In February, over 100 British artists announced that they would be taking part in a cultural boycott of Israel, refusing to “play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run masterclasses or workshops [in the country] until Israel respects international law and ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians.” Last week, J.K. Rowling attached her name to an competing network of artist and politicians, Culture for Coexistence, which calls for ending the ongoing violence in the region through more engagement with Israel, not less. “Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change,” the group argued. “We wholly endorse encouraging such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use.”
As the highest-profile name on the list, Rowling earned heavy criticism from Harry Potter fans who interpreted her move as implicit support of the Israeli government. Since many of these fans cast the debate in Potter terms, Rowling chose to meet them on that field in her defense. In an essay titled “Why Dumbledore went to the hilltop,” she explained her decision to oppose the boycott, saying it was exactly what Albus Dumbledore would have done.
“In the final book, Deathly Hallows, when many hidden things come to the surface, there is a scene on a windy hilltop,” she recalls. “Dumbledore has been summoned by a Death Eater, Severus Snape,” whom Dumbledore knows to be in thrall to the dark lord Voldemort. Now, she says, “[N]obody has ever asked me: why did Dumbledore go when Snape asked him to go, and why didn’t he kill him on sight when he got there?”
Harry might have responded differently, Rowling says, and she agrees with fans who say that the boy wizard would be disappointed with her stance on the Israeli cultural boycott.”Unlike Harry, Dumbledore was not acting against his own nature when he chose to meet Snape on the hilltop,” Rowling says. “Dumbledore is an academic and he believes that certain channels of communication should always remain open. It was true in the Potter books and it is true in life that talking will not change wilfully closed minds. However, the course of my fictional war was forever changed when Snape chose to abandon the course on which he was set, and Dumbledore helped him do it.”
And just as Dumbledore and Snape’s meeting of the minds eventually led to the end of Voldemort’s reign, Rowling says that only dialogue and engagement can end the Israeli occupation, which she agrees is one of “injustice and brutality.” And, she says, “Boycotting Israel on every possible front has its allure. It satisfies the human urge to do something, anything, in the face of horrific human suffering.” But despite these good intentions, Rowling says the boycott would most harm those inside the country working to end the violence: “Those are voices I’d like to hear amplified, not silenced.” Opposing the boycott, then, is exactly what Dumbledore, “the moral heart of the books,” would have done: “He did not consider all weapons equal and he was prepared, always, to go to the hilltop.”
Read Rowling’s full statement here.