The following open letter was issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) on 13 February 2010:
Dear Elton John,
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was genuinely troubled to learn that that you are scheduled to perform in Israel in June, in violation of the widely-endorsed Palestinian Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel. We call upon you, as a world-famous artist and a public supporter of key human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Oxfam, not to perform in Israel, a state that maintains an illegal and inhumane system of occupation, colonization and apartheid and that has been widely accused by leading UN experts and human rights organizations, including Amnesty, of committing war crimes and other grave violations of human rights.
The Palestinian cultural boycott campaign against Israel, which is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian cultural workers and cultural institutions, won the support of internationally-acclaimed cultural figures of the stature of John Berger, Ken Loach, John Williams, among many others. It does not target “cultural expression,” as misleadingly claimed by boycott opponents; rather, it aims at exposing the abuse of culture to deflect attention from persistent violations of human rights and international law and to hold accountable those who ignore these severe violations and allow themselves to be complicit in covering them up.
In the spirit of this cultural boycott and consistent with its logic, on 8 May 2008, in a half-page advertisement in The International Herald Tribune under the banner “No Reason to Celebrate,” tens of leading international cultural figures — including Mahmoud Darwish, Augusto Boal, Andre Brink, Ella Shohat, Judith Butler, Vincenzo Consolo, Ilan Pappe, David Toscana and Aharon Shabtai — signed a statement responding to worldwide celebrations of Israel’s “60th anniversary” saying:
“There is no reason to celebrate! Israel at 60 is a state that is still denying Palestinian refugees their UN-sanctioned rights, simply because they are ‘non-Jews.’ It is still illegally occupying Palestinian and other Arab lands, in violation of numerous UN resolutions. It is still persistently and grossly breaching international law and infringing fundamental human rights with impunity afforded to it through munificent US and European economic, diplomatic and political support. It is still treating its own Palestinian citizens with institutionalized discrimination.”
Your show in Israel would substantially contribute to Israel’s celebration of its occupation and apartheid. It would abet Israel’s intensifying campaign of whitewashing its worsening global image in the wake of its war crimes in Gaza, as detailed in the report issued by the UN Fact Finding Mission, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone. By consistently trying to lure renowned performers, particularly after its massacre in Gaza, Israel has aimed to “rebrand” itself as an enlightened and cultured country, while at the same time continuing to dispossess Palestinians, to deny them their freedom and other basic rights, to throw them off their land, and to destroy their homes in order to build new Jewish-only colonies.
Your performance in Israel would also violate the almost unanimously-endorsed Palestinian civil society Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This call is directed particularly towards international activists, academics and artists of conscience, such as yourself.
The Israeli press reports that your concert is set to be sponsored by Israel Discount Bank. This bank’s trading room and other computer services are run by an Israeli company called Matrix IT and located on land stolen from the Palestinian village of Bilin by the illegal settlement of Modiin Illit. Israel Discount Bank, which finances construction in the settlements of Har Homa, Beitar Illit and Maale Adumim, is the second-major shareholder of Mul-T-Lock, whose factory is located in the industrial zone of Barkan, another illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Israeli colonial settlements are illegal under international law and are considered war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention. For the last six years, Bilin, along with several other villages in the occupied Palestinian territory, has famously been waging a campaign of nonviolent resistance to Israel’s Apartheid Wall and colonies. This wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice at the Hague in July 2004, confines Palestinians within a system of ghettos, Bantustans and closed “military areas,” threatening the viability of whole Palestinian communities and cutting them off from access to their land, health and education facilities, resources and markets. International figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have endorsed the nonviolent struggle against Israel’s colonial wall.
In September 2009 Amnesty International withdrew its sponsorship of a Leonard Cohen concert in Israel after Palestinian civil society made it clear that it would consider that partnership a form of complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. Amnesty has written more about Bilin and the wider Palestinian campaign of nonviolent resistance on their blog.
It was reported that your 2008 South African tour was billed as your first tour of that country. However, it seems you had actually played in South Africa in 1983, at the height of the apartheid regime, in violation of the South African cultural boycott campaign. This was your 1983 gig in Sun City, the lavish casino sited in one of the regime’s Bantustans until they were reintegrated into South Africa following the first democratic elections in 1994. At that time, popular democratic movements in South Africa, such as Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, were calling for international artists to boycott South Africa. Today a virtual consensus exists in Palestinian civil society, as represented in the BDS National Committee, behind the call for boycotting Israel until it complies with its obligations under international law and recognizes Palestinian rights, including the right to self-determination. We urge you not to be on the wrong side of history again. This time, we sincerely hope you shall do the right thing and refuse to entertain apartheid Israel.