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The boycott of the new settlement ‘culture’ hall at Ariel

jfjfp

Another step towards normalising the occupation was taken when Israel’s leading theatre companies agreed to perform at a new cultural centre in Ariel, in the heart of the occupied West Bank. Some forty Israeli actors and directors are refusing to go along with this. The list includes Israel Prize laureate Renee Yerushalmi, actors Yossi Pollack and Itay Tiran, director Ofira Henig, playwrights Joshua Sobol and Savyon Liebrecht and many more. They need support.

On 5 September 2010 we wrote to signatories we knew as writers, actors and theatre directors to draw their attention to this protest and asked them to circulate widely to others in the field.

Jewish Voice for Peace in the States organised a statement of support, signed rapidly by “over 150 theater and film professionals representing some of the most respected and renowned artists in theater, film and television – including Four Pulitzer Prize winners, several recipients of Guggenheim Fellowships, a MacArthur Fellowship, a National Medal of Honor,and scores of recipients of the highest U.S. acting honors, including Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, Obie Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and the Oscar.”

You will find further information about this protest in Richard Silverstein’s posting on his Tikun Olam website and in articles in Ha’aretz and Ynetnews listed below. Here is the JVP statement and list of signatories: Making History: Support for Israeli Artists Who Say NO to Normalizing Settlements

Since the mailing hose Israeli artists and boycotters who refuse to play in Ariel have been reproached by PACBI (the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) for not having spoken out on other issues (while welcoming support for them from actors etc abroad). Veteran Israeli peace activist Reuven Kaminer argues that Pacbi’s critique is misguided.


Israeli Actors Refuse to Perform in Settlements

Richard Silverstein, 27 August 2010

After Israel’s leading theater companies announced they would appear for the first time in an Israeli settlement, 40 Israeli actors, directors and producers signed a statement refusing to perform.  They were to grace the boards of a new center for the arts, performing some of the treasures of the world canon (among them Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle) for the good burghers of Ariel, known to its boosters as the “capital of Samaria.”

The artists’ statement said: “We express contempt regarding the intent of the managements of theater companies to appear at Ariel’s new hall.  We will refuse to appear in Ariel and in any other settlement.  We call upon the management to restrict their theatrical activity to the sovereign borders of the State of Israel.”

Full article

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See also:

Artists to refuse to perform in Ariel culture hall, Merav Yudilovitch, YNetnews, 27 August 2010

Prominent actors, directors, playwrights send letter to boards of Israeli theaters in protest of plans to put on shows in news culture auditorium beyond Green Line. Yesha Council vows harsh response to ‘vile, anti-Zionist’ letter

Israeli theater actors refuse to perform at new West Bank cultural center, Chaim Levinson, Haaretz, 26 August 2010

Leading settler responds to refusal by Yousef Sweid and Rami Heuberger by saying that ‘Israel is much stronger than such boycotts.’

Boycott of Theater in Israeli Settlement Grows, Robert Mackey, New York Times blog, 27 August 2010

MK Oron: Artists have a right not to perform in West Bank settlements, Chaim Levinson, Ha’aretz, 30 August 2010

300 demonstrators gathered outside Habima Theater in Tel Aviv to protest the theater’s decision to stage performances in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.




Boycotting Ariel: Missing the Forest for the Trees

This piece was published as the PACBI Column in the September 2010 issue of the BRICUP Newsletter.

Provoked by the recent announcement of the inauguration of a cultural center in Ariel, the fourth largest Jewish colony in the occupied Palestinian territory, 150 prominent Israeli academics, writers, and cultural figures have declared that they “will not take part in any kind of cultural activity beyond the Green Line, take part in discussions and seminars, or lecture in any kind of academic setting in these settlements” [1].  A few protestors went as far as reiterating the fact that all Israeli colonies built on occupied Palestinian land are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and thus constitute a war crime.

This position by tens of Israeli academics and artists has generated a great deal of controversy within the Israeli public sphere, attracting rebuke from across the political spectrum and especially from the academic and cultural establishment.  All major theaters were quick to declare their refusal to boycott Ariel under the pretense of serving “all Israelis;” university administrations echoed this position or resorted to silence, continuing business as usual with Ariel and other settlements.  The terms of the discourse, however, raise a number of issues for supporters of Palestinian rights.  While we welcome acts of protest against any manifestation of Israel’s regime of colonialism and apartheid, we believe that these acts must be both morally consistent and anchored in international law and universal human rights.

