Thursday, June 10, 2010
Understanding "Cultural Terrorism"
On June 6th, Shuki Weiss, one of Israel's most well-known concert promoters, coined the term "cultural terrorism" to describe the threats, intimidation and misinformation that Hamas and her apologists use to trick bands into canceling performances in Israel under the guise of some poorly formed, misunderstood, factually-unsubstantiated political statement.
In January of 2009, Artists 4 Israel predicted this weapon when it formed to fight against it. Pro-active rather than reactive, A4I organized a "community of creative individuals working together to express Israel's right to exist." Some joked that we were on "army of artists." On July 23, 2009, Artists 4 Israel were proven prescient when Ethan Bronner of the New York Times wrote "Hamas Shifts from Rockets to Culture War."
Unfortunately, the Israeli-advocacy community dismissed this revealing article and Artists 4 Israel was left alone to battle the growing trend of politically-undereducated artists and their half-baked ramblings. We did what we could - from supporting the few who were on our side, to countering their misconceptions to providing factual and accurate information to artists curious and desirous of the truth. Further, we created works of art to stir the soul and win the heart. And, some recognized our abilities. It was an unfair battle, us using the coins we could find in the couch we called an office and calling friends who were artists vs their oil money and well-connected power-players. A David, emboldened by the justice of our cause, Artists 4 Israel was successful. But, we need your help to continue our struggle. Shuki's statement marks a nuanced but incredibly important distinction between the war and the terror. It demands Artists 4 Israel push forward more strongly and with your aid. Towards that end, we offer this primer to understand the "cultural war" that affected Israel and the "cultural terrorism" into which it devolved.
Originally, the Hamas' culture war was part of an overall "information" front, a sub-heading equal to academics. In fact, the earliest traces of a coordinated campaign of this nature can be found in the PACBI, an organization launched in 2004. Since our inception, Artists 4 Israel have been monitoring and fighting this group (see HERE and HERE). PACBI is also a major player in the divestment and academic boycott movements against Israel. The culture part played a role in a cohesive strategy.
It was, at the time, a losing strategy. When tied to academic and economics, the culture war was strangled by serious thought and consideration. It is easy to say hateful or ignorant things about a country, but to convince people to sever professional or intellectual relationships requires just that - professionalism or intellectuality. When exposed to the more demanding light of thought and to the marketplace of ideas - anti-Israel sentiment loses. The cold and harsh light of Israel's righteousness and empirical data legitimizing its history is like the Russian winter -ponderous and insurmountable. Even without the great educating Generals like Alan Dershowitz and Mitchell Bard, to name but a few, a true academic or professional condemnation of Israel is impossible. It is a poor choice from an enemy camp.
For the cultural platoon, however, there was great hope in other theaters of combat. Art tends towards the shocking, the anti-Establishment and to form over substance. Groups like ArtThreat.net and ANIMAL New York report often on small, improvised victories where artistic licenses were being used to kill the truth. Whether by chance, romantic longings for difference, or the pay-off of "Palestinians" having adopted the underdog narrative so early in their terrorist careers, youth culture was awash in anti-Israel and pro-terror symbolism. Keffiyehs littered the necks of protestors. Hip-Hop, influenced by the Black Muslim movement originated in Chicago by Malcolm X (and later rejected by him), sonically boomed pro-Radical-Islam messages. Busta Rhymes, a hugely popular peformer, talked about having lunch with Arafat. A new strategy was realized.
Slowly, but surely, the anti-Zionists realized they had greater success playing the role of a small, terrorist army.
Like other terrorist groups, the enemies of Israel received unexpected aid from careless individuals that they were attempting to harm. The UJA, the JCC and
J Street all unknowingly provided material support to the cause. And, like a disciple of Sun Tzu, they used their combatants strengths against them - Jewish largesse and morality became tools for promoting an anti-Israel cultural agenda.
It is an agenda, now, proven by small but shocking victories. Like a crumbled tower or a mangled bus, Elvis Costello and The Pixies cancellations of concerts in Israel create "wow" in the observer. In the midst of the many performers who play beautiful music from the nightclubs of Tel Aviv to the height of height of Masada, neither one of those acts mean much. But, in the shock of their announcement and the zealous joy with which their provocateurs cheer them, they seem grandiose and foreboding.
Creating a sense of foreboding is the greatest weapon a terrorist can unleash on those who survive the physical suffering of their attacks. Israel is a country steeped in cultural and artistic history. It is a country, at once, of fans and producers. They have always brought in American and world music and created their own versions of each. Progress and invention are the lynchpins of Israeli society - culture and art the new milk and honey. But, when it becomes impossible to be a fan - always fearing the next group to make a hateful proclamation - it becomes impossible to create. I don't intend to by insensitive to the painful psychological effects of traditional terrorism but this is equally debilitating. When rockets fall too often, people do not leave their homes. When cultural rockets fall, people do not enter into music halls or recording studios. For a country made up of the descendants of pioneers, this is a form of suffocation.
It is a suffocation shared around the world as movies, art institutions and writers continue to censor themselves against protest while the supporters of the terrorists reign more and more b.s. upon the public.
And the strangulation is not soon to cease. Cultural terrorism has been boosted by their recent successes. Forget the established acts who cancel shows in Israel - Hamas and their producers have a slew of child bombers. They have entered the artistic lexicon and with the cultural equivalent of hate-filled textbooks are brainwashing the next wave of artists. Stroll through the Whitney Biennial and notice how many pieces play with a child-like understanding of the Middle East. Watch television and count the anti-American, anti-Israel references. The next wave of attacks are coming and, as of now, there is no way to build a security fence to prevent them.
Artists 4 Israel begs for your support and assistance. We are a group of artists ourselves who have lived within the circles that the Hamas cultural agents target. We understand their messaging and how to defuse it. We were the ONLY pro-Israel group represented at Art Basel. We are the ONLY pro-Israel group of artists in the papers. We need your help.