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A November 13 BDS protest outside the premiere of Batsheva Dance Company’s ‘Sadeh21’ at BAM in Brooklyn (photo by Mostafa Heddaya/Hyperallergic)

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.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

16 replies on “Nearly 1,000 UK Artists Commit to Cultural Boycott of Israel”

  1. ah yes. a bunch of famous artists, critics, and historians boycotting israel. lucky for us the art world is as insular as it is…

  2. I am an Israeli artist. I allow myself to criticize the Israeli gov. for its policy and reaction toward the Palestinians. I earned the right by being bombard by the palestinians for 6 years that I tought in Sapir collage near Shderot. The British artists did not earn it. I did not hear them boycotting the Chinese, the Koreans, The Libyans, The Syrians, the Russians etc’ , etc’ etc’. Each month more civilians and soldiers are been killed in almost any of those countries then in all the combined wars and atrocities between the Arabs and the Israelis along the new history. Where are all the artists-protestors. It is frustrating to know and to listen to their announcements but the Brits are honorable men….

  3. It is so fashionable to be anti Israel… ..so easy to take a stand against the tiny Jewish state who has had to fight enemies since its creation. … Israel still has to fight terrorism today , where are the demonstrations to protest against Hamas who uses Palestinian children as human shields whilst they pound rockets on Israeli schools….?? It’s a complex situation and lots should be said but it would take up too much time! Sad that people want to boycott Israel and have this black and white view are either ignorant or simply prejudiced.

  4. Boycott of everything from Israel is imho a populist and demagogic narrow-minded turn. Israel is not equal Israel. Israel politics are not equal Israel society. Just imagine boycotting USA or UK in their entireness because of their aggressive foreign policies in Middle East or their blatant worldwide surveillance orgies… (The question is then: who are “they”, who is in the focus of protest?)

    And then: cultural boycott? It targets of all things those Israeli cultural persons, who aren’t so reverent to their own politics.

    If protesting artists want to point the way, to demonstrate their protest, they could do it in another way, like making constructive exhibitions broaching the issues of Israel politics in Palestina, making movies, benefit performances etc.

    But boycotting Israel as a whole concept including its society and culture is imho pretty egocentrical, narcissist and chauvinist way of protest, which doesn’t belong into the artists world with its meta-perspective across the global world society.

    And after all, the complexity of the situation in Palestina is very sophisticated, so every plain one-sided boycott (without understanding the other side) of “well-informed” interested persons is just primitive helpless outcry. (After all, which sources [codename: “faithful” mass-media] they use to be informed, if they don’t live there?)

  5. These hypocrites want to generate a contemporary version of US Senator Joe McCarthy’s Black List from the Cold War era. How very artistic of them. Why don’t they boycott the UK for its colonialist policies that have caused numerous wars and suffering?

      1. McCarthyism was about silencing people who do not agree with your political positions by falsely accusing people of actions they did not commit. This is what is movement is about.

      2. If you close it now, it will appear that you have done so because the views expressed are not in line with your politics. I think the comments are restrained and have much merit.

          1. In any case, thank you for the information about the “Challenging Double Standards Petition”. I have forwarded it to 800 people.

  6. This movement can only keep growing as more and more people begin to wake up to the horrors of the Occupation.

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