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Hamilton vs. J.K. Rowling, Round Two



On Monday, CounterPunch ran an article by Omar Robert Hamilton that responded to JK Rowling’s joint letter to defend Israel. This was one amongst many responses to her letter. JK Rowling responded, and Omar responded to her. We run both below.

JK Rowling Responds:

I’ve had a number of readers asking for more information about why I am not joining a cultural boycott of Israel, so here it is:

As the Guardian letter I co-signed states, the signatories hold different views on the actions of the current Israeli administration. Speaking purely for myself, I have deplored most of Mr Netanyahu’s actions in office. However, I do not believe that a cultural boycott will force Mr Netanyahu from power, nor have I ever heard of a cultural boycott ending a bloody and prolonged conflict.

If any effects are felt from the proposed boycott, it will be by ordinary Israelis, many of whom did not vote for Mr Netanyahu. Those Israelis will be right to ask why cultural boycotts are not also being proposed against – to take random examples – North Korea and Zimbabwe, whose leaders are not generally considered paragons by the international community.

The sharing of art and literature across borders constitutes an immense power for good in this world. The true human cost of the Palestinian conflict was seared upon my consciousness, as upon many others’, by the heart-splitting poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. In its highest incarnation, as exemplified by Darwish, art civilises, challenges and reminds us of our common humanity. At a time when the stigmatisation of religions and ethnicities seems to be on the rise, I believe strongly that cultural dialogue and collaboration is more important than ever before and that cultural boycotts are divisive, discriminatory and counter-productive.

Omar Robert Hamilton Responds:

Dear Ms Rowling,

I don’t know if you read my response in Counterpunch to your signing the Cultures of CoExistence letter. I hope you will take the two minutes it asks of you. You’ve since expanded on your position and so, although I may be speaking to an empty room here, I feel I should step in again.

Firstly, the cultural boycott is not designed to force Mr Netanyahu from power. If it were not Mr Netanyahu in power it would have been Mr. Herzog and his track record leaves us no reason to hope he would be the kind of visionary leader needed to bring a just resolution to the great injustices that Zionism has wrought upon Palestine. The cultural boycott is designed to isolate institutions that are directly collaborating with the Israeli government in the ongoing occupation and colonization of Palestine. The cultural, economic and political boycott is designed to bring justice for the Palestinian people.

It is misrepresentative to suggest that BDS is a blunt instrument that blindly targets people based on their ethnicity. That’s what Israel does. BDS, on the other hand, is a carefully considered campaign based on ethical principles. It does not target individuals, it does not target people for their beliefs; it targets institutions that profit from death and their brand ambassadors, it targets people who, by accepting money, make themselves complicit with the Israeli state.

Let’s take two examples.

Gal Gadot is an Israeli actress soon to be an international star for playing Wonder Woman. She served in the Israeli Army and has no problem acting as a representative of her country. However, as no Israeli state institutions contributed to the financing of her films, she is not someone that would be targeted by BDS.

Idan Raichel, on the other hand, has hosted gala fundraisers for the Israeli Army and provided morale boosting entertainment for soldiers on active duty in the most recent assault on Gaza.  In his own words, Raichel said “I believe that our role as artists is to be engaged in the Israeli propaganda campaign [Hasbara].”

Mr Raichel is the kind of artist that BDS targets.

It is laid out very clearly on the website for the Palestinain Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

BDS targets artists, companies and institutions that are in the service of the state and its policy of ethnic cleansing.

You ask why we don’t boycott North Korea? This is a question often asked by Israeli apologists and the answer is simple: North Korea has no international cultural propaganda programme to boycott. How many state-sponsored celebrations of North Korean culture are happening this year? How many North Korean lobbyists are at work in Washington DC? How many popstars have had to rescind tweets against North Korea? The answer is zero.

BDS does not stop the sharing of art or of literature across borders. BDS stops government-sponsored propaganda from masquerading unchallenged as art. BDS demands that art be art and that artists speak for themselves and not be mouthpieces of an apartheid regime. Real cultural dialogue between individuals or institutions not affiliated with the state is of no interest to this campaign. What BDS targets is state-sponsored smokescreening designed to buy Israel more time to conquer more land.

As a signatory to BDS there would be no preventing you from talking and working with as many ‘ordinary Israelis’ as you like. In fact, it would guarantee that this sector about whom you are so concerned is identified. Israelis resistant to their state’s policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are welcomed with open arms. But those that profit from it: they are the ones that we are no longer interested in dialogue with.

I believe that if you consider this carefully you will find that it is actually BDS, and not the Cultures of Co-Existence Clan, that is in line with your stated principles.


Omar Robert Hamilton

Omar Robert Hamilton is a filmmaker, writer and a producer of the annual Palestine Festival of Literature. He is currently working on his first novel – set in the Egyptian revolution and on an edited collection of essays on the revolution for LeftWord Books (Delhi).

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