A brilliant campaign is underway, created by my former colleagues at Jewish Voice for Peace. They have rallied American and British artists and celebrities to support the performers who are refusing to perform in the newly-built performance center in Ariel.
I wrote about the importance of this action by Israeli performers last week. It is of supreme importance that Israelis make a clear statement that Ariel is not Israel, that it is an illegal settlement and that Israelis are going to resist the attempts by settlers and the government (right up to the Prime Minister) to normalize the settlements and create an atmosphere of normalcy around their existence.
This action, however, is almost as important. Mainstream Israeli figures such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman came out in support of the actors, as did many other Israelis. Now, the boycotting artists are receiving support from big names outside of Israel.
This is absolutely crucial. Sure, celebrities don’t make the political decisions, but we all know that when stars come out in support of something, many people take notice.
On this action, JVP got a real list of luminaries: Stephen Sondheim, Cynthia Nixon, Julianne Moore, Theodore Bikel, Ed Asner, Eve Ensler, Tony Kushner, Vanessa Redgrave, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, Howard Prince, Jennifer Tilly and many others.
Some of those names are familiar ones around this issue, but many are not, and that really increases the power of the statement. Many of them are Jews with long histories of support for Israel as well.
This is precisely the formula that is needed to bring change, both in Israel and in American policy. It starts with Israelis taking a stand against the occupation, getting support from within and then that larger group getting support from the rest of the world.
JVP has taken a brilliant and crucial step here. So, now we need to see JVP being supported as well. The text of the petition that JVP got these luminaries to sign is such that it should be easy for a wide swath of pro-peace groups and activists to support:
On August 27th, dozens of Israeli actors, directors, and playwrights made the brave decision not to perform in Ariel, one of the largest of the West Bank settlements, which by all standards of international law are clearly illegal. As American actors, directors, critics and playwrights, we salute our Israeli counterparts for their courageous decision.
Most of us are involved in daily compromises with wrongful acts. When a group of people suddenly have the clarity of mind to see that the next compromise looming up before them is an unbearable one — and when they somehow find the strength to refuse to cross that line — we can’t help but be overjoyed and inspired and grateful.
It’s thrilling to think that these Israeli theatre artists have refused to allow their work to be used to normalize a cruel occupation which they know to be wrong, which violates international law and which is impeding the hope for a just and lasting peace for Israelis an Palestinians alike. They’ve made a wonderful decision, and they deserve the respect of people everywhere who dream of justice. We stand with them.
As JVP goes on to explain: “*Statement organizers and signatories represent a wide range of political opinions and perspectives, but have come together for the sole purpose of making a joint statement on this one critical issue.”
That is precisely the spirit that has been so lacking on the pro-peace side of this issue, and all the different sub-groups have been guilty of it in one or another. The pro-status quo and reactionary crowds do not experience it to the same degree, which is, in my view, the biggest reason why they have generally held the advantage. JVP has struck a powerful chord not only on this single issue, but in beginning to lead the way toward bringing the left together on the broader activism for a just peace. And that can turn the tide.
It’s now up to the more mainstream pro-peace Jewish and non-Jewish organizations to take up the mantle. Targeting the settlements is what needs to happen, and it needs to happen today.
This is a cause that groups like J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Meretz USA, the American Task Force on Palestine, the Arab American Institute and Churches for Middle East Peace should be embracing. It forwards the hopes for peace, it clearly targets only the settlements and the occupation and it has the potential to open up a space for peace groups to work on the areas where they agree and distinguish themselves on issues where they don’t.
It would not be hard for those groups, if they feel they need (and given their constituencies and the sensitivity of some of the issues where they disagree strongly with JVP, they are right to feel that way), to say “We disagree with Jewish Voice for Peace on some issues, but on this point, they are right and we support this effort.” The other side does this sort of thing all the time.
Such unity, even in so conditional and tentative a manner, would be a real game changer. JVP has started the process and it will have impact whether the more “mainstream” groups get involved or not. But it can have so much more and it can at least start to remove the obstacle we in the peace movement have of so many segments refusing to work with others. That reality allows our opponents to say we don’t represent a “mainstream” voice, but a marginal one; it helps them craft the illusion that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic and the Jewish voices are self-hating.
Here’s hoping the groups I mentioned don’t let this opportunity go by. They need JVP, even if they need to deal with some political minefields in order to work with them on the issues they can. The sooner the left can come together, the better, because whatever solution we envision to the Israel-Palestine conflict, time is running out to start moving there.