Harry Potter and the Argument Against Boycotting Israel?

Photo: Mostafa Heddaya/Hyperallergic

Five days ago, J.K. Rowling, renowned author of the beloved Harry Potter series, announced her series would extend into a play featuring a grown-up Harry and his son. This play will (probably) have nothing to do with Israel or a cultural boycott against Israel, but that doesn’t mean J.K. doesn’t have her share of opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rowling released a statement against the cultural boycott of Israel just yesterday. The boycott she was referring to dates back to February, wherein over 600 artists announced that they would cease "business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel,"among a host of other cessations.

Using Albus Dumbledore, "the moral heart of the [Harry Potter] books," Rowling draws an analogy between the beloved series and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to justify her position against the boycott. Despite acknowledging the “untold injustice and brutality" the Palestinian community has suffered, she nonetheless asserts “that severing contact with Israel’s cultural and academic community means refusing to engage with some of the Israelis who are most pro-Palestinian, and most critical of Israel’s government.”

Putting aside Rowling’s indelicacy in likening one of the most complicated, fragile, and politicized conflicts in history to a children’s novel — (I’m aware that it draws adult readers but that doesn’t change the intended audience), is there any legitimacy in her position? Most, if not all, of the criticism she received wholly disregarded her recognition of the suffering of the Palestinian people and her desire to hold Israel accountable. Given that the backlash against her was largely sensationalist, I sought further information on the boycott itself to determine whether Rowling’s position against it could be justified.

The artists’ pledge, which now boasts over one thousand signatories, is as follows: "We support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality. In response to the call from Palestinian artists and cultural workers for a cultural boycott of Israel, we pledge to accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights."

Rowling’s indelicate and tactless analogy is mirrored by the pledge: a group of artists who, despite their noble intentions, seem to be under the naive impression that the Israeli government gives a damn whether they accept professional invitations or funding to come and parade their art around Israel. How entitled does someone (or worse yet, a group of people) have to be to use the art they produce under privileged circumstances as a bargaining chip in a layered religious and political conflict? This pledge is symbolic at best, egotistical at worst. Some will be quick to say that even a symbolic stance against such a government is sufficient to merit praise—and maybe it is—but let’s not fool ourselves about the potency of this pledge or those akin to it.

This isn’t about whether Israel deserves a cultural boycott. This isn’t even about whether boycotts are effective (they’re not). This is about the fact that it doesn’t actually matter whether Rowling, or anyone’s, condemnation of the boycott is genuine or justifiable. This boycott boils down to another instance of entitled, mostly alien actors seeking to satiate their need for social justice by electronically pledging not to put on an art show in Israel.

Artists, your self-serving conceit isn’t helping anyone or anything but your claims to political correctness.

Parmida Esmaeilpour

Parmida is an Iran-born Honours Political Science student at the University of British Columbia. She's intrigued by cyber- and CBRN terrorism, as well as by most happenings in the MENA.

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