Irish artists respond to Israeli Apartheid apologist Nicky Larkin’s articles
Over the past number of weeks, an Irish artist and filmmaker called Nicky Larkin has published two articles in the Sunday Independent in support of Israel’s apartheid regime, criticising artists who speak out against Israel, and promoting his new film “Forty Shades of Grey”.
Four of the signatories to the Irish Artist’s Pledge to Boycott Israel have publicly responded to Mr. Larkin’s scurrilous attacks.
Composer Raymond Deane, who is also the IPSC’s Cultural Liaison Officer, had a letter published in the Sunday Independent two weeks after the original article appeared. Mysteriously, while the letter appeared in the print edition of the Sunday Independent on 25th March 2012, it did not appear in the online edition.
Visual artist Felim Egan – who, while on the Irish Ship To Gaza last year, was himself kidnapped at sea by the Israeli military, and imprisoned for a week in an Israeli jail for “illegally entering” a country he had no intention of visiting – and filmmaker Steve Woods both had short letters published in the same paper on March 18th.
On April 9th, the visual artist Jim Ricks – a native Californian based in Ireland for the past 7 years – who is a former friend on Mr. Larkin also published a rebuttal on his website.
Below Mssrs. Deane, Egan and Woods’ letters and Mr. Ricks’ article are republished in full. None of these are official IPSC responses, but personal viewpoints of the authors.
Raymond Deane, letter in the Sunday Independent, 25/03/2012 (original, jpg scan)
Nicky Larkin claims that “Aosdána, Ireland’s State-sponsored affiliation of creative artists, has also signed the boycott”, i.e. the pledge by 216 Irish artists to boycott the Israeli state. (11th March 2012)
This is untrue. Some 15% of Aosdána members have hitherto signed the pledge as individuals – nowhere is their affiliation mentioned in the list of signatories. Mr Larkin urges all signatories “to spend some time in Israel and Palestine”, but many of them have signed because they have done just that, and been shocked by witnessing the cruel Israeli occupation.
Mr Larkin goes further, claiming that “something as crude as career-advancement” could be behind artists’ support for Palestinian rights. Actually, the opposite is the case: association with the Palestinian cause can damage an artist’s career, particularly in the United States, and can lead to defamation and threats of ostracism. As a classical composer and a Palestinian rights activist I have over a decade’s experience of this.
There is some irony in Mr Larkin’s writing a lengthy article in the Sunday Independent complaining that his freedom of speech is being curtailed whenever he “speak[s] up for Israel.” Independent Newspapers are rarely hospitable to the views of those who criticise Israeli policies and actions, yet Mr Larkin was granted almost half a page to advertise his new film and propound his pro-Israeli views.
Donning a mantle of spurious martyrdom is a familiar tactic of Israeli propaganda. Mr Larkin’s description of Israel as “a refuge under siege” belies the fact that it is Israel that besieges the Palestinians, and not the other way around.
Similarly Mr Larkin claims to have “witnessed swastikas on a wall” in Hebron, without clarifying that Hebron is home to 160,000 Palestinians and 500 illegal Jewish settlers of the most fascistic stamp, who are defended by thousands of Israeli soldiers. Graffiti daubed on Palestinian homes by these settlers include “exterminate the Muslims”, “kill all Arabs”, and, most notoriously, “Arabs to the gas chambers”. Perhaps the swastikas were not of Palestinian origin?
But then one looks in vain in Mr Larkin’s article for any reference to international law, the occupation, the illegal separation wall, or internment of Palestinians without trial. Instead, we get a delirious fantasy about “20 Arab teenagers filled with ecstasy tablets and sent running towards” a military base in Gaza, “each strapped with a bomb and carrying a hand-held detonator.” Surely the “former soldier” who spun this yarn “in Shenkin Street – Tel Aviv’s most fashionable quarter” (and one of its centres of drug-dealing) was pullig the gullible filmmaker’s leg. If this soldier was indeed in Gaza then it must have been prior to 2005, and even then his presence would have been illegal under international humanitarian law.
