BDS roundup: Alice Walker, Roger Waters call on Carnegie Hall to cancel Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performance

The expansion of an Israeli settlement in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood, occupied East Jerusalem, 18 October. 

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

In this BDS roundup, artists call on Carnegie Hall to cancel the upcoming performance of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Indian and Israeli BDS campaigners call on a Delhi arts festival to rescind Israel’s Cameri Theatre invitation to perform, a Dutch council decides against a Veolia contract following a high-profile BDS campaign by activists, PACBI urges the boycott of Urban Party Jerusalem and Open House Jerusalem events this week, and UK campaigners say they will sustain a protest outside the Natural History Museum over Veolia sponsorship of exhibit.

Artists call on Carnegie Hall to cancel upcoming performance of Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

- New York City: Cultural workers and social justice leaders have called on the iconic Carnegie Hall to cancel this week’s performance of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and respect the Palestinian-led boycott.

Adalah-NY posted the open letter, which has been signed by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and social justice activist Alice Walker, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Palestinian American poet and activist Remi Kanazi, and dozens of others.

In their post, Adalah-NY stated that the artists who have signed the letter “enthusiastically encourage other cultural workers to do so as well. A boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in crimes against humanity heeds the call of Palestinian civil society and follows the successful cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa.”

The letter states, in part:

We are conscientious artists who support justice, human rights, equality, and democracy in the Middle East and around the world. Consequently, we are dismayed by Carnegie Hall’s upcoming October 2012 hosting of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The IPO is an organization that whitewashes Israel’s ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians. We call on Carnegie Hall to cancel the IPO’s upcoming October performance for reasons set forth in greater detail below.

The IPO is not an apolitical cultural institution; it is actively complicit in whitewashing Israeli human rights abuses, apartheid, and occupation of Palestinian land.

In 2006, the Israeli government launched a public relations initiative called “Brand Israel,” which seeks to use art and music to distract from Israel’s human rights violations. According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by sending Israeli artists and musicians abroad, “you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” The IPO website aptly notes that the Orchestra serves as “Israel’s musical ambassador throughout the country and the world.”

American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra calls the IPO “Israel’s finest cultural emissary” and notes that “[t]he goodwill created by these tours … is of enormous value to the State of Israel.” This cynical use of art and music serves to obscure Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, home demolitions in Jerusalem, kidnappings, bombings, multiple forms of collective punishment, and countless other grave abuses.

The IPO has done nothing to distance itself from the Brand Israel campaign, nor has it ever made a public statement against the oppression of the Palestinian people. On the contrary, the orchestra proudly touts its special concerts for Israeli soldiers.

Furthermore, the IPO’s involvement in Israeli militarism is nothing new. In 1948, when 750,000 Palestinian people were forced out of their homes, the orchestra “traveled in armored cars … raising the morale of civilians and soldiers alike.” In 1967, as Israel was occupying the parts of Palestine they did not occupy in 1948, “Zubin Mehta arrived in a plane full of ammunition from Europe.” In further support for the Israeli occupation beyond even the borders of historic Palestine, the IPO’s website notes that during war, “the orchestra continued to perform before IDF soldiers from the Golan Heights to Sinai.” Brand Israel initiatives such as the IPO’s tour are designed to distract from the facts[.]

The entire letter can be viewed on the Adalah-NY website. In addition, Adalah-NY is helping to organize a protest of the IPO outside of Carnegie Hall on 25 October. For more information on the protest action, see Adalah-NY’s event page.

Indian, Israeli BDS campaigners call on Delhi arts festival to rescind Israel’s Cameri Theatre invitation

- India: Activists with InCACBI (the Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) and Boycott From Within! have called on the organizers of the Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF) to cancel the performance of Israel’s Cameri Theatre from the 4 November “Spirit of Delhi” lineup.

InCACBI drafted a letter which states, in part:

DIAF seems to be unaware of the fact that The Cameri Theatre serves as an official propaganda tool for the Israeli state — a state that occupies Palestinian lands and practises apartheid policies on the Palestinian people. The Cameri’s performances abroad are sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land violates international law, and amounts to a war crime. The Cameri performs in Ariel, one of the largest illegal settlements in the West Bank. Illegal Ariel contaminates Palestinian water and agricultural lands. Illegal Ariel is surrounded by walls and fences, and closely guarded by soldiers and armed security personnel. A theatrical performance in this illegal settlement is, by definition, a performance to an exclusively Israeli audience. Palestinians living even in the nearest village are physically excluded from attending. By performing in such circumstances, the Cameri profits from and legitimizes Israel’s illegal colonization policies, and becomes an accomplice to these crimes.

… By hosting The Cameri Theatre’s performance in Delhi, the DIAF organisers would be endorsing The Cameri Theatre’s complicity with Israeli occupation of Palestine and the state’s apartheid policies against Palestinians. Surely DIAF cannot equate The Cameri Theatre’s spirit with either the “spirit of Delhi” or the “spirit” of Indian citizens of conscience?

In addition, a letter from Israeli boycott activists with Boycott From Within! (BFW) have drafted their own letter to the Delhi International Arts Festival.

BFW’s letter states:

We are Israeli citizens who are active against our government’s policies of racism, apartheid and occupation towards the Palestinian people. In particular, many of us are veteran activists in the campaign against Israel’s illegal colonization and settlement construction policies in the occupied West Bank. We have learned that Israel’s Cameri Theatre is due to perform in New Delhi on Nov 4th 2012. Since the Cameri is complicit in grave violations of international law, which amount to war crimes, and since it serves as an official propaganda tool for the Israeli government, we are calling for the invitation to be rescinded.

