Suleiman withdraws from the cultural boycott of Israel

Again, it is the buoyant Jews Sans Frontières who was among the first to break the news about the withdrawal of Palestinian director Elia Suleiman from the cultural boycott of Israel.

I was surprised. I saw Suleiman's most celebrated movie 'Divine Intervention' at the Festival Nouveau Cinema Nouveaux Media in Montreal few years ago and thought that it was a good movie. I also get the chance to glance at the director, Mr. Suleiman, who was in Montreal that night promoting the movie. The theater was full. The movie got a good reception in Montreal and it has already won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Walking out of the theater, Suleiman looked relaxed, at ease with fame. What struck me in him was that he looked nonchalant and dandy. He is actually quite good looking. I wondered how can soemone be a dandy and a palestinian living in Ramallah ? One might want to read the definition of 'Dandy' in Wikipedia which alludes to a dandy as a 'class traitor'. And Suleiman is a traitor, a special kind of traitor. Not that everyone should support the boycott of Israel, people are entitled to their opinions and positions. I think what is particular in Suleiman's position is that he signed the boycott not long ago in August at the height of the Israeli agression of Lebanon and then wrote a letter to retract two months later accusing those who boycott of not knowing what they do and hysterically starting his letter by citing Karl Kraus, an Austrian writer and satirist known for his satirist critique of German and Austrian culture and politics:''Lord, forgive them, for they know what they do! ''

Suleiman's main argument is that the boycott is hurting Isareli artists who speak against their state's policies. However, Suleiman didn't name these artists and didn't say in which way the two month old boycott hurted them. He then lead a charge, in the letter, against those who boycott, accusing them of 'witch hunt'. This is a bizarre and contradictory claim since if there is really a witch hunt going on the boycott must then be working only against those who are hostile while protecting Israeli artists who voice their protests against Israel's policies in the occupied territories, contrary to what Suleiman pretends initially.

He then goes on to speak about Art and Humanity...

I wonder how can we separate Art from our daily lives and elevate it beyond the lives of Palestinian children ? I wonder: didn't Suleiman know what a boycott is before committing himself to one ? I wonder didn't he know that the boycott was signed at the darkest hours of the history of his people, and there are more to come, at a time when the international community was turning its back on the Palestinians and the Lebanese, at a time the US secretary of state was calling the tragedy of Lebanon the 'birth pangs of the middle east' ?

I wonder what Suleiman or what any dandy individualist libertarian know about Humanity ? The pursuit of individual desires is not a moral pursuit, it is embedded in an individuality which can be sometimes divorced from humanity. There is no way that individualism can become a moral theory and replace humanism. An animal is an individual as long as it is a separate organism acting by itself without the influence of other organisms. Does this definition replace the notion of Humanity ? An individual freedom should be in harmony with the rest of society and of other individuals; this is where our humanity stands, between us and others. I think we don't know what the word 'Humanism'' means nowadays because we counfound the word with 'individualism'. Humanism is more encompassing than individualism. It elevates the individual to universal values, not common values as Suleiman writes in his dissent letter because he confuses the common values of two communities with universal values. Universal values have nothing to do wth specific values, they are above all other values. Humanity is more than two communities and it is the only way by which an individual can achieve his self emancipation, outside his own community and other communities, by reaching to higher values. These higher values are stated in the universal declaration of Human rights.

How can Suleiman proclaims that he is acting in a non sectarian way while his only motivation for resigning from the boycott campaign seems to be to distinguish himself from his community by openly defining himself against it ? (the Kraus citation is very emblematic in my opinion) .

And I would like to compare here Suleiman's position to that of Aki Kaurismaki, the artist of Humanity and the humanity of the Arts he represents and probably all the Arts. Here is an artist, another Cannes darling, who refused to come to the ceremony of the oscars in 2002 to promote his nominated movie 'The man without a past' because of Georges Bush's and America's war in Afghanistan. This was before the Iraq war. This year, Kaurismaki asked the Finnish academy to withdraw his movie 'Lights in the dusk' from the Oscar list , probably for the same reasons, which are still the same but amplified with what is happening in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. I have written a post abot Kaurismaki and the related issue.

Here is an artist who is boycotting himself and not afraid to do so in the name of Justice and individual conscience against individual desires and against opression, all kinds of opression. Here is an artist who elevates the Arts to the level of humanity and make them thrive honorably, not on the expanses of the lives of others being Palestinians, Lebanese or Iraqi children or in the name of some obscure individualistic cultural dandyism proclaimed as a moral value.

Artists like Kaurismaki consider their art as a form of human achievement, an achievement for all humanity and for the sake of humanity, not as a form of personal achievement. This is where Palestinian and Israeli artists should look in order to communicate, at higher human values and not common values for both communities because, not to be cynical, there is nothing common between Palestinian artists and Israeli artists when one looks at the conditions of both people and both homelands, if one can call the actual Palestinian territories a 'Homeland'.

