Why a Cultural Boycott of Israel is Necessary

At what point does rhetoric stop and effective action begin? For Palestinians, decades of dialogue and supposed peace overtures have proved fruitless, only serving to protect the status quo: sixty years of continual dispossession, forty years of occupation, and a systematic repudiation of international and humanitarian law. The situation for Palestinians will not improve without constructive movement forward — which rejects collusion with the Israeli government by exercising boycott, divestment and sanctions (known as BDS).

During the 1980’s, BDS of South Africa included a cultural boycott whereby musicians and artists from around the world were prohibited from performing in the apartheid state.

In addition to internationally supporting the subjugated black population, this policy was instituted to express that no real dialogue — economic, academic, or cultural — could take place in concert with the atrocities of apartheid. With regard to Israel, the implementation of international BDS is but one necessary measure to shift the balance away from the oppressor and help place it in the hands of the oppressed.

It is imperative to note that a cultural boycott is not aimed at individuals, but rather institutions and a state. Frequently, Israelis travel the world and speak out against their nation’s policies, and many support a full cultural and academic boycott. A cultural boycott does not hinder the prospects for peace; rather it serves to empower conscientious Israelis and Palestinians, and provides the international community with a viable non-violent solution to the current impasse.

After traveling to the occupied Palestinian territories, a host of individuals have asserted that Israeli occupation is in fact worse than South African apartheid. Among these people are highly esteemed anti-apartheid advocate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jewish South African Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils. In an effort to pressure Israel to abort its destructive policies, both argue that the international community should impose a boycott on Israel, analogous to the one imposed on South Africa.

Many organizations and individuals have voiced opposition to an academic and cultural boycott. Their contention is that the arts and academic community in Israel will be denied the basic tenets of free speech. Ironically, the proposed model asserts that people of conscience, including conscious Israelis, are ostensibly encouraged to embrace “free speech” and “dialogue” over the most basic rights of an oppressed people. What remains missing from their argument is the fact that the Palestinian people have been methodically occupied, controlled, and embargoed by the Israeli government and many Israeli institutions for decades — with no effective recourse taken by the United Nations, European Union, or United States.

Just this week, the Associated Press reported that seven Palestinians from occupied Gaza were denied exit visas to “pursue their Fulbright scholarship studies” by the Israeli government. While their Fulbrights were reinstated after the AP article circulated, and the US State Department is now purportedly “trying” to get Israel to change its position, the vast majority of these incidents go unnoticed. There are countless other stories of hip hop artists, theater groups, and debke troupes not being able to travel to the West Bank from Gaza, and vice versa, never mind exiting the prison walls of the Occupied Territories. Moreover, one cannot downplay the multitude of instances where Palestinians — using means of non-violent protest — have been arrested, beaten, or shot by Israeli soldiers. Sadly, many of these detracting groups and individuals in Israel calling for “dialogue” based on “dual narratives” cannot be seen at any of the non-violent protests against the apartheid wall or part of the growing list of Israeli soldiers refusing to serve in the army. Onlookers in the so-called “left” in the US incessantly opine about the need for Palestinians to assert themselves non-violently — yet when Palestinians and their supporters embrace a fundamental tool of non-violent resistance, they are castigated.

Furthermore, those in a position to boycott must recognize the effects of Israel’s policies on the 1.3 million Palestinian citizens of Israel who have become relegated to third class status and have seen their own art and film community attacked by Israel’s discriminatory legal system. If the Israeli people and those in the international community truly want to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, they will embrace what more than sixty Palestinian academic, cultural and civil society organizations have endorsed: a full academic and cultural boycott of the state of Israel.

Throughout the Oslo years, the purported time of peace, endless cultural dialogue took place. But as Omar Barghouti — dance choreographer, activist, and ardent sponsor of a cultural boycott — contends, “A decade of joint Palestinian-Israeli projects mostly resulted in providing a figleaf, covering up Israel’s relentless colonization of Palestinian land and its crimes against the Palestinian people.”

It is clear that even cultural dialogue with the Israeli establishment has only proven to normalize the occupation. Tutu once declared, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Now is not the time to be neutral, nor the time to be reticent; it is the time to act.

* A shorter version of this essay was first published as part of a collection of positions compiled by Randy Gener, titled: “12 Positions on Cultural Sanctions — Theatre practitioners offer their views on a call to boycott Israel,” in the May-June 2008 issue of American Theatre Magazine.

