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Why I think a boycott would be right

As an arts lover, I am an instinctive supporter of the right to freedom of expression.

However, I do not uphold that right above all other rights. For instance, I would not, in the 1980s, have agreed to review the work of South African companies funded by the apartheid state. In my opinion, the rights of the oppressed black South African majority would have superseded the supposed "rights" of arts companies to attempt to promote and normalise apartheid South Africa.

The issue with Israeli dance company Batsheva is, in its essence, identical. The call for a boycott of Israel is not simply a protest over policy (as one might protest against the US/British invasion of Iraq, or Russia's wars against Chechnya). Rather, it is a challenge to the fundamental basis of an ethnically-defined state which is built upon ethnic cleansing and the wholesale dispossession, and continuous oppression, of the Palestinian Arab population.

There has, over the past week, been a considerable amount of nonsense spoken by critics of a boycott that Batsheva are being targeted because they happen to come from Israel, not because of anything the company has done. This is, whether through ignorance or wilful disingenuousness, a complete misrepresentation of the position of the boycott campaign.

Let me be clear: if Batsheva had, as many brave and principled Israeli artists have done, refused to take Israeli state funding and denounced Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land, I would not have supported a boycott.

The case against Batsheva is precisely about what they have done. In taking Israeli state funding, the company knowingly ties itself into the state's attempts to divert attention away from the inhuman and illegal occupation, and promote Israel as a modern, democratic nation.

Consider the following, from a standard Israeli Foreign Ministry contract for artists it funds to travel abroad: "The service provider [i.e. the artist] is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel ... The service provider will not present himself as an agent, emissary and/or representative of the Ministry."

The boycott of Batsheva is about putting the basic human rights of the Palestinian people ahead of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's attempts to use artists to gloss over the fundamental injustice and illegality of the Israeli occupation.

Mark Brown is the Sunday Herald's theatre and dance critic.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

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