Artists must reject ‘bothsidesism’ – because it serves the powerful and entrenches injustice

Artists for Palestine UK is troubled that the British Actors Network (BAN) has chosen to host an organisation that is funded by the UK government and currently promoted by education secretary, Gavin Williamson, called ‘Solutions Not Sides’. The event is billed as an educational workshop for actors that aims to promote ‘conflict resolution’ as an approach for understanding the situation in Israel-Palestine. 

A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “the crime of apartheid and persecution” against the Palestinian population. We are saddened that BAN, an organisation that is working to challenge abuses of power in theatre and film, does not recognise that it is inappropriate and misleading to apply a conflict resolution model while the very grave crimes of apartheid and persecution – with all the violence and trauma these entail – persist.

When BAN invited expressions of interest from the acting community in a Solutions Not Sides event, we were highly critical because the framing appeared not to centre Palestinian lives.  We were delighted that BAN responded to our criticism on social media by publicly inviting us to submit an alternative event proposal for consideration.  Since sending a proposal for an event for and by artists on anti-racism, internationalism and Israel-Palestine, we have heard nothing.  In a follow up letter to Helen Raw, the person behind BAN, we outlined our concerns.

Today we are making this letter public in the hope of shining a light on some of the issues at stake.

“Our network is very concerned that BAN is engaging an organisation that uses an ‘anti-extremism’ framework – rather than a human rights and international law framework – to discuss British responses to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Framing the issue in this way presents a dehumanising and distorted narrative about what is taking place, about what Palestinians are asking for, and about the nature of antiracist solidarity. 

We sincerely admire your determination to challenge bullying and harassment within the industry, in a way that forces us to recognise unequal power relationships and how these work to silence victims of abuse.

We would never adopt a ‘conflict resolution’ approach to, say, the context of an abusive senior producer and young actor who has been victimised. Doing so would compound an abusive relationship because it erases the unequal power between the two sides, treating them as though they are the same.  This would benefit the powerful and silence the powerless. Instead, we would campaign to hold the powerful accountable before the law and we would amplify the voice of victims, as you are doing in your work.

By invoking a narrative of ‘extremists on both sides’, projects like Solutions Not Sides work to deny the fundamental abuses that are taking place, and seek to attribute blame to victim and perpetrator alike.  This is why SNS is promoted by the UK government and Israel advocacy organisations in the UK. Its approach is not supported any human rights organisations, and certainly no Palestinian groups or organisations. 

We appreciate your desire to make a positive intervention, and strongly feel that the Solutions Not Sides approach is one-sided and damaging. We hope you will consider a different approach, and are ready to help in any way.” 

Artists for Palestine UK urges people in theatre and film to fully engage with anti-racist, feminist and internationalist movements, and work to amplify the voices of marginalised people. They should also reject approaches that fail to hold the powerful to account – whether within our own industries, or when it comes to Israel’s military occupation of Palestine.

photo: Palestinian commuters caged as they approach an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West bank

Thousands of artists call for an end to complicity with Israeli apartheid

It is as if a dam has burst. The last few days have seen an unprecedented outpouring of solidarity with Palestinians from artists and cultural organisations around the world.  Half a century ago, there was massive support for a cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa. Now, artists and cultural workers are mobilising on a similar scale against Israel’s system of apartheid, calling variously for boycotts, practical acts of solidarity with Palestinians and, in particular, an end to co-operation with cultural organisations that are complicit with apartheid.

On May 23rd, ‘Against Apartheid’, a letter signed by many leading Palestinian authors and artists, was endorsed by more than 1,300 international artists, writers and actors including Sally Rooney, Deborah Levy, Cornelia Parker, Alejandro Iñárritu, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Irons, Richard Ford, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alia Shawkat, and Tony Kushner. The letter, which referenced the 2021 report by Human Rights Watch which found Israel guilty of ‘crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution’, said:

‘We call on activists, and especially our peers in the arts, to exercise their agency within their institutions and localities to support the Palestinian struggle for decolonization to the best of their ability. Israeli apartheid is sustained by international complicity, it is our collective responsibility to redress this harm’.

May 25th saw more than 500 visual artists each posting a statement with the hashtag #VisualArtsforPalestine. The statement pledged to

‘refuse to exhibit or sell to Israeli and international arts institutions that are complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses’.

The artists included 2019 Turner Prize winners Tai Shani, Lawrence Abu-Hamdan, Helen Cammock and Oscar Murillo, as well as Meriem Benani, Juliana Huxtable, Cassils, Patrick Staff, Yto Barrada, Luke Fowler, Eddie Peake, Oreet Ashery, Harold Offeh, Andrew Kotting, Georgina Starr, John Smith, Benedict Drew and White Pube.

