Margaret Atwood and Amitav Ghosh decided to accept the Dan David Prize last week, disregarding calls from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and, movingly, from the students of Gaza. And it wasn’t enough for Atwood and Ghosh to ignore the Palestinian boycott call: they also issued really obnoxious and self-serving statements justifying that decision. I think that zunguzungu really hits the nail on the head about how gross and misguided their remarks are, but there’s one additional obfuscation by Ghosh in particular which really outrages me. In his rambling reply to his critics Ghosh says,
You speak of encouraging civil society. It is evident to me that the people who wrote me these letters are doing more for Palestine and Gaza than any activist in India or the United States. It would appear that my work has had some influence on them. Is it really possible then for me to say to them: ‘Sorry, various people have instructed me to boycott you so I need to fall in line?’
This makes it seem as if the conversation is between a group of activists in the U.S. and India (and other parts of the world) about how people should or shouldn’t engage with the Israeli State. But that’s just not right. The call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions comes from Palestinian civil society–unions, cultural organizations, women’s committees, youth organizations, refugee groups. Standing with the boycott call or not isn’t a question of what judgment Ghosh and others display about the situation in Israel/Palestine, it’s about respecting and joining a non-violent form of resistance to Israeli apartheid initiated by Palestinians.
As Naomi Klein has made clear, boycott is a tactic, not a dogma. The question of boycott isn’t even about Ghoshwood’s attitude towards whether they can morally engage with the Israeli state. Boycott is a Palestinian-initiated form of resistance that Ghosh and Atwood are contravening by their acceptance of the Dan David Prize. By making boycott about them and about the North Americans and Indians who chastise them, Ghoshwood’s statements only add insult to injury in their disrespect of the Palestinian self-determination that is at the heart of the boycott call.