Archive for the Cultural Boycott Category

Alvin Ailey: Don’t Dance Around Israeli Apartheid

Posted in Cultural Boycott on October 10, 2010 by Marcy Newman

PACBI | 9 October 2010

While human beings are being willfully denied not just their rights but their needs for their children and grandparents and themselves, I feel deeply that I should not be sending even tacit signals that [performing in Israel] is either ‘normal’ or ‘ok’. It’s neither and I cannot support it. It grieves me that it has come to this and I pray everyday for human beings to begin caring for each other, firm in the wisdom that we are all we have. [1] – Maxi Jazz (Faithless front-man)

Occupied Ramallah, 9 October 2010 – The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is deeply disturbed by news reports that your company plans to participate, later this month, in the fourth annual Tel Aviv Dance Festival, an initiative sponsored by the Tel Aviv Municipality and cultural institutions that are complicit in maintaining Israel’s system of colonial oppression.[2] PACBI, supported by an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society and, in particular, by almost the entire community of Palestinian dance artists and other cultural workers,[3] views the participation of any international cultural group in this, or any similarly objectionable festival, as a form of complicity in whitewashing Israel’s occupation, apartheid and war crimes. We ask you to cancel your participation and to join the growing ranks of prominent international artists and arts groups who have refused to cross our boycott picket line [4] and have thus evoked the most noble traditions of international solidarity that was manifest in the South African anti-apartheid struggle.

Palestinian artists and boycott activists were particularly disheartened by Alvin Ailey’s plans to partake in this festival, given your group’s record of standing up for human rights and against racist oppression.

In 2008, when you first ignored our pleas and participated in Israel’s “re-branding” propaganda efforts by performing in Tel Aviv, you yourself fell target to Israel’s institutionalized and prevailing racism. Israeli security officers at Tel-Aviv’s Airport forced Alvin Ailey dancer, Abdur-Rahim Jackson, your only African-American member with a Muslim/Arab sounding name, to perform twice for them in order to prove he was a dancer before letting him enter the country with the rest of the company, as reported by the Associated Press then.[5] While still officially illegal in the U.S., ethnic profiling, considered racist by human rights groups, is widespread in Israel. It is seen in such places as entrances to malls, public and private buildings, airports, etc. Israeli citizens and permanent residents with Arab names — or often just “Arab accents” — are commonly singled out for rough, intrusive and glaringly humiliating “security” checks.[6] Even after Mr. Jackson had complied, one of the Israeli officers suggested that he change his name, leaving him humiliated and “deeply saddened,” as your own spokesperson confirmed at the time. In response to your humiliation, you did nothing.

At a time when the Israeli state is besieging and denying basic rights and needs to 1.5 million Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and committing a gradual ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev), dancing in Tel Aviv is all that more morally repulsive. You shall be dancing at a festival primarily sponsored by the Tel Aviv Municipality, an official Israeli body notorious for its apartheid policies against the indigenous Palestinians. As the seat of Israel’s political and economic power, Tel Aviv houses the institutions that mastermind and oversee the implementation of Israel’s longstanding policies of ethnic cleansing, racial discrimination and military subjugation. It is hence more emblematic of apartheid and colonial rule than any other Israeli city. Tel Aviv is a city in colonial denial. Its very existence and expansion are products of the Zionist project of erasing the physical presence of the Palestinians, their culture, heritage and memory. The adjacent Palestinian city of Jaffa and numerous villages were emptied of their indigenous inhabitants to make way for the “White City.” Performing in Tel Aviv today is therefore equivalent to, if not worse than, performing in Sun City under apartheid South Africa, in violation of the call for boycott supported by the oppressed black majority then.

Two years after the initial 2004 call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel was issued by PACBI,[7] a large majority of Palestinian artists and cultural workers appealed to all artists and filmmakers of good conscience around the world “to cancel all exhibitions and other cultural events that are scheduled to occur in Israel, to mobilize immediately and not allow the continuation of the Israeli offensive to breed complacency.” As with the past boycott of South African cultural institutions, international cultural workers and groups are urged by their Palestinian colleagues to “speak out against the current Israeli war crimes and atrocities.”

