Does WWB Cross-Cultural Dialogue Violate Palestinian Boycott Call?

A piece that ran in Electronic Intifada yesterday, by Al-Aqsa University Professor Dr. Haidar Eid, asserts that the new cross-cultural dialogue series promised in Words Without Borders violates the call for boycott and divestment sanctions on Israel.

Also yesterday, WWB ran its first dispatch in the series, Chana Morgenstern’s “Maps.

In his essay, Dr. Eid quotes dialogue authors Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi and Morgenstern:

“The series, as we foresee it, will cover emerging guerilla poetry movements, collaborations between Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals and writers, interviews with international and local film makers, reviews of the Jerusalem Film Festival, as well as an overview of various grassroots cultural organizations in the West Bank.”

Dr. Eid continues:

Though this statement of purpose may be intentionally vague, it is important for anyone who wishes to engage in serious “dialogue” in this area to be aware that a condition of utmost serious conflict exists between a colonial, apartheid occupying power — Israel — and the indigenous people. As part of a strategy for nonviolent resistance, the Palestinians have issued an international call for BDS against Israel until it complies with international law and respects the universality of human rights.

Dr. Eid cites guidelines for applying the boycott. The guidelines state:

“….events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless framed within the explicit context of opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott”

In their initial posting, Oloomi and Morgenstern concluded:

We are hoping to gain a broader perspective of the various ways in which contemporary Israeli and Palestinian cultures negotiate the region’s complex and hybrid social landscape. We are also interested in looking at the connections between political activism and literature and the potential democratization of the social sphere through the arts.  We are looking forward to traveling back and forth between Israel and the Palestinian Territories—from Jerusalem to Ramallah, Jenin to Hebron, Bethlehem to Tel Aviv and back, and to posting about our experiences and impressions over here.

Eid rejoins:

How do Palestinians negotiate this “hybrid social landscape?” By raising their own and others’ consciousness that we are under a state of siege, facing the daily threat of extermination, and using all means in our power to resist and to preserve our communities and our culture.

He concludes by doubting that many Palestinians will participate in the project.

I am interested in readers’ opinions on this. Is this independent academic research, which needs to be free to take its course and come to its own conclusions? Or is it more like an event or series of events that create false symmetry between Israel and (occupied) Palestine?


  1. Hmmm. Oloomi and Morgenstern’s cited words that they “are looking forward to traveling back and forth between Israel and the Palestinian Territories—from Jerusalem to Ramallah, Jenin to Hebron, Bethlehem to Tel Aviv and back” is interesting in this context, given that very few Palestinians – writers or otherwise – are ever allowed to do so. Having said that, some Israeli academics who have earned respect as campaigners and who support the boycott are very much seen as legitimate people to work with (Ilan Pappe springs to mind) so lesser-known academics who originate from Israel should also be allowed this ‘exemption’ – if they also show that they reject the actions of their state and are somehow active in exposing and seeking to change it. Not all cross-cultural dialogue will violate the boycott – some of it is incredibly valuable – but it must show that it has some understanding of the power relationships and inequalities involved, and Israeli and Western participants have to acknowledge the extent of their power and privilege. The WWB’s project doesn’t seem, from the writings so far produced, to be doing that. They also don’t seem to acknowledge the strength of the class and quasi-ethnic divisions which keep Ashkenazis at the top of the Israeli social, economic and political scale.

  2. hm. one author is israeli, the other is not palestinian. no wonder they can shuttle between jenin and hebron and so forth.
    i agree with sarah. not all cross-cultural dialogue will violate boycott; and grassroot movement of some sort is absolutely necessary. not sure the WWB series has considered either.

    one thing: i saw imposed cultural sanctions in operation in parts of my former country. they don’t help bringing the regime down, but they do nasty things to people’s mentality. just sayin’

  3. The question for me is why Van Der Vliet Oloomi and Morgenstern deliberately ignore the patently obvious conditions of apartheid in their “statement of purpose.” Their statement is NOT value neutral. They say they specifically want to highlight “collaborations between Israeli and Palestinian” writers etc. They could have said “we want to highlight the difficulties faced by Palestinian writers as a result of systematic Israeli human rights violations.” Surely they know there is a BDS call and they decided to highlight the very kind of activities that violate it. No one is discouraging work between Israelis and Palestinians, the point is such work must be cognizant of the actual conditions under which it is taking place and not obscure it. Otherwise isn’t it just like seeking “dialogue” between blacks and whites in 1985 South Africa without bothering to mention a little detail like apartheid?

  4. Hi there,

    I am one of the moderators of the Words Without Borders project. Thank you for putting together this forum. I think it raises some very good questions. We appreciate the feedback and have formulated a response to the articles and to the debate which we hope will clarify some of the important issues and questions that have been raised thus far. Please see the response here:

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