Harry Potter author JK Rowling leads resistance to cultural boycott of Israel

Author J.K. Rowling © Carlo Allegri
British cultural figures and political heavyweights including writers JK Rowling and Hilary Mantel and Conservative MP Eric Pickles are leading the charge against an arts boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.

The bestselling authors and fellow opponents of the embargo, including actress Zoe Wanamaker and historian Simon Schama, have signed an open letter published in the Guardian newspaper calling for dialogue to resolve the conflict and rejecting the need for a boycott of cultural institutions.

Launching what the signatories called ‘Culture for Coexistence’, described as a network for dialogue, they opposed an earlier letter published in February calling for a cultural embargo.

We do not believe cultural boycotts are acceptable or that the letter you published accurately represents opinion in the cultural world in the UK,” the letter states.

We will be seeking to inform and encourage dialogue about Israel and the Palestinians in the wider cultural and creative community. While we may not all share the same views on the policies of the Israeli government, we all share a desire for peaceful coexistence.

Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not further peace,” the letter claims.

Included among the supporters are a number of MPs, including Conservative Eric Pickles, a former frontbench minister and an outspoken supporter of Israel.

Around 150 public figures signed the letter, which strikingly lacks Palestinian support. More than 600 backed the original call for a boycott in February.

Fronted by musician Brian Eno and film director Ken loach, the earlier open letter argued that “since the summer war on Gaza, Palestinians have enjoyed no respite from Israel’s unrelenting attack on their land, their livelihood, their right to political existence.

Israel’s wars are fought on the cultural front too. Its army targets Palestinian cultural institutions for attack, and prevents the free movement of cultural workers.

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,” the letter concluded.

Senior vice president of the Board of Deputies, a Jewish community group, Richard Verber told the Jewish Chronicle that “we have always argued that boycotts do nothing to encourage dialogue and peace in a complex and troubled region.

We encourage people to channel their energies and efforts into supporting groups which promote co-existence and mutual respect,” he added.