Respect the Palestinian-led picket line

The following open letter was issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on 9 September 2010:

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) warmly salutes the tens of American and British theater, film and TV artists for their recently published statement supporting the spreading cultural boycott of Ariel and the rest of Israel’s colonial settlements illegally built on occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) due to their violation of international law (“Making History: Support for Israeli Artists Who Say NO to Normalizing Settlements”). We also express our gratitude to Jewish Voice for Peace for its crucial role in bringing this statement to the light. We view your courageous collective condemnation of Israel’s settlements and “ugly occupation,” your expression of “hope for a just and lasting peace” in our region, and your endorsement of the logic of boycott to end injustice as a groundbreaking, precedent-setting initiative that will significantly contribute to ending Israel’s impunity and status as a state above the law of nations in the United States, the United Kingdom and far beyond.

PACBI hopes that your position, which reflects a growing sentiment in the Western mainstream, particularly among cultural figures, will be consistently upheld against all institutions in Israel and elsewhere that are in violation of international law or complicit in covering up and whitewashing this violation. We sincerely hope that this step will usher in further, more effective and bolder steps leading to a comprehensive cultural boycott of Israel — and its complicit institutions — similar to that imposed on apartheid South Africa. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of apartheid” (“Divesting From Injustice,” The Huffington Post, 13 April 2010).

We hope that you shall be inspired by the historic moment in 1965 when the American Committee on Africa, following the lead of prominent British arts associations, sponsored a declaration against South African apartheid, signed by more than sixty cultural personalities. It read: “We say no to apartheid. We take this pledge in solemn resolve to refuse any encouragement of, or indeed, any professional association with the present Republic of South Africa, this until the day when all its people shall equally enjoy the educational and cultural advantages of that rich and beautiful land.” A year before that, in 1964, the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement promoted a declaration signed by 28 Irish playwrights that they would not permit their work to be performed before segregated audiences in South Africa.

International artists fighting against apartheid then took their lead from the oppressed majority, not a few voices of dissent among the oppressor community, as crucial as the latter are for ending oppression. In light of this inspiring history, we cannot but ask, why haven’t you taken your taboo-breaking position in response to appeals by the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, including almost all leading artists? Why did you have to wait for a relatively small number of dissenting Israeli artists and academics to initiate a boycott, a peculiarly selective and morally-inconsistent one at that? Do authentic voices of the oppressed, especially those in the besieged Gaza Strip, incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison, also count?

The comprehensive and durable peace that you and all people of conscience around the world seek cannot come about except on the foundations of justice, freedom and unmitigated equal rights for all. If justice for the Palestinian people is “the greatest moral issue of our time,” as declared by Nelson Mandela, the great majority in Palestinian civil society has expressed the minimal requirements for justice in the historic call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel as: ending its 1967 occupation and colonization of Palestinian and other Arab territory; ending its system of racial discrimination against its “non-Jewish” citizens; and recognizing the UN-sanctioned right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and lands they were ethnically cleansed from in 1948 and ever since.

In the last few years, many international cultural figures have come out in support of the cultural boycott of Israel as a significant contribution to ending its system of colonial rule and apartheid. Responding to an appeal issued by a great majority of prominent Palestinian filmmakers, artists and other cultural workers, a statement calling for a cultural boycott of Israel was authored by John Berger and signed by dozens of international cultural figures, including some celebrities. This last February, five hundred Canadian artists in Montreal issued a statement committing themselves to “fighting against [Israeli] apartheid” and calling upon “all artists and cultural producers across the country and around the world to adopt a similar position in this global struggle” for Palestinian rights. Irish artists raised the bar even further, pioneering the first nation-wide cultural stance in support of the boycott of Israel.

In reaction to Israel’s Freedom Flotilla massacre which led to the murder of nine unarmed Turkish humanitarian relief workers and human rights activists — one with dual Turkish/US citizenship — and to the injury of dozens more from several countries, leading cultural figures and bands reacted swiftly and decisively.

World-renowned British writer Iain Banks wrote in the Guardian that the best way for international artists, writers and academics to “convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation” is “simply by having nothing more to do with this outlaw state” (“Small step towards a boycott of Israel,” 3 June 2010). This position was later endorsed by Stéphane Hessel, co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Holocaust survivor and former French diplomat (“Gaza Flotilla: Global Citizens Must Respond Where Governments Have Failed,” The Huffington Post, 15 June 2010).

Many British literary and academic figures published a letter in the Independent that said, “We … appeal to British writers and scholars to boycott all literary, cultural and academic visits to Israel sponsored by the Israeli government, including those organized by Israeli cultural foundations and universities” (6 June 2010).

In the world of performing arts, Massive Attack, the Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System, the Pixies and other prominent bands canceled their scheduled concerts in Israel, reportedly due to its ruthless and illegal attack on the Flotilla. World best-selling writer, the Swedish Henning Mankell, who was on the Flotilla when attacked, called for South Africa-style global sanctions against Israel in response to its brutality (“Gaza aid flotilla: Henning Mankell calls for sanctions on Israel,” Telegraph, 2 June 2010.

The best-selling US author Alice Walker reminded the world of the Rosa Parks-triggered and Martin Luther King-led boycott of a racist bus company in Montgomery, Alabama during the US civil rights movement, calling for wide endorsement of BDS against Israel as a moral duty in solidarity with Palestinians, “to soothe the pain and attend the sorrows of a people wrongly treated for generations.”

In the weeks before the Flotilla attack, artists of the caliber of Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron and Carlos Santana all canceled scheduled performances in Israel after receiving appeals from Palestinian and international BDS groups.

Just as you applaud your Israeli counterparts who “find the strength to refuse to cross that line” of “unbearable” moral compromise, we appeal to you not to cross our boycott picket line, which is the simplest, most effective, nonviolent form of solidarity with the Palestinian people in its struggle for justice and lasting peace.