Miki Kratsman, "Targeted Killing (4)" (2010), digital print, 116X170 cm (all images courtesy the artists)

Miki Kratsman, “Targeted Killing (4)” (2010), digital print, 116 x 170 cm (all images courtesy the artists)

Last month, the following letter was sent to artist Mel Chin by New York–based curator Manon Slome. In it she responds to the “Artists’ Letter for Palestine” that was launched in Venice in early August, when the city was hosting both the Venice Biennale and the Creative Time Summit.

Chin was among the first signatories of the letter, and both Chin and Slome agreed to allow Hyperallergic to publish the letter here in the interest of continuing the dialogue about BDS and its impact on the art world.

Slome asked that her letter be accompanied by images from artist Miki Kratsman’s Targeted Killing series, which examines the term “focused foiling,” coined by the Israeli military.

*    *    *

Miki Kratsman, "Gilo-#1" (2001) digital print, 116X170 cm

Miki Kratsman, “Gilo-#1” (2001) digital print, 116 x 170 cm

New York, August 16, 2015

I write to make an alternative voice heard on the subject of the boycott of Israeli institutions and government-funded organizations. It is one of the better letters I have read, or speeches I have heard, on the subject. I believe it is written with good intentions for justice and that the signatories are honorable in their beliefs in the moral imperatives of art (many of them are friends). In addition, I do not support the current Israeli governmental policies toward settlements nor the lack of progress toward a two-state solution. I believe that with such policies Israel is doing more to self annihilate than even its many enemies could hope for.

But as a curator who has spent a great deal of time in Israel and embedded myself in its incredibly rich cultural production, I can say with great conviction that the artists, producers and academics you seek to boycott are in agreement with your cause. Like artists with a strong sense of political and social morality the world over, they protest against the current state of affairs in their work, in their presence at checkpoints and through demonstrations. Yet these are the very people your call for boycott hurts the most. You can answer that you are just calling for a boycott of Israeli funded institutions but in practice, however, this means that invitations to show internationally are withheld or withdrawn for Israeli artists because the global institutions do not want to find themselves in the predicament of being attacked by other artists in a show or by group outcries such as yours. In my last trip to Israel in June, this was indeed the fate of several highly political artists with whom I met. Calls for boycott are thus harming the very practitioners and academics whose views would most closely align with yours. Should we not be discussing ways of supporting this activist voice?

In addition, I believe Israel is an easy target to single out. You are clear and correct that anti-Semitism should not be collated with anti-Zionism. But why are not such similar calls for boycott extended to China where human rights violations and lack of freedom of expression are rampant? I did not hear calls to boycott Chinese institutions even when one of their most prominent critics, Ai Weiwei, was tortured and imprisoned. I don’t hear any call for our most prestigious galleries not to open branches there — because the value of the art market is way too high for that. I don’t hear calls to boycott artistic ties with Iran — a major sponsor of world terrorism. Have artists refused to have their work bought by Saudi or the many tycoons within tyrannical Arab regimes that have become great buyers of world art. With Israel the world has little to lose in terms of economic fallout from the boycott, but I can attest that by limiting the ability for Israeli artists to exhibit worldwide, we are robbing ourselves of seeing some of the best art being produced anywhere in the world today – hands down.

You place the boycott in the tradition of the lineage of previous art world activist groups including the “Guerrilla Girls, the Art Workers Coalition, and so many others who have refused to cooperate in the face of institutional racism, sexism, and labor exploitation.” Well, when the Guerrilla Girls were demonstrating against the paucity of women artists being shown in museums, did any male artists embrace their cause and refuse to show in the Museum of Modern Art, for example? Are they doing anything now as women are still so under-represented? Did any white male artist refuse to show because an institution showed little or no work by artists of color? Indeed, our greater multiculturalism in museums and galleries has been a result of the proliferation of international biennials and market forces looking for more fodder than an artistic impulse to embrace or include diversity. This is not to decry your current conviction — just to emphasize that the list of organizations you place yourselves amongst, has not always been supported by the art community and I thus find questionable the singling out of Israel for a collective boycott.

You end with promising words: “The difficult decision is made in the hopes of building peace. This letter intended to start a conversation.” It is in the spirit of this conversation that I write my response.

—Manon Slome

Miki Kratsman, "Khan Younis #1" (2005) digital print, 70X100 cm

Miki Kratsman, “Khan Younis #1” (2005) digital print, 70 x 100 cm

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

15 replies on “A Response to the Call to Boycott Israel”

  1. BDS is an anti-semitic organization whose ultimate purpose is the destruction of Israel. Through their hateful acts of censorship and intimidation they have succeeded in having the Soda Stream company close its plant in the West Bank putting about 500 Palestinians out of work. Keep up your hypocritical and double standard ideals of demonizing Other people and making outrageous statements and demands that cannot be met.

