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.

Chomsky clarifies position on the cultural boycott of Israel

In recent years, people promoting the mantras of ‘constructive engagement’ and ‘bridge-building’ with Israel have cited Professor Noam Chomsky in their defence. He is alleged to oppose the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005.

Artists for Palestine UK contacted Professor Chomsky to ask him to clarify his position, for the record.

He has given us this statement:

‘I am opposed to any appearance in Israel that is used for nationalistic or other propaganda purposes to cover up its occupation and denial of Palestinian human rights. I’ve been involved in activities to hold Israel accountable for its international law violations since before the BDS movement took shape. While I have some tactical differences with the BDS movement, I strongly support the actions and continue to participate in them.’

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Italian press reports opposition to state-sponsored Israeli dance performance, citing letter from Brian Eno

Batsheva Dance Company show in Jerusalem

Batsheva dancers in rehearsal in Jerusalem.                     Credit: EPA/ABIR SULTAN

 

UPDATE 11 Sept: Il Fatto Quotidiano today printed a full page interview with Eno.

eno-interview-sept2016

Italian newspapers are reporting opposition to Israeli state sponsorship of a performance by Batsheva dance company, due to take place tomorrow (Sept 6) in Turin.

La Republica has published in full a letter sent in June to Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin by composer Brian Eno, explaining why he has withdrawn permission for his music to be used in the performance. La Stampa has quoted from it and the story has been picked up by Italian news agency ANSA.

See here a translation by Stephanie Westbrook of BDS Italia of the Republica article, plus the text of Brian Eno’s letter.

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‘Beautiful resistance’ meets cynical culture-washing on Edinburgh Fringe

 

Best singers

Alrowwad singers. Picture by Phil Chetwynd

The Edinburgh Fringe’s renowned open platform for all forms of artistic expression produced a curious juxtaposition this year, as Palestinians deployed creativity to shatter the bonds of political repression while Israeli state apologists cloaked a discredited political message in threadbare cultural clothing.

The gulf between the two was demonstrated in the pages of Scotland’s press, the airwaves and in the streets, as well as in performance and display spaces across the city.

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Baaba Maal yet to announce decision on going to Israel

Baaba and Gary YoungeUPDATE 3 SEPTEMBER:  Baaba Maal actively engaged with pro-Palestinian campaigners urging him to respect the Palestinian boycott call, seeming to leave open the possibility that he would not go to Israel on September 20.

Baaba is pictured (left) in discussion with Guardian editor-at-large Gary Younge during the Africa Utopia festival at London’s Southbank Centre, where hundreds of Artists for Palestine UK leaflets were in circulation. A separate protest took place outside the building.

Younge referred to his own experience as a participant in the Palestinian Literature Festival (PalFest) in which artists were obliged to travel to meet their audiences because Palestinians are not themselves free to move around.

“Why would you go to a place where people can’t travel and there is a boycott going on?” he asked.

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Boycott message reaches Baaba Maal: please don’t play Israel’s PR game

Baab Maal WOMAD by Paul Hellyer

Baaba Maal  on stage during WOMAD 2016 (Picture credit: Paul Hellyer)                                                        

“I’ve been a fan of Baaba Maal for around a quarter century. The thought of him playing in apartheid Israel instead of showing solidarity with the Palestinian people makes no sense to me” – audience member at the WOMAD festival.

The campaign to persuade renowned Senegalese musician Baaba Maal to reconsider his decision to perform on September 20 in Occupied East Jerusalem made headway last week with his appearance at two music festivals in the UK and boycott calls spreading internationally.

Israeli citizens urged him to act in solidarity with the Palestinian people, addressing him in his own words: “I stand as one because I believe we all deserve to live in safety.”

The call was taken up in France at the same time as leaflets headlined “Baaba Maal: Don’t support apartheid Israel” were well-received by the crowd at Baaba’s gig at the WOMAD, Charlton Park, festival in southwest England on Saturday July 30. They were mentioned by Financial Times reviewer David Honigmann in his festival report.

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OPEN LETTER TO BAABA MAAL – Please don’t play in occupied East Jerusalem

Artists for Palestine UK, working together with campaigners in France, Senegal, Palestine and Israel, has addressed an open letter to the renowned West African musician Baaba Maal, urging him to withdraw from a planned appearance at an Israeli musical festival in the Old City of Jerusalem in September.  A French language version  of the letter follows the English text below.

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Art is the velvet glove on Israel’s iron fist – Brian Eno in Apollo magazine

International art magazine Apollo devotes its December double-page  Forum discussion to the question, “Are artists justified in boycotting Israel?”

