Rejecting Palestinian calls, Native American poet Joy Harjo entertains apartheid at Tel Aviv University

Despite appeals from thousands of people all over the world, Native American peers, and Palestinian civil society, poet and musician Joy Harjo has rejected pleas to cancel her performance at Tel Aviv University and respect a Palestinian call for boycott.

Since plans of her performance became known a few days ago, Harjo heard appeals to heed the boycott from prominent Native American scholars, and 2,300 people signed a petition launched by USACBI, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

On 8 December, PACBI, the Palestinian group spearheading the boycott campaign worldwide, added its voice in an open letter:

Tel Aviv University, as other Israeli academic institutions, is notorious for its deep and well documented collaboration with the Israeli military and intelligence establishment, its racially exclusivist university policy towards Palestinian citizens of Israel, and its refusal to acknowledge its past and to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian village on which grounds it was built.

Listing the prominent international artists who have heeded the Palestinian call, including U2, the Pixies, Gorillaz Sound System, Gil Scott Heron, Elvis Costello, Roger Waters and Alice Walker, the letter urged:

We hope that you will not be persuaded by the argument that music builds bridges and can bring smiles to people’s faces, thus hopefully spreading a message of peace. Any message of peace you hope to bring will be drowned by Israel’s well-oiled publicity that will use you to rebrand itself as a normal state that promotes music and culture and present your appearance as an endorsement of its policies.

Invisible “support” for Harjo’s performance

But in a message on her Facebook page this morning, Harjo justified her decision to go ahead with the performance. Her message read in part:

I will perform at the university as I promised, to an audience that will include Palestinian students. The students have written in support of me being here. I will let the words and music speak for that place beyond those who would hurt and destroy for retribution, or to be right. It is my hope that my choice will generate discussion and understanding for many paths to justice.

Harjo also condemned what she called an “atmosphere of censure” around her decision. But in contrast to the outpouring of Palestinian calls on Harjo to cancel her performance, her claim that some Palestinian students supported it could not be substantiated.

Of the dozens of comments left on her Facebook page over recent days by users identifying themselves as Palestinians, messages supporting her performance were not immediately apparent. Most messages seemed to be calling on her to heed the boycott.

A comment by Facebook user “lamisfalasteen,” in response to Harjo’s message this morning, was typical:

You acknowledge that the Palestinian situation is similar to that of your people, and yet you ignore calls for support. Palestinian civil society has asked that people of conscience heed their call for cultural and academic boycott. It is our non-violent way to resist the occupation.

Over 2,000 people asked you to cancel your performance, and you cite a few Palestinian students in your audience voicing their support for you being there as a justifiable reason to break the boycott?

“When someone like you performs for Israel, it allows people to interpret your performance as a political statement supporting the occupation,” lamisfalasteen concluded.





I stand in solidarity with the call for Joy Harjo to not perform in apartheid Israel and to not give implicit support to the settler-colonial regime's occupation of historic Palestine.

I would like to call attention to Arab Palestinians' critique of apartheid Israeli racist treatment of all Palestinians but yet maintain a veil of silence on their anti-Afrikan racism against Afrikan Palestinians.

Why is it so easy for Palestinian Arabs to see anti-Afrikan racism under the former apartheid regime in Azania (South Afrika) but are oblivious to the same within their midst?

Isn't is great to see the muscular demonstration of solidarity by Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Cynthia Mckinney, and other Afrikans in defending the right to self-determination of all Palestinians? When will we see a reciprocal expression of solidarity among Palestinian Arabs in challenging the presence
and practice of anti-Afrikan racism within their midst?

Folks cannot go around pimping (sampling?) the language, strategy, tactics and the moral claims from the struggles of Afrikan people across the world while being agents of oppression of our people. We are not building the basis for solid and principled allyship with such a hypocritical stance.

Are we witnessing a twisted sort of solidarity between the settler-colonial regime and Palestinians Arabs on the question of anti-Afrikan racism? Solidarity forever?

Check out this story on the subject of anti-Afrikan racism from Arab Palestinians against their Afrikan compatriots:

PALESTINE: Black, Proud and Palestinian > Souciant


I find it difficult to understand how people would expect an improvement in minority rights in a place where majority rights are inexistent. Look around the world, do societies evolve starting with minority rights or do they get to that gradually after majority rights are granted & strengthened? People criticizing the Palestinians for not working on improving the rights of minorities like those of African descent, homosexuals & all other minority groups in the population demonstrate a seriously distorted logic. Societies & their cultures can only evolve positively once normal & decent living conditions are afforded to their populations, & in the case of the Palestinians, these conditions are obviously non-existent. One of the by-products of living under occupation & segregation is a loss of progressive cultural evolution & an atmosphere of conservatism. Asking the Palestinians to therefore focus on minorities when, as a majority, they are persecuted & humiliated each day is seriously misguided & demonstrates a lack of understanding of how it is that societies evolve in the first place. I should also note that when black Palestinians are treated better than other Palestinians by Israelis, it's precisely because they are presumed to be non-Palestinian, which although mentioned in the article you refer to, is not explored in relation to anti-Palestinian racism. I'd expect people everywhere to press hard in their demand for equal rights for Palestinians & an end to their colonization & segregation so that they could live in a society that could naturally evolve to a point where minorities could enjoy understanding & full-inclusion. Criticisms such as yours would be constructive when that reality materializes. But until then, such criticisms, even if accompanied with support for the Palestinian cause, are incredibly narrow-sighted and portray a lack of understanding of the conditions that the Palestinians live in & how these conditions affect their society on all levels.


