Dear JK Rowling,
To be honest, I am probably one of the few people on the planet who has never read your books. But I know your stories of fantasy are based in morality and have inspired millions. I read the letter from Mia, the young Palestinian, who framed her concern over your statements on BDS and the need for a culture of coexistence in the metaphors and characters drawn from your work. (letter to JK Rowling) I cannot obviously do that, but I speak as a long standing Jewish activist, a physician who has worked in Israel and Palestine since 2004, a mother of two daughters who has witnessed the crushing impact of the occupation on Palestinian children, and as an author, filmmaker and blogger. (see my website Alice Rothchild website)
When I started my focus on health and human rights work in Israel/Palestine in 1997, I believed in the importance of coexistence work, diplomacy, and understanding dual narratives as the building blocks for peace and understanding. I even started with a Jewish/Palestinian dialogue group. I came to understand and support the BDS movement out of a deep frustration with coexistence projects and a corrupted political process that has only left an increasingly brutal military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and siege of Gaza, multiple Israeli incursions and attacks, and a massive Jewish settlement project. When Palestinian civil society called for a peaceful nonviolent resistance to the status quo through the tactic of BDS, it was clear to me that the time had come for the international community to pressure the Israeli government (and its US supporters) to change their policies as previous strategies had failed miserably. It was also clear to me that an apartheid like system had been created in Israel/Palestine and that there were serious parallels with the struggles in South Africa where BDS was highly effective in changing the political equation.
I understand that you are troubled by the academic/cultural boycott and here is why I think you should rethink your stand. There are of course many liberal minded Jewish Israelis academics, singers, dancers, etc., (only I would venture most have not struggled with the consequences of living in a country where Jews are institutionally, legally, economically, and socially privileged over all other citizens), but they are a part of a system that continues the grave injustices that are oppressing Palestinians and brutalizing the occupiers. For instance, many Israeli universities are located on land seized from Palestinians or on land in the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, Israeli universities often have major contracts with the military and security companies that maintain the occupation, performers who go abroad understand as long as they are funded by Israeli institutions, they are Israeli ambassadors and are not to be critical of the policies of the government. The Israeli public educational system does not teach anything about the Nakba, the Palestinian expulsion in 1948 or subsequent Palestinian history. Thus this is all part of Israeli hasbara, a well funded program to create a positive Israeli brand, to white wash the occupation by presenting a “pretty face,” to control the messaging, ignoring the gravity of the racism, militarism, Islamophobia, etc. that is corrupting the country. If Israeli academics or artists condemn the occupation and do not take funding from the government and complicit institutions then they are not subject to boycott. Additionally, the Israeli government has repeatedly closed Palestinian universities. Israeli academics never suggested that this threatened academic freedom or stood up for their colleagues across the Green Line. Palestinian academics and performers face grave difficulties getting permits to perform abroad, attend conferences, etc., and again Israeli academics and artists have never thought this was a problem worth fighting for. They need to wake up!
The cultural boycott is a powerful tool to awaken people who do not usually pay attention to this conflict and to make them think, what is actually happening and why is this powerful international movement growing in strength. I would also suggest that if you do not support this strategy, then you are complicit in the Israeli PR machine, and that is a position I am sure you do not want to take.
I urge you to rethink your stance.
Alice Rothchild, MD