Guidelines for Applying the International Cultural Boycott of Israel

PACBI | 20 July 2009

Since April 2004, PACBI has called upon intellectuals and academics worldwide to “comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel”s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.” [1]

In 2006, a decisive majority of Palestinian cultural workers, including most filmmakers and artists, supported by hundreds of international cultural workers, appealed to all international artists and filmmakers of good conscience to join the institutional cultural boycott against Israel. [2] In response, the renowned British artist and writer, John Berger, issued a statement that was backed by dozens of prominent international artists, writers and filmmakers calling on their colleagues everywhere to endorse the Palestinian cultural boycott call. [3]

In the spirit of this cultural boycott and consistent with its logic, on 8 May 2008, in a half-page advertisement in the International Herald Tribune under the banner “No Reason to Celebrate,” tens of leading international cultural figures — including Mahmoud Darwish, Augusto Boal, Ken Loach, Andre Brink, Ella Shohat, Judith Butler, Vincenzo Consolo, Ilan Pappe, David Toscana and Aharon Shabtai — signed a statement responding to worldwide celebrations of Israel”s “60th anniversary” saying [4]:

“There is no reason to celebrate! Israel at 60 is a state that is still denying Palestinian refugees their UN-sanctioned rights, simply because they are “non-Jews.” It is still illegally occupying Palestinian and other Arab lands, in violation of numerous UN resolutions. It is still persistently and grossly breaching international law and infringing fundamental human rights with impunity afforded to it through munificent US and European economic, diplomatic and political support. It is still treating its own Palestinian citizens with institutionalized discrimination.”

The cultural boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa has been a major source of inspiration in formulating the Palestinian boycott calls and their criteria. In that context, the key argument put forth by the South African regime and its apologists around the world against the anti-apartheid cultural and sports boycott — that boycotts violate the freedom of expression and cultural exchange — was resolutely refuted by the director of the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, Enuga S. Reddy, who in 1984 wrote [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.” Similarly, the Palestinian boycott call targets cultural institutions, projects and events that continue to serve the purposes of the Israeli colonial and apartheid regime.

During five years of intense work with partners in several countries to promote the cultural boycott against Israel, PACBI has thoroughly scrutinized tens of cultural projects and events, assessing the applicability of the boycott criteria to them and, accordingly, has issued open letters, statements or advisory opinions on them. The two most important conclusions reached in this respect were: (a) many of these events and projects fall into an uncertain, grey area that is challenging to appraise, and (b) the boycott must target not only the complicit institutions but also the inherent and organic links between them which reproduce the machinery of colonial subjugation and apartheid. Based on this experience and in response to the burgeoning demand for PACBI”s specific guidelines on applying the cultural boycott to diverse projects, from film festivals to art exhibits to musical and dance performances to conferences, the Campaign lays out below unambiguous, consistent and coherent criteria and guidelines that specifically address the nuances and particularities of the field of culture.

These criteria are mainly intended to help guide cultural workers and organizers around the world in adhering to the Palestinian call for boycott, as a contribution towards establishing a just peace in our region.

Cultural Boycott Criteria

In all the following, “product” refers to cultural products such as films and other art forms; “event” refers to film festivals, conferences, art exhibits, dance and musical performances, tours by artists and writers, among other activities.

Before discussing the various categories of cultural products and events and as a general overriding rule, virtually all Israeli cultural institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence or actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel”s violations of international law and human rights. Accordingly, these institutions, all their products, and all the events they sponsor or support must be boycotted. Events and projects involving individuals explicitly representing these complicit institutions should be boycotted, by the same token.

The following criteria may not be completely exhaustive and certainly do not preempt, replace or void other, common-sense rationales for boycott, particularly when a cultural product or event is shown to be explicitly justifying, advocating or promoting war crimes, racial discrimination, apartheid, suppression of fundamental human rights and serious violations of international law.

Based on the above, the Palestinian cultural boycott against Israel applies in the following situations:

(1) Cultural product is commissioned by an official Israeli body

All cultural products commissioned by an official Israeli body (e.g., government ministry, municipality, embassy, consulate, state or other public film fund, etc.) deserve to be boycotted on institutional grounds, as they are commissioned and thus funded by the Israeli state — or any of its complicit institutions — specifically to help the state”s propaganda or “rebranding” efforts aimed at diluting, justifying, whitewashing or otherwise diverting attention from the Israeli occupation and other violations of Palestinian rights and international law. However, this level of explicit complicity is difficult to ascertain quite often, as information on such direct commissioning may not be readily available or may even be intentionally concealed.

(2) Product is funded by an official Israeli body, but not commissioned (no political strings)

The term “political strings” here specifically refers to those conditions that obligate a fund recipient to directly or indirectly serve the Israeli government”s “rebranding” or propaganda efforts. Products funded by official Israeli bodies — as defined in category (1) above — but not commissioned, therefore not attached to any political strings, are not per se subject to boycott. Individual cultural products that receive state funding as part of the individual cultural worker”s entitlement as a tax-paying citizen, without her/him being bound to serve the state”s political and PR interests, are not boycottable, according to the PACBI criteria. Accepting such political strings, on the other hand, would clearly turn the cultural product or event into a form of complicity, by contributing to Israel”s efforts to whitewash or obscure its colonial and apartheid reality, and would render it boycottable, as a result.

While an individual”s freedom of expression, particularly artistic expression, should be fully and consistently respected in this context, an individual artist, filmmaker, writer, etc., Israeli or not, cannot be exempt from being subject to boycotts that conscientious citizens around the world (beyond the scope of the PACBI boycott criteria) may call for in response to what is widely perceived as a particularly offensive act or statement by the cultural worker in question (such as direct or indirect incitement to violence; justification — an indirect form of advocacy — of war crimes and other grave violations of international law; racial slurs; actual participation in human rights violations; etc.). At this level, Israeli cultural workers should not be automatically exempted from due criticism or any lawful form of protest, including boycott; they should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse.

(3) Event is partially or fully sponsored or funded by an official Israeli body

The general principle is that an event or project carried out under the sponsorship/aegis of or in affiliation with an official Israeli body constitutes complicity and therefore is deserving of boycott. It is also well documented now that Israeli artists, writers and other cultural workers applying for state funding to cover the cost of their — or their cultural products” — participation in international events must accept to contribute to Israel”s official propaganda efforts. To that end, the cultural worker must sign a contract with the Israeli Foreign Ministry binding her/him to “undertake to act faithfully, responsibly and tirelessly to provide the Ministry with the highest professional services. The service provider is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.” [6]

(4) Product is not funded or sponsored by an official Israeli body

Unless violating any of the above criteria, in the absence of official Israeli sponsorship, the individual product of an Israeli cultural worker per se is not boycottable, regardless of its content or merit.

(5) Event or project promotes false symmetry or “balance”

Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote “balance” between the “two sides” in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the “conflict,” are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or “reconciliation between the two sides” without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice. All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless framed within the explicit context of opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott. Other factors that PACBI takes into consideration in evaluating such events and projects are the sources of funding, the design of the program, the objectives of the sponsoring organization(s), the participants, and similar relevant factors.



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