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Anti-Israel fanatics are leading Britain’s cultural industry to ruins

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It’s a strange picture: today’s breed of keffiyeh-sporting omni-activists poring over the investment portfolios of the financial institutions that sponsor cultural festivals until they identify links not just to fossil fuels but to the far bigger bogeyman: Israel, and specifically its defence infrastructure.

It’s an even stranger picture thinking of the dozens of well-to-do, sometimes stinking rich artists and writers who instantly take these bizarre, often obscure business research findings as sacrosanct, and declare they can have absolutely nothing to do with the tarnished event until the polluting Israeli element is removed.

Thus under threats of boycott, the Hay Festival severed its sponsorship deal with investment firm Baillie Gifford. Then came the Edinburgh and Cheltenham literary festivals. As well as pop stars and comedians, more than 700 publishers and writers wrote an open letter demanding the cessation of Baillie Gifford sponsorship.

All in all, not a bad day’s work for Fossil Free Books, the anti-capitalist, anti-Israel and now clearly anti-culture lunatics that nobody would have paid the slightest attention to a few years back. But now: “Somehow it has managed to wrap in just about every one of these causes and many more which meant it became unsolvable,” said Jenny Niven, shellshocked director of the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Most egregious is the allegation, made falsely, that Israel is committing “genocide”, and that therefore British firms investing in Israel are profiting from genocide.

To students of past purges, there is a sense of inevitability to the collapse of funding for the nation’s flagship literary festivals, once the envy of the world. Cultural vibrancy and freedom is always the first to take the hit.

It’s true that in the early 20th century, artists and writers in Europe tended to be more on the side of progressivism and thus more inclined to oppose the world-structuring anti-Semitism proffered by the fascists in power. We also know that the arts – at times of especially heightened anti-Semitism – tend ultimately to be associated with Jewishness and degeneracy.

We know that book burnings, of Jewish books or books deemed to be associated with Jews, were reflexive and widespread. And we know that a key street-level part in the rise of the authoritarian regimes that would send six million Jews to the camps was the enthusiasm of ordinary people – as well as intellectuals, academics, and captured artists – for smashing up Jewish businesses, alleging intolerable connections to the Jewish toxin or cause, bullying and ostracising of those businesses and businesspeople, finally enshrining Jewish exclusion in law, and then in murder.

The case of Baillie Gifford is different, of course. Fossil Free Books is grassroots and going to stay that way. The main target is links to Israel, rather than output by Jewish artists and thinkers.

But the similarity is about the convergence of the ganging up on the world’s only Jewish state through business. To Jews like me, it’s hard not to see a potent admixture of the age-old themes of “smashing Jewish shops”, boycotting Jewish businesses, and despising filthy lucre, finance and banking in general because those are also somehow a result of Jewish greed and nefariousness.

Sadly, while insurance can repair smashed windows, arts funding is harder to fix. As Baillie Gifford’s statement put it: “The activists’ anonymous campaign of coercion and misinformation has put intolerable pressure on authors and the festival community. We hold the activists squarely responsible for the inhibiting effect their action will have on funding for the arts in this country.”

The slow death of arts festivals at the hands of these deranged and destructive egomaniacs is sad enough. But ordinary people are increasingly going to be hurt by the actions of “pro-Palestine”/eco activists because prosperity in general is a target of their madness.

Across the West, with that forensic zest for sniffing out companies that can be tarred by the Israel brush, protesters have made all sorts of companies suffer, especially those on the high street, from Starbucks to Google to the private cancer hospital Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

McDonalds is bending over backwards to regain its Muslim and woke customer base because at the start of its campaign, its Israeli franchisee offered free meals for Israeli soldiers serving in Gaza. Spanish clothing chain Zara has faced boycott threats for having briefly run an ad campaign that the pro-Palestine lot said reminded them of war (it had nothing to do with it, as any sane person could see), and thus glamorised Palestinian bloodshed, and so on.

There are many casualties of the ongoing post-October 7 boycotts: the normalisation, and even embrace, of jihadi Islam in the West, the climate of artistic endeavour, freedom of speech and thought for artists, and the economy and morality in general.

Unless we begin to stand up to business and culture destroyers – however small fry they seem – we will have nothing left to defend. 

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