Many world renowned artists and intellectuals heeded the Palestinian appeal for boycott; those included John Berger, Ken Loach, Jean-Luc Godard, the Irish artists union, Aosdana, and Belgian dance companies Rosas and Les Ballets C. de la B. The latter published a statement defending the cultural boycott as “a legitimate, unambiguous and nonviolent way of exerting additional pressure on those responsible.”[8]

Most recently, 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 the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (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.”[9]

In August, more than 150 (now closer to 200) Irish artists published a pledge to boycott Israeli cultural institutions until Israel complies with international law.[10] A few months earlier, Montreal, Canada, witnessed a most impressive initiative in this respect, where 500 artists 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.[11]

As to those claiming that a cultural boycott of Israel would infringe on freedom of expression and cultural exchange, we recall the judicious words of Enuga S. Reddy, director of the United Nations Center against Apartheid, who in 1984 responded to similar criticism voiced against the cultural boycott of South Africa saying:

It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms… to the African majority… should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world. We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime.[12]

Alvin Ailey, and indeed all other artists and cultural entities that uphold human rights and human dignity, surely realize that art and moral responsibility cannot be divorced. In a situation of colonial oppression and apartheid, you cannot simply dance around apartheid; you are called upon to help in ending it.

[1] http://www.wallofsilence.org/news.html

[2] http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3960222,00.html

[3] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=315

[4] Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel: http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1047.

[5] http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26623540

[6] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=805

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

[8] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=85

[9] http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11319.shtml

[10] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1328

[11] http://www.tadamon.ca/post/5824

[12] http://www.tcg.org/publications/at/mayjune08/positions.cfm

Artists breaking the silence on Palestine

Posted in Cultural Boycott on October 4, 2010 by Marcy Newman

By Stefan Christoff | October 4, 2010

Artists play a galvanizing role in shaping popular opinion on the defining issues of our time.

Historic struggles for justice are often remembered at a grassroots level not by campaign slogans or political speeches but via artistic symbols. Art can capture both the human emotion and political energy of critical moments in history, etching cultural expression into our collective social conscious.

Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is alarming the world and accordingly many artists are standing with Palestine in unprecedented ways, including poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron.

A foundational figure to hip-hop culture, Scott-Heron marks contemporary artistic history as a rap innovator but also as a wordsmith, capturing the essence of critical fault lines in America via ruff poetics. Heron’s recent cancellation of a planned concert in Tel Aviv, “until everyone is welcome there,” words directed at the apartheid nature of Israel, is a historic development.

Other artists, like Elvis Costello, are also sounding an artistic alarm on Palestinian suffering, pointing to a fast approaching watershed moment in the global arts movement for Palestine.

“It is a matter of instinct and conscience,” writes Costello, in an open letter on the cancelation of a concert in Israel this summer. “There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.”

Artistic solidarity from Johannesburg to Jerusalem

Today, artists are increasingly backing the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting Israel’s apartheid policies, not the first time artists stand on the frontlines of an international movement.

Artistic advocacy for freedom in Palestine builds on historical relationships between groundbreaking culture and struggles for social justice. Co-ordinated global artistic support for Palestine today is echoed in recent history by the critically important role artists played in confronting apartheid in South Africa from the 1960s until 1990, when Nelson Mandela walked free after 27 years as a political prison, symbolizing an end to apartheid.

“Freedom is a privilege, nobody rides for free,” sang artists in Sun City, including Scott-Heron, Jimmy Cliff and Bruce Springsteen, lyrics easily meaningful today as Gaza remains under siege. Sun City, a global hit in 1985, projected a pledge in song from celebrated artists to boycott apartheid in South Africa onto pop radio airwaves, propelling Artists United Against Apartheid into the international spotlight.

Decades prior to flashy music videos featuring Miles Davis and Bono, the American Committee on Africa signalled the first efforts to build an artistic movement for equality in South Africa, in sponsoring a 1965 declaration against apartheid, signed by cultural personalities, reading “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.”

Now it is widely acknowledged that artistic advocacy for freedom in South Africa, after decades of persistent campaigning, played a key role in isolating the apartheid regime. Artists took action on South Africa as politicians in Washington and London played politics of complicity, in refusing to perform under apartheid, international artists offered a critical moral boost to South African resistance movements fighting for equality on the ground.

