December 22, 2007

Harry knows nothing about art but he knows what he doesn't like

It's not Harry, it's David t at Harry's Place harassing some Jewish artist at the British Council for trying to mark the occasion of Israel's 60th anniversary "in a critical way along with the Naqba." He's posted what was a private email from Judy Price to Haim Bresheet. The latter posted the email to the activists' list of the University and Colleges Union. Not the smartest of moves given the belated enthusiasm of some UCU members for trade union activism. And so the email found it's way to Harry's Place. Incidentally, in spite of the fact that the British Council event has nothing to do with antisemitism, those brave and honest campaigners against antisemitism at Alf's Place, I mean Engage have linked to the HP post. But I digress. Here's the email:
Dear Haim

Thank you for your e-mail and your comments which I value highly. There can be no doubt that a voice that speaks the truth, and that acknowledges the reality of life on the ground, outside of distractions, ideologies and distortions is vital in situations like this. Your concerns are not dissimilar from my own. How is it possible to speak at all in the arena of calamity and violence, when somehow speaking seems to be emollient or at best compromised?

With these thoughts in mind I had a great deal of soul searching to do when the British Council asked me to curate a series of archival film screenings around the British Mandate period. This soul searching has not gone away and throughout the planning, the question of whether I am a complicit with the 'occupation', and ongoing acts of violence against Palestinians by participating in a discussion in Israel is always on my mind.

Having not taken on this project lightly I decided that it is as an opportunity to bring to the forefront the British Mandates role in the Naqba and establishment in the State of Israel and to construct a programme that could not in anyway be interpreted as jingoistic or nationalistic.
Whether I, or anyone can provide an answer to the question; engage constructively or condemn through silence is frankly beyond me. I do know that there are a large number of constituencies involved in this and I, and hopefully you, can shape things in constructive engaged and way.
I can only do things within certain parameters, parameters set by geopolitical forces right down to the personalities of people that I am working with. The British Council is trying to operate with integrity, not to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel but to mark it in a critical way along with the Naqba.
Now here's David t:
I find it odd that a woman with these views, and with this political agenda should have been asked to put on, at public expense, an event of this nature.

I'm handicapped from saying that this is an astonishing thing for the British Council to be subsidising, because if I say that, it will be proof to some, of an incredibly powerful international jewish conspiracy to shut down debate.

So, to be clear: I'm in no way calling for Price to be shut up. I'm just suggesting that political campaigning work of this sort is better paid for out of grants from Arab states, than from the British government.
I can't see much in the way of "views" here. She's saying that an event marking 60 years since the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians should take a critical look at Israel - the fruit of the ethnic cleansing - and Britain's role in the establishment of the State of Israel, based, as it is, on colonial settlement, ethnic cleansing and apartheid laws. And that it should take into account, specifically, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. David t is constrained from saying what he actually does say, that he thinks "this is an astonishing thing for the British Council to be subsidising, because if I say that, it will be proof to some, of an incredibly powerful international jewish conspiracy to shut down debate." And yet he does say what he is "handicapped from saying." He does say that it is "astonishing" that the British Council is funding someone with the kind of views that hold that a marking of the 60th anniversary of the declaration of the existence of the State of Israel should take into account the Palestinian victims of Israel's existence and Britain's role in their victimisation. He clearly doesn't approve of the British Council funding or hosting this though he is "handicapped" from saying so. He doesn't like the "public purse" being used to enlighten people as to what befell the Palestinians in the late 1940s or Britain's role in the same. He must scream long and loud against the public resources deployed for Holocaust Memorial Day.

But he does think Judy Price's work should be funded but by Arab states. Zionists are fond of telling us there are 22 Arab states and that they are all the same. I think there might just be 18 and that there are significant differences between them but let's leave that to one side for now. It seems to me to be perfectly appropriate for the British Council to support, host or fund an event that demonstrates Britain's involvement in the suffering of victims of colonialism. Does David t protest the money spent on Black History Month? Did he protest Tony Blair's apology for the slave trade or the Irish famine? Ok, he may have noticed the sheer insincerity of both but did he say that homage to either or both was better funded by Black or Irish states? I'm not an avid reader of Harry's Place so maybe he did show that his racism isn't simply directed against Arabs. Maybe he holds Black and Irish people in the same contempt.

