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.

Artists stand with Ken Loach and against McCarthyism

“We are deeply troubled to learn of a McCarthyite campaign demanding Oxford University cancel a public event with director Ken Loach discussing his distinguished career in film. The campaign to silence a world-renowned artist, which has been active behind the scenes and which became public at the last minute, is using the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism to try to prevent a cultural event from taking place. If any further evidence were needed to demonstrate how a vaguely worded definition is being deployed to silence critics of Israeli policy towards Palestinians — then this is it. We have been warned by respected Palestinian academics, Israeli scholars, leading experts on antisemitism, dozens of progressive Jewish groups, and others that this definition is being used as a political weapon. We cannot fight racism, including antisemitism, by demonising and silencing supporters of Palestinian rights.”

Signed:

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Brian Eno: Artists must call out Germany’s anti-Palestinian witch-hunt

A 2019 parliamentary resolution has had a chilling effect on critics of Israeli policy. Now the cultural sector is speaking up.

  • This article was published in The Guardian under the title ‘Artists like me are being censored in Germany – because we support Palestinian rights’.

I am just one of many artists who have been affected by a new McCarthyism that has taken hold amid a rising climate of intolerance in Germany. Novelist Kamila Shamsie, poet Kae Tempest, musicians Young Fathers and rapper Talib Kwelli, visual artist Walid Raad and the philosopher Achille Mbembe are among the artists, academics, curators and others who have been caught up in a system of political interrogation, blacklisting and exclusion that is now widespread in Germany thanks to the passing of a 2019 parliamentary resolution. Ultimately this is about targeting critics of Israeli policy towards Palestinians.

Recently, an exhibition of my artwork was cancelled in its early stages because I support the nonviolent, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The cancellation was never publicly declared, but I understand it to have been the consequence of cultural workers in Germany fearing that they and their institution would be punished for promoting someone labelled as “antisemitic”. This is the work of tyranny: create a situation where people are frightened enough to keep their mouths shut, and self-censorship will do the rest.Advertisement

But as my own story is relatively minor, I’d like to tell you about my friend, musician Nirit Sommerfeld.

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Brian Eno: Israel must not be allowed to use Eurovision as a propaganda tool

Brian Eno’s op-ed is published in today’s Guardian, and copied below.

“Those of us who make art and culture for a living thrive on free and open communication. So what should we do when we see culture becoming part of a political agenda? “Music unites,” says UK Eurovision entrant Michael Rice. What happens when a powerful state uses art as propaganda, to distract from its immoral and illegal behaviour? Everybody involved in the Eurovision song contest this year should understand that this is what is happening.

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DJs, producers, electronic musicians join boycott of Israel en masse

Today a stream of DJs, producers, record labels, electronic musicians are speaking up for Palestine and endorsing the cultural boycott of Israel. Using the hashtag #DJsForPalestine, these artists and cultural producers say they are supporting the Palestinian call for boycott as a peaceful protest against the occupation, “for as long as the Israeli government continues its brutal and sustained oppression of the Palestinian people”.

This collective action follows the pattern of a similar wave of bands, including  Portishead and Wolf Alice, who came out in protest using the hashtag #ArtistsForPalestine, shortly after Israel’s massacre of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza this May.

Caribou, the Discwoman collective, Laurel Halo, The Black Madonna, Ben UFO, Tessela, Truants, Ciel, DEADBOY, FourTet, Room4Resistance and many, many more joined together for this action.   Some artists added personal messages, for example Ben Thomson / UFO explained:

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Jamiroquai, will you stand with the Palestinians?

Dear Jamiroquai,

We write to ask you to cancel your concert in Israel. We do so knowing that band members are not indifferent to the situation in Palestine. In a 2008 interview, Jay Kay said, ‘Ask me something else; Ask me about the situation in Palestine’.

If we asked you about the situation in Palestine today, you’d probably know  that it has greatly deteriorated since 2008, with three prolonged bombing campaigns by Israel on Gaza. The besieged Strip is, according to the United Nations, ‘unlivable’, and there’s an ever expanding colonisation of land in the Palestinian West Bank. Continue reading

Israeli cultural whitewash fails to impress at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

For the second August in a row, advocates for Israel have used Edinburgh’s huge annual cultural gathering as cover for an attempt to whitewash the state’s decades of oppression and racist discrimination against Palestinians.