First, we believe that the exclusive focus on settlement institutions ignores and obscures the complicity of all Israeli academic and cultural institutions in upholding the system of colonial control and apartheid under which Palestinians suffer.  PACBI believes there is firm evidence of the collusion of the Israeli academic and cultural establishment with the major oppressive organs of the Israeli state.  Focusing solely on obviously complicit institutions, such as cultural centers in a West Bank colony, serves to shield mainstream Israeli institutions from opprobrium or, ultimately, from the growing global boycott movement that consistently targets all complicit institutions.

Furthermore, the cherry-picking approach behind targeting a notorious colonial settlement in the heart of the occupied West Bank diverts attention from other institutions built on occupied land.  Supporters of this peculiarly selective boycott must be asked: Is lecturing or performing at the Hebrew University, whose Mount Scopus campus sits on occupied Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, acceptable?

If opposition to Israel’s military occupation is driving this movement, then why has the deplorable stifling of cultural institutions in occupied Jerusalem, for example, been ignored? In 2009, the Arab League with support from UNESCO declared Jerusalem the Arab Cultural Capital for that year.  Celebrations that were to be held across the city throughout the year highlighting the historical and cultural role of Jerusalem in Palestinian society and beyond were shut down and at times physically attacked by Israeli security forces in their ongoing attempt to stifle expressions of Palestinian identity in the occupied city.  In scenes worthy of Kafka’s novels, organized activities throughout East Jerusalem were summarily cancelled as Palestinian artists, writers and cultural figures resorted to underground techniques to celebrate their city’s cultural and popular heritage [2].

If the artists’ and intellectuals’ role as voices of moral reason is behind this most recent call to boycott Ariel, where were these voices when academic and cultural institutions were wantonly destroyed in Israel’s war of aggression on Gaza in 2008-2009?

It has not gone without notice in Israel that BDS is gaining momentum internationally as an effective means of resisting Israeli colonial oppression.  Given this context, one may be excused to assert that these recent efforts to narrow the focus of the boycott against Israel may be deliberately missing the forest for the trees.. It is important to reiterate the morally-consistent rationale and principles of the Palestinian boycott campaign against Israel.

The BDS movement derives its principles from both the demands of the Palestinian BDS Call, signed by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in July 2005 [3], and, in the academic and cultural fields, from the Palestinian Call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, issued a year earlier in July 2004 [4].  Together, the BDS and PACBI Calls represent the most authoritative and widely supported strategic statements to have emerged from Palestine in decades; all political factions, labor, student and women organizations, and refugee groups across the Arab world have supported and endorsed these calls.  Both calls underline the prevailing Palestinian belief that the most effective form of international solidarity with the Palestinian people is direct action and persistent pressure aimed at bringing an end to Israel’s colonial and apartheid regime, just as the apartheid regime in South Africa was abolished, by isolating Israel internationally through boycotts and sanctions, forcing it to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights.

Those who claim to care about the coherent application of international law and the primacy of human rights are urged to recognize the “forest” of academic and cultural complicity beyond the “trees” of Ariel and act accordingly and consistently.

[1] http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/150-academics-artists-back-actors-boycott-of-settlement-arts-center-1.311149

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8338316.stm

[3] http://bdsmovement.net/?q=node/52

[4] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=869

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Refusing to Normalize a Cruel Occupation: A PACBI Open Letter to American and British Artists Supporting the Cultural Boycott of Israeli Colonies

Pacbi

Occupied Ramallah, 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 [1] 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.[2]  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” [emphasis added] 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.”[3]

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 60 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.”[4]  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.[5]

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 [6]?  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) [7] 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 [8], 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.[9]  This last February, 500 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.[10]  Irish artists raised the bar even further, pioneering the first nation-wide cultural stance in support of the boycott of Israel.[11]

In reaction to Israel’s Freedom Flotilla massacre which led to the murder of 9 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.”[12]  This position was later endorsed by Stephane Hessel,[13] co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Holocaust survivor and former French diplomat.

