Artists for Palestine UK (APUK) strongly condemns threats made against British artist Kate Tempest as a result of her support for Palestinian rights. A poet, spoken word artist and author, Tempest is one of more than 1200 UK-based artists to sign APUK’s pledge to uphold the cultural boycott of Israel. This conscientious decision by so many principled artists stands in stark contrast to the shameful intimidation tactics, including personal threats, directed against Tempest, which led to the cancellation of her concert, scheduled for October 6th 2017 at Berlin’s former airport Tempelhof. Tempest’s management said that she did not want to perform in an “aggressive atmosphere”, having received “personal threats via email and over social media”, adding that they did not want to risk the safety of her team.
Last month eight artists cancelled appearances at Pop-Kultur festival in Berlin, in protest at the festival’s decision to partner with the Israeli embassy in Germany. In response, the festival organisers, media commentators and local politicians condemned these conscientious artists, often in racialised terms, and promoted straight lies about the terms and aims of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) human rights movement. As the festival drew to a close, the purveyors of this defamatory and abusive rhetoric found a new target, with Kate Tempest identified by German media as a signatory to the APUK pledge. One recent article asked, “Can an anti-Israel activist appear in Berlin?”. Another demanded the city’s Mayor Michael Müller cancel the concert.
Despite this McCarthyite campaign, which included pressure on Kate Tempest to denounce the BDS movement, Tempest has now reaffirmed her support of the cultural boycott of Israel, in a statement explaining that signing the APUK pledge in 2015 was “an act of protest”. Tempest says she is “horrified by the actions of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people”, adding that that she is “a person of Jewish descent”. APUK have spoken to Tempest’s management to express our solidarity and offer our support.
The campaign to cancel Tempest’s show and the threats against her are an outrageous and dangerous interference with freedom of artistic expression. They also represent an ugly counterpoint to the Palestinian civil society call for the cultural boycott of Israel, which targets the institutional scaffolding of apartheid, and as such does not target individuals. This shameful episode comes in the repressive context of three German cities attempting to outlaw BDS, with Berlin’s Mayor Müller recently announcing that, like Frankfurt and Munich, his city intends to prevent public funds and spaces being used by BDS activists.
This move raises the chilling spectre of artists being asked to affirm or deny their support for the Palestinian BDS movement ahead of any appearance in Germany’s major cities. APUK condemns in the strongest terms these repressive measures, which ultimately cannot succeed, as long as people of conscience continue to join Palestinians in their nonviolent struggle for human rights. APUK stands firmly in solidarity with Kate Tempest and the many other artists of conscience who support the notion that Palestinians are entitled to the same protections, rights and freedoms as the rest of humanity.
Following the artist boycott of Pop-Kultur festival, Müller had been threatened with inclusion on pro-Israel lobby group the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s annual list of the worst ‘anti-semitic’ activity.