Admittedly Mr Larkin concedes that Israel perpetrated a massacre in Gaza in December 2008, although he underestimates the Palestinian death toll by 200. This apparently inspired him to “hate Israel” and “pose in the… PLO scarf.” This choice of words is revealing. Palestinian rights campaigns have no place for posers who merely “hate Israel”, and only Israeli propagandists describe the ancient keffiyeh as “the PLO scarf”.
Mr Larkin received €32,400 from the Irish Arts Council “to make a film in Israel and Palestine”. Judging by his article and by the trailer on his website, this has turned into a piece of pure pro-Israel propaganda. Called Forty Shades of Grey, it has already earned the nickname Forty Shades of Whitewash. Is this what the Arts Council had in mind?
Lr Baggot St
Felim Egan, letter in the Sunday Independent, 18/03/2012. (Note: Only the parts in bold were published in teh paper)
Re: Israel is a refuge? – What about the refugees?
Proud to be part of arts boycott
Madam — I wish to address several of the points Nicky Larkin, has made in his letter to your newspaper, last Sunday, March 11.
The article was confusing, contradictory, incoherent, and incorrect in much of it’s content and assumptions.
Firstly, it would be wrong to assume that being Irish equates to being anti-Israeli, or equally incorrect to think that Irish is somehow connected to being pro-Palestine. The fact that we suffered under British rule and still have a part of our country under occupation, must have more than a little to do with our sense of outrage at injustice and abuse of power, wherever it takes place on this planet.
As an Irish citizen, I do take issue with Mr Larkin’s assertion that we have a sense of moral superiority and importance, or as artists who have signed up to the boycott, not to perform, exhibit or accept any funding from Israel, until such times that it complies with International laws and Human Rights charters, we have an over-stretched sense of importance.
It is incorrect, to state that the Aosdána signed up to the artist’s boycott on Israel, it did not.
Many artists across the disciplines, as individuals, signed the charter, some are members of Aosdána but the majority are not. I am proud to be a part of that boycott. As artists we are free thinking, thankfully!
I have also travelled widely in the region, I am in touch with many artists, across the middle-east, including Israel. All of them support our boycott, they simply want peace with justice and equality for all of the people in the region.
Mr Larkin’s assumption that we signed up to further our careers, is outrageous, insulting and more likely to the contrary.
I signed up to the boycott on the grounds that as long as the Israeli entity systematically destroys and occupies the Palestinian land I would oppose it. Let us not forget the power of boycott in South Africa, that eventually helped lead to freedom for the native Black, majority population, to make their own decisions on their destiny. Or the civil rights movement in America, which through struggle brought at least some equality to the citizens there, or indeed the anti-Vietnam War movement, which helped end that disastrous genocidal conflict. It is ironic, just how afraid the CIA / FBI were of one ‘free-thinking’ artist, John Lennon.
You mention ‘rockets rain death’ on the Israelis, we hear that mantra daily from the Israelis. Don’t forget that for every Israeli killed by small home made rockets from Gaza, at least 50 Palestinians are slaughtered in response, or as is usual, the attacks take place in advance of any hostilities from the Palestinian side. The Israeli Defence Forces have in fact created the hostility towards them with their murderous campaigns, their phosphorous bombs, jet-fighters, tanks and the use of lethal unmanned drones etc. What do they expect?
Mr Larkin, also never mentioned that since the 1979 UN charter, Israel has continued to steal around 60% of Palestinian lands, evicting locals, bulldozing homes to make way for illegal Israeli settlements, this also is true for the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel has simply ignored all UN resolutions on expansion and on the pretence of so called defence. Defence of what, I would ask, defence of the stolen lands, defence of their systematic ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Palestinian people. And that dreadful wall, in the name of defencse, further carving up Palestinian land, dividing families and communities. The artist Roger Waters of ‘Pink Floyd’ has spoken out on this inhumane monstrosity. Tear down the wall, ‘we don’t need no segregation’ etc.
