Sunday, September 2, 2012

The demand to ban an Israeli dance company from performing in Edinburgh is bigotry dolled up as politics

By Brendan O'Neill Politics  Last updated: August 30th, 2012  

These are tough times for bigots. Speaking ill of ethnic minorities is frowned upon and hate speech is increasingly outlawed, which means there are fewer opportunities to be openly bigoted, to express naked intolerance of people who are allegedly inferior. So how are bigots supposed to get their rocks off? Fear not, they have found a way. Forced by the pressures of PC to carve out a form of bigotry that appears right-on rather than rotten, modern-day bigots are coalescing around hatred of Israel, and specifically around campaigns to ban Israeli artists and academics from coming anywhere near this morally pristine country of ours.

Boycotts of everything Israeli have well and truly crossed the line from political campaigns into expressions of bigotry against the people and produce of Israel. This week, a bevy of Scottish writers became the latest to join the bigoted bandwagon, as they demanded that the Edinburgh International Festival ban an Israeli dance troupe from performing. The Batsheva Dance Company was due to perform a one-hour show at the Edinburgh Playhouse and this has riled the sensibilities of some of Scotland’s literary big-hitters. Novelist Iain Banks, poet Liz Lochhead, short story writer AL Kennedy and others had a letter published in this morning’s Glasgow Herald in which they demanded that Batsheva be banned from Edinburgh on the basis that it is a “global ambassador of Israeli culture”. Well, we can’t have any of that toxic Israeli culture infecting Edinburgh, can we?

This highly intolerant effort by one group of artists to have another group of artists banned – or perhaps quarantined at the borders until they renounce their home country and everything it stands for – is part of a bigger chattering-class trend to ghettoise Israeli culture. Earlier this year, actress Emma Thompson and other luvvies sought to have the Israeli theatre company Habima banned from taking part in an international Shakespeare festival at the Globe Theatre in London. They accused the Globe of “associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state”. Last year, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was loudly jeered as it performed at the Proms, by people who think that even beautiful music can be evil if it is performed by Them, people who hail from Israel. Click here to watch the orchestra struggling to be heard over the din of the jeering – it’s a depressing spectacle.

Meanwhile, no decent, politically aware household in the leafier bits of Britain will have any Israeli produce in its fridge or larder. Not buying Israeli figs is one of the main ways that certain sections of society express their probity these days. Outside Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street, you will often see a group of keffiyeh-wearing radicals holding a banner saying “Boycott Marks & Spencer” in dripping, blood-red writing. They never picket other shops that sell Israeli produce, such as Sainsbury’s or Tesco. Only Marks & Spencer. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fact that Marks & Spencer was founded by J*ws.

The Israeli boycotters and banners always present their campaigning as politically informed, as a well-thought-through attempt to shame Israel and champion the Palestinian cause. They depict their erection of an anti-Israeli forcefield around Britain as an attempt to challenge what they call “Israeli apartheid” – the irony being that, in the process, they practise cultural apartheid against Israelis, against dancers, musicians and thinkers whose only crime is to have been born and trained in Israel. But there is nothing political about these censorious efforts to keep everything Israeli out of Britain. It is just an acceptable form of bigotry, a way of advertising one’s own moral decency by contrasting oneself to an inferior, infected people from Over There.

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