July 30th, 2009
When I first – and belatedly – began fretting about human rights and political injustice in the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf War, I joined Amnesty International and started writing letters and cards to political prisoners and to a variety of Embassies.
Although I was subsequently drawn deeply into activism of a more explicitly political nature – particularly on the Israel/Palestine issue – I retained my Amnesty membership out of residual respect for the organisation, but also because I wished to be in a position to say “as an Amnesty member myself, I completely disagree with the organisation’s stance on…” (fill in the dots as appropriate).
On 30th July I read the “Open Letter to Amnesty International” from 10 admirable organisations involved in seeking justice for the Palestinian people, ranging from PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) through the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign to the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. This letter was prompted by Amnesty’s decision to sponsor “a new fund that will whitewash the money raised at [Leonard] Cohen’s concert in Israel by using it to finance programs for ‘peace.’”
What could any reasonable person have against “programs for peace”? Well, one answer is that these include the Peres Center for Peace, described by the Israeli paper Ha’aretz as a “patronizing and colonial” organization that trains “the Palestinian population to accept its inferiority and… to guarantee the ethnic superiority of the Jews”, and the Israel Discount Bank, which has branches in three illegal Jewish settlements and hence functions in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Another answer is even simpler: Leonard Cohen should heed the call from the oppressed Palestinian people not to perform in Israel until that state dismantles its apartheid structures and complies with international law and international humanitarian law, ends the occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territories, and concedes the inalienable Palestinian right of return. By assisting Cohen in his ruse to bypass this boycott, Amnesty International is in fact taking a political stance, in violation of the premise of political neutrality with which it so regularly justifies its failure to side unambiguously with the oppressed. Amnesty is telling us: resistance is futile, the voice of the oppressed is irrelevant, international humanitarian law is a luxury.
I was one of the organizers of the protests held outside Leonard Cohen’s four recent Dublin concerts (19th, 20th, 22nd, 23d July) in which we called upon the singer not to perform in Tel Aviv, using the text of his 1960s classic “Please don’t pass me by” to deliver a demand for solidarity and engagement with the Palestinian people and against their oppressor, the Zionist Israeli state.
I used to be a Cohen fan. Should Cohen continue with his plan to perform in Israel on 24th September next, I shall consign my Cohen albums to the charity shop, although I’ll do so with considerable grief and disillusionment. It is with similar feelings that today I have sent the following message to the Irish branch of Amnesty International:
To whom it conferns: I am terminating my membership of Amnesty. The last straw has been Amnesty’s decision to support a cynical scheme dreamt up by Leonard Cohen’s PR department to whitewash the fact that he is ignoring the call from Palestinian civil society to respect the cultural boycott of Israel. While I respect Amnesty’s policy of not supporting particular political positions and not itself participating in boycott campaigns, on this occasion it is actively supporting actions that undermine a boycott campaign supported by the Palestinians themselves, and doing so by lending support to Israeli organisations the raison d’etre of which is to seek “conciliation” without an end to oppression.
Sincerely – Raymond Deane.