Given I’m about to review Keren Landsman’s novel The Heart of the Circle, you might be wondering ‘but what about the cultural boycott of Israel?’. If so, or if you’re actually wondering ‘what is the cultural boycott of Israel?’, then read on.
If you’ve had half an ear to the news in the past few years, you’ll probably have heard of BDS. BDS stands for boycott, divest, and sanction. The BDS movement aims to be a nonviolent means of protesting the apartheid and violence inflicted by the Israeli state on citizens of Palestine, and its implicit sanction by western governments.
Since Landsman’s novel is a cultural product of Israel, you might think—as I initially did—that it falls squarely under the cultural boycott. But the thing is this: among other things, the cultural boycott aims to resist Israeli cultural propaganda. So when boycotting Israeli cultural products abroad, the question is: did the creator agree with the Israeli state to represent Israel in a good light? Did they take money and sign a contract?
I’m not making this up out of thin air, by the way. What I’m talking about is in the boycott guidelines.
If the answer to this question is no, then the work doesn’t fall under the boycott.
Israelis aren’t complicit in the crimes of the state of Israel simply by dint of being Israeli, any more than I’m complicit in the UK’s crimes by being British. Israelis who aren’t active participants in the violence of the Israeli state—by enacting it or by normalising it—deserve their work judged on the same basis as anyone else. Just like I wouldn’t expect someone to burst onto my blog shouting ‘BUT WHAT ABOUT YARL’S WOOD, EH?!’, I’m not going to start inquisiting Landsman on her very existence.
If you are working for the Israeli government to propagandize Israel? Damn right, you should be ashamed. Ordinary working stiff in Israel? Not the same thing.