PACBI: Open Letter to Leonard Cohen

Healing Israeli Apartheid, not its Victims?

PACBI — Ramallah, Occupied Palestine, 16 May 2009

Last month, prominent academics from the British Committee for Universities of Palestine, BRICUP [1], urged you not to perform in Israel, arguing: “If you had just emerged from three weeks of unfettered bombing from land, sea and air, with no place to hide and no place to run, your hospitals overwhelmed, sewage running in the streets and white phosphorous burning up your children, what would the news that the great Canadian musician Leonard Cohen had decided to play for your tormentors say to you?” Citing a line in your famous poem, Questions for Shomrim, where you exclaim, “And will my people build a new Dachau and call it love, security, Jewish culture,” a recent letter by mostly Israeli activists who support the cultural boycott [2] against Israel urged you not to cooperate with “continued Israeli defiance of justice and morality.” [3]

Today, after exhausting all attempts to convince you to apply your avowed humanistic principles in a morally consistent way by refusing to entertain Israeli apartheid and whitewash its still-fresh crimes, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) calls on all supporters of a just peace in our region to shun your concerts and CDs and to protest your appearances everywhere. We consider your performance in Israel a form of complicity in its grave violations of international law and trampling on human rights principles.

Your planned gig in Israel would come merely months after its bloody military assault against the occupied Gaza Strip which left over 1,440 Palestinians dead, of whom 431 were children, and 5380 injured. [4] The 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees who were expelled from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948, were subjected to three weeks of relentless Israeli state terror, whereby Israeli warplanes systematically targeted civilian areas, reducing whole neighborhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble and partially destroying Gaza”s leading university and scores of schools, including several run by the UN, where civilians were taking shelter. This criminal assault comes after 18 months of an ongoing, crippling Israeli siege of Gaza which has shattered all spheres of life, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to describe it as “a prelude to genocide”. International human rights organizations and UN organizations are now calling for a war crimes investigation into Israel”s military assault on Gaza.

For the last 41 years, Israel”s army has been occupying the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Despite the “peace process” which began 16 years ago, Israel routinely violates the Palestinians” most fundamental human rights with impunity, as documented by local and international human rights organizations. Israel extra-judicially kills Palestinian leaders and activists; keeps over 11,000 Palestinians imprisoned, including numerous members of parliament; subjects all Palestinians under occupation to daily humiliation, intimidation and military violence; and continues to construct its colonial Wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice at the Hague in 2004.

You claim that your performance in Israel will somehow have a healing effect. Your message of healing cannot be more misdirected – those who need healing and solidarity the most are the Palestinian victims of Israel apartheid and colonial rule who are struggling to end oppression and injustice and to establish a just peace. By violating the Palestinian boycott against Israel you would bring back the ugly memory of artists who violated the boycott against apartheid South Africa and insisted to perform at Sun City, drawing condemnation and revulsion by people of conscience the world over.

As far back as 1984, Enuga S. Reddy, Director of the UN Centre Against Apartheid, responded to criticism that the cultural boycott of South Africa infringed the freedom of expression, saying [5]:

“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.”

Entertaining any apartheid regime is morally wrong. No true humanist should disagree.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
PACBI [at]

[2] See the Palestinian Call for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel at: and the call by Palestinian filmmakers and cultural figures for a cultural boycott at:

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