Meanwhile, London’s The Mosaic Rooms published a call to cultural organisations, artists and writers that attracted hundreds of signatures including Francis Alÿs, Jeremy Deller, Elizabeth Price, Mark Wallinger, Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S.), Guerilla Girls, Rosalind Nashashibi, Larry Achiampong,  Adam Chodzko, Paul Hobson, Director of  Modern Art Oxford; Jonathan Watkins, Director of Ikon Gallery; Sarah McCrory, Director of Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art; Judith Carlton, Director of Southwark Park Galleries, and Barjeel Art Foundation. 

Their statement read:

‘As an artist, writer, thinker or worker in an institution, you have the agency to share information and to implement change.’ 

It asked signatories to commit to several actions including:

Refuse: funding from the Israeli government and from private funders who support its illegal occupation.

Language: use terms which make visible the Palestinian experience, including Palestine, occupation, dispossession, ethnic cleansing, settler colonialism, and apartheid.

Open: your programme and your collection to artists, collectives, initiatives and galleries who are led by non-mainstream or radical voices, including artists in Palestine, and fund and support their participation.

Elsewhere in the art world, ArtForum and Hyperallergic reported that the 600+ artists, activists, curators, writers, and gallerists who make up ‘BDZ’, or the Boycott/Divest Zabludowicz group, had condemned the forced displacement of Palestinians in Jerusalem, and reiterated their call for arts professionals to boycott the Zabludowicz Arts Trust. The artists denounced Poju Zabludowicz’s ties to the pro-Israel lobby and the Israeli Air Force. Their statement explained:

‘All contracts drawn up with the Zabludowicz Arts Trust are simultaneously contracts drawn up with Tamares Group1. All cultural engagement with the Zabludowicz Arts Trust – from artistic sales to gallery visits, from online promotion to project commissions – are complicit with structural oppression.’

On May 27th, a group of over 600 musicians calling themselves #MusiciansForPalestine published an open letter. The letter brought together an extraordinary range of artists including Rage Against the Machine, Patti Smith, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Arcade Fire, Run the Jewels, Noname, Chromeo, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Fred Wreck, and A-Trak. The artists said: 

‘We call for you to join us in refusing to perform at Israel’s complict cultural organisations and by standing firm in your support of the Palestinian people and their human right to sovereignty and freedom’

The letter was covered by CNN, Billboard, Pitchfork and other outlets.

On May 28th the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers announced its’ support for the Palestinian-led movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and urged cultural workers to collectively withhold their labour in solidarity with Palestinians.

After demonstrations by Palestinian citizens of Israel were violently suppressed by Israeli police and groups of racist thugs began attacking Palestinians on the street and in their homes, the pioneering Palestinian hip-hop group DAM launched an appeal (May 13th) on behalf of the the Palestinian community in Lydda, calling for International protection now for the Indigenous Palestinians from Israeli state-sanctioned pogroms!

‘We, members of the Palestinian hip-hop band DAM, living in Lydda (Lydd), survived with our brothers & sisters in Lydda, Ramla, Haifa, Jaffa, Akka and elsewhere, a racist attack by far-right Israeli extremists last night. We join the majority of our people in calling for immediate international intervention to defend us before it is too late.’

More than 1,000 international cultural figures went on to sign a statement in solidarity with the community of Lydda, which was published on May 25th. Signatories included artists Molly Crabapple and Rehab Nazzal; scholars Judith Butler and Angela Davis; and authors Rachel Kushner and Ottessa Moshfegh.

At the same time, other groups of cultural workers were mobilising. Members of the children’s picture book industry KidLit4Palestine published an open letter, ‘Solidarity with Palestinian Liberation’. It said:

 ‘We note that the industry has largely maintained its silence on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine’ 

and stated that its’ signatories 

‘stand unequivocally in solidarity with Palestinians as they resist colonisation’. 

Architects and planners also spoke out fiercely, in a statement entitled: Architecture and Urban Planning Organizations Stand in Solidarity for Palestine. Signed by over 250 organisations from around the world, it said:

 “We recognise that architecture and planning continue to be used by Israel to consolidate and extend its illegal occupation of Palestinian”

It went on:

‘We commit to amplify the voices, stories, and histories of Palestinian people in their struggle for justice and freedom from occupation, through the following:

1.    Pressuring our institutions to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions and refusing to engage in partnerships with entities that enact or implement Israel’s apartheid policies.

2.    Supporting student, faculty and staff activism for justice in Palestine

3.    Holding accountable those who undermine academic freedom within our institution by silencing, threatening or bullying students, staff, and faculty who speak up against Israeli State violence

4.   As we teach about architecture and planning’s complicity in settler colonialism and apartheid, we commit to teaching about Palestine by centering Palestinian scholarship and experience’.

The Arab Free Cinema Network released a statement on May 22nd, asserting their belief in cinema ‘as a form of resistance’ and affirming their support for the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). They stated their refusal to cooperate with Israeli film festivals, and called on other film-makers to do the same.