    There are 50 countries with Muslim majorities containing 1.5 billion Muslims yet they cannot abide having one tiny country with some 6 million Jews and 2 million Christians and Muslims. Why haven’t these countries, none of which practice pluralism, absorbed the Palestinians? Could it be their goal is the annihilation of Israel and the Palestinians are their pawns?

    The unacknowledged elephant in the room is not Israel or the refugees; rather it is the failure of the Muslim world to come to terms with modernity. Unless that changes, these conditions of absolutism, brutal fanaticism, extreme prejudice, and nihilistic violence will continue spreading across the Arab world and become a perpetual crisis looking for scapegoats, such as the Jews, to blame their problems on.

  2. Ms. Slome makes a good point about not alienating progressive forces in Israel arts community, and no sane person one wants to do that if they can help it. However, personally I would move from a country that is so anti-ethical to every thing I stand for as a human being, but that is just me. When I see the disproportionate cold blooded slaughter of men, women and children in Gaza I could not live in a country that justifies cold blooded murder on that scale. Make no mistake cold blooded mass murder is what it is. When the Nazi did it against the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto it was cold blooded murder…. when the Israelis do it against the Palestinians in the Gaza ghetto its cold blooded murder. There is no getting around that fact.

    Best art hands- down is just an opinion.. the best art and sculptural works been produced in the world is Zimbabwe Shona Sculpture- Art works. They have been doing it for thousands of years. Euro-centric Jewish arrogance rears its ugly head once again with that bull$hit statement. Ask Picasso where his art comes from and see the rip-off of African- Shona Art and Sculptures.

    To get to Ms. Slome main question about why other countries are not been condemned…. I can assure Ms. Slome when China, Iran and Saudi Arabia go to North Africa or thousands of miles away from their ancestral lands and hijack other peoples land- I guarantee her my self and other progressive peoples every where will condemn it. Our outrage has nothing to do with hating Jewish people and wanting to see their destruction only sick bastards would even think of some thing like that… what we are saying is that Israel government polices are wrong and evil.. and evil is evil..period!!

    Furthermore when Ashkenazim and Sephardim Jews of Israel treat the sacred Black and original Jews of Israel- Beta Israel with the honour and respect they deserve- then the world will take them seriously when they claim Israel is also there land. In the mean time it looks like just another white man con job and land grab at the barrel of a gun.

    1. Sure didn’t take long to invoke Godwin’s Law (or Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies) – an Internet adage stating that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1″— that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.

      1. Bob Marley say ..”Who the cap fit let them wear it”.

        I remember during the Apartheid struggle against the white supremacist Nazi regime in South Africa. White Gay South Africans and their organizations refused to condemn “Apartheid” when they attended International Gay Conferences- so they were kicked out of some of these International Gay Organizations and Conferences. I have to give credit to some of our Jewish brothers and sisters who have the courage and the basic human decency to condemn the policies of the Israeli government vis-a- vis the Palestinians. They are a hell of lot better than those white supremacist homosexuals in South Africa who was crying crocodile tears about discrimination against gays but saw nothing wrong with their Apartheid regime and government discriminating and slaughtering black people in their own land. I happen to think that the Jewish artist if they are TRULY committed to human rights and justice will and should understand that the boycott and divestment initiative is not directed at them personally and the progressive forces in Israel..its just that people dont no what else to do to bring attention to the plight of the Palestinian people.

        The day Israel and the Palestinians make peace under the terms of a two state solution…. people of good will all over the world will rejoice.. this has NOTHING to do with hating Jewish people. I believe most people just want fairness and justice for the down trodden of the earth. .. that’s all.

        If I was around in 1930’s I would be speaking out and standing with the Jews of Europe against The Nazi’s ..because it would have been the decent and human thing to do..period!

        1. At its best, BDS is a cruel form of collective punishment for imagined wrongs. Their position treats the Palestinians as infants unable and incapable of being responsible for their own actions.

          From the US State Department:


          “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

          WORKING DEFINITION of ANTI-SEMITISM by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia


          ■■Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews (often in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion).

          ■■Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective—especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

          ■■Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, the state of Israel, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

          ■■Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

          ■■Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.


