- Associated Press - Thursday, February 24, 2011

JERUSALEM (AP) - When British novelist Ian McEwan accepted a prestigious Israeli literary award this week, he used the occasion to criticize Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

His high-powered audience, which included the nation’s president and the mayor of Jerusalem, responded in an unexpected way: They gave him a warm ovation, ecstatic that the renowned writer had even agreed to show up.

Like many other celebrities and artists of late, McEwan faced calls urging him to boycott the Jewish state.

The campaign is led by Palestinians, Israeli leftists and other supporters who oppose Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and are attuned to the power of celebrity in this age.

It has had some success, deterring a string of famous entertainers from performing.

McEwan said he faced “vigorous calls” with “varying degrees of civility” to turn down The Jerusalem Prize _ Israel’s most prestigious award for foreign writers. Instead, he decided to come to engage Israelis, not isolate them.

“If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed,” the author of the best-selling book “Atonement” told The Associated Press. “It’s not great if everyone stops talking.”

Most artists have resisted the pressure and gone ahead with their Israel appearances. Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Madonna and Paul McCartney are among the entertainers to perform in Israel in recent years.

Others have bowed to the pressure.

Over the past year, Elvis Costello and the Pixies canceled concerts, as well as the British dance band Klaxon and the Gorillaz Sound System. Santana and Bjork also called off concerts, without explaining why.

Announcing his decision last year, Costello spoke of “intimidation, humiliation or much worse” inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians and said sometimes “merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act.” Costello’s representatives refused to comment for this story.

Considering how strong and widespread the international opposition is to Israel’s 43-year-old occupation, it might seem striking that the country is so well integrated into the world community: a close ally of the United States with a tight association with the European Union and growing trade with the emerging giants of Asia.

Israel has faced occasional boycotts of its academics, unions and in some cases commercial products _ but it is the cultural snubbing that may be hardest to swallow.

“We are used to being threatened physically by our neighbors, but this is a new intellectual threat,” said Oren Arnon, a music promoter who had to cancel the sold-out Pixies concert after the group bailed out. “Saying that you are wrong is one thing _ which is what McEwan is saying _ but saying you have no right to a normal life because of your government’s actions is something that is easier to take offense to.”

Boycott activists say that’s precisely the point.

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