Elna, based on your stance on human rights, are you suggesting that Palestinian journalists or prisoners should not be preoccupied with questions about their rights because they are minorities and they should wait until Palestinians have won the restoration of their national rights over historic Palestine?

The power to not be racist exists within the hands of Arab Palestinians and I do not believe that they are going to attribute their anti-Afrikan racism to the occupation/settler-colonialism. This form of racism racism predated the occupation.

I have listened to an interview with an Afrikan Palestinian man who stated that Afrikans are discriminated against by the occupation on account of being Palestinians and Afrikans.

I trust that you are conversant with the racist treatment of Afrikan refugees and Ethiopian settlers under Israeli apartheid. Why would white Zionists act different in how they relate to Afrikan Palestinians in the territories-cum-bantustans and inside Israel?

The only people who are going to state that oppressed groups should wait their turn for freedom until after the revolution are those who are of dominant social identities or are deluded or whose consciousness of emancipation has been colonized by the dominant groups within the oppressed population.

We must build the road as we travel. I trust that you have even a passing acquaintance with the self-serving notion of men during the anti-colonial struggles of the 1950, 1960s and 1970s that called on women to not bring the Woman Question to the fore because it would divide the national liberation struggle. The men did not deal with patriarchy after decolonization.

Afrikan Palestinians would be making a grave mistake in not addressing anti-Afrikan racism from their Arab compatriots now!

Freedom is indivisible and we do not live our varied identities in compartments. Oppression is interconnected. Therefore, we have to fight all forms of domination at the same time.


On Facebook, she writes: "... an audience [in Tel Aviv] that will include Palestinian students. The students have written in support of me being here". So she did *not* specify the writen support to "Palestinian students". It says "students" in general.

And Harjo claims to be aware of USACBI call for boycott (and the friend & collegue email) only when she landed in Tel Aviv probably early on Friday, December 7th. Strange then that with three days (two nights) until her performance (Monday evening, December 9th) it was "too late".

And no Joy Harjo, the campaign was not "to force a boycott" or to "atmosphere of censure" (as you wrote on FB, December 10). You were asked to reconsider. By the very Palestinian people you claim to care and know about.


I should correct: her "early flight" probably left Friday morning 7th from the U.S., arriving same Friday evening (or later that night) in Israel. The presentation was Monday 10th at 16.00h.

Still, that leaves Saturday, Sunday and Monday to think about the USACBI request.


Astonishing and appalling. Today, there is Israeli ethnic clearance in Palestine, recently there was South African apatheid, but first there was the colonial massacre of the native Americans. This lady must have read "Trail of Tears" and if she can't see the carbon copy in Palestine, something is wrong somewhere.


Of course, it wouldn't have been easy to say to her hosts, to their face, "sorry, but I have changed my mind". However, it is the kind of guts one would expect an activist to have.


Joy Harjo should read Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and weep the way i did then think about what the Palestinian people have been going through since 1948.


"The morning after I left on my journey I received an email from a friend and colleague. He asked me to reconsider my trip. This was the first I learned of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. I was puzzled at this request at such a late hour because this colleague had known of my plans to go to Tel Aviv for while."

Why was it the colleague's responsibility to ask her to respect the boycott,
and not Harjo's responsibility to know about the boycott?

Can we really believe she is a solidarity activist?


With every respect Joy Harjo,and like many others unfamiliar with the situation in the Ocupied Territories you appear to believe artistict expression, be it poetry or music, have the power to transcend the horrific every day realities of Israel's illegal Occuation. They do not.

Successive Israeli government are dedicated to the demise of the Palestinian people, a history you are not unfamiliar with. Israeli leaders, currently Netanyahu, rejoice at the failure of various past peace negotiations. Within hours of the so called truce with Gaza,the Israel Occupaion Forces[ I0F] were back taking care of business, killing and mutilating as usual.

The Israeli leadership is totally immune to calls made for peace, on moral, ethical or humanitarian grounds. This has been tried for more than fifty years.
Whilst you were performing in Tel Aviv, filling the air with the sweet perfume of your words, your voice, Palestinians were collecting spare limbs, and mobbing up the smell of blood. Yet Palestinians lack of fear is clear as is your naivite which is sad.



anyone who knows Joy and her work, who isn't trying to make her a pawn for their cause or a lightning rod to bring attention to their organization(s), will know that she walks her own path. any artist, any poet, worthy of their art, follows their heart. Joy's words will serve as a mirror to her audience, reflecting back what they have become and the atrocities they commit. what better poet to stand in the eye of the storm and speak the truth than one whose people's history parallels the isolation and obliteration taking place right now at the hands of the israelis? bringing up the subject of financial gain is a joke to anyone who calls themselves a poet. the vast majority of us live paycheck to paycheck, if we're lucky. for those who scoff at the power of poetry to influence change for the better, then why the big stink over her visit? apparently you don't give much credit to the arts (unless we're a big money making name act like U2 or Stevie Wonder.) our impact is dismissed, but still worthy of your censure? what would Mahmoud Darwish do? look the enemy in the eye and speak the truth, or jump on the bandwagon and let you dictate to him how he should conduct himself as a poet, an artist?


Nice try Richard Vargas, For starters we don't know what she communicated to that audience because Israel is an apartheid state that excludes certain people from attending certain events at certain places. None of the excuses i've seen from the apologists for Harjo outweigh the calls by Palestinian civil society for her to respect the boycott.