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Monday, 10 April 2017

Boycott: A Shrill, Silly Act of Self-Harm?

Of the creation and banning of much artistic endeavour there is no end.

Even members of the Jewish community – who should know better - often shout shrilly for the boycott and silencing those who hate Jews and the State of Israel.

Only last summer, the release of Steven Spielberg’s film, The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), was swiftly followed by a slew of hoary arguments from the Jewish cognoscenti as to why we should neither read nor help to reproduce Roald Dahl’s work in any form as the children’s author had been a gleefully vicious, wholly unrepentant antisemite.

Such debates occur cyclically and whenever they come round, the same points and counter-claims are made, whether they refer to anti-Jewish writers; musicians ranging from Richard Wagner to Roger Waters (although Waters insists he is not anti-Jewish) and even a visual artist like Edgar Degas.

Now, as Anglo-Jewish Labour MP Ivan Lewis has declared that it would be ‘totally wrong’ for him to leave the party because of the row over former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, many Jewish people are renewing calls to boycott the work of anti-Israel film director, Ken Loach who defended Livingstone during a heated LBC radio interview.

Loach said: "To talk about expelling someone for interpreting [Hitler's] actions 70 years, 80 years later is very dubious and I think, in the general discussion, there hasn't been this precise examination of what was said and the different interpretations of that.

"What I'm appalled by, is this, what smacks of a witch hunt.

"Ken Livingstone did more for good race relations during his time as mayor as anyone else has ever done ... I wouldn't rush to judge, to condemn him."

Loach’s politics and actions away from the studio are reprehensible. But he is a first-class film-maker and to boycott his work would be counter-productive as proven by the hostile, hate-filled social media response posted beneath the text of the interview.

The last time I looked at this subject in any depth was – remarkably – five years ago to the date on Monday 09 April 2012! – when I published a ‘flash’ story, Much Ado About Israel.

I used it to examine a proposed artists’ boycott of the Israeli Habimah Theatre Company’s participation in that year’s ‘Globe to Globe’ Shakespeare Festival with a Hebrew language performance of The Merchant of Venice.

In it, I quoted the opinion of novelist Howard Jacobson who had written thus in The Observer newspaper the previous Sunday:

“If there is one justification for art – for its creation and its performance – it is that art proceeds from and addresses our unaligned humanity. Whoever would go to art with a mind already made up, on any subject, misses what art is for. So to censor it in the name of a political or religious conviction, no matter how sincerely held, is to tear out its very heart.

“For artists themselves to do such a thing to art is not only treasonable; it is an act of self-harm. One could almost laugh about it, so Kafkaesque is the reasoning: The Merchant of Venice, acted in Hebrew, a troubling work of great moral complexity (and therefore one that we should welcome every new interpretation of), to be banned not by virtue of itself, but because of where the theatre company performing it had also performed.

But the laughter dies in our throats. With last week's letter to The Guardian, McCarthyism came to Britain. You could hear the minds of people in whom we vest our sense of creative freedom snapping shut. And now we might all be guilty by association: of being in the wrong place or talking to the wrong people or reading the wrong book. Thus does an idée fixe make dangerous fools of the best of us.”

I rest my case. For now!

© Natalie Wood (9-10 April 2017)

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