Last summer, my Indian friend “Adam” invited me to attend a public Bhagra Punjabi folk dance festival, held in the beautiful World Financial Center Plaza. It was an incredible experience to see people from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Kashmir in their magnificent traditional clothing, dancing together with grace and joy.
As I was happily dancing my signature move, “The Awkward Ashkenazi” in a vain attempt to keep up, my dear Adam turned me to with amusement and pity and said “You’re really trying! Hopefully, the next public dance will be an Israeli one, so you can teach me your dances.” My friend had no idea why I started laughing at that suggestion.
I tried to explain that if Israelis in New York even dreamed of having a public dance festival, they would be accused of cultural appropriation, dancing on the graves of the Nakba, and there would be threats of boycotts of our sponsors, and there would likely be protests. There wouldn’t be dancing in the streets, but police barricades.
“Well, why? India and Pakistan don’t get along, and don’t even get me started on Kashmir, but we’re just here to dance. We’re not here to debate. Having a fight here is only going to make it unpleasant. Why can’t we leave politics aside and just have fun?” Adam asked, with a smile.
I was flabbergasted by that naïve truth. Why can’t countries celebrate their native culture? I may disagree with the war in Iraq, but I am happy to attend a Fourth of July barbeque and toast the United States. Great Britain doesn’t have the greatest record of human rights, but I have never turned an invitation for a celebration of British literature. I don’t agree with many of the actions taken by the I.R.A. but attend the Coney Island Irish Festival and dance till my feet hurt. So what makes Israel different?
Why is Israel the only country targeted for academic boycotts? Why are Israeli musicians hounded and harassed? Why are Israeli products pulled off shelves and vandalized with stickers? Why are Israeli videos as innocuous as discussion of Negev fish farming peppered with comments about occupation? Why are Israeli speakers who come to campuses shouted down and harassed? Why should the thought of a peaceful Israeli community cultural festival make me wince with the headaches of the backlash?
I think the answer is sad and simple. It’s not what Israel does that is the problem, it’s that Israel is the problem to these protestors. Whether it’s a film festival, delicious hummus or even Israel daring to do humanitarian efforts, there is protest. There is nothing Israel can do to make these loud fringe groups happy, besides commit suicide.
So frankly, why bother trying to appease them? Israelis aren’t planning on slitting their own throats in the near future, so why not have big noisy parties and ignore the protestors?
Why should I not publically dance “The Awkward Ashkenazi” to the sweet sounds of Asaf Avidan and Idan Raichel in a glorious street festival?
Why not celebrate Soda Stream, which is helping me with my Diet Coke addiction?
Why not proudly buy Israeli products and support the innovation in the region?
What do we have to lose, by being more like other countries who proudly show off their culture? It’s not like we can be hated more.