A Reply To…

Posted by in November's Magazine

When we (well I, there is no we) published an article last month on the protests surrounding the Israeli dance company Batsheva, a backlash was expected, indeed welcomed. I had hoped it would play out in the comments section of the online article. Which would, I think, have fomented wider and thus more useful debate. Unfortunately most of the (strongest) opinions popped up in my email inbox…

…so the toing and froing of opinion in the public domain never transpired. I’ve decided, then, to publish the most considered response in this issue. It is pertinent to point out the original article (an impassioned plea, albeit particular, against censorship in the arts) was written in the white heat of the moment by someone who is passionate about culture, indeed an arts festival director.


Dear Editor,
As a Leith-based political activist and documentary filmmaker who has been involved in the struggle for justice in Palestine for a number of years, I write respectfully to ask whether I may be given the chance of a published response to David Sefton’s piece, We Have To Talk About Censorship, in issue 89 of The Leither.

As you rightly say, Mr Sefton pulls no punches in his spirited criticism of those who protested Batsheva Dance Company’s Edinburgh Festival appearance this summer. However, to print an article which speaks of principled demonstrators (amongst them a diminutive female middle aged Methodist minister, who subsequently filed a police complaint for being assaulted by a member of the public inside the auditorium) as ‘simplistic lefties’, indulging in ‘aggressive vandalism’, whose activities were comparable to the Nazis, without providing voice to a counter argument to set before your readership would, in my view amount to an even graver act of censorship than the one cited by your contributor.

Quite apart from the insulting language and tone of the article, there is a fundamental flaw in his argument. The assumption that the views of Batsheva are regarded by boycott campaigners as synonymous with that of the Israeli government is quite wrong, choreographer Ohad Naharin even spoke to assembled demonstrators outside the venue to voice his common sympathy with the Palestinian cause. This is clearly understood.

The problem is that the dance group are platformed as part of Brand Israel, a government-sponsored PR initiative that seeks unashamedly to use arts and culture as a means to showcase the state and beautify it’s international image. An objective reinforced by the presence of an Israeli government minister on the show’s first night.

It’s not difficult to see why this might make Batsheva seem a legitimate target to people motivated by a determination to raise awareness of Israeli apartheid. For this, after all, is what we are talking about…

Despite Mr Sefton’s nodded reference to Israel as being ‘very bad’ and guilty of ‘terrible stuff’, he fails to elaborate. And such omission is crucial in stifling a proper debate. There is something deeply unsettling to me about an article seeking to demonise direct action against the official representatives of a criminal state without giving any detail of what those crimes actually are. Such neglect of the appalling truth of Israel’s ongoing project of colonial dominance and expansion characterizes the entire mainstream public domain of both media and politics. Sadly, in fact scandalously given the pivotal, and potentially catastrophic role of this issue in world affairs, this means a public too ignorant of the reality to properly grasp the evasiveness of an article like your contributor’s.

The Palestinians, as I’m sure you know yourself, have been driven from their land and turned into the world’s largest refugee population. The dispossessions and house demolitions are still happening every day. Those that remain, both in Israel and the occupied territories are subject to a regime of oppression that, according to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who I suspect knows one or two things on the subject, is actually worse than the apartheid policies of South Africa. I wonder if Mr Sefton would have been equally withering in his condemnation of those people who ran onto rugby pitches in the ‘80s as part of the boycott campaign of a previous era.

Indeed, rather than merely stigmatize those sufficiently moved to act directly in the support of the Palestinians’ largely ignored struggle for justice, He might have also made positive suggestions for applying pressure on Israel by other means.

Like many people involved in this issue, I have visited the West Bank and seen the brutality and dehumanization of Palestinians at first hand. I defy anyone with a moral sense to return from that land without a new perspective and a vigorous desire to do something. Scotland’s national poet provides such an example, but Liz Lochead is but one of many respected artists and public figures who have confirmed their explicit support to a growing international boycott campaign which, it should be stressed, was called for in 2005 by Palestinian civic society itself.

The list of agencies, organisations and individuals aligned to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement should be scrutinised by David Sefton. It’s not quite the shower of ignorant leftist louts he refers to in his article.

Best regards,

Jon Pullman

6 responses to “A Reply To…”

  1. G Danton says:

    Clearly, David Sefton had touched a raw nerve. The thrust of his piece – demonstrate by all means (however confused your logic) – but do not stoop to the book-burning lows of destroying an artistic event of the highest calibre.

    The best Mr Pullman can say in response: a diminutive Methodist protester was allegedly assaulted inside the Playhouse (logic = two wrongs make a right), and protesters invaded rugby pitches in the 80s (logic = Desmond Tutu approved of pitch invasions; he will therefore approve of interrupting dance performances).

    Mr Pullman's contribution was the most considered, one shudders to think what the others were like.

    • Stevie D says:

      To G Danon. The best Mr Pullman can say in response was not the two examples you highlighted. The best was his focus on the criminality o Israel and Batsheva complicity

  2. Mick Napier says:

    Mr "Sefton was a complete fraud in claiming to support artistic freedom; he has not a single word to say about Israel's violent suppressions of Palestinian artistic initiatives. While he condemns those who protest in support of Palestinian human rights, there is no hint of a proposal as to how we should try to end what he says are Israel's "crimes against humanity", the gravest crime category under international law.
    Given the gravity of Mr Sefton's accusations against the Stete of Israel, it's rather like accusing someone of being a mass murderer, then opposing some opposition to them on grounds of etiquette.

  3. Mick Napier says:

    Btw, Danton – not a 'raw nerve' but 'raw flesh' after the same people who are paying Bathseva salaries and paying the salaries of Air Force pilots, burned off the limbs of many Gaza children, even while Batsheva danced for their money. Some Israeli war criminals call it 'mowing the lawn'. http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/

  4. Bill Mair says:

    I do not see why a state which is guilty of numerous breaches on international law, in breach of numerous United Nations resolutions and which practises apartheid and genocide upon the Palestinian people should be allowed to present itself as a civilized, cultured nation.
    The treatment of the Palestinian people is inhuman in its cruelty and the state of Israel must be held to account by decent society across the globe.
    Your interrupted dance performance is nothing against the misery and daily humiliation of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel and its agents, the IDF.

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