The problem is Israel and its apartheid policies, with backing from an ignorant and blinded USA administration. Israel itself, continues to be the greatest threat to the region, not the stone-throwing kids from the wretched slums they are forced to live in.
You seem to think that we, Irish artists have no idea about Israel, its cities, it’s industries. I can name many Israeli cities, contrary to your assertion, I can even name several prisons, where I was abruptly and roughly transported to, having been illegally kidnapped in international waters along with my comrades on a mission to break the siege of Gaza. I can certainly name Israeli industries, their arms and surveillance units developed by Mossad, and in particular their ‘nuclear arms industry’, the fifth greatest in the world. You failed to mention that! The Israeli authorities fail to even talk about that in the hope that if it is ignored, it may go away, at least on the international stage.
We will continue with the boycott, it is growing and getting stronger. We must stop the slaughter of thousands of Palestinians by the Israeli regime. It is not a simple matter of being pro-Palestine or anti-Israel.
In order to help the Palestinian cause, it is necessary to denounce the brutality of the Israeli regime, to bring international condemnation and pressure to bear on it until such times that it complies with international laws and human rights.
We can’t just sit on the fence. Wearing or not wearing a Palestinian scarf, whatever shade of grey?
Steve Woods, letter in the Sunday Independent, 18/03/2012
Sympathy for the big bombers
Madam — Nicky Larkin attacked fellow filmmakers like me who are critical of Israel and who have signed the Irish Palestine Solidarity Committee’s pledge against supporting Israeli-funded cultural events. Reading his argument that the Israeli military are victims, traumatised by drug-fuelled suicide bombers from Gaza, I thought of a scene from Pontecorvo’s film Battle of Algiers.
A French officer takes time out from roughing up an Arab FLN member in a police cell. He demands that the “terrorist” justify bombing cafes in Algiers. “Okay” says the FLN fighter, “give us planes and we’ll bomb Paris”.
It’s a shame, but I believe that if the Palestinians had jet bombers, more people, even Nicky maybe, might be more sympathetic to their plight.
Broadstone, Dublin 7
Jim Ricks, article on Shower of Kunst website, 09/04/2012 (original posting)
Delusion is a Refuge, A Refuge Under Siege
On March 11, 2012 an article written by Nicky Larkin, someone I’ve counted amongst my friends for the last few years, appeared in the Sunday Irish Independent. I was taken aback by the title: Israel is a Refuge, A Refuge Under Siege , and thought hopefully there must be more to it than that.
See, Nicky received a generous film project award from the Arts Council for €32,400 to create a documentary called Forty Shade of Grey. It’s described as “an experimental, non-narrative film piece, shot on location in Israel and the Palestinian territories. There seems to be some very black and white ideas when people think of these areas; however we wish to explore the forty shades of grey in between the black and the white.” I supported the idea of the film and even obtained a reliable, academic contact to aid Nicky in translating interviews of Palestinians from my uncle, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
A couple of months after Mr. Larkin’s return, he sent on some sample clips to me and, a bit concerned, I told him frankly:
“Because all the interviews are with Israelis who basically support Israel and because these are in English it comes off as very one sided. I think you would have to have just as many Palestinian voices to balance it. Also, I think you need to be careful in showing poverty and anger, as this comes off as other or ‘alien’ to Western audiences, while the advanced capitalist middle-class scenes of Tel Aviv read as normal and human.”
Having studied photography myself, I am aware of the power that artists behind the lens have in shaping perception. In striving for objectivity and fairness it is essential to maintain a consistent ‘way of looking’ and to present all subjects in the same dignified manner. This is very much the mechanics of lens-based work, but it is the basis for any legitimate documentarian strategy. This is what I hoped to convey to Nicky.
