BDS Roundup: Alice Walker, Roger Waters call on Alicia Keys to cancel Tel Aviv show

In this latest roundup of news from the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement:

  • Celebrated author Alice Walker urges singer Alicia Keys not to perform for apartheid Israel
  • Vermont students stage checkpoint action, call for divestment
  • Advertisements on San Francisco Bay Area buses call for an end to Israeli apartheid and US aid to Israel
  • Belgian activists stage die-in to protest EU funding of Israeli military industry
  • Activists protest Sodastream in London
  • PACBI calls on International Society for Political Psychology to pull upcoming conference from Israel

Walker, Waters call on Keys

Activists worldwide are encouraging US singer-songwriter Alicia Keys to respect the Palestinian-led boycott call and cancel her upcoming July performance in Tel Aviv. As The Electronic Intifada previously reported, organizational appeals, a Facebook group and a petition — with more than 6,000 signatories — have been initiated by boycott activists asking Keys to cancel her show.

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has also posted a list of actions in which activists can take part, including sending photos of “pictures/infographics of examples of Israeli occupation and apartheid (the wall, house demolitions, checkpoints, etc); Palestinian popular resistance; and/or of yourself holding signs of solidarity with Palestinians … This is an opportunity for some culture jamming asking activists to submit pictures with messages urging her to not play in Israel,” the US Campaign adds. 

This week, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and social justice activist Alice Walker wrote an open letter to Keys, urging her not to cross the international picket line, and to learn more about Israel’s policies against Palestinians.

The letter reads:

Dear Alicia Keys,

I have learned today that you are due to perform in Israel very soon. We have never met, though I believe we are mutually respectful of each other’s path and work. It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists.

You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people. Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already. We changed our country fundamentally, and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there. It is our only nonviolent option and, as we learned from our own struggle in America, nonviolence is the only path to a peaceful future.

If you go to my website and blog you can quickly find many articles I have written over the years that explain why a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major “crime” is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own.

Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel,’ Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place.

This is actually a wonderful opportunity for you to learn about something sorrowful, and amazing: that our government (Obama in particular) supports a system that is cruel, unjust, and unbelievably evil. You can spend months, and years, as I have, pondering this situation. Layer upon layer of lies, misinformation, fear, cowardice and complicity. Greed. It is a vast eye-opener into the causes of much of the affliction in our suffering world.

I have kept you in my awareness as someone of conscience and caring, especially about the children of the world. Please, if you can manage it, go to visit the children in Gaza, and sing to them of our mutual love of all children, and of their right not to be harmed simply because they exist.

With love, younger sister, beloved daughter and friend,
Alice Walker

Adding to the appeals to Alicia Keys, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd also wrote a letter to the singer on Wednesday, 29 May. The letter, entitled “Just Another Open Letter in The Wall,” is posted on the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) website. It reads, in part:

I read today Alice Walker’s eloquent and moving entreaty to you in her open letter. It is hard to add anything except to implore you to follow all the links she has directed you to. 

… I had reason last December to write a letter to Stevie Wonder to encourage him to withdraw from an engagement in LA. It was a Gala to raise funds for the Israeli Defense Force. I wasn’t the only one to write, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the great advocate of peace and reconciliation, was among many, many others who wrote as well. To Stevie’s great credit he withdrew. 

We are all part of the same old story, nothing has changed since the bad old days of apartheid South Africa and Segregated America. We must stand united with all our brothers and sisters against racism, colonialism, segregation and apartheid. 

Please, Alicia, do not lend your name to give legitimacy to the Israeli government policies of illegal, apartheid, occupation of the homelands of the indigenous people of Palestine.

Others may try to persuade you that by playing in Israel you may magically effect some change; we know that this is not true, appeasement didn’t work with South Africa and it has not worked in Israel. I know I tried it ten years ago, things have only got worse. 

I appeal to you to join the rising tide of resistance. Join the many millions of us in global civil society who stand together on the side of justice and peace for all humanity. “We shall overcome one day.”

Vermont mock checkpoint

Middlebury, Vermont: Students at Middlebury College constructed a mock checkpoint outside the campus dining hall on 15 May to commemorate the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their lands during the establishment of the State of Israel). The action was also in support of a growing call on Middlebury College to divest from companies which profit from Israel’s occupation. Students have already initiated campaigns to urge the college to disinvest from fossil fuels and arms manufacturers.

In a press release sent to The Electronic Intifada, Jay Saper of Justice for Palestine at Middlebury College stated that students were “greeted in the dark with barricades blocking the entrance to the dining hall and flashlights from full uniformed soldiers asking for identification cards.” The mock checkpoint theater action took place at a midnight breakfast meal during finals, one of the busiest events of the year.

