The following press release was issued by Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel on 5 May 2010:
More than 50 organizations and artists from eight countries have written to legendary political singer and poet Gil Scott-Heron to thank him for his decision to drop Israel from his current tour. The letter, facilitated by Adalah-NY, highlighted the parallels between the South African apartheid that Scott-Heron crusaded against decades ago and the Israeli system that currently subjugates Palestinians.
Palestinian civil society has called for grassroots pressure on Israel to end its oppressive behavior through a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), including cultural events. “To salvage its deteriorating image abroad, Israel has launched a ‘rebranding’ campaign which uses arts and culture to whitewash its violations of international law and Palestinian human rights,” said Randa Wahbe of Adalah-NY. Gil Scott-Heron is the latest in a list of notable artists, including Sting, Bono, Snoop Dogg and Carlos Santana, who have recently declined to play Israel. Distinguished artists, writers and peace activists — among them John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Adrienne Rich, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Alice Walker — have declared support for the BDS movement.
The signatories told Scott-Heron: “As you recognized in your iconic anti-Apartheid anthem “Johannesburg,” when “brothers over there are defyin’ the man … they need to know we’re on their side.” They added “[I]n refusing to do business as usual with Israel, you join ranks with the growing number of international artists, intellectuals and cultural workers who have rejected Israel’s cynical use of the arts to whitewash its Apartheid and colonial policies.”
Haidar Eid, of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) praised the singer’s action: “Gil Scott-Heron’s decision to cancel his concert in Tel Aviv is warmly welcomed by all of us here in Gaza and Palestinian civil society at large. This does not come as a surprise to us due to his luminous heritage in support of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Once again, we wholeheartedly thank him for heeding our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, until it complies with its obligations under international law and fully respects Palestinian rights.”
Since the 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed, there has been rapid growth in the BDS movement worldwide. Wahbe also noted that “The outpouring of anguish from Scott-Heron’s fans on his website when he was scheduled to perform in Israel, and the more than 50 artists and organizations that have joined together to communicate the importance of Scott-Heron’s decision, represent a new phase in this growing movement.”
The concert, first announced in Haaretz on 15 April, was to be held 25 May. After a torrent of postings on the Internet expressing shock and dismay, the singer announced his cancellation during his 24 April London concert, at which activists protested. Within days, the Tel Aviv show was removed from his website and tickets were no longer available.
In the wake of the cancellation, Facebook groups have sprung up calling on Elvis Costello, Joan Armatrading and Bob Dylan to cancel their planned concerts in Israel. On 5 May, PACBI issued its own call to Armatrading.
The BDS campaign has the backing hundreds of Palestinian civil society groups and is coordinated through the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campaign National Committee (bdsmovement.net) and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (pacbi.org).
To view the thank you letter and list of signatories, click here.