Suleiman's Art can never reach Kaurismaki's because it is an Art constrained by the considerations of an individual preoccupied by distinguishing himself from his community even when this community has come to symbolise by its suffering the universal condition of challenged humanity. Suleiman's Art is no universal Art, it is an Art with boundaries, the boundaries of Suleiman's self.

P.S. Read here my argument for an economic and cultural boycott of Israel , here my update on the different boycotts of Israel and here a guide to an economic boycott of Israel (it is in Arabic but if you go through the document you will find the names of the companies in English).


Levi9909 said...

Here's a letter from someone who signed the petition:

Boycotting Myself?

By Juliano Mer Khamis

This is an open letter to my colleague Elia Suleiman who has withdrawn his
signature from a petition by Palestinian film-makers calling for a boycott of Israeli cultural events and of artists supported by Israeli government institutions. I myself am one of the signatories of this petition.

Elia defines his act as a protest against what he considers as a total boycott of Israeli artists, regardless of their views or political activities; a boycott that does not distinguish between one Israeli and another "all of which is tainted by chauvinism and other heresies that stem from the dark side of nationalism". (Elia Sulieman)

This is indeed the case. When I signed the petition, as an Israeli citizen I
wanted to be sure that I would not be boycotting myself. As the petition
clearly asserts, the boycott is not directed against Israelis as such, but
against "those cultural and artistic institutions that to date have refused to take a stand against the Occupation, the root cause for this colonial conflict" (from the petition). However, this clear statement has not prevented Daniel
Daniel, Osnat Trabelsi, Peter van Huystee and myself, creators of the film "Arna's Children", from being boycotted in certain parts of the world simply because we are Israelis.

I do not intend to "prove my innocence" or present my political history. Nor do I believe I should introduce you to my family, least of all to my mother, Arna Mer Khamis, who spent her life fighting against the Occupation, or, as she used to put it, struggling against the Zionist colonization of Palestine.

At a film festival in Sicily, the cultural representative of Egypt left the audience during the screening of "Arna's Children" in protest against what she called the positive representation of a Jewish woman who helped the Arabs. She claimed that this was Zionist propaganda. In Hungary, the Palestinian community
boycotted the film simply because I, the director, am an Israeli.

This cultural representative of Egypt, a country which fosters close economic
and military relationships with Israel, together with the Palestinian community in Hungary, whose only contribution to the Palestinian cause has been to boycott me, are among those who foment the racist campaign to boycott Israelis indiscriminately, regardless of the fact that some of us have spent our lives struggling against the Occupation on both sides of the Green Line.

There seems to be no limit to such hypocrisy. So I thank you, Elia, for your declaration. Let us hope that it will expose all those cowards who are waiting to attack you, hoping to prove their loyalty to the Palestinian cause. In most cases this is mere lip service, a cover for their political impotence and their fear of being involved in the struggle of all of us, no matter of what nationality, who unconditionally oppose the Israeli occupation. This bigoted, nationalist, religious, and racist attitude is what underlies their call for a total and indiscriminate boycott of Israelis, including our friends the film-makers Shimon Biton and Avi Mugrabi.

Believe me, Elia, when I tell you that the real freedom fighters, the people whoare constantly struggling against the Israeli occupation, do not participate in this boycott. They gladly accept the support of any Jew, Muslim, Christian or Israeli who joins them in their struggle for liberation.

I'm not sure what the guy is saying.

Sophia said...

I am not sure either. I know Bitton and I know Mograbi (whom I admire), his latest documentary was screened in Montreal amid screams and accusations of encouraging antisemitism from Canadian zionists. I know that many Israeli artists, and they are more numerous than lets say scientists or academics in the human sciences, express themselves against their own government. I am for a total boycott but again I think the boycott should have started elsewhere, not in the Arts because this is where the boycott might hurt many egos and they are big in the Arts.

However, I think what Suleiman did was a stab in the back. He simply should not have signed in the first place for a boycott.

As for Mr. Mer Khamis we can tell him for sure that there is nothing wrong in boycotting himself. Kaurismaki did it.

Anonymous said...

I heard that a film festival in Egypt boycotted Ana's Children on the basis of the boycott... and that trigerred the withdrawal of the signature for Elia... I can't confirm this but it makes more sense knowing this... specially that Ana's work and the movie about her are unquestionnably human and her identification is with the Lebanese and Palestinian suffering and not with the Israeli government, institutions or ideology...

so someone like her (now dead) and other Israeli humanists shouldn't be punished for their Israeli identity if their identification is with the suffering of Palestinians and Lebanese... and I think that's the main point which makes sense to me... As Lebanese and Palestinians our issue is a human issue and not a nationalist issue... so we should boycott the oppressors and the cause of this human issue (Israeli gov and institutions) and not individuals whose identification is with this human cause but merely happen to be borm to Israeli families.

I guess he should have clarified who he meant by the boycott. I think he meant Palestinian and Lebanese boycotters as opposed to western boycotters.

now I dunno if this grants making a scene by withdrawing the signature... I don't know.

Sophia said...


Thanks for your comment. I think you express correctly the dilemma that face every boycott and boycotter with much sensibility.

Since March 29th 2006