Turning art toward Palestinian freedom

The historical arc of justice that pointed in recent history toward the South African struggle for freedom has shifted toward Palestine.

Over generations Palestinian artists have built a powerful cultural narrative, expressions on exile and resistance. Artists like author Ghassan Kanafani, assassinated in 1972 by Israel in Beirut, or the late national poet of Palestine, Mahmoud Dariwsh, to contemporary artists like Annemarie Jacir and poet Suheir Hammad, all symbolizing a steadfast artistic heart guiding the global cultural shift toward Palestine today.

“Rooted in a century of Palestinian civil resistance, and inspired by the anti-apartheid struggle,” writes Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel — PACBI, the boycott campaign “present[s] a comprehensive approach to realising Palestinian self-determination: unifying Palestinians inside historic Palestine and in exile in the face of accelerating fragmentation.”

Critically important to appreciating the growing boycott campaign is a simple fact, that it is Palestinians who created and continue to guide the international movement.

On the ground PACBI presents a critical Palestinian-led framework on the artistic mobilization for Palestine and now cultural workers globally are taking up the call. Determined boycott campaigning in recent years has contributed to Palestine’s emergence as focal point within global justice movements, a focus also increasingly represented in popular culture today.

As Manu Chao calls out against global injustice in the track Rainin’ in Paradize, towards Palestine the signing chant is aimed, “In Palestinia, too much hypocrisy, this world go crazy, it’s no fatality,” sings Chao, a vocalization on the emergence of the Palestinian struggle for justice within celebrated music today.

Ongoing Israeli military catastrophes in recent years, from the 2006 bombardment of Lebanon, to the IDF military attack on Gaza, and most recently the Israeli navy raid on the Gaza freedom flotilla, have triggered a sense of urgency within progressive artistic networks globally to support the Palestinian liberation struggle.

Montreal artist declaration

Internationally artists are increasingly supporting Palestinian freedom and key developments in this major shift are occurring at local levels around the world, all pieces to the cultural foundation of a global artistic movement for Palestine.

In Montreal artists are uniting under the banner Artists Against Apartheid, a shout out to the South African struggle. Thousands have attended the ongoing Artists Against Apartheid concert series in the city featuring many key cultural figures.

“Montreal’s vaguely socialist and communitarian politics,” outlines a feature in the New York Times, “has produced plenty of opportunities for new and challenging music to find an audience.” Beyond music that explores the edges of art, Montreal also encourages an active engagement between culture and struggles for social justice.

Concerts for Palestine in Montreal have highlighted a diversity of sounds, featuring many musicians who put Montreal on the map for contemporary culture, from experimental jazz, to folk, to hip-hop.

Celebrated Montreal hip-hop artists from the multilingual Nomadic Massive and Iraqi artist the Narcicyst performed along side Palestinian rap crew DAM at Artists Against Apartheid.

Palestinian rappers DAM, first illuminated in the award winning film Slingshot Hip-Hop by Jackie Salloum, project a hip-hop reference point from the ground in Palestine.

“When we fight for justice we are called terrorists, so we are using hip-hop music to tell the world about Palestine,” outlines Tamer Nafar, a founder of DAM.

Performances by DAM throughout North America have worked successfully to cement bonds of solidarity on Palestine between key points in grassroots hip-hop networks globally that shape future directions of hip-hop culture.

As celebrated Algonquin hip-hop artist Samian from Quebec takes the stage for Palestine, or members of iconic rock band Arcade Fire perform at Artists Against Apartheid, a significant shift on Palestine in both popular culture and opinion is clearly blowing in the wind, via hip-hop and beyond.

Last winter 500 artists from Montreal published an Artists Against Israeli Apartheid declaration for Palestine, marking the first time hundreds of artists in one city have collectively backed the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. Key cultural figures added their support to the Montreal declaration for Palestine, including Quebec cultural icon Richard Desjardins, a celebrated songwriter and filmmaker.

Montreal’s late Lhasa de Sela performed at an Artists Against Apartheid concert last year during the Suoni per il Popolo festival in Montreal and was one of the first artists to support the Montreal declaration. Lhasa is celebrated globally for beautifully haunting music that crosses cultural and linguistic borders, widely listened to around the world, internationalist music from a striking artist who in life consistently spoke out for social justice.

