What a difficult time it must be for you, trying to decide what to do with your planned concert in Tel Aviv.
I inferred from your tweet that you were not aware of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and the potential controversy that holding a concert in Israel would cause.
I was encouraged to read that you have taken note of the great letter penned by Palestinian New Zealander Nadia Abu-Shanab and Jewish New Zealander Justine Sachs.
It is right that you should hear from people who have close associations with Palestine and Israel and to listen- just as carefully – to those who hold opposing views.
My favourite philosopher John Stuart Mill says: “He who knows only of his own side of the case knows little of that”.
Mill believes that no matter how good our reasons for believing a certain opinion might be, we should only hold that opinion if we are unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side- if we cannot- then we have no reason for preferring either opinion.
As a mathematician who has studied the proof theory, the above makes perfect sense to me.
In fact, for the past couple of years, I have been on a mission to disprove my own beliefs- from the most basic universally accepted beliefs (slavery is bad) to the more controversial ones (feminist views on sex markets).
The result has been incredibly interesting. I now remain undecided on some of my previously tightly held beliefs and don’t, for instance, think that slave owners of the South were necessarily inherently evil.
The reason I am telling you all this, is to say that I have adopted the same approach to the Palestinian and Israeli issue. I have familiarized myself with the arguments on both sides and have formed my opinion accordingly.
But before we get into the main arguments, here is a great TEDx talk on the danger of neutrality when it comes to the colonial occupation of Palestine- just in case you thought staying impartial was an option.
As Anna Baltzer says, when there is a great power imbalance between two sides, staying neutral helps to leave the scales tipped in favour of those with power.
In case of Israel and Palestine, there is absolutely no doubt which side holds the greatest power. Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world while Palestinians have no army.
I won’t get into the illegality of the Israeli occupation and its apartheid system of oppression because they are well documented, widely accepted and were explained well in Nadia and Justine’s letter.
Instead, I would like to address some of the main arguments put forward against BDS- namely that BDS movement is “unfairly singling out” Israel or “holding it to a different standard”.
Those arguments also came up on the comments written on the Spinoff’s Facebook page where Nadia and Justine’s letter was posted.
It is a good point, isn’t it?
So, let’s see if there is a case for singling out Israel and holding it to a different standard than the likes of Iran, Russia, China and every other country where human rights abuses are the norm.
Given that I am an Iranian New Zealander, maybe a good place to start would be to explain why I support BDS against Israel but not Iran.
In the Palestinian case, the victims themselves have asked for BDS. Supporting BDS is heeding the Palestinian request for solidarity and international help.
This is unique to the Palestinian situation because of the huge power imbalance that exists between them and the state of Israel. Without international help, the Palestinians simply have no chance of ending the illegal occupation of their land and to achieve justice.
But why did I not support the sanctions imposed by the US on Iran?
Because, unlike the Palestinian situation, the sanctions did not have the popular support of the Iranians who knew very well that they- not their oppressive regime- would become the real victims of the sanctions.
Moreover, most opposition groups in Iran actively discourage external influences because it taints their genuine resistance with the historical negative interferences of the West.
Does the above mean that I am ignoring the plight of Iranians and singling out Israel for its human rights violations?
Of course not, in both situations, I am standing in solidarity with the victims of oppression and listening to their individual wishes. Different situations, different responses.
Also, let’s not forget that Israel is unique in other ways.
As Israeli journalist Gideon Levy says,“ there was never in the history of occupation, an occupation where the occupier presented himself as the victim, not only the victim, but the only victim around”.
Yes, human rights abuses happen else where, but no other regime portray themselves as the oppressed and deserving of special protection and exemption from the international law the way Israel does.
It is at the back of this claim to victimhood that Israel remains the biggest recipient of the US foreign aid- a subsidized benefit that no other oppressive regime enjoys.
And why shouldn’t we hold Israel to a “different standard”? Isn’t Israel supposed to be a Western ally?
Wouldn’t you expect more from your friends than from your foes? Wouldn’t you hold them to a different standard?
Doesn’t Israel claim to be a super open, democratic society? Shouldn’t we expect certain responsibilities and standards to go with that claim?
Let’s not forget that there is a subtext to the charge “holding to a different standard” that clearly refers to anti-Semitism. False anti-Semitic accusations are often used to silence the critics of Israel.
I don’t deny that anti-Semitism exists- I have written about it.
But to say that the BDS advocates are driven by anti-Semitism is a falsehood that ignores the powerful reasons behind the global support of the BDS movement mentioned above.
Finally, just over 4 years ago, I had the grim task of searching the names of over 500 Palestinian children killed during the Israeli vicious bombing of Gaza.
My mum and I read through the names: cousins, twins, brothers and sisters, 2-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 3-months-olds…the list went on and so did
We attached each name to a white balloon and each white balloon was carried by an individual during a protest I co-organised in Christchurch against Israel’s actions in Gaza.
500 white balloons-each bore the name of a dead Palestinan child during a protest march in Christchurch.
I carried the 4-year-old, Yasmin al-Astal from Khan Yunis. We all released our white balloons into the air but Yasmin has always stayed in my heart.
Little Yasmin was one of more than 500 innocent children killed by the Israeli rockets raining in Gaza in 2014.
How could there ever be any justification for killing children?
What spurred me into action was Jon Snow’s report for the UK’s Channel Four which ended by saying that our motivation to do something is the greatest hope the people in Gaza have. “Together we can make a difference,” he said.
Dear Lorde, your decision will make a difference. Please stand on the side of justice.
In the wise words of Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.