Sunday 8 December 2019

Concubhar O Liathain: Dervish are caught up in one-sided boycott of Israel

'Venomous' campaign against band highlights the one-sidedness of cultural boycott, says Concubhar O Liathain

A few years ago Dervish were representing Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest, the first Irish traditional group to take centre-stage in the event. But that shouldn't be held against them.

Neither should we hold against them their decision to finally yield to an orchestrated campaign to force them to reverse their decision to travel to Israel in order to play a few concerts with friends there.

Especially when this campaign was characterised by a torrent of "negativity and venom" on Facebook and Twitter and a caution, that the band would lose all credibility if they travelled.

Who could blame musicians for yielding to relentless pressure from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSG), a lobby group which has recruited more than 200 of their musical and artistic colleagues to this unique cultural boycott of Israel.

"Cyber bullying" is how it was described by Justice Minister Alan Shatter -- and it's not hard to see what he's getting at. He wondered -- as we all should -- why this campaign to protect human rights is targeted solely at Israel, and not at the many brutal regimes throughout the world deserving of such attention. Why has the IPSG stayed silent about the thousands of innocent civilians who have been slain by the Assad regime in Syria, for instance?

This cultural boycott is unique in the sense that there is no similar boycott in any other country in the world, though some individual artists have stated they would not travel.

Ironically Dervish are recognised by the Irish Government as cultural ambassadors and carry a banner on their website for 'Imagine Ireland' -- promoting Irish arts worldwide.

Maybe we'll have to add 'except Israel' to that banner?

In her message to Dervish followers, lead singer Cathy Jordan said that they had made the decision to travel, unaware of a cultural boycott, in order to take up an invitation from a friend, Avshalom, whose abiding passion is to promote love between two divided communities.

"A few years ago I used to be 'against' this and 'anti' that, which ended up just filling me with anger and frustration when things didn't go my way. Anger is a dangerous thing. When left unchecked, it can turn into hate which spreads like a cancer until it has consumed its host. I do not believe that fighting hate with hate is the way to peace.

"The only antidote to hate, in my opinion, is love.

"It was far from our intention to stir up all this anger and hatred, when the opposite was what was intended. In hindsight, it was very naive of me to think our motives would not be misunderstood and misrepresented.

"So much so it started an avalanche of negativity which has made it impossible for us to make the trip regardless of our motives," she said.

Back in 2005, I witnessed the type of negativity and venom Dervish received when a friend of mine, Belfast Irish-language activist Gearoid O Caireallain, invited an Israeli academic, Dr Shlomo Izre'el, to speak about the lessons that the Irish language could learn from the Lazarus-like resurrection of Hebrew, once an almost extinct language, but now the spoken vernacular in Israel.

There were protests and mounting pressure to withdraw the invitation to speak at the event in West Belfast -- but it's testament to the independent mind of O Caireallain and the Irish-speaking community there that this pressure was withstood. The lecture went ahead, the knowledge was shared.

There's no shortage of people to tell the Palestinian side of the story in Ireland, how they've been brutally suppressed by the Israelis, how they've been forced out of their homes and lands, how their villages have been divided by the Israeli-built barrier wall.

I don't doubt for one minute the suffering of the Palestinians. But it's not as clear cut a case of David Versus Goliath as you would think. Israel may be Goliath to the Palestinian David but it is David to the surrounding Goliath of an Arab world which denies its right to exist.

At present Israel is being attacked on its western border by Palestinian militants, as well as al-Qaeda and Hamas elements. The gas line between Israel and Jordan has been bombed several times recently while, last August, eight Israeli civilians were killed in a militant attack.

I read a website containing a list of the victims of Palestinian attacks since 1994. It ran to several pages and contained thousands of names of the dead and wounded.

I mention this because we rarely hear this in Ireland. It's not that the deaths of the Israelis somehow outweigh those of the Palestinians -- the suffering of the Israelis is largely ignored here.

The popular cause is that of the Palestinians, they are oppressed and their resistance is to be admired and not examined, it seems.

It's amazing, however, that this campaign of conscience has only one target, Israel, when there are so many other brutal regimes throughout the world. Why not boycott the USA -- after all, it funds and arms Israel? Might it be too much of a sacrifice by the musicians and artists?

Is this cultural boycott having any effect? Apart for punishing ordinary Israelis for the defence of their families and homes from not just a perceived but a a real threat? As much as Palestinian families deserve to live safely in their homes, so too do Israeli families.

If the cultural boycott is having any effect, it's hard to notice, both sides in this conflict are as entrenched as ever and there is no prospect of an Israeli 'white flag' simply because that's not an option in an existential battle.

Video artist Nicky Martin is one person who braved the boycott and travelled to the Israeli and the Palestinian communities.

In an article published here some weeks ago, he mentioned how Nazi swastikas featured on the Palestinian walls. He also spotted Provisional IRA slogans.

Other artists who are participating in the boycott have played on the West Bank but have not gone to Israel. They haven't seen both sides of the story but have they seen the swastikas and Provo propaganda on Palestinian walls? Are they comfortable with what they've seen?

This victory for propaganda and 'venomous' internet trollery is a poor day for freedom of expression. I'm not a musician or artist and I am never likely to be invited to Israel, but I think it's time Irish men and women of art and culture reconsidered their participation in this one-sided boycott.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss