Saturday April 19, 2014
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19.04.2014
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Two US universities quit national American Studies group over Israel boycott
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Dr. Eithan Orkibi

Boycotting your way to coercion

Once again we have people calling for a boycott of Ariel's cultural center, this time they are members of the cast of "Best Friends," a play currently running in Tel Aviv. Refusing to perform because of politics is a form of protest; it is a decision that is made by one's conscience and hence merits our serious attention. It is a personal decision. I know some of those calling for a boycott -- it is not a decision that is made lightly. Only after considerable thought and a lot of back and forth does one settle on such a point of view.

This is a textbook example of a worldview that is well thought out. Even though I disagree with those actors, I believe the treatment we should afford them should be likened to that towards Jews who keep Shabbat. Just like it would be unthinkable to make someone wearing a yarmulke work on Shabbat, it would be equally unthinkable to force someone to go on stage in a setting that is incompatible with his or her ideology.

Those who are for the boycott make a fairly good argument when they say that a good number of us boycott something or someone in one form or another. Consider a vegetarian who refuses to spend money in a restaurant that serves meat; or an athlete who would not wear shoes made by a company that employs children in abhorrent conditions.

But the current actors boycott has another element that goes beyond personal preferences.

Their request to keep the play outside Ariel came after their colleagues approached them and lobbied for a boycott by all actors. Moreover the actors are not part of an independent troupe whose activity is funded by contributions and ticket sales. Rather, they are performing on behalf of a publicly funded theater.

Let's assume that the actors' protestations gain currency and that they obtain the necessary critical mass to prevent the show and other shows from running in Ariel. That could make other actors, as well as stage employees and administrative staff who work alongside them, feel compelled to join a political protest that they disagree with. Isn't that the definition of imposing one's worldview? This is not just about politics; it would hurt their very livelihood because the number of shows would be cut back.

Who is going to compensate them for that loss? Moreover, if the boycott efforts succeed, this would pit their theater against those pulling the purse strings in the government in what would be a grueling feud over state budgets. As a result the theater might face sanctions.

And just who is going to be accountable for that? A large-scale boycott that is formed from the ground up in a public institution is not just an expression of a personal, conscientious grievance. It also has severe institutional and social ramifications. The boycotting actors cannot just bask in their own glory as performers; they should not consider the boycott as a privilege that they were endowed with because of their intellectual heft. As intellectuals with a conscience, they must think about the conscience of their colleagues' who would be forced to support a political cause.

Precisely because many of those who call for a boycott fight hard to increase state funding for the arts, they must think about how they might compromise others' livelihood. They must take into account the effects of the boycott and the fate of the theater as a public institution. Those who owe their successful career to a public institution must have this basic integrity.

And you must wonder, why is no one boycotting the taxes that are collected from the residents of Ariel and other communities in Judea and Samaria, the very tax shekels that help fund theater productions?

Dr. Eithan Orkibi is a senior lecturer in sociology and anthropology at Ariel University.

 

 

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