There's a very thoughtful little novel I like, which came out roughly half a dozen years ago: Cassie Draws the Universe, by P.S.Baber. I was picking through its pages again the other day and stumbled upon a familiar quote that struck a chord with me on second reading.
"The stage is a magic circle where only the most magic things happen," muses our protagonist Cassie, "A neutral territory outside the jurisdiction of Fate where the stars may be crossed with impunity. A truer and more real place does not exist in all the universe."
These couple of lines particularly caught my eye as I've always harboured this idealistic view, however naïvely, of culture - especially but not exclusively the theatre - as being somewhat immune from the rest of the 'real world'. Whilst I'm a big fan of satire and political commentary in the arts, I always turn a bit green when I hear a song or see a play that's a little too heavy-handed with its reactionary message.
Falling into this bracket, of course, is the use of art as a political weapon. Culture should invariably be both a 'neutral territory' and a peacemaker; a universal language to knit together people from all sides in admiration for the one thing that can transcend conventional political boundaries: human emotion. Stop me if I'm being naïve again.
All of which brings me on to why I'm proud of J.K.Rowling, Simon Schama, Zoe Wanamaker and 150 other actors, artists and writers who wrote a letter to the Guardian on Friday to object to the attempted cultural boycott of Israel.
It follows another letter, published in February from 700 artists who pledged to boycott the entire nation for the sake of a political stance - effectively robbing people of the pleasures of their creations, claiming that "Israel's wars are fought on the cultural front too."
Now, while I am far from agreeing with every political move the Israeli government makes in its battle with the Palestinians, a boycott of the few things that can bring Israel's citizens joy in this terrible war is a needless approach. To coin a cliche, the pen will always be mightier than the sword - and denying it can only do more harm than good.
In their letter, Rowling and others voice their backing for Culture for Coexistence, a new movement aimed at "building bridges" and creating a more consistent dialogue in the arts. In truth, it's all about attitude - a pervasive attitude of openness and shared joy diffused by artistic creations may, one day, open some avenues to political growth. A boycott, inevitably a harsh statement of finality, is only going to slam doors to progress shut.
Harnessing a creative community within Israel can be a good thing, enabling people of all ages and backgrounds to envisage and pursue an end to the strifes of war. Inhibiting the artistic flow of a country just because you don't agree with what a government is doing will make little difference, and will only impact on those who need the arts most.
In August this year, British indie band Alt-J spurned the protests of pro-Palestinian campaigners and played two nights at a club in Tel Aviv for Israeli soldiers. They set a good example in my book, bringing joy to their fans who have no responsibility for the actions of their government, and no reason to suffer for them. They showed that whatever political views people may hold, music and art will always made for the specific purpose of breaking down barriers between ordinary people all across the world.
It is my hope that the boycott will be cut short and art permitted to flow free once more in Israel. Let's keep culture as our own 'magic place', where the horrors and difficulties of this world can be put to rest, just for an hour or so.