Ken Loach’s bullying rhetoric only incites more violence. He should be ashamed
This article first appeared in the Telegraph.
There is something distinctly unedifying about veteran filmmaker Ken Loach using his bully pulpit to shout at Radiohead for refusing to agree with his unpalatable views about Israel.
Loach attacked the band for their “stubborn refusal” to engage with those like him who believe they should cancel their planned Israel concert or “they may never live it down”. At its core, this spat highlights two starkly different views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Loach and his ilk believe Israel must be boycotted and Radiohead playing their songs in Tel Aviv is an attempt by “apartheid Israel” to “whitewash their human rights violations”. (He has since been accused of double standards as his own films have been distributed in Israel without objection).
In his binary world there are only oppressed and oppressors. Loach may have an honest belief that his views are helpful. That a boycott will put pressure on Israel to make concessions for peace. The reality is different.
This is a deeply complex, tragic conflict with many traumatised victims on both sides. Where terrorism and war and extremism have deepened divisions. Israel has given up land for peace, recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisaton, set up a Palestinian Authority and attempted to reach a final deal. The Palestinian leaders have also made many painful concessions on the path to peace.
But right now, leaders on both sides are full of mistrust. Israelis and Palestinians want a deal, but they are fearful of each other.
Loach and his fiery rhetoric take us no further to the destination we all desire — a two state solution to this conflict.
Instead his malign armchair activism coddles Palestinian extremists who see Israel as the devil incarnate and violently oppose dialogue and cooperation with Israelis.
In response Radiohead front man Thom Yorke said “music, art and academia is about crossing borders, not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression.”
By coincidence my organisation launched a major research study of Israeli-Palestinian peace building projects in Parliament, just as Loach and Yorke were exchanging tweets.
We spent a year analysing the evaluation data from more than 20 years of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue projects as well as speaking to hundreds of people in Israel and the West Bank.
We wanted to find out if peace building projects made a difference. The results were inspiring.
One in five participants went on to devote their careers to peace building. An average of 80 per cent of people said they trusted the other side more and wanted to work for peace after taking part.
Our conclusion is that these projects need to be massively expanded along the Northern Ireland model, where an international fund invested in dialogue projects years before the Good Friday agreement. That strategic investment opened hearts and minds allowing the bitter conflict to gradually be resolved.
One major obstacle to the significant expansion of this work in both Israel and the Palestinian territories is the extremists on both sides who oppose dialogue and want to undermine peace.
Loach’s call for boycotts, and the intolerant manner in which he expresses it, is just a recipe for more violence
In Israel, civil society groups have huge influence and use the media to be heard. In the Palestinian Authority the civil society field is smaller and the media less professional.
The boycott Israel movement is able to exert more pressure and frequently deploys violence and intimidation against those who support dialogue and cooperation with Israelis.
In Israel and the West Bank it is Thom Yorke’s message of opening minds and dialogue that will bring us closer to resolving the conflict. Loach’s call for boycotts, and the intolerant manner in which he expresses it, is just a recipe for more violence.
James Sorene is CEO of BICOM.