Remi Kanazi is the editor of Poets For Palestine. He will be touring the US and Canada this fall on the Poets For Palestine tour.He can be contacted at Remroum@gmail.com. Read other articles by Remi, or visit Remi's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar balkas said on June 3rd, 2008 at 10:59am #

    i’ve said this before, zionism is one of the most brutal isms we had to face to date.
    yet, i believe, zionism will be destroyed. one thing we can be sure of is that 80% of world pop will never accept it.
    how can they accept such an insulting ideology that copmares in some aspect of it with the nazi ideology. thank u

  2. Edwin Pell said on June 3rd, 2008 at 11:09am #

    Yes it is long past time for sanctions on the parts of Palestine occupied by the zionist gangsters from Europe. Just like the sanctions that were put on Iraq in the past. With a no-fly zone over the of parts of Palestine occupied by the zionist gangsters from Europe. The age of colonial occupation are over time to return to Europe.

  3. sk said on June 3rd, 2008 at 11:13am #

    Such a boycott can only be carried out on an individual level, as any establishment support of the type that was available during latter stages of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa–due almost solely to grassroots pressure on Congressional Black Caucus–won’t be forthcoming. Thankfully, some revered individual artists have started to face the issue head on.

  4. sk said on June 3rd, 2008 at 11:19am #

    Oops, try this link instead of the one in last post.

  5. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 4th, 2008 at 8:29am #

    thanx, sk. glad to see you’re back.

  6. Arch Stanton said on June 4th, 2008 at 11:35am #

    I’ll be doing my part. Se ya’ll in a floating gulag coming soon to a city near you.

  7. hp said on June 4th, 2008 at 2:44pm #

    I’d rather be fishing..

  8. dan e said on June 7th, 2008 at 1:04pm #

    I support cultural boycott of Izzylandia & every other kind of boycott, divestment, expose your local Caterpillar dealer/rental outlet & contractor customers, such as the City of Sacramento etc.

    However I do so as a gesture of solidarity only. Do not assume that I’m under the same illusion as most who advance the idea, that it somehow offers a “solution”.

    The comparison with S. Africa proves nothing. To begin with, while middleclass S.A. Blacks and Coloreds have greatly improved their lives, and all non-white South Africans are happy about the end of official Apartheid & the daily humiliations, the lot of the average miner & family is still basically as it was: grueling labor, grueling poverty under a thinly disguised form of slavery.

    Second, there is no Congressional Arab Caucus, not even a Muslim Caucus.

    The actual fact is that “Israel” & it’s US powerbase, collectively most accurately described as the Zionist Power Configuration, will not stop what they’ve been doing since 1917 and before unless & until somebody MAKES them stop. The Zionazis and their US/Euro stooges regularly boast of actions that would have been too embarrassing for politicians of prior eras, that is prior to Fall 1967, when the Zionist Consensus decided it was safe to start operating out in the open.

    Better than expending energy/time on Boycott/Divestment efforts would be to organize a total boycott of all Israel Lobby/ZPC operatives/stooges/gunsels, which would mean stop socializing/schmoozing/”Coalitioning” with all Democratic Party politicians/activists. But no, even the Greens & other “third pty” advocates can think of nothing better to do but tail after “Progressive Democrats”, join in activities/protests etc organized by PDA et al, and generally function as the caboose on the Facts on the Ground railroad.

    The one thing that is not allowed in these circles is any focussing of attn on the anomalous role of Big Jewry in US public life, stemming from their anomalous level of collective affluence mediated through the acquisition of anomalous levels of higher education.

    Until it is recognized that the Democratic Party (sic) is now primarily an expression of the power of Organized Jewry, and only secondarily of the Confed. States of America In (internal) Exile, the Israeli State will go on doing as is its wont.

    Which should surprise no one: Herzl, Nordau, Ussushkin, Weizman, Jabotinsky made no bones about what they were engaged in: a project to create a State by Any Means Necessary, as long as it could deal with its fellow racist colonial states like England, France, the US, et al on a basis of formal equality.

    The great genius David Ben-Gurion however realized that given the appeal of the word Socialism in the era just before and following the Great War & arrival of Bolshevism, it was necessary to adapt the rhetoric, update the marketing approach. Given the defeat of the Axis by the Popular Front coalition including the USSR, only a facade of “Marxism” could deter Stalin from vetoing UN Gen Ass. Resolution 181, and depriving the Zionist State of its main claim to “legitimacy”.

    So now we have the spectacle of the psuedo-”Marxist” CPUSA working its converts overtime to help market Zionist Stooge No 1, and of people claiming to be “pro-Palestinian” participating in “coalition” activities with members of the CP as well as other so-called “Labor Movement” outfits.

    Oh, well, there I go spinning my wheels again, wasting time/breath on “peasnicks” who aren’t listening.

    Heheh, “Run Tom Run”, I’m outa here:)