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Some 1,000 British artists have signed on to a cultural boycott of Israel, pledging their “support [for] the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.” The group, called Artists for Palestine UK, announced the launch of the boycott in a letter published in the Guardian on Friday, which offers this explanation for the initiative:
Israel’s wars are fought on the cultural front too. Its army targets Palestinian cultural institutions for attack, and prevents the free movement of cultural workers. Its own theatre companies perform to settler audiences on the West Bank – and those same companies tour the globe as cultural diplomats, in support of “Brand Israel”. During South African apartheid, musicians announced they weren’t going to “play Sun City”. Now we are saying, in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ashkelon or Ariel, we won’t play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run masterclasses or workshops, until Israel respects international law and ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians.
Among the signatories — originally around 700 creators across the fields of visual art, theater, music, film, television, and literature, with another 200-plus adding their names since the publication of the letter in the Guardian — are visual artists Ed Atkins, Phyllida Barlow, Jeremy Deller, Mona Hatoum, Bharti Kher, and Bob and Roberta Smith; writers Tariq Ali, John Berger, and Geoff Dyer; musician Brian Eno; and actor Mark Rylance.
The boycott specifically targets cultural dealings with the Israeli state, calling on signatories “to accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.” The website further explains the parameters of the boycott:
There is no blanket boycott of Israeli artists. So there is nothing to stop signers of the Pledge going to Israel/Palestine if they are invited by groups that explicitly support Palestinian rights, or indeed by Palestinian organisations themselves. The Palestinian call for a boycott focuses on links to the Israeli state. The Pledge is a refusal to accept invitations from the Israeli state, or by institutions that work with the state, or are silent about or complicit with the Occupation and its associated policies.
This puts it in line with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as outlined in a recent report on Hyperallergic — although the PACBI guidelines may be stricter, including a boycott of “independently-funded projects that present Israelis and Palestinians together, even when addressing the Occupation, since these promote ‘normalization,’” and potentially trips to Israel/Palestine.
In December, another group of cultural creators and academics launched an anti-boycott counter-initiative, under the title “Challenging Double Standards.” The original letter, written and signed by 20 visual artists (among them Eduard Freudmann,Till Gathmann, Nina Prader, and Nikola Radić Lucati), curators, filmmakers, writers, and musicians explains:
With this letter we are advocating against reductive, binary views of conflict in the Middle East. We believe in the role of art to question and resist dichotomous views. We see dialogue as a critical part of any conceivable peace resolution between Palestine and Israel, and are troubled by the tendency among international boycott movements—particularly cultural boycott movements supported by individuals in the arts—which make dialogue impossible. Such dialogue inside Palestine and Israel is difficult, and is only made more precarious by unilateral international boycott. Underlying these movements, we fear there is an upswing of anti-Semitic attitudes and attacks, which seem to convey varying degrees of intentionality. Neglecting or simplifying significant historical legacies, Israel is treated as a paradigmatic colonial power, and is boycotted in a way that no other country is. Such discrimination and double standards, whether explicitly stated or implied, demand to be addressed.
More than 200 people have since joined as signatories, including art historian and curator Robert Storr and artist Daniel Richter.
See the articles in Hyperallergic’s ongoing series exploring BDS and its connection to the art world here.