The press release added:

Alex Jackman, a junior from New York City, described the checkpoint as “one of the coolest pieces of theater I have seen on Middlebury Campus. Performed during the time when all students are wrapped up in stress about exams and schoolwork, the piece served as a reminder that there are greater battles to fight beyond our campus.”

A gate was lifted for students who had received Israeli documentation. They could pass freely to prepare themselves a plate of pancakes. Those with Palestinian IDs were directed around the checkpoint.

… The performance, developed by students as part of a course on Theater and Social Change and members of the organization Justice for Palestine, was broken up by campus public safety.

… Middlebury College itself is a settlement on stolen Abenaki land. With its pristine limestone buildings and perfectly manicured grass, Middlebury manufactures an environment seemingly separate from the oppressions it perpetuates, which is itself a political act.

Students at Middlebury are stepping up and refusing to allow a separation of conscience that tolerates inaction in face of the school profiting from Israeli apartheid. Justice for Palestine has one message for administrators, particularly fitting of a midnight action, “We will not rest, until you divest.”

Bay Area bus ads

American Muslims for Palestine

- San Francisco, California: American Muslims for Palestine recently launched an outdoor advertising campaign in San Francisco calling for an end to Israeli apartheid and US aid to the Israeli government and military.

In a press release, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) stated that:

The campaign, which will appear on buses from the Presidio garage, will run for four weeks before moving to Chicago, Washington DC and elsewhere in the nation.

“Our ads utilize a quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, who endured South African apartheid and has compared what is happening in Palestine with what black South Africans experienced. We are critiquing Israeli and American policies in efforts to raise awareness about how American taxpayers fund Israeli apartheid and oppression of the Palestinian people,” said AMP Chairman Dr. Hatem Bazian, who is also a senior lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley.

This point is especially critical right now as AMP has come under renewed attack by the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council, which are attempting to stifle open debate on these important issues by labeling any public critique of Israel as hateful and anti-Semitic.

… AMP considers Jewish participation in our work to play an essential role in advocating for a better future for all the people of the Middle East.

… Each year, the US gives Israel more than $3 billion in unconditional military aid. AMP asserts that our financial support, as well as our unconditional political and diplomatic support of Israel, in light of its continued and flagrant violations of international law, weaken America’s position throughout the international community and hurts our national interests.

The Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League blasted the ad campaign as “inflammatory” because of AMP’s use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s discriminatory and segregationist policies against Palestinians.

In a press release, Jewish Voice for Peace stated on 10 May that it “absolutely rejects the attempts to label as hate speech the ad placed by American Muslims for Palestine,” and stated “unequivocally that calling Israeli control over the occupied Palestinian territory ‘apartheid’ is a widely accepted and legitimate political statement.”

More analysis by JVP’s deputy director Cecilie Surasky on the backlash following AMP’s ad campaign can be found on the group’s Muzzlewatch blog.

A modified bus ad in San Francisco. 

Street Cred

In related news, Bay Area artists and activists modified San Francisco bus ads promoting the annual “Israel in the Gardens” festival that will take place in the city on 2 June. Members of the Street Cred activist collective have placed stickers over some of the text on the ads which read “Stop land theft” and direct passersby to the website

Another sticker modifies “Israel in the Gardens” to read “Israel steals gardens.”

In a blog post, Bay Area Queers Unleashing Power stated:

The bus ads which were modified promote the annual “Israel in the Gardens” festival, which celebrates the 1967 annexation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem by the Israeli army. These areas remain under Israeli military occupation today, one of the longest-standing occupations in the world.

… The artists’ action comes at the same time that a controversy has erupted over a series of ads placed on buses by American Muslims for Palestine. The AMP ads read “End Apartheid Now: Stop US Aid to Israel” alongside a picture of the Apartheid Wall which runs through over 300 miles of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Pro-Israel organizations and seven city supervisors have claimed that the AMP ads are “deceptive” and “inflammatory” because of its use of the word “apartheid.” Supervisor Scott Wiener and six other supervisors sent a letter to the Metropolitan Transit Agency calling on the agency to fork over the $5,030 from American Muslims for Palestine to the Human Rights Commission to combat “growing intolerance alienating the Jewish community.” The supervisors demand equates the AMP ads to a previous campaign, by Islamophobe Pamela Geller, which called Muslims “savage.”

… “It’s Israel in the Gardens, not the AMP ads, which is deceptive,” said StreetCred member KD. “The ad calls it a ‘Jewish community celebration’ but it’s really a celebration of land theft. We call for the proceeds of these ads be donated to study the harm done to Jews and non-Jews alike by the conflation of the Jewish community with the Israeli state, and/or the harm done to Palestinians by the theft of their land.”

