What is Culturewashing?
Culturewashing is the belief that whenever Israel or an Israeli cultural company engage in “culture,” Israel does this only to cover up for their alleged “crimes.” It follows the thought that Zionists are inherently evil with no good inside of them, as well as the misguided view that Israel is an aggressive, belligerent, oppresive force that ruthlessly is engaging in ethnic cleansing (despite the Arab and Palestinian population rising in both numbers and percentages).
Thus, when the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performs overseas, it is not doing this to spread Israeli music and perform for those who are interested in a broad range of classical music. Or when the Habima Theater performs A Merchant of Venice in England for the Globe to Globe Festival, it is not doing this to entertain people who are interested in a variety of cultural performances of various plays. No, it’s doing this to cover up for alleged “crimes.”
Naturally, this is as incorrect as any other form of “washing” associated with Israel, be it Pinkwashing, Equalitywashing, Technologywashing, etc.
And yet, this merits calls for a boycott from “cultural artists,” most prominently Emma Thompson. he idea of a cultural boycott is ludicrous, as artists and actors are supposed to embrace the cultural arts and the spreading of the cultural arts. Yet even if one was to accept a cultural boycott, these people aren’t calling to boycott China, which is also participating in the festival, despite China having one of the highest execution rates and worst human rights abuses. Nor are they calling to boycott the Palestinians, who are also performing in this festival, despite the large levels of incitement on state-television, the election of a terrorist government in 2006 (Hamas, which the U.S., U.K., Canada, E.U., and many others consider a terrorist organization), the naming of streets after terrorists, the ruthless suicide bombings and rocket launches, and the refusal to engage in direct negotiations. We are not saying to boycott Palestinians, which we find ridiculous, but merely pointing out their hypocrisy by extending their twisted argument.
Thankfully, there was a huge wave of support for the theater too. For example, see this letter published in the Guardian by various cultural artists who support Habima performing in England. Author Howard Jacobson was equally vocal, insisting that:
If there is one justification for art… it is that it proceeds from, and addresses, our unaligned humanity. Whoever would go to art with a mind made up on any subject misses the point of what art is for.
“So to censor it in the name of political or religious conviction… is to tear out its very heart. For artists themselves to do such a thing to art is not only treasonable, it is an act of self-harm.
“With last week’s letter to the Guardian, McCarthyism came to Britain. You can hear the minds of people in whom we vest our sense of creative freedom snapping shut.”
Writing in the Huffington Post, B.J. Epstein also slammed this move.
It is in part through cultural exchange that we can learn about others. We can read literature from other countries to learn something about life there. We can make recipes from ethnic cookbooks in order to find out what another group eats and how they celebrate. We can attend performances by dance troupes or theatre companies, we can listen to music, we can study history textbooks, we can look at pictures, we can watch films or television programmes. Works of culture serve as a window, which we can look through in order to find out more about a particular person or group.
In short, we can gain access to another world, another mind, by experiencing something of their culture. We bring that person or that group closer to us in this way and we might learn that actually we have some things in common. We might learn that we were wrong to judge them the way we did. We might realise that we didn’t really know what they thought or felt about a specific matter.
If we instead decide that cultural boycotting makes sense whenever we disagree with a particular group or don’t like those people or their actions, then we are saying that we have no urge to learn, to gain access, to get closer. And how much have we lost then?…
Shutting the window leaves us sitting at home alone, by ourselves, ignorant, hating and fearing what is outside without ever daring to take a peek.
I do not know how much Emma Thompson knows about the Israeli-Arab conflict. My guess is not much. I’m sure that she had good intentions, but was misguided by propagandists and liars. Thus, the ridiculous call for a cultural boycott.
To combat this, we highlight the many cases in which Israel or an Israeli organization showcases their unique culture or cultural aspects.