I was encouraged by the comments that I saw last night. Let's take a look at those now. First up was from "Red Deathy" taking exception to David t's notion that public funded art should only ever be an expression of the views of the state itself.
I believe East German apparatchiks used to make comments like that...whatever happened to the arms length principle and the autonomy of art - and other liberal principles...Liberty, if it means anything...
Now it is clear that David t's issue here is with the politics of the artist but look at his grotesquely dishonest reply:
Why does this need to be state funded at all?

Why is it "art"?
Oh dear. David t has artistic differences with Judy Price and not only that he now thinks that no state should fund art. Only moments ago he thought that Arab states (any or all) should fund events portraying the suffering of Arabs and the perfidy of Albion.

Here's the next one:
Without knowing anything more about the actual project and Price's contribution thereto, it's pretty difficult to make any specific, well-informed contribution to the debate.

But I did indeed find the following sentence....rather ominous, actually. (And indeed, I regret to say, reminiscent of the former East Germany.

I find it odd that a woman with these views, and with this political agenda should have been asked to put on, at public expense, an event of this nature.

She is an artist! Of what conceivable relevance is her "political agenda"? Surely one must acknowledge a distinction between propaganda - that seeks to persuade - and art - that seeks to promote discussion.

Why on earth should holding particular "views" disqualify an artist from receiving funding from the likes of the British Council?

If anything I think it wholly admirable that a body like the British Council, that is funded by the British state, is prepared to do things that are patently not just parroting a party or state-approved line. Indeed, this is the very essence of democracy.

Were it that many more states (one thinks immediately of Russia at the present time, given its current clamp down on the British Council, and the range of dubious mass-organisations that seem to exist to promote the Kremlin in one way or another...I have already received my first hagiography of Medvedev courteously of well as being perfect in every way and a real gentleman he also keeps a fishtank in his office) were prepared to show such tolerance and respect for "peculiar political perspectives".

It strikes me as, well, highly unlikely, to say the least, that there is currently (or I daresay in the immediately foreseeable future) even one Arab state this is likely to adopt such an approach.

The idea of pushing artists to seek funding from authoritarian dictatorships is also not conducive to intelligent debate or free discussion. As anyone who is even remotely familiar with the kinds of work funded by totalitarian regimes should be immediately aware.
I'm not a regular to Harry's Place and I have been accused of naivete when I have expressed surprise at some of the sheer unpleasantness and dishonesty I have found there but this commentor surely surpasses me for naivete expecting HP to promote that which is "conducive to intelligent debate or free discussion." But back comes the mysterious, indeed increasingly mysterious, Mr t:
Why is it an art project to put on a series of films, the purpose of which is:

"not to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel but to mark it in a critical way along with the Naqba."

Can I put together a political campaign, designate it "art", and then obtain public funding for it?

For example: what about a project which considered, in a critical way, the "myth of Palestinian nationhood", or the "Eurabia" thesis, to which the organisers invited Robert Spencer and a bunch of Israelis with far right sympathies?

If I dress this up as an art project, should I get state funding?

If I don't bother to dress it up as art, should I be denied state funding?

What are your criteria here?
He's in a dizzy spin here. What's his problem exactly? Israel exists on the basis of colonial settlement, initially under the protective umbrella of British imperialism, and ethnic cleansing. Britain has a responsibility for that. It is now for David t to be explaining what the self proclaimed role of the British Council is rather than whingeing that his favourite racist project is being given more exposure.

There are other comments so go see but Mr t has clearly thrown himself on to the ropes here. There doesn't seem to be any issue arising out of Judy Price's email and all Harry's Place has done is show their sheer desperation to keep the truth about Israel out of the public domain. He also shown that there are UCU activists who are similarly fearful of such exposure. And he has shown that the supposedly anti-antisemitic campaign of Engage is itself a sham simply trying to close down debate, discussion and exposure of the last of the colonial settler states.

So he has his uses this Mr t. Thoroughly dishonest, a bully, a liar and prone to panic whenever Israel is exposed. But oh no, not a part of an "incredibly powerful international jewish conspiracy to shut down debate." Just an ordinary guy who gets tip-offs from belated activists of the UCU and only acts out of the highest principles of consistency and balance. And I thought Engage's Dr Hirsh was a nasty piece


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