“I am someone who feels a very strong need for freedom and to not allow anyone to be backed into a corner,” reflected Lhasa, today those words ring true toward Palestine, words speaking to a basic human bond of solidarity with the oppressed.

To support or get involved in Artists Against Apartheid or for any questions concerning the five-hundred artist letter from Montreal please write to info[at]tadamon.ca

Stefan Christoff is a journalist, community organizer and musician working with Tadamon! collective in Montreal and regularly contributes to rabble.ca. Stefan can be found on Twitter.

SCORPIONS: “Wind of Change” for Justice or Apartheid?

Posted in Apartheid, Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions, Cultural Boycott, Zionism on September 28, 2010 by Marcy Newman

An Open Letter from PACBI

Dear Scorpions,

Occupied Ramallah, 28 September 2010 — The Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has learned from various sources that you are scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv on October 4, 2010. Your performance in Israel was only recently announced on your official tour website. Prior to this, when we contacted your agents and lawyers to inquire about your performance we received ambiguous responses. Your now scheduled performance violates the appeal of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement [1] which urges people of conscience throughout the world to isolate Israel until it ends its colonial and apartheid oppression against the Palestinian people, as was done against the apartheid regime in South Africa. We urge you, as a band known for its commitment to support the “wind of change” and the falling of the Berlin Wall, not to perform in apartheid Israel that is building a far more cruel and illegal [2] wall on occupied Palestinian land.

We have also recently learned of previous concerts your group has performed in Israel [3] and the positions Klaus Meine took in the July 2006 war that Israel waged on Lebanon [4]. Your overall positions have made it imperative to call on you to take a morally consistent position in view of your past politics advocating justice and a dream for change. We are also addressing you to call your attention to the growing international movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. We are hoping that you will heed the Palestinian call, and adhere to the international picket line supported by Israeli activists [5] and many international groups and prominent individuals [6].

Not listing the Israel concert on your website as part of your tour may be a slip or a disingenuous tactic to hide from criticism for playing in Israel and to avoid the boycott movement. Regardless, now that the world knows you plan to entertain apartheid Israel, we ask you not to.

Origins of a Movement

Leading to the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) [7], and inspired by the cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, PACBI, supported by key unions and cultural groups, issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2004, appealing to international artists to refuse to perform in Israel [8] or participate in events that serve to equate the occupier and the occupied [9] and thus promote the continuation of injustice. This call is supported by devoted anti-racist activists around the world, from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to best-selling African-American author Alice Walker. As Bishop Tutu recently noted in a historic statement unequivocally supporting the Palestinian boycott campaign against Israel:

I never tire of speaking about the very deep distress in my visits to the Holy Land; they remind me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like we did when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. My heart aches. I say, ‘Why are our memories so short?’ Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their own previous humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? … When we say ‘Never again!’ do we mean ‘Never again!’, or do we mean ‘Never again to us!’? [10]

Reconsider Your Past Positions

Many in the boycott movement are fans of your music and grew up singing and dancing to your songs. The “Wind of Change,” in particular, gave us hope for a better world and future. For this reason it came as a disappointment to learn that you have taken part in cultural propaganda efforts aimed to re-brand Israel, hiding its colonial and apartheid reality [11]. Specifically, your reference to Germany’s past should not serve as a pretext for silence or apathy towards Israel’s crimes, nor should it be used to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The lessons of Germany’s past should teach us all to reject all forms of racism, racial hatred and discrimination, to support the oppressed in the world lest they suffer from further oppressions by those in power, not to support a state that institutionalizes racism against its “non-Jewish” citizens.

Addressing this taboo issue, long-time Israel lobbyist and current University of London academic Henry Siegman has recently written [12]:

A million and a half civilians have been forced to live in an open-air prison in inhuman conditions for over three years now, but unlike the Hitler years, they are not Jews but Palestinians. Their jailers, incredibly, are survivors of the Holocaust, or their descendants. Of course, the inmates of Gaza are not destined for gas chambers, as the Jews were, but they have been reduced to a debased and hopeless existence.

