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

Overview

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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PACBI

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

New York, NY,  March 24, 2017 - Braving the cold and wind on Wednesday night, thirty-five New York human rights advocates protested on the sidewalk outside Israeli musician Idan Raichel’s performance at the City Winery in Manhattan. Raichel calls himself a cultural ambassador for Israel and is an outspoken and uncritical supporter of the Israeli army. Raichel regularly performs at Israeli government events as part of the government’s Brand Israel public relations campaign, which uses art and music to divert attention from Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

The protesters chanted, “Idan let us set you straight. Israel is a racist state.” And “Voice of peace? That’s a lie! Idan plays while people die!” They held signs saying, “Idan Raichel, Apartheid Tool, Not Cool,” and “Boycott Israeli Apartheid.” City Winery covered over the large glass windows that normally provide a view of their concert space from the street, possibly because the demonstration outside Raichel’s 2015 concert there was visible to Raichel and attendees inside. The protesters called on City Winery, which is hosting Raichel’s concerts in a number of cities, to end their complicity with Israeli apartheid, chanting “City Winery, don’t you see, Art should be apartheid free.” City Winery also serves a number of wines from illegal Israeli settlements.

Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 23, New York, NY—Human rights advocates welcome the decision by PEN America to hold PEN’s annual World Voices literary festival without funding from the Israeli government.
The decision followed a campaign and a call supported by leading literary figures asking the organization to reject Israeli government sponsorship. PEN America accepted Israeli government support for the World Voices Festival four of the previous five years, and despite writers’ opposition in 2016. The leading US free expression and literary organization announced its program last week for the May 2017 World Voices Festival in New York.

PEN America did not, however, offer a reason for the absence of Israeli government support for World Voices in a February 2017 email exchange with Adalah-NY and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

Document

February 6 Email from Adalah-NY and JVP to PEN America

Dear Ms. Nossel,

We are writing to reiterate the call made almost a year ago by over 100 well-known writers, poets, publishers, and other members of the literary community for PEN America to reject sponsorship from the Israeli government for the annual World Voices Festival. Twenty-two of those writers explained in more detail why they supported that call.

All of them agree that it is wrong for PEN America, an institution with the stated aim of defending writers' freedom of expression, to accept sponsorship from the Israeli government. PEN International has criticized the Israeli government for "the killings and the reported deliberate targeting of certain journalists, media organizations, and their infrastructures” and “the practice of administrative detention against journalists and other writers."

In an April 2016 meeting, you told us that being responsive “may take time and space.” Also in April, PEN International President Jennifer Clement wrote to Adalah-NY that, “PEN International shares your concern. At present we are formalizing our recommended guidelines for the world’s PEN Centres regarding funding from countries with a poor record on freedom of expression."