          EXAMPLES of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel, taking into account the overall context could include:


          ■■Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis

          ■■Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis

          ■■Blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions


          ■■Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation

          ■■Multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations


          ■■Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist

          1. Look I am Africentric Black man trying to liberate my people from white and Arab racism… I really dont have a dog in this fight- I just hate injustice ..period!

            Citing the US State Department is laughable- the examples you stated was probably written by Jewish- American lunatic like Frank Gaffney when he ran or influenced the US State Department policy – so much for Jewish victimization.. Lets have a serious conversation. Jews are one of he most powerful groups in the world, that is a fact. God bless em… I only wish Black people as group or race would get their $hit together and have 1/0th of Jewish influence or power, so please dont try to make it sound like if Jewish people is under siege like black people are in AmeriKKKa or globally. Jews got filthy rich from the Atlantic Slave Trade so as a black man I have some issues with that– but The Arabs also got filthy rich from the Slave Trade and they also stole North Africa including Kemet -Egypt from us which is the center of Black – African civilization. How do you think the black man feel about this great insult? I guess we live in a world where when you snooze you lose…. If we had guns like the Europeans it would have been a different story… We should have sent a Black Marco Polo to China to bring back gun powder… that would have changed the course of history…oh well shoulda coulda woulda…we have just have tolerate the intolerable and heal our selves from the mugging and get back in the race….because the history of mankind is a marathon which I am sure we will find a way to win in the end. The Black man is one tough SOB! .. he will survive and flourish in due course…..God made us first for a reason.

            Hey you guys are doing OK, you have 200+ nuclear weapons – at the end of the day not even the Mullahs of Iran is crazy enough to eff with you- they maybe crazy but they are not suicidal..I only wish the Black man was sitting that pretty. We have some idiot leaders in Africa ( Nigeria and South Africa) who have the capabiliy but are more interested in plundering the national treasury and sending their loot to the white man’s banks in Europe and America than building nuclear weapons to bring respect, prestige, and security to the black race.

            I say all in all you guys are doing quite well and you are certainly not at the bottom of the barrel been pissed on like black folks. For a proud black man like me do you know how hard this is for me to to tolerate and stomach this $hit every day.. Every day when I get up I have to deal with this insult?. Even with a Black President Black people feel even more oppressed and under attack by White AmeriKKKa…. !!….thats REAL powerlessness and victimization. You guys should be black for a day in a racist white world to see what if feels like to be under siege constantly with Barbarians at the Gate. But this too shall pass!!.. Our ancestors has survived worse!!- we are Homo Sapiens from Africa.- we built the pyramids and conquered and populated every nook and cranny of planet earth.

            You guys have disproportionate amount of power in the Democratic Party and the RepubliKKKan Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Likud Party..so forgive me if I dont see the Jewish people as powerless victims been picked on by a Jew hating world.

            Yeah people get pissed and frustrated from time to time and say harsh and angry things about Israel and the Jews..but that is out of frustration and anger as opposed to any congenital deep- seated hatred for people who call them selves Jews.

            All I see is a world seeking a fair shake and basic human rights for a downtrodden and homeless Palestinian people. There is Nothing anti-Semitic about that my friend!

          2. Cool..what ever floats your boat bud!… No Art predates African Art.. humanity started in Africa… as for Kemet- Egyptian art its hard to say when it started .. Europeans know so little about Africa its laughable when they comment about Africa and its history…there so -called African experts have to revise what they claim to know about Africa ever day..A few years ago “Egyptian Studies” was under “Oriental Studies” at Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and all his leading academic institutions…shows how racists and clueless Mr. Know-It-All is about Africa. All I know is Europeans put a pile of rocks called Stonehenge on the table…the black man puts the pyramid of Giza…so when it comes to ancient civilizations or art its not even in the same universe. I see Hamangia culture also carved stone sculptures… but its nothing like the high art genius of Zimbabwe/Shona Stone sculptures… Shona art creativity and detail is from another universe . The Zimbabweans carved cities out of stone…..whole different ball game old chap.

            Also see Benin Civilization Iron sculptures.. they were smelting iron and making art when Europeans where living in the stone age.

            These are the people the white man proclaimed to the world were savages and primitive. When you see their art and the thought processes that went into it- modern man would find it hard duplicate it.

          3. I just wanted to contribute to this thread by friendly bragging about my hometown ancient culture, but you take yourself and your ancestry too serious.

            I didn’t see black sculpture in ancient Egypt, except for Tutankhamun’s mask; but he didn’t make it himself : )

            From Nefertiti to Cleopatra the facial features aren’t negroid, if you ask me and a bunch of yes, European and American scientists.
            Amenhotep III looks a bit like Michael Jackson after surgery.