Fully 80% of Gaza’s population lives on the edge of malnutrition, depending on international charities for their daily nourishment. According to the UN and World Health authorities, Gaza’s children suffer from dramatically increased morbidity that will affect and shorten the lives of many of them. …

Particularly appalling is that this policy has been the source of amusement for some Israeli leaders, who according to Israeli press reports have jokingly described it as ‘putting Palestinians on a diet.’ That, too, is reminiscent of the Hitler years, when Jewish suffering amused the Nazis.

Given your positions, it is important that you understand why the BDS movement is calling on you to boycott performances in Israel and why your positions on peace and on Israel are misplaced. Peace, as you know, is not a word that can be thrown about lightly, nor can it be achieved if those in power refuse to recognize the rights of the oppressed.

Some of the violations your position is supporting are:

– Israel’s brutal and unlawful military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank. All the while, Israel fortifies its colonization of Palestinian lands by expanding the network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements.

– A growing system of Apartheid towards the Palestinian citizens of Israel, with laws and policies that deny Palestinian citizens the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people’s daily lives.

– Israel ethnic cleansing, in 1948, of more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form a Jewish state. Since then, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. It also continues to expel people from their homes in Jerusalem and the Negev. Today, there are more than 7 million refugees, still struggling for their right to return.

Boycott Israel

Israel has used artists, musicians and other cultural workers as part of a campaign to Brand Israel [13], a campaign that has been launched by the Israeli government and promoted by institutions throughout the country in order to whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and project a false image of normalcy. But after Israel’s war of aggression against Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead [14], predominantly civilians, and led the UN Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes [15], and after the flotilla massacre, many international artists have refused to conduct business as usual with a country that places itself above international standards. Elvis Costello [16], Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart [17], and the Pixies are but a few of the artists who have refused to perform in Israel in the past year.

As Holocaust survivor and co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Stephane Hessel wrote [18] after Israel’s deadly attack on the humanitarian relief Gaza-Bound Flotilla a few months ago:

The absence of meaningful action from governments to hold Israel accountable to international law leaves open one path for citizens of conscience: to take this responsibility upon themselves, as done against apartheid South Africa. Non-violent citizen-led initiatives, exemplified by the Flotilla and the various boycott and divestment campaigns around the world, present the most promising way to overcome the failure of world governments to stand up to Israel’s intransigence and lawless behavior.

The “Wind of Change” is upon us again. You can decide whether you wish to support “change” towards entrenching occupation and apartheid or change towards freedom, justice and upholding international law. If the latter, we hope you shall refuse to entertain Israeli apartheid!

Respectfully,

PACBI

www.pacbi.org

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

[2] In July 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion condemning Israel’s wall and colonial settlements built on occupied Palestinian land as illegal.

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GAlXH_sdXs

[4] http://www.roadrunnerrecords.com/blabbermouth.net/news.aspx?mode=Article&newsitemID=56288

[5] http://boycottisrael.info/

[6] http://bdsmovement.net/?q=node/139

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

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

[9] http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1047

[10] http://www.timeslive.co.za/world/article675369.ece/Israeli-ties–a-chance-to-do-the-right-thing

[11] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GAlXH_sdXs

[12] http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/israel-s-greatest-loss-its-moral-imagination-1.295600

[13] http://www.forward.com/articles/2070/

[14] http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?id=ENGMDE150212009

[15] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=91&LangID=E

[16] http://www.elviscostello.com/news/it-is-after-considerable-contemplation/44

[17] http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3905372,00.html

[18] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephane-frederic-hessel/gaza-flotilla-global-citi_b_612865.html

Fashion Week soiree hosted by Israeli settlement builder draws protest

Posted in Cultural Boycott, International BDS Actions on September 25, 2010 by Marcy Newman

For Immediate Release

September 21, New York, NY – More than a dozen human rights activists surprised an end of New York Fashion Week shindig hosted at the Madison Avenue diamond boutique of the notorious Israeli settlement builder Lev Leviev. Acting on an anonymous tip, activists from Adalah-NY gathered outside Leviev’s store shortly after highly-coutured guests began arriving. Oscar de la Renta was rumored to be among fashion bigs attending. Well-coiffed fashionistas clutching champagne flutes nervously drew away from the second-floor window of the boutique upon noting the full-throated chanting of the activists. Two glitterati who arrived in a limo returned to their vehicle, joining others, and left after seeing the protesters, who bore signs decrying Leviev’s construction of Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. One limo driver, after discharging his passengers who were escorted inside by Leviev’s security men, gave the protestors an enthusiastic thumbs up before driving away.