Artists for Palestine UK launched the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine in 2015. It has attracted over 1400 signatories from across the arts, many in the past two weeks, with artists committing to refuse to work with complicit Israeli organisations. We are proud to play our part amid the inspiring groundswell of solidarity and pressure for meaningful change.

Artists’ Pledge for Palestine

We salute the commitment and energy of so many artists, activists and organisations working together to further the cause of justice and freedom for Palestinians.

Notes

1 Zabludowicz Arts Trust was founded by Poju Zabludowicz, the founder, major funder, and former director of BICOM (Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre). BICOM lobbies the UK government, the main political parties in the UK and the British mainstream media on behalf of Israel. Poju is also founder and director of Tamares Group, a global private investment group with real estate interests that in the past have included illegal settlements on Palestinian land. In 1994, Poju inherited his family arms dealing business and most of the defence interests were sold. Today, it is now controlled through Tamares Group, which continues to invest in Knafaim Holdings Ltd, offering ‘military aircraft maintenance services’ to the Israeli Air Force via various maintenance contracts.

Israel Must Be Held To Account For Ongoing Violence Against Palestinians

We share with millions our anger at the indiscriminate and pitiless bombing of the Gaza Strip; at the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah; at the armed invasion of the Al-Aqsa compound during the holy month of Ramadan; at the brutal attacks on peaceful protests in the Occupied West Bank, and on Palestinian citizens of Israel in towns within Israel. All this must stop immediately.


The violence the Israeli authorities are meting out is the same violence that has displaced, repressed and fragmented Palestinians since the Nakba of 1948, when over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forcibly removed from their homes. Israel’s policy of forced displacement, and the ongoing police repression that punishes any form of protest or peaceful resistance by Palestinians, has been taking place in many forms for decades, often without it registering in our news media. Continue reading

Palestinian artists & cultural organisations call on internationals to cancel engagements in Israel

Palestinian artists and cultural organisations in Gaza and beyond have written an appeal for solidarity from all those who work in the arts internationally. We are proud to publish their letter below.

We members of the Palestinian cultural and artistic community in the besieged and occupied Gaza Strip, across historic Palestine and in exile make this heartfelt appeal to our fellow artists from around the world to cancel all scheduled performances, exhibitions and appearances in Israel, or sponsored by the Israeli government or complicit Israeli institutions, whether in-person or online, for as long as Israel’s regime of military occupation and apartheid persists. 

In the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Israel’s war crimes and violations of international law are proceeding with unprecedented impunity. Even in fighting the pandemic, Israel is revealing its appalling racism, a fact that should trouble people of conscience everywhere.

Israel has dumped Palestinian laborers suspected of having coronavirus at military checkpoints “with no regard for their health or safety,” as video footage shows. It has destroyed a makeshift Palestinian clinic that was planned to care for coronavirus victims in the occupied Jordan Valley. It has also denied COVID-19 testing to entire communities of Indigenous Palestinian citizens of Israel, and irrefutably discriminated in making updated and accurate coronavirus information available in Arabic to the Palestinian community in a timely manner. 

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Leading artists condemn Israeli raids on Palestinian cultural centres & call for sanctions

Photo: Edward Said National Conservatory of Music by Ahdaf Soueif for PalFest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

  • Massive Attack, Steve Coogan, Peter Gabriel, Maxine Peake, Philip Pullman and Benjamin Zephaniah are among 60+ cultural figures to put their names to an open letter condemning attacks on key Palestinian cultural centres.
  • The letter says the attacks are ‘part of a well-documented campaign of harassment and intimidation, arrests, home demolitions and forced evictions’ by the Israeli government. 
  • Brian Eno: ‘These raids … seem designed to break the morale of the Palestinian people, to deny them the last thing that they actually own: their culture ’
  • The artists call for ‘targeted and lawful sanctions’ against Israel.

Signatories to the letter include:

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Judy Joo: Please stand with Palestinians

* In Gaza 97% of water is currently contaminated by sewage and/or salt due to the ongoing blockade of 1.7 million Palestinians living there (Oxfam)

Judy Joo is a chef, writer and restaurateur. We love the creativity of her work at London’s  Jinjuu — but we hate apartheid, so we’re hoping Joo will turn down the Israeli government-sponsored ‘Tel Aviv Round Tables’ food festival.  More than 70 chefs and food writers in the US are choosing to speak out against Israel’s violation of Palestinian land rights, water rights and basic human rights. Please join them Judy Joo!

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Fans ask Eddie Izzard – “Don’t support Apartheid Israel”

Eddie Izzard leaflet

Click image to download 2-sided PDF flyer

UK comedian Eddie Izzard is known for his opposition to apartheid South Africa. He played gigs for the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 1980s. In 2016, as part of a charity fund-raising effort, he ran 27 marathons in 27 days to honour the 27 years Nelson Mandela spent in prison . And yet, despite pleas from fellow artists in the UK and Palestine, he is scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv on March 30, in breach of the Palestinian boycott which challenges Israel’s continuing Apartheid regime.

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