JK Rowling, has disappointed many of her fans by signing a letter that opposes a boycott of Israel.
The letter, which was also signed by radio and TV presenter Melvyn Bragg, writer Linda Grant, popular historian Tom Holland, author Hilary Mantel and historian Simon Schama, proclaims its support for what it called “an independent UK network” called Culture for Coexistence.
Published in The Guardian, the letter is disingenuous. It claims that “cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory and will not further peace,” and that “cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change.”
As such, it ignores how many Palestinian artists are barred from taking part in any such engagements by Israeli military closures, illegal walls and checkpoints, and travel restrictions. And it fails to acknowledge the long history of “dialogues” and “cultural engagement” which ignore the huge differences in power and freedom between Israelis and the Palestinians whose land they occupy.
Who was behind the letter?
What the letter doesn’t make clear, however, is that one of the driving forces behind Culture for Coexistence is Neil Blair, JK Rowling’s literary agent.
Blair is also on the board of the UK branch of the Abraham Fund. That “coexistence” group is sponsored by Hapoalim, an Israeli bank that finances the construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.
On 21 October, the UK Friends of the Abraham Fund announced as its new chairperson Alex Brummer, an editor and columnist at the rightwing British tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail, notable for its pro-Israel editorial stance and notorious for its racist and Islamophobic stereotypes.
Brummer is also a regular contributor to The Jewish Chronicle, a British newspaper with pronounced Zionist leanings.
A recent statement on the Abraham Fund’s Facebook page on what it called “ongoing tensions” claims that “Arab society in Israel must unite against the attacks and stabbings of Jews and prevent the incitement which is encouraging these acts.”
The statement makes no mention of the deadly violence perpetrated by the Israeli army and settlers against Palestinians.
Violence is clearly, according to the Abraham Fund, something perpetrated only by Palestinians.
Culture for Coexistence also lists Loraine da Costa among its committee members. Da Costa’s other board memberships include One Family, a group which called itself “the leading support organization that deals with victims of terror in Israel.”
Needless to say, those supported by One Family do not include Palestinian victims of Israeli terror.
Another of da Costa’s board memberships was, until 2014, Conservative Friends of Israel, a lobby group inside Britain’s ruling Conservative Party.
The current chairperson of Conservative Friends of Israel, member of Parliament Eric Pickles, is also a signatory of The Guardian letter.
In an article commenting on the letter, Da Costa is quoted as rejecting criticism of how no Palestinians had signed the letter: ”This is essentially a British initiative – we haven’t reached out to Israelis or Palestinians. If there are Palestinians who’d like to be part of our initiative, we’d love to reach out to them.”
Her response elides the fact that plenty of the letter’s signatories have close links to Israel.
JK Rowling, usually credited with progressive social and political views, has disappointed many of her fans by putting her name to such a dubious project as Culture for Coexistence.
One young woman of Palestinian origin wrote movingly of how she was “heartbroken” at hearing of Rowling’s support for the Zionist apologist initiative, having grown up reading the Harry Potter books, with their message of anti-racism and the struggle for justice, as the story of her own people.
Unlike Rowling, many other British writers and artists have pledged to boycott Israel.
A spokesperson for the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) stated that “Some British cultural figures, including known Israel apologists, seem intent to revive [Margaret] Thatcher’s ‘constructive engagement’ [with 1980s South Africa], equating the colonizers with the colonized, which in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa proved to be downright unethical and complicit.”
PACBI also pointed to a spring 2015 statement signed, to date, by more than 1,000 British cultural figures, pledging to boycott Israel until it “respects international law.”
They include musicians Jarvis Cocker and Richard Ashcroft, actors Miriam Margolyes, Julie Christie and Maxine Peake, writers William Dalrymple, Hari Kunzru, Gillian Slovo and Aminatta Forna, director Mike Leigh and visual artists John Berger, Jeremy Deller and Mona Hatoum.
- Mona Hatoum
- John Berger
- Mike Leigh
- Aminatta Forna
- Gillian Slovo
- Hari Kunzru
- William Dalrymple
- Maxine Peake
- Julie Christie
- Miriam Margolyes
- Caryl Churchill
- Richard Ashcroft
- Jarvis Cocker
- Margaret Thatcher
- JK Rowling
- Tom Holland
- Hilary Mantel
- Simon Schama
- Culture for Coexistence
- Eric Pickles
- Loraine da Costa
- Conservative Friends of Israel
- One Family
- Abraham Fund
- Alex Brummer
- The Daily Mail
- Neil Blair
- The Guardian
- Melvyn Bragg
- Linda Grant
- Israeli settlements