Heard among the protesters’ chants: “Fashionistas and socialites, Leviev denies human rights.”

“It’s a shame that high-profile designers would want to associate with a known human-rights abuser,” said Adalah-NY’s Alexis Stern. “Don’t their PR people know how to search his name on the web?”
Lev Leviev and his associated companies, including Africa-Israel, have been the target of a growing international boycott due to their settlement activities. The Norwegian government announced on August 23rd that it was divesting from Africa Israel Investments and its subsidiary Danya Cebus. UNICEF and Oxfam renounced donations from Leviev, the British government refused to rent space for their new Tel Aviv embassy from Africa-Israel, celebrities have distanced themselves from him, and a Danish Bank has blacklisted Africa-Israel.

From 2000 -2008, Danya Cebus, the construction subsidiary of Leviev’s Africa-Israel company, built homes in the settlements of Har Homa, Maale Adumim, Adam, and Mattityahu East on the land of the West Bank village of Bil’in. Africa-Israel owns a percentage of the Alon Group, which has facilities and supermarkets in a number of Israeli settlements through the company Blue Square. Another Leviev-owned company, Leader Management and Development, owns and operates the expanding settlement of Zufim, built on the land of the West Bank village of Jayyous. Leviev has also been a donor to the Israeli groups the Land Redemption Fund and the Bukharan Community Trust, both of which have been involved in expanding settlements in the West Bank.

For pictures of the protest: http://picasaweb.google.com/JusticeME/LevievFashionWeekSurprise2010

New Yorkers call for boycott of Israeli dance troupe Batsheva

Posted in Cultural Boycott, International BDS Actions on September 25, 2010 by Marcy Newman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New York, NY, September 22, 2010 – About 40 protesters gathered this evening to call upon New Yorkers to boycott the Israeli dance troupe Batsheva Dance Company during their performances at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan. Backed by the music of the radical marching band, Rude Mechanical Orchestra, demonstrators handed out programs to dancegoers and pedestrians explaining the reasons for the boycott. At least one dance patron heeded the call, giving his ticket to a protest organizer saying he was no longer comfortable seeing the performance.

In an open letter addressed to the dance company, protest organizers explain:
We are a group of New York-based human rights activists and artists calling for a boycott of your performances at the Joyce Theater in New York City due to your collaboration with the Israeli state and its Brand Israel campaign. Launched in 2005, Brand Israel is a government public relations initiative which uses cultural productions to distract from Israel’s daily human rights violations. In 2009 Arye Mekel of Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits… This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” While efforts to promote a positive image of Israel abroad persist, Palestinians continue to suffer from Israeli state policies.

The letter goes on to point out that Batsheva’s performances at the Joyce are co-sponsored by Office of Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Israel in New York and that they receive money from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Joyce Theatre website describes Batsheva as “Israel’s national dance company.”

The boycott of Batsheva is a response to the Palestinian civil society call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel which is part of the growing Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions and companies until demands for equality are met, including the end to the military occupation of Palestinian land, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return for refugees, which is guaranteed by UN resolution 194.

Tonight’s demonstration comes as growing number of musicians, such as Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, the Pixies, and Gil Scott-Heron have refused to play concerts in Israel, and just after a group of Israeli actors recently refused to perform in illegal Jewish-only West Bank settlements.

Batsheva is scheduled for a two week engagement at the Joyce from September 21 – October 3 and protest organizers say they will continue to flier outside the theater as long as Batsheva is performing. Riham Barghouti, an organizer with Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, commented, “instead of concealing the ‘ugly’ side of Israel, artists should be protesting it. Groups like Batsheva conceal the harsh reality of Israeli Apartheid. New Yorkers should know that they are paying money to support a dance troupe that is attempting to whitewash Israel’s image, which makes them complicit in the ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.”

