Godard & Boycotts
And, today, this similar notice appeared in The New York Times.
French director Jean-Luc Godard, who was supposed to be in Israel as the guest of honor at the Tel Aviv University International Student Film Festival, has cancelled his trip - apparently due to political pressure.
In his statement to the festival's organizers, Godard wrote that he would not be participating because of "circumstances beyond his control." Last week, heads of the Palestinian movement to boycott Israeli academics and culture appealed to Godard, in an open letter, to refrain from participating in the film festival and to display solidarity with their cause. The writers related to Godard's past political involvement and his "declared" pro-Palestinian stance. (The Jerusalem Post ~ 2 June 08)
There are a few disturbing things about this. First, and most obviously, is the fact that, if the report is accurate, Godard equivocates. He did not say that he'd decided not to attend because he is honoring the boycott. He referred only to mysterious 'circumstances.' But I am not concerned with Godard's spine or lack thereof. Second, this is not an isolated matter; the calls for an cultural and academic boycott of Israel have been percolating more or less continuously for several years. Among the supporters of this strategy is the Palestinian Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. And, according to this report The Jerusalem Post the largest Academic Union in Britain recently re-instituted its call for a boycott. I have not thought the matter completely through. But my view at this juncture is that there is altogether too much moralism at work and way too little concern for consequences in the calls for a boycott - at least among those in Europe and the United States. Godard, of course, was asked to join the boycott by a Palestinian group, so perhaps that is irrelevant. There also is, despite my own critical view of the Israeli government's approach to the Palestinians (e.g., increasing reliance on repression, embargoes, walls, and all that), a real risk of aiding and abetting the voices of antisemitism. I resent the knee jerk reaction that calls any criticism of Israel antisemitic. But it is naive to think that there is no possibility of antisemitism at work here. Finally, I have come to be increasingly suspicious of boycotts and embargoes as political instruments simply because they are way too blunt. How would this boycott impact Israeli intellectuals, artists, and writers like, say, Amos Oz     or David Shulman and their efforts to work for peace? Isn't it possible that engagement with individuals and groups who occupy the rather large range of progressive politics in Israel would be more effective in articulating criticism of Israeli government policy?
P.S.: You can find an extensive argument on the current calls for Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel in Dissent over the past several years: David Hirsch, Martha Nussbaum, Murray Hausknecht, Mohammed Abed, and Nussbaum again. There has also been a related back-and-forth between Mitchell Cohen and Andrew Arato at Reset.doc    ; the latter exchange shows how wide-ranging and complex the matters involved have become.
P.S.2: (Added Later that same day.) Some documents. You can find the initial (2006) call by PCACBI for a boycott here. You can find the supporting call from (mostly) Americans & Europeans here. And you can find a thoughtful explanation from John Berger regarding his understanding of the boycott here.