I haven’t had too much contact with him since. That is, until the March 11th article. You should have a read of it, it can be found here. The article is in the most basic sense an account of Larkin’s personal transformation from “Hating Israel” to complete sympathy with Israel, followed by a strange conspiratorial allegation that the Arts Council is corrupt and a brief plug for his film’s debut. Simply put, it is irresponsibly written and makes several factual and investigative errors.
Nicky’s starting point is “Hating Israel”. A shockingly narrow and simplistic sentiment that is the kind of nationalistic short-cut that replaces thought, full stop. This is indeed telling. He swiftly moves on to the Holy Land and describes the curious Palestinian onlookers as ‘martyrs’, a term usually reserved for those that have died for their beliefs. Dehumanising much? Nicky recounts an interview with the former Palestinian Ambassador to France and describes her as “all aggression”. I watched the same video and could hardly describe it as such. Larkin follows this up with a superficial analysis of Hebron based literally on the writing on the wall.
He writes of his time in Tel Aviv, recounting an unconfirmed story by a former Israeli Defense Forces soldier:
“He talked slowly about his time in Gaza. He spoke about 20 Arab teenagers filled with ecstasy tablets and sent running towards the base he’d patrolled. Each strapped with a bomb and carrying a hand-held detonator. The pills in their bloodstream meant they felt no pain. Only a headshot would take them down.”
Wait… what?! Gaza is under a strict embargo and is economically paralysed as a result, it experiences regular power and water outages, as well as bread shortages. And we are supposed to believe that there is MDMA in Gaza? Larkin continues: “Conversations like this are normal in Tel Aviv”. Certainly there must be a different set of conversations in Ramallah or Gaza City? Maybe even 40 shades of them. But not now, not in the national press. Larkin must talk only of the rockets raining down on Israel and not of checkpoints, settlers, displacement, human rights violations as decided by the United Nations, white phosphorous bombs, billions of US dollars in aid or the shooting of unarmed civilians, children even.
After a seemingly obligatory reference to the Holocaust, he again looks literally to the writing on the wall, this time at a misspelling in Cork, and then Larkin approaches his crescendo. Now that he has made up his mind as to what the correct shade of grey is, despite his film’s premise, he seems to expect Ireland to fall in line upon his return. The possibility that Irish people are invested and informed about, arguably, the largest ongoing human rights issue in the world doesn’t cross his mind. Larkin cites a lack of freedom of speech in Ireland, even an intolerance to different ideas. It comes across as some kind of psychological self-conditioning or self-fulfilling prophecy for taking a deeply unpopular political position based on tenuous thinking.
Larkin’s inflated sense of self importance didn’t stop there or even at the facts. He makes a broadsided attack on 216 artists who, heaven forbid, expressed their opinions about a recognised human rights issue by signing a petition (information about the petition is here). Yet, his claims that Israeli food has been pulled from grocers is false, his claim that Aosdana signed the petition is false, his understanding of what the petition sets out to achieve is false. Nicky then speculates that the only reason that artists might have signed this petition is for career gain due to the fact that Aosdana controls the Arts Council and gives favours to like-minded thinkers. Wow.
I contacted the Arts Council for comment and the Director of Public Affairs, Seán Mac Cárthaigh, conveyed that:
“The Arts Council has always adopted a strong position in favour of freedom of expression. I don’t expect this to change — in fact I’d be confident the Council would regard it as non-negotiable. We have a very rigorous, transparent peer review panel system for our grants to individual artists, and applications are scored solely on merit. This is really important to us. We also have an appeal procedure, and I can guarantee you that we would take very seriously any evidence we had fallen short of that standard.”
Larkin ends his piece by belittling the Irish for daring to hold a different opinion than what he, Israel, the US, and most other powerful Western nations, find acceptable. Insulting, condescending and inflammatory? Little bit.
