Miko Peled: Political activism at a price

miko-peledIn  the wake of the UK and Ireland tour by Israeli peace activist Miko Peled, I want to write about an email exchange I had with him and reflect on left wing Israelis profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Though troubling, the dialogue was straightforward enough. Miko posted his plans for his UK and Ireland lecture tour on his Facebook page. After I heard he was charging for his Irish leg of the tour, I asked him on Facebook how much he was charging. He asked me to email him – he clearly did not want his fees disclosed in the public Facebook space. This was the email exchange, on March 31.

Miko: “I usually ask for $1500-$2500.  During my UK tour coming up I asked 500-1000 pounds. Why do you ask?”

Me: “I am asking because it rankles with me that you are making a living from the oppression of Palestinians, I suppose”.

Miko: “This is a cynical thing to say, and quite foolish, and considering my work it is totally uncalled for. Still, you can be rankled all you like, I am not the one oppressing the Palestinians, nor am I the one making a living off of their oppression.
I have a message that people want to hear, many people and I think it is an important one. I had to decide whether to sell my business and spread the message or stay home. I opted for the former I cannot afford to do it for free. Unlike others, I am independent, self employed and there is no institution or government that will pay to spread the message that I convey. It is excruciatingly hard work, to constantly travel and speak, there is plenty of money out there and I don’t see why it has to be done for free”.

On April 6, Miko published his UK and Ireland itinerary, enabling me to do a quick calculation, giving him the benefit of the doubt and allowing £500 (rather than £1,000) for each UK lecture and €500 for the Irish leg of the tour:

Leaving tonight for the UK: Here are the places in the UK and Ireland where I will be stopping to speak on this tour:
Mon. April 8th: BATH, 7.30pm. Manvers Street Baptist Church,        (£500)
Tues. April 9th: CARDIFF, 6.30pm, Cardiff University            (£500)
Wed. April 10th: LONDON, Evening dinner in the company of Miko Peled and Ilan Pappe
“Personal Journeys, the Global Impact of Israel’s Dissenting Voices” organised by Facilitate Global                                        (£500)
Thurs. April 11th: DUBLIN, 7.30pm, Gresham Hotel, facilitated by journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes    Sat. April 13th: CORK, 3pm, Gresham Metropole Hotel (Dublin and Cork: (€500 plus per diem and travel expenses – although his travel and subsistence were paid)
Mon. April 15th: LONDON, 6.30 to 8pm, CAABU Members’ event, Committee Room 6, House of Commons chaired by John Denham MP                (£500)
The grand total comes to £2,000 plus €500 (plus extraneous expenses) – not bad for one week’s work. He didn’t list Belfast, which was not included in the Irish leg; another fee?

You may think that hearing Miko’s message, including his support for the Teachers Union of Ireland’s motion on BDS, is worth the money. Perhaps, but, as a long term Israeli pro Palestine activist (I do not call myself a ‘peace activist’ mind), I am discomfited. The son of General Mattityahu Peled who, after an illustrious military career in the IDF, joined the Israeli ‘peace camp’, something his son emphasises in all his speeches, as he does the murder of his niece Smadar by a terrorist bomb (his book The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, is promoted on all his tours and his website), Miko lives in the United States and conducts his political activism outside Israel. I can agree with his belief in a one secular democratic state for Israelis and Palestinians and his commitment, as he says on his blog, to ‘the realization that Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in peace as equals in their shared homeland’.

So why am I so troubled by Miko making a career out of all of this? Is it because I keep thinking about what the group ‘Who Profits from the Occupation’ (http://www.whoprofits.org/) says about the financial dividends to Israeli and international companies from the occupation of Palestine? Or because of the plethora of international and Israeli NGOs, who, in ‘helping’ the Palestinians, actually perpetuate the occupation, releasing Israel, as occupier, from its responsibility for the occupied population? Or perhaps because selling his product and charging solidarity movements effects the movement and other potential speakers and damages the moral economy of solidarity work?

Some would say that I too, in writing and giving lectures while on a (rather meagre) university salary, profit from the occupation of Palestine (as did Miko’s sister Nurit Peled-Elhanan in an email to me after my exchange with her brother). However, I have never charged for own voluntary political work both in relation to racism in Ireland and to Palestine. Far from adopting a moral high ground, I recognise that perhaps all of us, Israeli activists for the liberation of Palestine, may be similarly implicated. But what rankled was Miko’s insistence that ‘selling his business’ is preferable to ‘staying at home’ and not conveying the important message that ‘many people want to hear’. And it was his high handed assumption that ‘there is plenty of money out there and I don’t see why it has to be done for free’ (though anyone involved in solidarity work knows how hard it is to raise funds), and that, as a freelance (by choice, I suppose), his work is ‘excruciatingly hard’ that got me.