When Alice Walker announced she was banning a Hebrew translation of her book The Color Purple, I was just grateful she was an author I did not happen to enjoy. One of the most painful parts of being Zionist is seeing stars I idolize standing on the other side of the Israel debate. I adore Alan Rickman and Stephan Fry’s work, I treasure Vanessa Redgreve’s portrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots and one of my heroes in writing is Emma Thompson. All of them have come out as anti-Israel, even if they are so wonderfully progressive in every other aspect of their lives. My heart always sinks when I see a star’s political views because of the risk of seeing them opposed to a fundamental part of who I am.
One advantage Palestinian activists have is their storyline is simple and instantly heart-breaking. “They stole our land and make us suffer.” The Israeli narrative is much harder to understand and involves lessons in history, geography and political science, and the only sound bite available is “It’s complicated.” People do not want complicated. They want a good guy and a bad guy. Sadly, Israel has been cast as the role of bad guy.
The hardest part is that I believe deep down that these anti-Israel stars are on the same side as Israel activists. They want peace, they want stability, they want human rights. That is something we all want, and it is something that can be achieved. The problem is that they seem to believe that there is only one party at fault. That is a popular perception not backed up by facts.
One of the strongest aspects of Israel activism must not be seen as a cause that needs defending, but a cause that requires education by challenging misconception. Emma Thompson campaigns against the Israel’s security fence but fails to campaign over Egypt’s security fence, the dozens security fences worldwide or acknowledge that a security fence is the only way to stop suicide bombers from targeting Israeli civilians. Alan Rickman produces a play on Rachel Corrie’s ultimately death, but fails to see the larger issues surrounding an organization blithely sending civilians into warzones in hopes of accidents happening and using those “martyrs” to achieve media attention. There are answers to their challenges to Israel, and what grieves me is that these people are not being reached. They are our allies, they just don’t know it and with a little information, they could be powerful resources.
One of the strongest defenses is the truth. When people see Israel and learn the facts on the ground, those with integrity admit the nuance and complexity of the situation. That is why the goal of the BDS movement is to prevent Israeli dance troupes, Shakespeare companies and academics from having a dialogue, they fear losing the victim narrative and being called to answer on real facts.
Therefore, the solution must be more Israel. More Israeli academics speaking, more dance troupes and musicians lighting up the stage, more Israeli movies being screened, more books translated and consumed.
Alice Walker may have tried to stop the conversation, but only through speaking together, through learning the truth, can people actually advocate for peace in the region.