With no other argument against boycott, Kobi Oz reverts to old “no Palestinian partner” line
Unfortunately, the Middle East isn’t the most stable place, so Israelis know we have to be very careful as we pursue peace. We could sign an agreement with a moderate regime and suddenly find ourselves confronted with a fundamentalist enemy. We withdrew from Gaza and got Hamas. We pulled out of southern Lebanon, and now Hezbollah dominates the Lebanese government. We gave back the Sinai, and now Egypt is a great unknown.
This is an excerpt from a letter Israeli musician Kobi Oz wrote to Roger Waters in The Forward newspaper, in an effort to challenge Waters’ declaration of support for boycott measures against Israel. Unfortunately Oz does not actually address or refute specific aspects of the boycott or why people believe it should be implemented, but rather goes on the usual rant about Israel’s survival, using the traditional line claiming there is no partner in this region and pointing to the Arab countries as hostile and “fundamentalist.”
Mr. Oz does not seem to be aware is that, with all the uncertainty in the region and despite legitimate Israeli fears, the Israeli government is itself seen as hostile and fundamentalist – indeed it is probably the most rigidly right-wing in Israel’s history, not only vis-a-vis the settlement project and the peace process, but inwardly, as far as freedom of speech, minority rights, religion and state, all issues seen to be under threat due to anti-democratic legislations and attitudes. Instead of tackling these issues and trying to come up with creative alternatives to boycott, Oz simply portrays Israel as an innocent dove working alone towards peace in a sea of hostility, and talks patronizingly about the Palestinians and what they should be doing.
Still, we yearn for peace. We try to talk with our neighbors in the Palestinian Authority, where life is getting better for ordinary Palestinians. If Hamas’s leaders would stop the bombardment of Israeli civilians and stop calling for our destruction and start having a normal relationship with their brothers in Ramallah, I’m sure that most Israelis would want to talk to them, too. And our wall, which you want to see dismantled, will fall when we have lasting quiet. Insha’Allah.
As Oz sees it, Israel is simply waiting for the bad guys to turn good in order for peace to come. He shows no awareness nor assumes any responsibility for Israel’s role in shaping its own destiny; in the fact that it is itself responsible for the fact that its borders are still undefined or that the safeguarding of its Jewish and democratic character are left vulnerable and murky due to the lack of separation between church and state; or that the uncertainty in the region could actually be an opportunity for a shift in Israel’s approach and the chance for new alliances.
While a mainstream Israeli musician like Oz does not seem to be able to get passed the defensiveness and the sound bytes and actually grapple with the difficult issues, mainstream American Jews are starting to do so. J Street made this evident at its conference a few weeks ago by having a panel on the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement with a pro-boycott speaker, and most recently the Jewish Council on Public Affairs has come out saying that they recognize certain groups who have called out for selective boycott of products made in the occupied West Bank cannot be pushed outside the “pro-Israel” tent because they do support Israel’s right to be a Jewish and democratic state.
As Israel seems to dig itself a deeper hole, I hope that Israeli musicians and newspapers who want to come out against the boycott will come up with better talking points and arguments than the ones demonstrated in Kobi Oz’s letter.