The debate can be viewed online here. We review it below.
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Musicians Should Boycott Israel Until Palestinians Are Free

Musician Brian Eno, signatory of the UK Artists’ Pledge for Palestine, and Ohal Grietzer , a musician and activist with the Israeli group BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within, made the following joint contribution to public discussion about the cultural boycott of Israel on Vice.com.

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PACBI STATEMENT – Art should not be used to cover up apartheid: Boycott the Zabludowicz Art Trust!

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has issued the following statement about the Zabludowicz  Art Trust.

pacbi logo

Art should not be used to cover up apartheid: Boycott the Zabludowicz Art Trust!

Occupied Palestine, October 26, 2015 — The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) calls for a boycott of the Zabludowicz  Art Trust for its deep complicity in Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid.

The Zabludowicz Art Trust directly supports Israel’s oppression of Palestinians through its funder, The Tamares Group, which is responsible for investments in Knafaim, an Israeli­-based holding company, focused on the aviation industry, with major holdings in several Israeli companies including Kanfey Tachzuka, which provides maintenance services to the Israeli Air Force[1], notorious for its ongoing commission of war crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. Continue reading

ARTISTS’ VERDICT – CULTURAL BRIDGES WITH ISRAEL LEAD NOWHERE

Like the staircases at Hogwarts, Israel's cultural bridges can lead interminably to nowhere

Like the staircases at Hogwarts, Israel’s cultural bridges can lead interminably to nowhere

The appearance last week of some famous UK cultural names on a statement defending Israel against boycott has sparked a wave of incredulity and outrage from fellow artists.

Artists, actors, writers, editors, musicians and filmmakers are among those queuing up to defend the boycott tactic after JK Rowling, Hilary Mantel and historian Simon Schama joined well-known pro-Israel lobbyists in attacking it. Rowling and co urged cultural ‘coexistence’ and ‘dialogue about Israel and the Palestinians’ and called the Palestinian boycott campaign “divisive and discriminatory”.

“It is Israeli policies towards Palestinians which are divisive and discriminatory,” said actress Miriam Margolyes, one of more than 1000 UK artists who have signed a commitment not to cooperate with Israeli state-funded cultural institutions as long as Palestinian rights are denied.
“Artists used the tactic of boycott against apartheid in South Africa and we are doing it again in support of Palestine– because no one else is holding Israel to account,” she said.

Composer Brian Eno, one of a number whose letters were published in the Guardian on October 27, said he appreciated the desire for dialogue, “but what kind of dialogue is realistically possible between a largely unarmed and imprisoned people whose land is disappearing before its eyes, and the heavily weaponised State that’s in the process of taking it.”  Continue reading

Finally Israel and Iran find common cause – against Daniel Barenboim: Artists for Palestine UK reaction

Daniel Barenboim, Israel and Iran: an APUK statement

Newspapers in Israel, the US and Europe reported last week that Daniel Barenboim, one of the world’s foremost pianists and conductors, was planning to take a Berlin orchestra [the Staatskapelle] to Iran for a concert. Immediately, Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev stepped in to call for the concert to be cancelled:

“This melody must be stopped. Barenboim promotes an anti-Israeli line and makes sure to bash [Israel] by using culture as a lever for his anti-Israel political views.” (1)

While the world was still digesting the hypocrisy of this demand from the minister of a government which, when threatened by boycott, never fails to talk the language of ‘communication’ and ‘bridge building’, Iranian officials said that they would block the concert because of Barenboim’s Israeli citizenship:

“The conductor of Germany’s symphonic orchestra is affiliated to Israel concerning his nationality and identity ,” the Spokesman of the Culture Ministry Hossein Noushabadi told reporters in Tehran. (2)

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“Make Apartheid History” connects Palestine, South Africa and US civil rights

Artists for Palestine UK is proud to be a partner in this new initiative .

It’s time to ‘Make Apartheid History’ starting Mandela Day, Sat 18th July, 2015

Make Apartheid History, the follow-up to Bethlehem Unwrapped, launched online on Saturday 18th July, and we held our first event at London’s Southbank with a programme of poetry and prose linking civil rights, anti-apartheid, and Palestinian solidarity movements.Edited highlights of performances by Paterson Joseph, Miriam Margolyes, Kika Markham, Leila Sansour, Jeremy Hardy and Sam West are here.

Make Apartheid History is an international project that brings together creative individuals, organisations and networks from around the world – starting with Palestine and the UK; South Africa and USA – for a programme of popular events commencing summer 2015 and culminating Mandela Day, summer 2016. Our short introductory video is here. Continue reading