It is with great disappointment that the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has learned of your scheduled performance in Israel set for October 16, 2012 [i]
. Given that Israel is involved in grave violations of international law and human rights we urge you to cancel this gig until the time comes when Israel is in compliance with its obligations under international law and fully respects Palestinian rights.
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 [ii]
. We wish, in our letter to you, to stress the importance of this Palestinian call, and underscore the rationale for the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
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 [iii]
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 [iv]
. 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." [v]
Your performance in Israel would constitute a rejection of the appeal from over 170 civil society organizations that comprise thePalestinian BDS movement.
Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession and racial discrimination
Perhaps you are not familiar enough with Israel’s practices, widely acknowledged as violations of international law. If this is the case, then we hope you will reconsider your planned concert after thinking through some of Israel’s trespasses. Your performance would function as a whitewash of these practices, making it appear as though business with Israel should go on as usual. Concretely, Israel routinely violates Palestinians’ basic human rights in some of the following ways:
- Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal and unlawful military occupation. Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank. All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans.
- Palestinian citizens of Israel face a growing system of Apartheid within Israel‘s borders, with laws and policies that deny them the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people‘s daily lives. In many ways this system strikingly resembles Jim Crow and apartheid South Africa.
- Since 1948, when Israel dispossessed more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. Israel also continues to expel people from their homes in Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev). Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees still struggling for their right to return to their homes, like all refugees around the world.
- In Gaza, Palestinians have been subjected to a criminal and immoral siege since 2006. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also musical instruments from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison [[vi]].
Could you possibly perform in such a state with a clear conscience?
Israel uses arts and culture to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights.
In December 2008 and January 2009, Israel waged a war of aggression against Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians, predominantly civilians, dead [vii]
, and led the UN Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes [viii]
. In the wake of this assault and to salvage its deteriorating image, Israel has redoubled its effort to “brand” itself as an enlightened liberal democracy [ix]
. Arts and culture play a unique role in this branding campaign [x]
, as the presence of internationally acclaimed artists from the West is meant to affirm Israel’s membership in the West’s privileged club of “cultured,” liberal democracies. But it should not be business as usual with a state that routinely violates international law and basic human rights.
Your performance would serve this Israeli campaign to rebrand itself and will be used as a publicity tool by the Israeli government.
Numerous distinguished cultural figures and public intellectuals have joined the call for BDS.
After the Gaza assault and even more so after the flotilla massacre in May 2010, many international artists, intellectuals, and cultural workers have been rejecting Israel’s cynical use of the arts to whitewash its Apartheid and colonial policies. Among those who have supported the BDS movement are distinguished artists, writers, and anti-racist activists such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu [xi]
, John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Adrienne Rich, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, and Alice Walker [xii]
World-renowned artists, among them Bono, Zakir Hussain, Cat Power, Snoop Dogg, Jean Luc Godard, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart, Faithless, Cassandra Wilson, The Yes Men, Mike Leigh, and the Pixies have also cancelled their performances in or visits to Israel over its human rights record. Maxi Jazz (Faithless front-man) had this to say as he maintained his principled position not to entertain apartheid,
While human beings are being willfully denied not just their rights but their needs for their children and grandparents and themselves, I feel deeply that I should not be sending even tacit signals that [performing in Israel] is either ‘normal‘ or ‘ok‘. It‘s neither and I cannot support it. It grieves me that it has come to this and I pray everyday for human beings to begin caring for each other, firm in the wisdom that we are all we have. [xiii]
Please say no to performing in Israel.
If you remain unconvinced because of claims that a cultural boycott of Israel may infringe on freedom of expression and cultural exchange, may we recall for you the judicious words of Enuga S. Reddy, director of the United Nations Center against Apartheid, who in 1984 responded to a similar criticism voiced against the cultural boycott of South Africa by saying:
It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms... to the African majority... should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world. We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime. [xiv]
Today, Palestinian civil society groups are calling on artists to shun Tel Aviv in the same way that South African activists called on artists to boycott Sun City. All we are asking is for you to refrain from crossing a picket line called by Palestinian society, endorsed by international organizations, and increasingly supported by progressive-Israelis [xv]
. Palestinian civil society is asking this of you as the most essential contribution to their struggle to achieve peace and justice.