In recent months the Green Party has been accused of championing plenty of outlandish ideas. However, as a party of the “tolerant” liberal-left, one thing they haven’t yet been widely accused of is racism. But from a recent interview with Green leader Natalie Bennett it appears that there is actually an area where the Greens would be prepared to endorse a form of discrimination that other major parties have made clear is completely unacceptable.
In the interview, Bennett confirmed that she supports a full cultural boycott of Israeli artists, musicians and academics. This is an extraordinary position. What Bennett and the Greens are advocating is censorship and discrimination against individuals along the lines of nationality and ethnicity.
Bennett attempted to justify her position by arguing that this is about the need “to get the message across to the Israeli state” regarding human rights and international law. Even if we were to accept the notion that Israel is the kind of human rights house of horrors that Bennett evidently believes it to be, where else would the Greens advocate trying to alter government policy by boycotting artists?
Would, for instance, Natalie Bennett want to see Chinese artists and activist Ai Weiwei boycotted “to get the message across” to the Chinese state that we don’t like China’s human rights record?
There is just no getting around the fact that those on the far-Left, such as Bennett, adopt a completely different attitude towards Israelis compared to all other ethnic groups. No doubt advocates of the Green’s cultural boycott would retort that such a policy is not racist because it only targets Israeli nationals and not Jews in general. Yet in practice this isn’t how it works. Those behind the boycott have previously stressed that Arab-Israelis should be exempt from a cultural boycott. In other words, it targets Jewish Israelis only.
Worse still, there have already been a number of cases where the boycott has been extended beyond Israel and to Jewish groups instead. Last year London’s Tricycle Theatre announced that as part of a cultural boycott it would cancel the UK Jewish film festival, not the Israeli film festival, but rather the long established Jewish cultural event.
Similarly, in March Sydney’s Red Rattle theatre came under fire when it initially refused to host a series of performances about the Holocaust, claiming that the Jewish organisers requesting the venue booking were “Zionists”.
As it turns out, the Green Party has its own rather sorry record of an Israel obsession that has repeatedly crossed the line into outright Jew hatred. There have been reports of anti-Semitic posts and literature being circulated within the Green’s online forums, and of party members with Jewish sounding names being repeatedly subjected to abuse from others in these forums.
Then there is Pippa Bartolotti, the Green leader in Wales, who has wheeled out the age old trope that Jews have dual loyalties—something she claimed to have learned from the “university of life”. While in 2009 the Green’s deputy leader Shahrar Ali was filmed giving a viciously anti-Israel speech in which he derided “the niceties” of Holocaust Memorial Day.
Back in 2011 the Greens did establish an internal working group that was supposed to be grappling with the problem of anti-Semitism in the party, but the head of that investigation soon resigned claiming “it has become clear that the Green Party is institutionally anti-Semitic”.
Viewed in light of the above, Natalie Bennett’s support for discriminating against Israeli artists and academics starts to look even more sinister. Of course, there is also something terribly illiberal about the very notion of a cultural boycott.
This after all is not a policy that seeks to censor Israeli artists for anything they have actually said or written, but rather for the simple crime of having been born Israeli Jews in the Jewish state; in other words because of their ethnic background. And that in many people’s minds will make Bennett and her party guilty of the worst kind of bigotry.
Tom Wilson is a writer and political commentator