Many British literary and academic figures published a letter [14] 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 organised by Israeli cultural foundations and universities.”

In the world of performing arts, Massive Attack, among other top music bands, refused to perform in Israel in protest over its treatment of the Palestinians;[15] the Klaxons, Gorillaz Sound System, the Pixies and other prominent groups cancelled scheduled concerts there, 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.[16]

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.”[17]

In the weeks before the Flotilla attack, artists of the caliber of Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron and Carlos Santana all cancelled [18] 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, non-violent form of solidarity with the Palestinian people in its struggle for justice and lasting peace.



Answer to PACBI’s belittling of the actors’ refusal to appear in Ariel

Reuven Kaminer, 13 September 2010

[Original title: PACBI – Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel Criticizes the Boycott by Israeli Theater People on Ariel]

As we know, some 60 Israeli theater people came out a few weeks back with a declaration that they will refuse to appear at the Ariel “Culture” Hall located in the occupied territories.  It is important to stress that actors-artists are employees subordinate to the administrative and financial owners of the theater who are their employers in every sense.  So, we are not speaking only of taking a courageous stand, but an act which puts the actor on a collision course with his boss.  And we are not speaking of any kind of profession.  An actor, without the theater, cannot work, create or make a living.  Therefore, most honest people tend naturally to honor and applaud the brave tens of theater people for their act of protest.

It is also natural that the Israeli theater people received support from abroad. Indeed 150 central cultural figures, mainly from the US and the UK expressed their admiration for the courageous stand of the Israeli theater people.

This chain of events is yet another component in a broad movement in Israel and abroad serving to delegitimize the occupation regime and overall Israeli policies.  It is important to note that this movement is itself composed of a variety of various, independent, groups and organizations, each of which has a record of long and difficult struggle against the occupation and its evils.

Boycott in Principle

For quite a while a serious debate has been taking place in our circles and in the broad public as to whether the boycott is an appropriate instrument for our struggle. There are those who argue that any boycott against Israel is unjust, really an act of anti-Semitism.  But this is a rather naïve position of those who refuse to recognize the suffering and the deprivation of the Palestinian under Israel occupation.  Those who support peace and are struggling against the occupation cannot reject any non violent activity aimed at advancing the struggle against the occupation.  It is necessary to add that by virtue of its emotionally charged nature, boycott is never a simple affair. It is always a complex mechanism and should be employed with caution and wisdom.  Boycotts should be aimed at a definite goal and should be accompanied with detailed political explanation on the cause and the goals of the boycott.

In general, the left in Israel supports boycott activity that conforms to the aforementioned reservations.

PACBI – The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

Those who follow Palestinian politics know that we are talking about a small and energetic group of activists who have a very explicit political agenda.  They see in boycott activity a political instrument with a clear and definite message.  This message is revealed in the first statement of their program, which declares the purpose of the boycott: “the elimination of the colonization of all Arab lands.” (see http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=66).  This formulation expresses the position of the group, which negates the existence of the state of Israel.  In of itself, there is nothing illegitimate about this position. We are talking about leading intellectuals who are members of a nation oppressed by Israel for decades.  Difficulties arise on the strategic level.  Within the framework of BDS activity, the PACBI people represent a determined line, which demands that boycott activity should conform to their principled position.  It is worth being clear on this question from the onset: they do not support activity against the occupation in and of itself because they see such activity as a diversion from the main issue.  Their hard-line interpretation that all Israel must be considered territory under occupation brought them into conflict with important leaders of the peace movement such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein.

I confess that I am not enthused about getting into a critical discussion about PACBI.  I have no doubt regarding the noble intentions of members of the group and their devotion to non-violent struggle against the occupation as they perceive it.  However, when they decide to deride the brave struggle of Israeli members of the peace movement and at the same time demonstrate their lack of understanding of our conditions, it is necessary to comment on this.  Precisely out of concern for the campaign of the Israeli left against the occupation it is necessary to come out clearly against Palestinian friends who desire to insult with callousness and derision courageous and effective protest.

