BDS roundup: US Presbyterian church one step closer to major divestment policy

This week on global news from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, an Israeli dance company faces boycott actions for its role in the “Brand Israel” campaign; more musicians face calls to cancel their upcoming appearances in Israel; and the Presbyterian Church USA moves one step closer to divesting from three US companies that profit from Israel’s military occupation of Palestine.

Boycott called for Israeli dance company Batsheva on its North American tour

Adalah-NY, the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, stated this week that more than 20 human rights activism organizations in the US and Canada have called on the Batsheva Dance Company “to cut all ties with the Brand Israel campaign and take a stand against the Israeli government’s violations of Palestinian rights.”

From Adalah-NY’s press release:

Batsheva will begin a five-week North American tour at the end of February, performing in San Francisco, Quebec City, Montréal, New York, Tulsa, Chicago, Austin and Scottsdale.

… The organizations state that they are acting in support of the Palestinian civil society call for BDS as a form of non-violent resistance to Israeli apartheid, and that should Batsheva fail to take action, their upcoming five-week tour of the United States will be met with demonstrations and a call for boycott of their performances.

In an open letter addressed to the dance company, the organizations point out that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has characterized Batsheva as “the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture.” The letter goes on to argue that Batsheva, because of its ties to the MFA, is “actively complicit in whitewashing Israeli human rights abuses, apartheid, and occupation of Palestinian land.”

Batsheva also receives funding from the MFA for their international tours, with the upcoming tour prominently advertised on the cultural calendar of the Israeli consulate in New York City.

The letter continues by pointing out that, while Israeli artists and performers are free to tour; exhibits and performances by Palestinian artists are systematically banned, sabotaged, and closed down by Israeli occupation.

Hana Awwad, longtime member of El Funoun, one of Palestine’s premiere dance troupes, told the human rights organization Adalah-NY, “As a Palestinian dancer based in the West Bank, I am prohibited by the Israeli government from traveling to Gaza for performances. After Israel’s 2008-2009 military assault on Gaza, our Ramallah-based dance troupe resorted to performing for our people in Gaza via a satellite link in protest of Israel’s siege on Gaza. Some of our dancers are also prohibited by the Israeli government from ever accompanying the troupe when it performs in neighboring Palestinian cities and abroad.”

The letter quotes Iman Fakhouri, director of the Popular Arts Centre in Jerusalem, who told human rights activists, “Two of our dance performances were cancelled because Israel denied our dancers entry to Jerusalem and the theater where a German hip hop dancer was to perform was closed down by the Israeli authorities at the last minute. Israeli forces outside the theater were trying to remove people by force. Some people, both from the audience and the artists, were beaten up and arrested.”

Finally, the organizations write, “We hope Batsheva, like a growing number of Israelis, will take a strong, unequivocal stance against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and support justice and equality for all. Until then, we will continue to urge a popular boycott of, and protests against, your performances throughout North America.”

For these reasons, protests against Batsheva’s upcoming performances are to date planned in New York City and San Francisco . Batsheva’s 2009 and 2010 US tours were met by protests. Prior to the announcement of the New York protest, in an exchange of letters with New York activists, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Batsheva’s New York host, declined to cancel their performances.”

This Friday, Batsheva Dance Company will be met by BDS activists and human rights supporters at their scheduled performance in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Cultural Center at 7pm.

BDS activists to US jazz legend McCoy Tyner: Cancel your performance in Petach Tikva

Boycott From Within has posted a letter to jazz musician McCoy Tyner, encouraging him to respect the Palestinian call for boycott and cancel his upcoming gig in Petach Tikva on 10 March.

The letter states, in part:

Performing in Israel today would be lending your voice and image to the normalization of military occupation, systematic inequality and violation of international law. Many artists and public figures are already supporting the cultural boycott of Israel, which is backed by almost the entire community of Palestinian cultural workers.

… Please hear the Palestinian call and help bring an end to occupation and apartheid by refusing to send a green light to the continuation of such policies. We would greatly appreciate it if you stand with us, Palestinians and Israelis who are struggling for justice and equality for all people in this region. This non-violent campaign asks all artists not to perform in Israel until it abides by its obligations under international law and ends its occupation of Palestinian land, recognizes full equality for its Palestinian citizens and respects the rights of the refugees. We believe that standing for these basic rights is an essential component for a better future here and that being the privileged - it is also our duty to do so.

Last week, BFW’s efforts and the efforts of other BDS activists to urge jazz singer Cassandra Wilson were successful – she canceled her performance at the Holon Women’s Music festival scheduled for this week, and added that “as a human rights activist, I support the cultural boycott of Israel.”

