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Creating people's geographies

John Berger rallies artists for cultural boycott of Israel

***See the original document at the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)*** See also John Berger’s article in the Guardian: We Must Speak Out

· Supporters include Brian Eno and Arundhati Roy
· Critics say sanctions will be counter-productive

Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent
Friday December 15, 2006boycott-israel.jpg

The celebrated novelist, critic and artist John Berger today calls on British writers and artists to undertake a “cultural boycott” of Israel. In a letter to the Guardian, co-signed by, among others, the artist Cornelia Parker, the musician Brian Eno, and writers Arundhati Roy and Ahdaf Soueif, Berger calls for support for “our Palestinian and Israeli colleagues”. He suggests boycott tactics; in his case it meant declining to be published by a large mainstream Israeli publisher, he says.

Yesterday he said of the boycott: “It could be a factor in Israeli policy changing. Of course its effects will not be gigantic but it is a way of not staying silent. It is a very personal call … a way of encouraging the very courageous Israelis who oppose their government and an encouragement to Palestinians to somehow go on surviving.” He made a clear distinction between individuals and state-sponsored events or institutions. “It is not a question of boycotting Israeli artists,” he said.

The film-maker Ken Loach, who backs the boycott, said he would not take part in state-sponsored Israeli film festivals.

However, Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, said: “There are countless Israelis who vehemently oppose their government … many are artists and academics, and none of them are prevented from expressing their opposition … It seems profoundly counter-productive to cease contact with precisely that section of Israeli society most likely to provoke a change in direction within Israel.”

Richard Eyre, the theatre director, said: “I would have said during apartheid in South Africa sanctions … were effective, but so many people since then have said they were counterproductive. It’s not cut and dried. Anything that boycotts Israel means we are in danger of cutting off access to [those] we should be speaking to.”

The playwright Mark Ravenhill said it was good to keep a dialogue open with those challenging the government. “A cultural boycott runs the risk of stopping that dialogue and support.” Michael Berkeley, the composer, said: “Sometimes it is only through the arts that a link remains open.”


John Berger, novelist, painter, art critic and philosopher

Brian Eno, electronic musician, music theorist and record producer

Sophie Fiennes, film director

Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer

Reem Kelani, Palestinian singer

Leon Rosselson, musician and writer

Steven Rose, scientist

Ahdaf Soueif, author

Arundhati Roy, Booker Prize winner

Elia Suleiman, film director and actor, and 85 others **MANY MORE HAVE SINCE BEEN ADDED**

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"