The following press release was issued on 18 August 2009 by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel:
Amnesty International has announced today that it will abstain from any involvement in the Leonard Cohen concert in Tel Aviv and will not be party to any fund that benefits from the concert’s proceeds. A number of media accounts had reported that Amnesty International was to manage or otherwise partner in a fund created from the proceeds of Cohen’s concert in Israel that would be used to benefit Israeli and Palestinian groups. Amnesty International’s announcement today followed an international outcry over the human rights organization’s reported involvement in the Leonard Cohen concert fund, and an earlier international call for Cohen to boycott apartheid Israel.
Omar Barghouti from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) commented, “We welcome Amnesty International’s withdrawal from this ill-conceived project which is clearly intended to whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and human rights. By abandoning the Leonard Cohen project in Tel Aviv, Amnesty International has dealt Cohen and his public relations team a severe blow, denying them the cover of the organization’s prestige and respectability.”
A statement confirming Amnesty’s withdrawal has now been posted on the Amnesty International website.
After reports in late July that Amnesty International would manage a fund from the proceeds of Leonard Cohen’s concert in Israel, groups in occupied Palestine and around the world mobilized to pressure Amnesty International not to participate in such a fund. The Palestinian Non-governmental Organizations’ Network (PNGO) called in an 11 August letter on Amnesty International to reject management of a fund that is to be created from the proceeds of Leonard Cohen’s planned September concert in Israel. The West Bank village of Bilin had made a similar appeal to Amnesty International. An international campaign of about 1,000 letters to Amnesty International called for Amnesty’s withdrawal from the Cohen concert initiative. The only Palestinian organization that was claimed to be a recipient of the fund had previously announced that it was not involved in the project. Additionally, a representative of the joint Palestinian-Israeli group Combatants for Peace, another previously announced beneficiary of the Cohen concert fund, had informed the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel in writing that the group had decided not to participate in the Leonard Cohen concert in Tel Aviv and not to accept any funds from its proceeds.
PNGO explained in its letter to Amnesty International that Israel Discount Bank, a major sponsor of Cohen’s concert in Israel, “is involved in the construction and the continuation of the Israeli settlement project in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories] … These settlements built on Palestinian lands are illegal under international law and are considered as war crimes in the Fourth Geneva Convention.” PNGO added that Cohen’s “concert in Israel contributes in normalizing Israeli occupation and colonization policies.” In a 9 August letter to Amnesty International, the West Bank village of Bilin, a leader in the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement, said that “Israel Discount Bank’s trading room and other computer services are run by an Israeli company called Matrix IT. Matrix IT’s trading room is located on our villages land stolen by the illegal settlement of Modiin Illit.”
Additionally, 19 groups and organizations worldwide explained in an open letter to Amnesty International that “Being one of the world’s strongest proponents of human rights and international law, you shall thus be subverting a nonviolent, effective effort by Palestinian and international civil society to end Israel’s violations of international law and human rights principles.” The groups asserted that “Accepting funds from the proceeds of Cohen’s concert in Israel is the equivalent of Amnesty accepting funds from a concert in Sun City in apartheid South Africa.” They also commented that the Peres Center for Peace, Amnesty International’s announced partner in managing the concert fund, “has been denounced by leading Palestinian civil society organizations for promoting joint Palestinian-Israeli projects that enhance ‘Israeli institutional reputation and legitimacy, without restoring justice to Palestinians.’”
On 5 August, 11 groups launched a letter writing campaign to Amnesty International which has resulted in hundreds of emails sent. Among those urging Amnesty International to reject involvement with the Cohen concert are former Amnesty International USA board member Prof. Naseer Aruri, Amnesty International USA’s former Midwest Regional Director Doris Strieter, peace activist Kathy Kelly, and a number of Amnesty International members.
The announcement of Cohen’s planned concert in Israel was swiftly met by letters from British, Israeli and Palestinian organizations and protests at his concerts in New York, Boston, Ottawa and Belfast, among other cities, calling on Cohen to respect the international call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. In response to the protests, Cohen had tried to schedule a small concert in Ramallah to “balance” his concert in Israel. However, Palestinians rejected the Ramallah concert, insisting that Cohen should first cancel his Tel Aviv gig to be welcomed in Ramallah.
With the international community failing to take action to stop Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, and inspired by the international boycott movement that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa, Palestinian civil society has launched calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, including an institutional academic and cultural boycott. Ninety-three artists, writers and other cultural workers have signed onto the Palestinian cultural boycott call. Palestinian boycott calls have inspired a growing international boycott movement which gained added momentum following Israel’s assault on Gaza last winter.