Israel’s settlement industry under boycott pressure

Posted in BDS Success, Cultural Boycott, International BDS Actions on September 25, 2010 by Marcy Newman

Report, The Electronic Intifada, 23 September 2010

Palestinian activists in the occupied West Bank have called for the boycott of the popular Rami Levy Israeli supermarket chain which has several stores inside Israel’s illegal settlements. Activists say they will call on fellow Palestinians to “avoid supporting the occupation and settlements’ economy by boycotting Israeli goods and settlement stores.”

A vigil was to be held today outside the Rami Levy store inside the Sha’ar Binyamin settlement south of Bethlehem, along Route 60 which connects Jerusalem to settlement blocs in the southern West Bank. Activists with the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) said in a press release that the chain is “popular among some Palestinian shoppers, attracting its clientele through cheap pricing” (“Palestinians to Call for Boycott of Israeli Goods in front of Settlement Supermarket,” 22 September 2010).

In its press release, the PSCC stated that “demonstrators will also remind Palestinians that Rami Levy, the owner of the supermarket chain, is a member of the Jerusalem municipality, and as such is directly complicit in Jerusalem house demolitions and city-sponsored settler takeovers of Palestinian homes.”

Mohammed Khatib, a PSCC organizer from the West Bank village of Bilin, said in the release that “the Palestinian market is one of the main export markets for Israel. It is absurd for us to support our own repression in this way, especially when viable alternatives exist. Every shekel to Rami Levy is a shekel to the continuation of the occupation. This must stop.”

Cultural figures pledge to boycott settlements

Meanwhile, a growing cultural boycott movement against the settlement industry by Jewish and Israeli artists and actors is gaining international support. World-renowned architect Frank Gehry and composer Daniel Barenboim have signed on to the boycott statement, which was written by a group of Israeli actors who last month publicly refused to perform in a new center for performing arts located inside the Ariel settlement (“Israeli actors say no to normalizing settlements,” 27 August 2010 [PDF]).

Drafted by US group Jewish Voice for Peace, the statement has already been signed by “over 200 theater and film professionals representing some of the most respected and renowned artists in theater and film — including Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Pulitzer prize-winner Stephen Sondheim, Julianne Moore, film director Mira Nair, Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner, 21-time Tony winner Harold Prince, star of the film Yentl, Mandy Patinkin, Fiddler on the Roof star and Cameri co-founder Theodore Bikel, Jennifer Tilly, Harry Potter’s Miriam Margolyes, Ed Asner, Wallace Shawn and Focus Films’ James Schamus among many others,” JVP stated in a press release (“Breaking: Architect Frank Gehry supports Israeli settlement boycott,” Jewish Voice for Peace press release, 20 September 2010).

JVP reported that earlier this year, Frank Gehry stepped down as the architect for the Museum of Tolerance in West Jerusalem, which is being funded by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. The Museum is being built atop the ancient Muslim cemetery of Mamilla, where graves are being regularly destroyed as museum construction pushes forward.

JVP’s Deputy Director Cecilie Surasky said, “It is particularly critical for architects to speak out against the ongoing construction of Jewish-only communities on Palestinian land. Architects and planners are the key implementers of the Israeli policy of taking and brutally occupying Palestinian land in violation of international law. For Mr. Gehry to take such a moral stand once and for all ends the mythical firewall between architecture, policy and human rights. We hope Israeli architects will be inspired to launch their own campaign to refuse to work in the settlements.”

US grocery boycott proposal thwarted

Also this week, United States boycott activists in Port Townsend, Washington, reported that on 21 September the Board of Directors for a local food co-op had rejected a proposal to pull Israeli products from its shelves. The decision followed an intervention from the Israeli Deputy Consul for the Pacific Northwest earlier in the week (“Port Townsend Food Co-op rejects proposal to boycott Israel on technicality,” JeffCoWA BDS press release, 21 September 2010).

On 19 September, Israeli Deputy Consul Gideon Lustig, who is based in San Francisco, traveled to the city in an attempt to pressure the co-op into rejecting the growing call for boycott. Lustig reportedly met privately with board members to explicitly discuss the boycott campaign. Organizer Dena Shunra commented after the decision by a vote of 4-2 against the boycott, “In five, ten, or fifteen years, when the full impact of what happens in Gaza, the West Bank, and in Israel becomes as known to the world as earlier crimes, I want to be able to look my daughter in the eye and say we did everything we could to stop the killing.”