            Have fun dealing with that : )

            I think that old Egypt is the first true melting pot where, like in Greece and the Roman Empire, race didn’t mean anything.

            And BTW, Zimbabwe/Shona Stone is a baby compared to the Hamangia Thinker.

    2. Ignoring your racist moaning and getting back to the point: The BDS movement is based on coercion as opposed to democracy. Proponents imply that Israel is not open to persuasion and that the electorate is too stupid, immature or evil to know what is best for their society. Unable to convince the Israeli electorate of the merits of their views, BDS proponents demonize Israel and call for outsiders to punish the citizens of Israel until they capitulate.

      Some people believe that pressure must be applied to stimulate the parties to make concessions that will make a peace agreement possible. While this is a debatable tactic, people interested in peace recognize that any pressure would have to be directed at both parties. BDS proponents, however, are interested only in pressuring Israel and hold the Palestinians blameless for the conflict, even though the Arabs have started all the major wars with Israel. Many injustices have resulted from the ongoing failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but seeking to present Palestinian grievances out of context and without consideration of parallel Israeli concerns is neither constructive nor fair. The advancement of Palestinian rights should not negate the legitimate rights of Israelis.

      Unlike peace advocates wanting to hasten a two-state solution to the conflict, BDS proponents make partisan political demands that are clearly aimed at a different outcome: the destruction of Israel.

      1. Yeah I know I know YIDDISH moaning is more important than black moaning. I think Israel and NutandYahoo is doing a great job demonizing Israel all by your self..you guys dont need any help from BDS.

        Directed at both parties??? ..thats like watching a 10ft tall 400lb thug beating up a midget and saying ” come on guys break it up” .

        The Arabs invaded you because you stole their land… its not rocket science why they invaded you..if some one stole your house and land what would you do? would’nt you at least try to get it back even at the risk of getting an @$$ kicking??

        Hell you got super power weapons ..hell even in the Gaza bloodbath the American military was shipping you the latest bombs with out even checking with the White House as a courtesy…Now that’s power!!

        Destruction of Israel my butt..You have over 200 nuclear weapons for Chriss sakes..stop crying wolf..nobody is buying this woe is me crap. Its played out…..come up with some thing new.

        I am done wit this old chap…..lets hope humanity and common sense prevail.

        1. BDS advocates claim they are not advocating any one solution. In reality, this is purposeful ambiguity, as their three demands clearly spell out a “one-state” outcome, which has no basis in international law and which is code for the destruction of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. While disavowing any interest in a formula for concluding an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, their preconditions make it impossible to see an outcome whereby an independent state of Palestine would coexist beside a secure Jewish state. Meanwhile, BDS proponents use this ambiguity to try to recruit well-meaning people unaware of the movement’s true agenda, BDS is, therefore, a recipe for disaster, not coexistence. Creating “one state” with the “right of return” would mean that there would be no Israel and no self-determination for the Jewish people. This is not a basis for peace but a formula for perpetual conflict.

  3. Thanks for reprinting Manon Slome’s letter. It is very well reasoned, well written, and avoids resorting to hyperbole while being pointed in its critique of the proponents of BDS in being arbitrary and selective in which group gets shunned and which gets a pass. I agree with her that the causes of peace and justice are not served by oversimplifying and overgeneralizing about an entire group of people, in this case Israelis. Would anyone who signed the BDS petition like being pigeonholed and denied opportunities to participate in an intellectual or artistic dialogue abroad based on the policies of the current leaders of the US government, no matter what they thought of those policies?

  4. This is why a boycott of all Israeli products makes sense:

    ” . . . in October 2014, then-Economy Minister Naftali Bennett laid cornerstones for two new industrial parks in the northern West Bank. “Even as people in faraway places speak out against the settlement movement, we here establish facts on the ground day after day,” declared the leader of HaBayit HaYehudi. How does one establish facts on the ground in industrial zones in the occupied territories? One colors them pink, the color chosen to designate a top priority national development area, originally weak, peripheral regions in the north and south of Israel in need of support.

    “This designation entitles these areas to grants and tax benefits, which the state bestows on industrial export manufacturers. To attract entrepreneurs to the occupied territories, the government offers them a number of incentives: a sizable discount on the price of land (31% of the value estimated by the government assessor), exemption from mandatory tenders and a 40%-85% subsidy for land development costs. In addition, they are eligible for significantly reduced municipal taxes (that is, a discount of 50% or more compared with the usual rate levied in industrial parks in Israel).”

    Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/09/european-parliament-labeling-settlement-products-taxes.html#ixzz3m9PIWfyt

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