Under the rubric of coexistence and cultural cooperation, this year’s International Shalom Festival, staged over three days at a community secondary school, sought to avoid the opprobrium heaped upon its blatantly propagandistic 2016 incarnation.

Last year the event’s organisers, known for working with the Israeli Embassy to undermine and oppose campaigning work in support of Palestinian rights, proudly proclaimed it as a major “Israel advocacy” initiative. This year the same groups – the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (COFIS) and StandWithUs – have tried to entice audiences with a vision of Israel as a haven of tolerance and harmony offering “real examples of coexistence”.

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Artswatch Palestine: February-March 2017

Introduction
‘Artswatch’ is a regular digest that monitors attacks on Palestinian cultural life. Such attacks are a constant and shocking part of  a long-term campaign that attempts to undermine Palestinian collective identity and resilience. The pattern of this systemic abuse is overlooked by the mainstream media,  yet is testimony to the fact that  ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘free cultural exchange’ are privileges that have never been extended to Palestinians by Israel. This fact demands an urgent response from international artists in particular.

[Photo: T Suárez. Palestine Philharmonie: Amandine Beyer demonstrating a phrase to (left to right) Lamar Elias, Carol Ibrahim, Gandhi Saad, and Lourdina Baboun. ]

raiding jenin

Rania Wasfi, program coordinator at The Freedom Theatre, whose home was turned over by the army.

The Jenin Freedom Theatre website reported on 27th March a raid by Israeli soldiers on the home of its co-ordinator, Rania Wasfi.

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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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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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Israel’s war on Palestinian media – Why no protest from the UK government?

In March 2016, Israel continued its assault on Palestinian media organisations by closing down the TV station, Palestine Today, and arresting some of its staff. The British government, so vocal at other times in its defence of ‘democratic values’, responded only with silence.  The APUK collective sent this letter to the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, to request that he apply the principles that apparently underpin his government’s domestic policy, to relations with Britain’s allies overseas. We await a reply.

Israeli troops invading Palestinian radio station. Picture:Palestine News Network.

Israeli troops invading Palestinian radio station. Picture:Palestine News Network.

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Strategy of Silencing: What Britain does for its ally Israel

In its determination to assist Israel in silencing criticism, the British government betrays the values of freedom and tolerance that it claims to see as fundamental. This article, written by a member of the Artists for Palestine UK collective, charts the resulting pattern of attacks on the rights of Israel’s critics in Britain, from local councils to academics and arts organisations.

 

2016 began with ringing declarations about British liberty. David Cameron’s New Year message to the nation contrasted the freedom and tolerance of ‘our way of life’ with the ‘poisonous narrative of grievance and resentment’ laid out by ‘murderous extremists’, seething with hatred for the west.

These are claims that have come to sound more hollow with every month that passes. Domestically, the Prevent strategy operationalises the defence of ‘freedom’ with an apparatus of reporting and repression which extends across schools, universities and the NHS – some NHS trusts have made it mandatory for staff to attend Prevent workshops.  In its foreign policy, Cameron’s government holds firmly to alliances with states which are deeply committed to the oppression of the populations they rule over: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, to name only the most prominent. Turkey, a NATO member, uses airstrikes against its Kurdish population without reaction from the defenders of freedom. Saudi Arabia kills its opponents, and is met only with an expression of ‘disappointment’ from a British junior minister.

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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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Welsh gallery censors exhibition on historic Palestine after complaints by Zionist groups

An artist based in Wales whose work on the Nakba was censored following complaints from local Zionist groups, has said the actions ‘amount to the defacement of a piece of art and a censoring of artistic expression, something that should not happen anywhere in Britain, let alone at a publicly funded arts organisation.’

James Morris wrote to the management of Clwyd Theatre Cymru, after a decision was taken – without consulting the artist – to remove the captions accompanying his photographic series, Time and Remains, during the final week of a six-week exhibition at the theatre’s Oriel Gallery. In his letter to the Welsh theatre, he informed them he would be cancelling his scheduled artist’s talk on Friday 6 March, adding that ‘Any talk or public debate which could now take place would have to focus on what my exhibition has become, a censored art piece. It would have to be rescheduled and readvertised as such.’

The series, also known as ‘That Still Remains,’ documents the ‘scattered remains from across the country of the now historic Palestinian presence in much of Israel’s landscape.’ Morris is an artist and not a campaigner or activist. He writes in his introductory text the history that give his photographs their meaning:  Continue reading