According to the Jefferson County boycott group, five member-owners of the food co-op presented a proposal to the board of directors “asking the store to pull seven products from its shelves until Israel complies with UN decisions regarding occupied territories and lifts both the siege on Gaza and apartheid on Palestinians.” Supporters of the boycott move have gathered hundreds of signatures in support of the proposal, the committee added in a press release earlier this week (“Israel’s Consul-General interferes in boycott process,” 20 September 2010).

The Port Townsend Co-op’s boycott initiative follows a groundbreaking move by the Olympia Food Co-op, also in Washington state, earlier this summer. Olympia Food Co-op board members voted to pull Israeli-made items from store shelves and refused to meet with the Deputy Consul General in private after his attempt to do so. Boycott organizers in Port Townsend say that despite their co-op’s decision against the boycott proposal, the “momentum will continue.”

Boycott momentum grows in US and UK

In California, the Israeli Divestment Campaign (www.israeldivestmentcampaign.org) launched a ballot initiative on 8 September which would require public and state agencies, including teachers’ investment funds, to divest from Israeli companies that violate Palestinians’ human rights. Organizers say the initiative “prohibits state retirement funds from investing in companies engaged in certain business activities in Israel,” and that “public pension funds in Norway and Sweden have already divested from one of the companies identified by the initiative organizers.”

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) meanwhile announced that more than 500 academics have signed on as endorsers to its initiative. “When originally founded in 2009, only a handful of academics called for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel,” USACBI said in a statement (“Over 500 academics have endorsed USACBI,” 20 September 2010). Referring to Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and co-founder of the anti-boycott International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom, USACBI stated: “The call was dismissed as having little to no significance and was reflected in the statement from Gerald Steinberg. For Steinberg and others, the power of an academic and cultural boycott would be achieved with a critical mass of 500 endorsers.”

After the US academic boycott initiative began with 15 signatories of academic and cultural workers, Steinberg told the New York-based Jewish Daily in February 2009 that “the danger is not these 15; the danger is if the [boycott] becomes 500.”

“This is a major victory for the growing academic and cultural boycott of Israel,” USACBI said. “There is a growing shift in the tide of public opinion in the US which has only swelled in the wake of Israel’s massacre of international activists and relief workers on humanitarian aid flotillas off the coast of Gaza in international waters on 31 May.”

Additionally, in the United Kingdom, trade unions have “thrown their weight” behind a broad-based divestment and boycott campaign from companies which profit from the Israeli occupation (www.palestinecampaign.org/). Organizers said in a press release on their website that “trade unions voted unanimously [on 14 September] at the Trade Union’s Congress (TUC) annual conference for a motion put forward by the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, seconded by the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union, and supported by [trade union] UNISON, the Public and Commercial Services Union, and the Fire Brigades’ Union.”

Organizers added: “the motion called for the General Council to work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and construction of the Apartheid Wall.”

And finally, internationally-renowned folk musician and social justice activist Pete Seeger is being pressured by global boycott groups to cancel a planned appearance for 14 November — over the Internet — during a virtual event coordinated by an Israeli environmental group, the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Billing the event as a “rally for a better Middle East,” Arava has been identified as an organization in partnership with the Jewish National Fund. In a press release directed at the boycott initiative, Arava stated that Seeger is “absolutely committed to his participation in the virtual rally.”

The Israeli activist organization Boycott From Within drafted a public letter to Seeger appealing to him to cancel his appearance and involvement with the event: “It is clear that you believe you are heading to an event that will be promoting peace,” the letter stated. “This ‘virtual rally for a better Middle East’ will be promoting a mainstream Israeli institution that claims to promote cooperation and peace. However this is done in a non-political context while ignoring the imbalance of power and the daily injustice the Palestinians are enduring. Just very recently in the Negev, Israeli Bedouins had been evicted by force from their lands to make room for whatever seems best to the Jewish majority and authority. This is sadly a common event, one of many faces of the Israeli Apartheid,” the statement added (“Boycott!’s letter to Pete Seeger,” 30 August 2010).

Boycott Israel? The Big Story Special On The Global BDS Movement [Press TV]

Posted in Cultural Boycott, International BDS Actions on September 25, 2010 by Marcy Newman
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