Tamar-kali with her band and special guest Sonny Singh at "Palestine Calling"
Brooklyn vocalist and composer Tamar-kali with her band and special guest Sonny Singh at our "Palestine Calling" event on November 14th, 2015.

Cultural Boycott

Cultural boycott is one element of the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign (BDS) called for by Palestinians and supported by people of conscience around the world.

About the Campaign

Cultural Boycott


Cultural boycott is one element of the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign (BDS) called for by Palestinians and supported by people of conscience around the world. The BDS call aims to end economic, political, cultural, and academic relations with Israel until it complies with international law by ending its occupation and colonization, recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and implementing the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

Israeli cultural institutions have been largely silent in the face of Israel’s decades-old system of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid that has denied the Palestinian people their fundamental right to freedom, justice and equality. Moreover, Israeli cultural institutions receive state funding for the explicit purpose of presenting cultural performances abroad to act as ambassadors of Israel and whitewash Israeli crimes.

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Complicity of Israeli Cultural Institutions

Virtually all Israeli cultural institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence or actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights. (PACBI Cultural Boycott Guidelines, 2010)

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Due to the complicity of Israeli cultural institutions, in July 2004 the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a statement of principles urging “colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel's occupation, colonization and system of apartheid” (emphasis in the original).

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Guidelines for International Artists

The cultural boycott call targets Israeli cultural institutions, not individual Israeli cultural workers. In October of 2010, PACBI issued “consistent and coherent criteria and guidelines that specifically address the nuances and particularities of the field of culture [that are] intended to help guide cultural workers and organizers around the world in adhering to the Palestinian call for boycott.”

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The Importance of Cultural Boycott

The impact of BDS on Israel is undeniable and quite evident in the Israeli government’s extreme response to BDS. In 2011 Israel passed the “Boycott Law” wherein anyone calling for a boycott of Israel could be sued or penalized, including the withdrawal of tax benefits, contracts, even scholarships for study, effectively criminalizing BDS inside Israel. Similarly, attempts to criminalize BDS activism are taking place in France and the United States. In June, 2015, American billionaire financier of Israeli apartheid, Sheldon Adelson organized an emergency BDS summit in Las Vegas at which he raised more than $20 million to combat BDS on US campuses. During the same weekend, Netanyahu pledged an additional NIS 100 million (about $25 million) to the Strategic Affairs and Information MInistry, most of which will go to fighting BDS, including ten new employee positions. There is no doubt that much of this response by Israel is due to the economic impact of BDS on Israel.

However, though difficult to quantify, there is no doubt that cultural boycotts have also made an impact on Israel. Calls for cultural boycott shift the discourse around Israel and the need to hold it accountable for its violations of international law. Extensive international and Israeli media coverage of cultural boycott actions provides a strong indication of the impact of cultural boycott. Whether in support of the cultural boycott or in opposition to it, numerous articles have been published about the subject promoting discussion and debate about Israeli violations of international law and human rights and the most effective response to these violations.

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Cultural Boycott and the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement

The Palestinian call for cultural boycott draws inspiration from the powerful impact that this strategy had on Apartheid South Africa. Calls for a cultural boycott of South Africa started as early as 1961, when the British Musicians Union decided that members should not perform in South Africa as long as apartheid existed. Further actions were carried out in the UK, Ireland, and the United States among a wide range of cultural workers, including actors, writers, filmmakers, and other artists.

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Campaign Achievements

PACBI provides news and articles on a number of international academic and cultural boycott initiatives since the 2004 call.

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Attacks on Palestinian Cultural Workers’ Rights

Palestinian cultural workers are not exempt from the brutality and human rights violations that characterize Israeli treatment of all Palestinians. Palestinian cultural workers have been denied visas by the Israeli military establishment, preventing them from participating in conferences and performances internationally. Artists have been detained at checkpoints, arrested, stripped of instruments, and exposed to the same violence perpetrated by the Israeli army on all Palestinians.

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Adalah-NY and Cultural Boycott

Since 2007, Adalah-NY has participated in multi-city protests of Israeli cultural groups’ performances in the US and Canada, including the Batsheva Dance Company (2009, 2010, 2012), the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (2011), Idan Raichel (2011), and the Israel Ballet (2010). We have also participated in national and international campaigns calling on Leonard Cohen, Pete Seeger, and other artists to not play apartheid.

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Collective Pledges to Uphold the Cultural Boycott of Israel

In 2006, in response to Israeli attacks against Gaza and Lebanon, over one hundred Palestinian cultural workers, supported by hundreds of international cultural workers voiced their support of the PACBI call. They appealed to international artists and filmmakers of good conscience “to cancel all exhibitions and other cultural events...in Israel, to mobilize immediately and not allow the continuation of the Israeli offensive to breed complacency.”

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Support from International Artists

A number of international cultural workers and artists have upheld the Palestinian call for cultural boycott by refusing to play in Israel, voicing their support for cultural boycott, and calling on fellow artists to uphold the call.

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Featured Items

Web Action

As part of the thoughtful, hopeful, and principled Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and out of respect for Palestinian self-determination, we affirm that "Brand Israel" is not welcome in New York and we commit to upholding the cultural boycott however we can. We will not participate in events sponsored by the Israeli government or complicit Israeli institutions in New York, Israel, or anywhere else. As a community of New York-based artists and cultural workers, we call on other artists and cultural workers to join this global movement until Israeli occupation, colonization, and apartheid have ended.

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Press Release

October 25, 2017, New York, NY - Forty-five New York human rights advocates protested outside a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) at Carnegie Hall this Wednesday evening.The IPO is a self-proclaimed cultural ambassador representing the state of Israel, helping to convey a positive image of Israel and divert attention from its human rights abuses, as part of the “Brand Israel” initiative.

Standing fifty feet from Carnegie Hall’s entrance, the protesters held signs, chanted and sang to tunes played by a radical marching band, capturing the attention of attendees and passersby. A small group of protesters from the anti-Arab hate group the Jewish Defense League came out to show support for the IPO, waving Israeli flags and displaying a sign that said “Level Gaza,” in keeping with Israel’s violent, militaristic policies.

The Orchestra is not an apolitical cultural institution. At this evening’s protest, Thai classical musician Sainatee Suárez said, “Let’s not pretend that music is a single, universal language (it is not) that magically generates rainbow bridges surpassing social and political and economic entanglements --- rather, let's directly confront the Israeli state's violent project of appropriation and erasure using the IPO as its instrument.”