BNC Statement

Great Songs of Indifference?: Bob Geldof, do not Ignore the Call

May 9, 2011
/ By /

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has recently learned that you are scheduled to accept an honorary degree from Ben Gurion University (BGU) in May, as well as participate in a conference titled “Israeli involvement in Africa: Past, Present and Future,” that will be organized by the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has recently learned that you are scheduled to accept an honorary degree from Ben Gurion University (BGU) in May, as well as participate in a conference titled “Israeli involvement in Africa: Past, Present and Future,” that will be organized by the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid. Since it is clearly your anti-poverty work and dedication to humanitarian causes that has drawn people’s attention to you, we urge you to reconsider your plans to participate in this forum and to accept a degree sponsored by an Israeli institution.

You have no doubt already heard of the calls for you not to accept the honorary degree from BGU made by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine [1]and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign [2]. Our partners in Britain and Ireland gave impassioned and thoughtful reasons for you to simply heed PACBI’s call to boycott such events.

In 2004, Palestinians called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel appealing to international artists to refuse to perform in Israel or participate in events that serve to equate the occupier and the occupied [3] and thus promote the continuation of injustice.  Following this, in 2005, Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality [4].  The BDS call has been widely endorsed by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations and represents the collective work of grassroots organizations throughout occupied Palestine in our non-violent resistance to oppression. The BDS movement is asking artists, academics and cultural workers to heed our 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" [5].  In light of our call, your upcoming visit would violate the appeal of the Palestinian BDS movement which urges people of conscience throughout the world to isolate Israel until it ends its colonial and apartheid oppression of the Palestinian people, as was done to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

At a time when fellow artists are taking a stand against Israel’s crimes against Palestinians, it would be a travesty for you to do anything less [6]. Musicians like Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, the Pixies and Gil Scott-Heron have eloquently explained their principled stand and others like director Ken Loach and art critic John Berger have worked tirelessly in support of our boycott. In addition, support for BDS has grown tremendously through its endorsement by groups that include the international alliance of Artists Against Apartheid [7], South-African Artists Against Apartheid [8], Creative Workers Union of South Africa, 500 Montreal artists [9], and closer to home for you, 200 Irish artists [10]. With this kind of international support, our movement is growing and can no longer be ignored. In light of Israel’s terrible abuse of Palestinian basic human rights, contentious artists and humanitarians have acted to condemn blatant violations of rights.

Specifically, regarding your invitation to accept an honorary degree from Ben Gurion University (BGU), it is important to note the blatant connections between BGU and the illegal and immoral practices and polices of the state of Israel. These connections most recently led the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in South Africa to take the bold and historic move of severing its institutional ties with BGU citing BGU’s complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, as well as the BGU’s own discriminatory practices against Palestinians [11].  To accept an award from such an institution would send a message that BGU can continue its complicity in Israel’s violation of international law, and still receive international acclaim and publicity by honoring respected moral figures such as you.  Our partners in South Africa, who have lived under apartheid, have understood that we cannot engage with BGU and Israel’s institutions.  We hope you will arrive at similar conclusions by rejecting the honorary degree.

Your participation in a conference, moreover, that focuses on Africa and Israel’s role in the contemporary history of aid to the continent is nothing short of ironic. Given recent scholarship on the area, the nefarious role of Israeli political, economic and military involvement throughout the continent is certainly nothing to celebrate. In particular, Israel’s historic relationship with Apartheid South Africa is a revealing narrative of oppressive states supporting each other [12].

Though it seems your presence will shed light on your humanitarian work, in reality, your invitation is nothing more than a part of an effort to whitewash the well-established criminal record of the Israeli state. Israel is a state defined by its oppression of the indigenous Palestinian population of the land. Israel’s practices have historically worked to nullify the mere existence of Palestinians. Israel, through its unlawful military occupation of the West Bank, restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and speech, denies basic human rights like access to education, and maintainsa policy of stealing land and sustenance from the occupied Palestinian population. Israel continues to build its illegal Apartheid wall on Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans.

Furthermore, in its horrible system of Apartheid towards Palestinian citizens of Israel, an institutionalized system of laws and policies afford rights and protections on an exclusivist and ethnically defined basis. While these sorts of racist laws have been condemned throughout the world, they remain standard Israeli practice. This is not a matter of simple inequality, but rather, a persistent system of legally and institutionally sanctioned discrimination, defined clearly in international law as a “crime of apartheid” [13].

In addition, Israel’s illegal and criminal siege of Gaza continues well after the brutal attacks it waged in 2009 that left 1400 people, mostly civilians, dead.In Gaza, where Israeli policy has tragically condemned 1.5 million Palestinians to life under incarceration in the world’s largest open-air prison, these conditions cannot possibly be understood – let alone accepted - by any persons who believe in any conception of basic human rights and dignity. From this prison of Gaza, across Palestine and throughout the vast lands of our diaspora, Palestinians have been denied the internationally recognized right of return as refugees who were ethnically cleansed in 1948. Today, more than seven million Palestinian refugees continue to struggle for their right to return to their homes.

Gaza today is once again being targeted. It seems the brutal war waged on this small prison is not over. Israeli bombs continue to pour on Gaza and continue to kill innocent civilians creating one humanitarian disaster after another.

Do not whitewash these crimes. As you have advocated and fought for the world to see and act on their humanity, do not ignore your own and lend your name and presence to this oppressive state.

We leave you with the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who recently noted in a historic statement unequivocally supporting the Palestinian boycott campaign against Israel:

I never tire of speaking about the very deep distress in my visits to the Holy Land; they remind me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like we did when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. My heart aches. I say, 'Why are our memories so short?' Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their own previous humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? … When we say 'Never again!’ do we mean 'Never again!’, or do we mean 'Never again to us!’? [14]














[12] Sasha Polakow-Suransky. The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010.



Original letter can be found here:


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