What Harriet Sherwood didn’t tell you in her report on JK Rowling’s anti-BDS letter

The Guardian’s former Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood penned an article (Star authors call for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue rather than boycotts, Oct. 22) about an anti-BDS letter in the Guardian published the previous day signed by scores of British artists and authors.

The letter, signed by JK Rowling, Simon Schama and others, was itself a response to a February 2015 letter from UK artists in the Guardian announcing their intention to boycott Israel.

The new Rowling-led anti-boycott letter includes the following passage:

Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not further peace. Open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance, and it is through such understanding and acceptance that movement can be made towards a resolution of the conflict.

Sherwood evidently couldn’t resist raising questions about the motivations of Rowling’s anti-boycott effort in the following paragraphs:

Some of the network’s supporters are closely aligned with Israel. Loraine da Costa, who chairs Culture for Coexistence, was on the executive board of Conservative Friends of Israel until last year. She has also been involved in One Family UK, an organisation “dedicated to helping all those in Israel whose lives have been blighted by terror”, according to its website. Da Costa said her involvement in both organisations was “irrelevant” to the network.

Among the signatories is Eric Pickles, a former cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party, who is currently chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel. Several other Tory MPs who have signed the letter are members of or associated with Conservative Friends of Israel.

Michael Dugher, the shadow culture secretary, and another signatory, is a vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel.

There is a striking absence of Palestinian names on the list of Culture for Coexistence supporters.

However, there’s a striking omission in Sherwood’s own article.  She failed to note her own support for boycotts against Israel, a position she made clear in her swan song at the Guardian in April of 2014.


Sherwood is of course entitled to her view that Israelis are “shielded from the [daily grind] of occupation”, and so perhaps only the “economic pain, isolation and global opprobrium” of boycotts will force Israelis “to take notice”.

However, Guardian readers, it seems, deserve to know that the author of a report critical of JK Rowling’s decision to prioritize Israeli-Palestinian co-existence over “discriminatory” boycotts is herself on record supporting a campaign of exclusion against the Jewish state.

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