Numerous different modifications to the Israel in the Gardens bus ad have been posted on buses in various San Francisco locales.

Another modified bus ad.

Street Cred

Brussels die-in

- Brussels, Belgium: Palestine solidarity activists in Brussels organized a demonstration on Nakba Day, 15 May, calling for an end to Europe’s funding of a joint research program with the Israeli military industry.

In a press release, activists stated that members of three organizations Vrede Vzw, Vredesactie and Intal demonstrated at the offices of the Directorate General for Enterprise (DG-Enterprise) of the European Commission. The press release states:

According to Ludo De Brabander, spokesperson for the three organizations: “Both Elbit Systems and Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), two Israeli weapon manufacturers, provide equipment for the Israeli wall that has been declared illegal by International Law. Both are important market leaders of drones that are used for military operations in the Palestinian Territories that are illegaly occupied. These same companies receive European funds by particiapting in several research programs under FP7 worth 235.8 million euro [$305 million].”

The press release adds that several activists covered in fake blood staged a die-in to represent Palestinian victims of Israeli policies, while two activists — dressed as businessmen — pretended to represent the Israeli military industry. The “businessmen” activists performed a theater action in which they said, “We’re here to ensure that the very generous research funding that our members currently receive from the European Commission will continue under the coming Horizon 2020 program.”

The Horizon 2020 program, the press release stated, begins in 2014, and “participation in EU research funding will be subject to ethical criteria to avoid funding of companies and institutions involved in human rights violations.”

More information on the protest can be found on the Dutch-language Belgian website Embargo.

SodaStream protested in London

- London, UK: Palestine solidarity activists demonstrated inside two supermarkets in early May, calling out the Whole Foods and John Lewis shops’ sales of SodaStream products, which are made in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Ceasefire Magazine reported that both Whole Foods and John Lewis “pride themselves on their ethical policies yet continue to stock settlement-made products in their stores across the country.”

Ceasefire Magazine adds:

Activists managed to occupy John Lewis’s second floor for two hours and masted a symbolic Israeli tent settlement inside the store before being escorted out by the Police. Meanwhile, activists blocked the entrance to the High Street Kensington branch of Whole Foods for a few hours in opposition to the store stocking SodaStream.

Activists attempted to occupy the inside of Whole Foods before being escorted out by Whole Foods staff, meeting with heavy resistance from Whole-Foods’s in-store security who attempted to break the activist blockade to allow customers to access the store.

Calls on international psychology conference

PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, released a statement calling on the International Society for Political Psychology (ISPP) to respect the boycott call and relocate its upcoming conference, which is scheduled for July in Herzliya at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC).

PACBI states, in part:

We urge the ISPP to relocate this conference to another country that does not embody injustice through maintaining a regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid, as Israel does. We also appeal to all members of ISPP to refrain from participating in the conference if it is convened in Israel, just as most academics avoided visiting South Africa until it ended its apartheid system.

… Your willingness to attend a conference in Israel and engage an Israeli academic institution comes at a time when the academic boycott of Israel is increasingly gaining steam. Just recently, the International Community Psychology Conference – Global Perspectives and Local Practices, meeting in Birzeit University, in occupied Palestine, released a declaration in support of academic and cultural boycott, and the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) also voted on a resolution to uphold the Palestinian call.

In the scientific realm, after Palestinian scholars reached out to Stephen Hawking, he canceled his participation at an Israeli conference, citing the unanimous Palestinian voices calling on him to boycott as his reason for not attending. This move was met with approval by such mainstream press as the Boston Globe.

The Israeli academy is not only deeply implicated in providing the ideological rationale and “scientific” basis for Israel’s colonial policies, but is also a full partner in maintaining the military and security infrastructure of a state that is practicing forms of colonialism, occupation and apartheid.

The IDC Herzliya is in itself an institution complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights. It is a private university with strong ties to the Israeli military intelligence community. It expresses pride in its links with the Israeli army, despite the army’s war crimes, including the brutal siege on the Gaza Strip.

Representatives of Israel’s most profitable arms manufacturers frequently sit on the IDC’s management committee, while 10 percent of its student admittance is reserved for veterans of elite combat units in the Israeli army. The IDC is thus part and parcel of building Israel’s military and political strategy to enhance its oppressive system of settler-colonialism, occupation and apartheid.

Is this an institution whose mission you wish to further by allowing it to host your events?

… By participating in such a conference at an Israeli institution, ISPP lends its legitimacy to Israel, allowing it to whitewash its crimes by making it appear like a center of learning and bastion of liberalism and academic freedom.

More recent boycott, divestment and sanctions news from our Activism and BDS Beat blog:


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).