Nicky’s piece utterly fails to present the issue in a balanced, nuanced manner or with any context. It is indeed ahistorical, it’s as though his analysis only considers his own subjective experiences during his 7 week Arts Council funded trip. I wonder what kind of homework he did before going off to Israel/Palestine? It is highly questionable, nay, unethical, to publish unsubstantiated stories, particulalry on a politically sensitive topic, as Larkin did. It is self righteous to dismiss critics as narrow-minded. That Irish people have the right to passionately disagree with him isn’t considered. It is certainly bad policy to ‘bite the hand that feeds you’. To go as far as making outrageous corruption claims against the very organisation that liberally funded your project in the first place is downright foolish. But, by far what is most irresponsible about Nicky’s writing is that it is utterly biased and dehumanising of Palestinians. They are presented flatly as martyrs, aggressive and suicide bombers. Isn’t this feeding Islamophobia? Much like the preliminary clips he sent on to me, where he failed to investigate and document anything close to 40 shades of gray, his ‘way of looking’ in the article is completely one-sided.
I am a little surprised the Independent gave Nicky space for this type of ‘surface’ analysis and even more surprised they didn’t check it for factual errors. Then again, the Independent does have a track record of publishing some very questionably researched articles (e.g. Welcome to the ‘good life’ on Welfare – How Polish Waitress Embraced La Dole-ce Vita by Norma Costello, which due to a massive mistranslation of the source text caused an international stir and has now been removed from the independent.ie website).
The aftermath to Larkin’s piece on a certain social network has also caused a stir. The vast majority of opposing comments I’ve seen questioned the accuracy of Larkin’s piece and raised a variety of informed arguments and historical facts against his position. Debate begins, so fair enough, right? Or maybe not. From what I’ve witnessed, his gang (comprised of his girlfriend Norma Costello (yes, the same), a member of his production team, and a few of his hometown friends) have been outspoken in rhetorically calling for discussion while simultaneously drowning out debate. Their general modus operandi is to deflect, derail, and outpost any real discussion. Consistently, they dismiss disagreement as intolerance. A funny sort of circular logic, that. By and large Nicky himself apparently didn’t deem these criticisms worthy of response.
With the aim of stirring Nicky from his silence, I posted several comments to him ranging from inquiries to jokes; from rebukes to the earnest statement that “I would be happy to explain why I signed the petition” (wondering indeed why Nicky would ask his artist friends rhetorically via a newspaper and not in person!). I have been met with his gang’s deflections and even a string of personal attacks that are a dangerous combination of arrogance and ignorance usually reserved for ‘trolls’. When I deleted one of my own posts that became filled with comments that were personalised accusations and speculations, I was labeled as anti-Free Speech. Sorry lads… lies, fabrications and character assassinations are an abuse of aforementioned Free Speech. I was harassed and labeled an anti-semite and “FASCIST”.
I was able to cajole Nicky into a few responses. Among other things, he claimed to be generally harassed and recalled how he has been called a c*nt for his article. Dude, this is Ireland… you’ll get called a c*nt for not using a beermat. He also asserted his correctness.
My advice to Nicky has always been to correct the errors in the article, move on, and let his film speak for itself. Unfortunately, he now risks dwarfing the artwork itself through his publicity side show. What more, Nicky does not believe there is anything erroneous or unethical about his article and has now vowed a follow up piece to further his claims of persecution. In the spirit of Free Speech, I challenged Nicky to a polemic, asking for equal column inches, side-by-side to voice a rebuttal to his opinions. He declined. Unsupportable for the most part, and straying far from his artistic premise of investigating diverse viewpoints, Larkin’s opinions might have been designed only for shock value. Is it possible this whole business is equal parts delusion, contrarianism and short sighted publicity stunt? How cynical would that be?
Nicky is crying ‘intolerance’ and ‘Free Speech’, but he has already abused a large, national platform with one dimensional rhetoric. What might be a different, more accurate viewpoint is that his only problem with the Irish is that they are disagreeing with him. How ironic.
By the way, it’s called a kufiya, not a PLO scarf. Kind of like it’s a tricolour, not an IRA flag.
Original Editor’s note: Nicky Larkin was given an advance copy of this article and invited to respond prior to publication. That offer still stands.