PACBI Against the Theater People and their International Supporters

We cannot know why PACBI issued, in the space of two days, two separate declarations that deal with the Israeli protest action against the “Cultural” Hall in Ariel.  We will deal first with the declaration dated 7th of September (see:

http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11510.shtml).  There is nowhere in this text a good word about the activity of the Israeli theater people, and the declaration gives us a detailed and lengthy explanation for this.  “While we welcome acts of protest against any manifestation of Israel’s regime of colonialism and apartheid, we believe that these acts must be both morally consistent and anchored in international law and universal human rights.”  These words serve as an introduction to a text in which PACBI explains that the action by the theater people does not meet these criteria.

These are the faults in the behavior of the theater people:

“First, we believe that the exclusive focus on settlement institutions ignores and obscures the complicity of all Israeli academic and cultural institutions in upholding the system of colonial control and apartheid under which Palestinians suffer.  PACBI believes there is firm evidence of the collusion of the Israeli academic and cultural establishment with the major oppressive organs of the Israeli state.  Focusing solely on obviously complicit institutions, such as cultural centers in a West Bank colony, serves to shield mainstream Israeli institutions from opprobrium or, ultimately, from the growing global boycott movement that consistently targets all complicit institutions.  Furthermore, the cherry-picking approach behind targeting a notorious colonial settlement in the heart of the occupied West Bank diverts attention from other institutions built on occupied land.  Supporters of this peculiarly selective boycott must be asked: is lecturing or performing at the Hebrew University, whose Mount Scopus campus sits on occupied Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, acceptable?

The PACBI people go on to submit a list of “test questions” to the theater people:  why did they refrain from taking a position against the suffocation of Palestinian cultural institutions in conquered Jerusalem?  The PACBI people continue the test questions:  “If the artists’ and intellectuals’ role as voices of moral reason is behind this most recent call to boycott Ariel, where were these voices when academic and cultural institutions were wantonly destroyed in Israel’s war of aggression on Gaza in 2008-2009?”

In all seriousness, there is no sincerity and no honesty in referring these questions to these people in these circumstances.  The theater people under discussion were never a separate and organized movement but only an ad hoc formation.  At the same time, among the theater people there are indeed those who protested the war on Gaza, against the occupation of East Jerusalem and the like. In any event, the “cross examination” style is not appropriate here.

The Second Document

As we have noted PACBI published a second declaration on this subject (see: http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1353).  The second document, issued two days after the first, is different in that it is in the form of an open letter to the American and English cultural figures who came out in support of the cultural boycott against the Israeli settlement of the West Bank.  Their letter praises and commends the theater, film and television people following their declaration of support of those boycotting Ariel.  Reasonably, PACBI calls on the artists abroad to deepen and expand their steps for yet a more comprehensive boycott.  However, it is a bit strange to praise and to commend people abroad on their declared support for peace-loving Israelis, while the Israeli activity in itself is not considered worthy in PACBI eyes.

The explanation for this is contained in a paragraph which presents a set of “test questions” similar to those addressed to the Israeli theater people.  PACBI wants to know why the cultural figures abroad refuse to act in good time:  “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?”  PACBI concludes its letter to the artists abroad that they act according to the spirit of its positions.

In Summary

PACBI, as important as it is, is not the only political factor in Palestinian society, but only one of many Palestinian organizations. While all Palestinians support, in principle, actions against the occupation and against Israeli policies, there are discussions and debates all about the vital issue of strategy and tactics.  PACBI represents a version that causes unnecessary difficulties for building the unity of all peace loving forces, who support the Palestinian right of self determination.  The recent appearance of an important coalition built on the parties of the Palestinian left and on the political initiative of a grouping around Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is of tremendous importance.  This group has criticized the defeatism of Abu Mazen and his people while continuing its support for a just peace.  And in respect to our concern here it is important that this coalition supports cooperation on the basis of mutual respect between themselves and the democratic and peace forces in Israel.  Solidarity can only be constructed on the basis of mutual respect and a deep understanding of the difficulties of the left opposition in both nations.

*This article was written and published originally in Hebrew.  I was concerned that its publication in English might needlessly intensify the debate.  However, a number of good friends, who are sincerely devoted to BDS activity, requested an English translation, and convinced me of its value.

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