I went to a recent talk given by Dr. Anat Matar on her recent visit to London.
Dr Matar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Tel Aviv University.
She is also an Israeli citizen who wants the world to boycott Israel.
She is a member of Who Profits? Exposing the Israeli Occupation Industry.
Dr. Matar feels that the only way to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is for there to be an economic, cultural and academic boycott of her own country.
Imagine boycotting yourself! Would any Brit or American call for a boycott of their respective countries over Afghanistan or Iraq?
Only a courageous, caring and unselfish person would even contemplate this, surely?
Her son, Hagai, spent two years in an Israeli prison for refusing to enlist.
At her talk at SOAS Dr. Matar outlined the three main objections that her friends on the radical anti-Zionist left have to a boycott:
1. The time hasn’t come yet:
She addressed this concern by saying that all Israelis profit from the occupation including the working class and Arab Israelis: “The shrinking of the military industry, which supports so many families, may cause many to suffer but it is necessary.”
And she questioned why we should boycott Israel and not America or Britian over Afghanistan. She said: “The boycott is pragmatic. It is ridiculous not to take action against one country just because others are immune. And maybe if the boycott succeeds it may touch on the policies of these other countries.”
2. There is something hypocritical and anti-semitic in the boycott campaign:
She understood this argument and said we must be watchful and that “I am not going to go back to Lithuania”. (Dr Matar believes in the end of the Jewish state and so I wonder how she can be so sure that she would never have to go back to Lithuania since Muslim countries have ejected nearly all their one million indigenous Jews. If Israel became “secular and democratic” and, ultimately, a Muslim country she could well be on her way back to Lithuania).
3. Supporting a boycott replaces genuine activism:
She said that all the varying approaches to attacking Israel should be considered and each organisation should unite and then consider which approach is best.
For example, choose particular campaigns like boycotting merchandise made in the occupied territories but not the Tate Modern’s exhibition of Israeli video installations that is taking place this weekend in London.
“Don’t boycott this. You have to look at the names of the Israeli artists. Some of them are refusniks and great anti-Zionists,” Dr. Matar said.
But audience members shouted “this is part of ‘brand Israel’ and its campaign for normalisation” and “why are they coming here?” and “Why are these artists accepting money from the vile Israeli government?”
Poor Anat. Her own supporters attacking their boycott heroine.
She tried to put across her ethical argument and explained how hard it is to be an artist in Israel: “You can’t make a film or be a dancer without taking money from the Israeli government. If you are rich you are alright but if you are poor and an artist and support the occupation what do you do? They can’t give up their lives. If they support the boycott it will finish their careers”.
I then realised how wrong I was.
I had honestly respected Dr Matar. However misguided, she actually seemed to be willing to sacrifice herself for what she perceived to be the greater good of Israel and the Palestinian people; an academic boycott in which even she would suffer.
But in effect she was calling for an academic and cultural boycott just so long as those who are against the occupation are not affected which, conveniently, includes herself.
So in a nutshell her message to the world is: “Boycott Israel, boycott all Israeli academics but please don’t boycott me.”
Dr. Matar isn’t as courageous as she would like people to think she is.
Meanwhile, you can make your way down to the Tate Modern this weekend and see what Israeli artists have to say about Israel through their art.