British pop star urged not to return to Israel this weekend by Lebanese activists

Al-Akhbar English reported this week that Engelbert Humperdinck is facing calls by Lebanese BDS activists not to travel to Israel ahead of a scheduled trip to Lebanon next month.

Al-Akhbar added:

Humperdinck, famous for his hits “Release Me” and “The Last Waltz,” performed in Tel Aviv in December despite a campaign led by British university students. He is due to perform at Casino Du Liban in Jounieh on March 9 and 10.

A letter from the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon (CBSI) condemned Humperdinck for performing in Israel but did not call for his performances to be cancelled.

“What many artists have realized is that whether they would like it or not, performing in Israel nowadays does constitute a political act: it is a vote of confidence in the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” the letter said.

Previously the movement had boycotted musicians and artists who had performed in the Jewish state.

The CBSI urged Humperdinck to undertake a tour of the south of the country to understand the impact Israel had.

“We are calling for him to commit to not playing in Israel again in the future, but we are not boycotting him,” Asad Ghsoub, from the CBSI said.

“We are trying to change tactics. We are asking him to meet us so we can explain our ideas and we are offering to take him to the south to show him what Israel has been doing to the country since 1948.”

The text of CBSI’s letter is posted at the end of the Al-Akhbar article.

Presbyterian churches approves recommendation on divestment from three companies that do business with Israeli military

The Presbyterian Church’s full General Assembly Mission Council voted on 17 February to approve a recommendation from the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee to divest from its holdings in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. All three sell equipment, technology and communication systems to the Israeli military.

In a report by Presbyterian Church USA, church officials have been attempting to communicate with the three US companies regarding their sales to Israel, but that “substantial change does not seem possible,” and, as one Council member said, “we just cannot profit from these companies.”

The report adds:

The General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) is recommending that the upcoming 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) divest the church of its stock in three companies “until they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.”

The three companies are Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard. At issue are their participation in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the construction of the “security barrier” between Israel and Palestinian territory, and the destruction of Palestinian homes, roads and fields to make way for the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have been declared illegal under international law.

“We have run out of hope that these companies are willing to change their corporate practices [in Israel-Palestine],” said the Rev. Brian Ellison, a Kansas City pastor and chair of the denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI). “We have made diligent effort to engage in conversation. We’d like to do more, to make progress, but substantial change does not seem possible.”

… Council member Jean Demmler of Denver agreed that a divestment decision “will cause more dissension and I’m sorry about that, but MRTI has engaged in a very good process, very thoughtfully, and we just cannot profit from these companies.”

The recommendation to the Assembly includes renewal of the call by the 2010 Assembly “to all corporations doing business in the region to confine their business activity solely to peaceful pursuits, and refrain from allowing their products or services to support of facilitate violence acts by Israelis or Palestinians against innocent civilians, construction and maintenance of settlements or Israeli-only roads in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory, and construction of the Separation Barrier as it extends beyond the 1967 “Green Line” into Palestinian territories.”

Meanwhile, Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council reaffirmed its statement of support “for both the Presbyterian and Methodist efforts towards selective divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.” JVP released the statement on 17 February, the day of the Presbyterian General Assembly Mission Council voted to recommend divestment from the three companies, that read in part:

We write to you as members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council to encourage your efforts to initiate phased selective divestment from corporations which profit from or support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. We applaud your initiative and want to communicate our support as Jewish leaders who also work for justice and peace for the people of Israel and Palestine.

We are aware that the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) has unleashed a powerful campaign to dissuade you, and consequently dissuade the Presbyterian Church (USA) from moving forward with its well-considered divestment campaign. We have been dismayed to learn the JCPA has called your divestment campaign “anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and at times anti-Semitic.”

As Jewish leaders, we believe the JCPA’s stance does not represent the broader consensus of the American Jewish community. There is in fact a growing desire within the North American Jewish community to end our silence over Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine. Every day Jewish leaders - we among them - are stepping forward to express outrage over the confiscation of Palestinian land, destruction of farms and groves and homes, the choking of the Palestinian economy and daily harassment and violence against Palestinian people. Jewish leaders are increasingly voicing their support for nonviolent popular resistance against these outrages - including the kind of cautious, highly-specified divestment such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) is preparing to undertake.

… To advocate for an end to an unjust policy is not anti-Semitic. To criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic. To invest your own resources in corporations which pursue your vision of a just and peaceful world, and to withdraw your resources from those which contradict this vision, is not anti-Semitic. There is a terrible history of actual anti-Semitism perpetrated by Christians at different times throughout the millennia, and conscientious Christians today do bear a burden of conscience on that account. We can understand that, with your commitment to paths of peace and justice, it must be terribly painful and inhibiting to be accused of anti-Semitism.



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).