As Israeli activists, we belong to a small minority who demonstrates, publishes reports and condemns our government’s crimes. However, this in itself does not suffice: the decades-long reality of our government’s racist policies has come to the conclusion that in order to bring its crimes to an end, complicit institutions which profit from these policies must be taken to task.

… As Israeli citizens who are deeply concerned about the future of all people living in the regionת we believe that an honorary invitation to the Cameri to perform in India is incompatible its regular performances in West Bank settlements. We therefore call on the organizers of the Cameri performance in New Delhi to rescind the invitation immediately.

The entire letter from Boycott From Within! can be viewed on their website.

Dutch council rejects Veolia contract following high-profile BDS campaign by activists

- Utrecht, the Netherlands: Following sustained pressure by local boycott activists, the Utrecht Regional Council announced in early October that it had awarded an urban transportation contract to Qbuzz, a Dutch company, instead of OV Utrecht Region (a merger of Veolia-owned Dutch transport companies Connexxion and GVU, according to the activists).

Veolia is a French multinational corporation that provides urban systems contracts all over Europe, Australia, and the US. Veolia remains a major target for global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns because of its contracts with the Israeli government to build the Jerusalem Light Rail project, a tramway that will link West Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank. Through sustained pressure on local city councils across Europe and Australia by BDS activism campaigners, Veolia has already lost billions of dollars worth of contracts.

Utrecht For Palestine, or U4P, led an active campaign that included letter writing, internet petitions and collecting signatures on the streets.

In a press release emailed to The Electronic Intifada, U4P stated that the activist-led campaign against Veolia, which included participation in the Utrecht Regional Board’s General meeting, in addition to the letter-writing campaigns, were happy with the board’s decision.

PACBI urges boycott of Urban Party Jerusalem and Open House Jerusalem events this week: “Do not celebrate ethnic cleansing and dispossession”

- Palestine: The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a statement condemnng the series of events taking place this week in Jerusalem under the guise of “Open House Jerusalem.”

PACBI’s statement reads, in part:

[PACBI] urges organizations and individuals to boycott the Urban Party Jerusalem and the rest of the Open House Jerusalem (Houses from Within) series of events taking place between October 25-27th 2012 in Jerusalem. The urban party, which is part of the Redrawing Project created by the Irish city planner, Paul Kearns and the Israeli architect, Motty Ruimy, is to take place at the Museum on the Seam.

The Open House Jerusalem and its several activities, including the urban party Jerusalem, are supported by a host of Israeli official organisations, including the Ministry of Tourism, the Municipality of Jerusalem, the Israeli Authorities Authority, amongst others. This renders this project a typical example of Israel’s rebranding to cover up its crimes against the Palestinians, particularly in Jerusalem.

Moreover, the urban party, as its organizers note “[is] a metaphor of what connects and distinguishes Jerusalem from a settlement, from a refugee camp, and from East Jerusalem — while symbolically taking place on the seam between the two parts of the city.” This statement testifies to the complicity of this project in whitewashing the colonial reality in Jerusalem. Through normalizing and contrasting the notions of settlements and refugee camps with Jerusalem while symbolically recognising the divide, this project not only accepts these as normal planning zones but also celebrates the brutal reality on the ground.

Participating in the urban party Jerusalem would inadvertently lend a stamp of approval to Israel’s policies of ethnic cleansing and massive human rights violations. The Museum on the Seam, where the urban party Jerusalem is planned, is the original house of the Baramki family.

In 1932, the prominent Palestinian architect, Andoni Baramki, built this house for his family in Jerusalem. In 1948, during the Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign, or Nakba, the Baramki family were uprooted, like hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The Baramki’s family request to claim back their house was repeatedly denied by the Israeli authorities under the racist Absentees’ Property Law of 1950 [3], which was used to pillage the property of Palestinians ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and even those who were internally displaced and declared as ‘present absentees’[4]. This infamous law recognizes the presence of internally displaced Palestinians as ‘residents’ or ‘citizens’ of the state of Israel, but ‘absent’ as far as their own individual property is concerned.

The story of the Baramki House is only one of thousands of similar stories, but this particular case exemplifies the wider injustice. We, in PACBI, see the Museum on the Seam as an embodiment of Israeli criminality, hypocrisy, property theft, colonization, oppression and persistent denial of the Palestinians’ very presence and the rights that go along with it. We demand that international law be implemented, and the Baramki House be returned to its legitimate Palestinian owners, the Baramki family [5]. It is therefore pertinent not to give legitimacy to this Museum by endorsing its activities and participating in covering up the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homes and towns.

The full text of PACBI’s letter can be viewed here.

UK campaigners to sustain a protest outside the Natural History Museum over Veolia sponsorship of exhibit

- London: The Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK stated this week that activists will begin a months-long protest outside of the Natural History Museum due to the corporate sponsorship by Veolia of a photography exhibition entitled “The Wildlife Photographer of the Year.”

In a press release emailed to The Electronic Intifada, the PSC writes:

Amongst other actions, campaigners plan to pressure the Museum to drop Veolia as sponsor by asking museum-goers to sign a petition addressed to the Natural History Museum with the message “Great Exhibition, Shame About The Sponsor.”

Sarah Colborne, Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said, “The Natural History Museum is highly respected and admired but the museum’s choice of Veolia as Exhibition sponsor is wrong. Veolia’s complicity in serving and linking Israeli Settlements, which are illegal under international law, is well documented. The Museum sullies its own good name by its association with Veolia, and calls into question the ethical and moral basis on which the museum forms its decisions. The Natural History Museum should do the right thing and drop Veolia as a sponsor.”


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).