PACBI Statement

Antonio Munoz Molina: Conscientious Writers do not Side with Apartheid

January 27, 2013

Dear Antonio Munoz Molina,

Dear Antonio Munoz Molina,

Occupied Palestine, 26 January 2013 -- We, at the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), view with great disappointment your upcoming trip to Jerusalem next month to receive the so-called Jerusalem prize from the Israeli president and mayor of Jerusalem, both deeply implicated in grave violations of human rights and international law. We hope that a personal appeal from us, a grassroots campaign that enjoys overwhelming consensus amongst Palestinian civil society, will convince you to decline this prize. [1] 

The book fair you will be attending is sponsored by the Jerusalem Municipality, a key node in the official Israeli structure of colonialism and apartheid, and a leading violator of Palestinian rights. The Municipality has, since its inception, been a major instrument in the colonization of Israeli-occupied Jerusalem, in contravention of international law. It is particularly notable for its role in promoting and deepening one of the starkest cases of urban apartheid in the world. The municipality continues to be actively involved in the illegal gradual ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians out of Jerusalem, the demolition of Palestinian homes and destruction of property, and the sustained suppression of development in the Palestinian neighborhoods as a matter of policy [2].

John Dugard, a leading international law expert and former UN rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, had this to say about the situation of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem:

“The similarities between the situation of East Jerusalemites and black South Africans [under apartheid] is very great in respect of their residency rights. We had the old Group Areas Act in South Africa. East Jerusalem has territorial classification that has the same sort of consequences as race classification had in South Africa in respect of who you can marry, where you can live, where you can go to school or hospital.” [3]

Moreover, it should be noted that the book fair is an important date on the Israel-promotion calendar, an occasion when Israel’s misleading image as a patron of book publishing and promotion of the arts in general is highlighted. The fair offers visiting fellowships to young editors, agents and scouts from around the world, in an attempt to advance the carefully crafted image of Israel as a center of world-class writing. The Jerusalem Prize is central in this deceptive campaign of diverting attention away from Israel’s persistent crimes and violations of human rights. We hope you will be able to see the connection between the event, the prize, and the relentless effort to use both to cover up the apartheid state. 

Prominent writers who accept to participate in official Israeli events and receive the state’s honors are, in fact, unwittingly lending their names to the state’s propaganda effort, which is part and parcel of the “Brand Israel” campaign. [4] Brand Israel initiatives, partially plagiarized from apartheid South Africa [5], are designed to whitewash Israel’s multi-tiered system of oppression against the Palestinian people, including its ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands; its 223 Jewish-only settlements and “outposts” built on Palestinian land in violation of international law; its apartheid wall  that further appropriates Palestinian land, also in violation of international law according to the International Court of Justice; its demolition of over 24,000 Palestinian homes since 1967; and its 2008-2009 war on Gaza, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, prompting allegations of war crimes by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission, as well as Israel’s recent onslaught on Gaza, where more than 150 Palestinian civilians were killed, including 34 children [6].  In addition, Israel has enacted over 20 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and enshrine their status as second-class citizens based on their identity.

The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, who shared the stage with the President of the Israeli state along with the mayor of Jerusalem in 2009 while accepting the Jerusalem Prize, said of his decision to accept the prize:

“One reason for my decision was that all too many people advised me not to do it. Perhaps, like many other novelists, I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. … Novelists are a special breed. They cannot genuinely trust anything they have not seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands." [7]

Did conscientious novelists need to “touch” South African apartheid before taking a moral position against it? Aren’t writers, as humans first and foremost, obligated to act by and defend the same universal principles of rights and ethical responsibility? It is difficult indeed to accept that writers occupy a privileged place as truth-seekers rather than being world citizens with a moral responsibility to speak truth to power and injustice.

Accepting an award funded by Israel, a state practicing military occupation, colonization and apartheid, and an award hand-delivered by some of this state’s worst representatives, in total disregard to a people’s non-violent movement for justice, cannot but call into question one’s actual concern for this justice. This act clearly undermines our collective and sustained struggle as a civil movement striving to affect change.

In informing your decision, we hope you will consider the comments of Mike Leigh, the prominent Jewish British filmmaker who cancelled a scheduled trip in October 2010 to lecture at the Jerusalem film school in Jerusalem, emphasizing in a media interview his support for the cultural boycott of Israel. Referring to the advice of boycott opponents for him to go to Jerusalem and make his critical statement there, Leigh said: “in so far as anything achieves anything, more publicity has come out of what I have done than would have been the case had I simply not gone, or had I gone and merely made a few statements that no one was listening to inside Israel.”[8]

Just as in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, where international solidarity played a central role in bringing down apartheid, we believe that the global BDS movement is the most effective, non-violent and morally consistent way to pressure Israel to comply with international law and recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights. Prominent international cultural figures like Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Judith Butler and Naomi Klein have given their support for BDS. Musicians and bands like Roger Waters, the late Gil Scott Heron, the Pixies, Elvis Costello, Snoop Dogg and many others have heeded our call and cancelled performances in Israel.
We hope that you will do the same. We urge you not to cross our picket line, and to take a stand in support of the struggle for freedom, justice and equality.





In 2004, inspired by the triumphant cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, PACBI issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of institutions involved in Israel’s occupation and apartheid [9].  The 2004 Palestinian call appealed to international artists to refuse to perform in Israel or participate in events that serve to equate the occupier and the occupied [10] and thus contribute to the continuation of injustice.  Following this, in 2005, an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing BDS campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality [11].  The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights standards as other nations. It is asking artists to heed the boycott call until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid." [12]



January 27, 2013


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