Open Letter to Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek in an image from Ben Wright’s film, “Slavoj Zizek - The Reality of the Virtual”.

We at the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) have received with concern the news of your participation in the Jerusalem International Film Festival next month. Since a clear majority of Palestinian civil society has called upon international academics, artists, and intellectuals to boycott Israeli institutions due to their complicity in maintaining Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, we strongly urge you to reconsider your participation in this event. At a time when the international movement to isolate Israel is gaining ground in response to the escalation of Israel’s colonial and racist policies, we urge you-as a person of conscience—to reflect upon the ethical implications of your accepting an invitation to take part in a festival that not only enjoys the support of the Israeli establishment but is also part of Israeli efforts to appear as a “normal” participant in the “civilized world” of science, scholarship and art while at the same time practicing the most pernicious form of colonial control and racism against Palestinians.

We believe that participation of international academics and intellectuals in conferences, festivals, or similar events in Israel not explicitly dedicated to ending Israel’s illegal occupation and other forms of oppression only enhances Israel’s image as a center of learning and the arts, and contributes to the propagation of the untruth that scholarship and politics or art and politics should be kept separate and that business as usual need not be disturbed by the intrusion of “politics.” We are certain that as a conscientious scholar you do not subscribe to such formulations that can only be construed as complicity with the status quo. Remaining silent in the face of injustice is not different from acquiescence to it, we are sure you will agree.

The Jerusalem Film Center, under whose auspices the Festival is held, describes itself as “a tribute to pluralism, dialogue, co-existence, cooperation and the quest for freedom.” The idyllic description of the opening festivities of the 2005 Festival “in the shadow of the Old City Walls” is in flagrant disregard of the appalling political and social reality behind the ancient walls of occupied East Jerusalem or indeed behind the other, illegal, Wall that is engulfing Palestinian land, ghettoizing Palestinian Jerusalemites, and blocking the access of other Palestinians to their metropolis.

We wonder what the Festival’s sponsors have done to condemn the occupation, the Wall, or the longstanding policies of exclusion, discrimination, and outright apartheid practiced by city planners, government agencies, and successive mayors of Jerusalem, the most notorious of whom was Teddy Kollek, a generous patron of the Center. You may not be aware that the Jerusalem Film Festival receives the ongoing support of the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture, as well as the Jerusalem Municipality and the office of the mayor. All of these institutions are key nodes in the structures maintaining the colonization of East Jerusalem. Once the Jerusalem Film Festival denounces the Wall and Israeli policies in Jerusalem and declares that no “coexistence” can flourish under apartheid, and once it severs its links to the centers of state power, then it will have taken a courageous step and joined the real civilized world that believes that “coexistence” in the shadow of occupation is not possible and that the “quest for freedom” requires taking a firm stand for equality and against oppression.

As a conscientious scholar, you are acutely aware that Israel has flaunted international law for several decades. Since the hegemonic world powers are active agents in acquiescence to Israel’s colonial and other oppressive policies, we believe that the only avenue left open to achieving justice for Palestinians is sustained work on the part of Palestinian and international activists for justice to put pressure on Israel to end this oppression. Given the grave circumstances in which Palestinians find themselves at this juncture, we believe that a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is the most morally and politically sound way to achieve this. You may be interested to know that in July 2005, the first anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the illegality of the Wall and the occupation regime, more than 170 Palestinian civil society unions and organizations issued the Call for BDS as a non-violent form of resisting Israel’s oppression. The Call issued by PACBI for academic and cultural boycott of Israel has also received widespread support from federations of academics, professionals, writers and artists, and from civil society organizations in Palestine.

We hope that you will not grant legitimacy to oppression by participating in this Festival, no matter how laudable the film you will be speaking about there is. Your mere presence at the Festival will give solace to the centers of power bent on giving a beautiful face to an ugly reality.

Yours sincerely,

Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

The Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is endorsed by over 170 Palestinian union, association and other civil society organizations. The Call and the list of signatories can be found at:

Related Links

  • BY TOPIC: Academic and Cultural Boycott
  • Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
  • Slavoj Zizek: The Reality of the Virtual