Sorry, JK Rowling, You're Wrong over The Israel Boycott
24 November 2015
By Ramzy Baroud
There is a possibility that you have heard of the famed British author, J.K.
Rowling, writer of the popular fantasy series 'Harry Potter'. While I knew of
her books – through my teenage kids – I knew little about the author herself,
Using generalised, ambiguous terminology that offered little by way of
compelling Israel to end its ongoing Occupation in Jerusalem and the West
Bank, genocide and siege in Gaza and protracted institutional discrimination
against Arabs and other minorities in Israel, she argued for 'cultural
engagement', instead. Such engagement, her letter reads, ''builds bridges,
nurtures freedom and positive movement for change. We wholly endorse
encouraging such a powerful tool for change, rather than boycotting its
The author seems disconnected from the reality of life under Israeli
Occupation. On the day of writing this article, I spoke to Ismail Abu Aitah,
a young man from Gaza who lost both his parents, his brothers, and one of his
nephews when Israel blew up their house in the 2014 summer war. He, too, was
badly injured, together with almost every surviving member of his family.
''I am sorry Ramzy, I cannot give you exact dates and times to what has
befallen my family,'' he messaged me on Skype. ''After July 24, 2014, I lost
interest in life and stopped paying attention to the passing of time.''
How is one to console Ismail? How is one to console the families of over
2,200 Palestinians killed in the last war; the over 400 in the previous war
and over 1,430 in the one before that, in addition to the tens of thousands
of wounded and maimed? Not forgetting the many killed in the West Bank this
October alone, some executed point blank?
For her, even non-violent acts of encountering Israel's ongoing massacres in
Gaza and the military occupation in the West Bank are excessive. ''Cultural
boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not
further peace,'' reads the letter she signed.
Amnesty International said Israel's violent response to a burgeoning uprising
in Occupied Palestine appears to have ''ripped up the rulebook and resorted
to extreme and unlawful measures.'' But with scores of UN resolutions never
respected, Geneva Conventions never honoured, and humanitarian laws never
valued, Israel has never followed a rulebook, to begin with.
Racism in Israel is so rife that being dark skinned in that country can be a
terrifying experience. When a mainstream American newspaper like the
Washington Post headlines a news report with ''Israeli government to
refugees: Go back to Africa or go to prison'', this is an indicator that
Israel has a serious problem.
If J K Rowling and her peers do not see an urgency in standing up for
millions of Palestinians who are enduring daily deaths and discrimination (as
they have for 67 years), what is their reaction to the violence against
Africans and dark-skinned people, who arebeaten by mobs, and abused by police
and discriminated against by the government itself?
Imagine life being a thousand-fold worse for Palestinians, a nation that is
forced to choose between two terrible fates: permanent destitution and exile
on the one hand, or a perpetual war and occupation on the other.
''We will be seeking to inform and encourage dialogue about Israel and the
Palestinians in the wider cultural and creative community,'' J K Rowling's
letter reads. Can those 'creative' elites possibly be any more disconnected
from reality to the extent that they perceive a nation that stands accused of
violating human rights with such impunity for nearly seven decades as one
that simply needs a nudge to dialogue?
To expect dialogue with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has
just dehumanised Palestinians further by accusing them of concocting the
Holocaust is not just impractical, but is the very definition of insanity –
seeking dialogue with a belligerent occupier, over and over again, and
expecting different results.
Fortunately, J K Rowling's last-minute intervention and her barely concealed
defence of Israel arrives belatedly. A defining moment is imminent, as
hundreds of scholars in her own country have just enlisted their support for
the academic boycott, to be added to the 100 artists who joined the cultural
boycott last February and hundreds of universities and academicians in the US
who did so last August. These are just a few examples of a massive,
non-violent campaign that targets Israeli academic and cultural institutions
– not individuals – who contribute directly, or otherwise, to the injustice
that is meted out against Palestinians daily.
The scholars from the UK, exceeding 300 and the last to join the boycott
campaign were, like thousands more, guided by the spirit of the struggle
against the former Apartheid South African government. The latter was
overcome largely because of the struggle and steadfastness of the South
African people and also aided by morally-guided actions of boycotters all
around the world, which included J K Rowling's country.
Had the famed author achieved her current status during the height of South
Africa's Apartheid, would she have issued a similar call, declaring her
''support for the launch and aims of Culture for Co-existence'', rather than
demanding an end to Apartheid, even if it meant severing ties with Apartheid
government institutions? At this point, the answer is uncertain.
Last February, the letter from the British artistes read, in part: ''During
South African apartheid, musicians announced they weren't going to 'play Sun
City'. Now we are saying, in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ashkelon or Ariel, we won't
play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run
masterclasses or workshops, until Israel respects international law and ends
its colonial oppression of the Palestinians.''
What is appropriate for South Africa should be appropriate for Palestine,
too, even if J K Rowling and her respected peers find that too objectionable.
– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has a PhD in Palestine Studies from the University of
Exeter. He has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of
several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include
'Searching Jenin', 'The Second Palestinian Intifada' and his latest 'My
Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story'. Visit his website: