Palestinian envoy opposes pressure over boycott

Wed, May 30, 2012, 01:00

THE PALESTINIAN ambassador to Ireland has said that while he personally supports calls for a cultural boycott of Israel, he is opposed to making artists feel pressured to participate in the protest.

Ambassador Hikmat Ajjuri acknowledged that the Palestinian Authority government he represents does not have an official stance on the question of a cultural boycott, which is part of a wider boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign established by an alliance of Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005.

“We have not taken an official black-and-white position on the issue of cultural boycott, but I support it because I think it is part of the means to exert pressure on the intelligentsia in Israel to act against the irresponsible actions taken by their government,” he told The Irish Times. “I personally welcome an economic, cultural or any other boycott against Israel because Israel is an apartheid state, and this was the only way South Africa’s former apartheid system was ended. There should be a stick to wave in the face of Israel’s intransigence.”

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore recently reiterated the Government’s position that it did not support cultural or other boycotts of Israel, and criticised what he described as “unacceptable efforts to harass artists with a view to intimidating them from exercising their freedom of choice in relation to engagement with Israel”.

Mr Ajjuri said he respected the Government’s stance on the cultural boycott. “People should decide themselves what they feel is right or wrong,” he said. “I condemn any kind of harassment of Irish artists. I am totally against making individuals feel they are being intimidated or pressured. Everyone – singers, artists, writers – is entitled to their opinion.”

Mr Ajjuri’s comments follow two recent cases in which the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) lobbied Irish folk band Dervish and Irish novelist Gerard Donovan to cancel planned visits to Israel.

In an open letter to Dervish, the IPSC’s cultural liaison officer Dr Raymond Deane told the band if they performed in Israel they would be “betraying both the Palestinian people and many of your most respected colleagues” and would be “manipulated by the state of Israel to whitewash the utter criminality of its occupation and colonisation of Palestinian lands”. He added cancelling the tour would save Dervish’s support band FullSet from “the infamy” of having breached the boycott – which is not an official boycott akin to the UN-approved one imposed on apartheid-era South Africa – early in their career.

In a statement on Dervish’s decision to pull out of the trip, singer Cathy Jordan said: “Although I was aware of the concerns with our proposed visit to Israel, I wasn’t quite prepared for the extent of the venom directed at us.” She said the band’s motives for the tour had been “misunderstood and misrepresented”, which “started an avalanche of negativity which has made it impossible for [Dervish] to make the trip, regardless of our motives”.

FullSet issued a statement saying both bands had been “publicly berated and attacked for breaking a cultural boycott on Israel that neither was aware of when accepting the tour”.

Dr Deane has denied any “venom” or “avalanche of negativity” was directed at the bands by pro-boycott campaigners.

He rejected comments by Donovan, who had been invited to a recent literary festival in Jerusalem, in which the novelist described the IPSC’s campaign as “outright intimidation” and said he would not be “bullied or cajoled” into responding to it. Donovan had already cancelled his visit to Israel on health grounds.