Palestinian civil society has called for grassroots pressure on Israel to end its oppressive behavior through a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), including cultural events. “To salvage its deteriorating image abroad, Israel has launched a 'rebranding' campaign which uses arts and culture to whitewash its violations of international law and Palestinian human rights,” said Randa Wahbe of Adalah-NY. Gil Scott-Heron is the latest in a list of notable artists, including Sting, Bono, Snoop Dogg, and Carlos Santana, who have recently declined to play Israel. Distinguished artists, writers, and peace activists—among them John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Adrienne Rich, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Alice Walker—have declared support for the BDS movement.
The signatories told Scott-Heron: “As you recognized in your iconic anti-Apartheid anthem “Johannesburg,” when “brothers over there are defyin’ the man…they need to know we’re on their side.” They added “...in refusing to do business as usual with Israel, you join ranks with the growing number of international artists, intellectuals, and cultural workers who have rejected Israel’s cynical use of the arts to whitewash its Apartheid and colonial policies.”
Haidar Eid, of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) praised the singer's action: “Gil Scott-Heron's decision to cancel his concert in Tel Aviv is warmly welcomed by all of us here in Gaza and Palestinian civil society at large. This does not come as a surprise to us due to his luminous heritage in support of the anti- apartheid struggle in South Africa. Once again, we wholeheartedly thank him for heeding our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, until it complies with its obligations under international law and fully respects Palestinian rights.”
Since the 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza, in which 1400 Palestinians were killed, there has been rapid growth in the BDS movement world-wide. Wahbe also noted that “The outpouring of anguish from Scott-Heron’s fans on his website when he was scheduled to perform in Israel, and the more than 50 artists and organizations that have joined together to communicate the importance of Scott-Heron’s decision, represent a new phase in this growing movement.”
The concert, first announced in Ha’aretz April 15, was to be held May 25. After a torrent of postings on the internet expressing shock and dismay, the singer announced his cancellation during his April 24 London concert, at which activists protested. Within days, the Tel Aviv show was removed from his website and tickets were no longer available.
In the wake of the cancellation, Facebook groups have sprung up calling on Elvis Costello, Joan Armatrading, and Bob Dylan to cancel their planned concerts in Israel. On May 5, PACBI issued its own call to Armatrading.
The BDS campaign has the backing hundreds of Palestinian civil society groups and is coordinated through the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campaign National Committee and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
Thank You Letter to Gil Scott Heron From Over 50 Organizations
Dear Gil Scott-Heron,
The undersigned artists and organizations would like to commend your principled stance on Israeli apartheid.
By announcing the cancellation of your scheduled performance in Israel, you join the growing ranks of artists of conscience in solidarity with Palestinian civil society. As you recognized in your iconic anti-Apartheid anthem “Johannesburg,” when “brothers over there are defyin’ the man…they need to know we’re on their side.”
We understand that there may be some pressure to reverse your stand and play Tel Aviv. We would like to emphasize the legal and moral reasons why we are urging you to hold fast to your decision.
By performing in Israel you would violate the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel—a call supported by stalwart anti-racist activists around the world, from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Alice Walker. As Bishop Tutu noted:
I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.”
Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession, racism, and Apartheid.
Flouting international law, Israel routinely violates Palestinians’ basic human rights:
1. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal military occupation. 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 continues to build its illegal wall on Palestinian farmland and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans.
2. Palestinian citizens of Israel face a growing system of Apartheid within Israel's borders, with laws and policies that deny Palestinian citizens of Israel the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people's daily lives. In many ways this system resembles Jim Crow.
3. Since 1948, when Israel dispossessed more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form a Jewish state, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees, still struggling for their right to return.
Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza.
In 2008, Israeli launched a war against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. This three-week assault killed 1400 Palestinians, over a third of them children, injured over 5400, and destroyed whole neighborhoods and crucial civilian infrastructure such as factories, hospitals, wells, and schools. The Israeli destruction of a UN school was done with the use of white phosphorous, which violates international law, as it indiscriminately incinerates humans. These crimes against humanity occurred in the midst of a four-year siege that Israel has placed on the 1.5 million people living in Gaza, controlling air and marine space and closing all borders in an illegal act of collective punishment. Today, Israel refuses to allow adequate humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, and actively opposes recommendations for accountability made by South African Judge Richard Goldstone in the UN-sponsored Goldstone Report.
Israel uses arts and culture to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights.
In the wake of the Gaza assault and to salvage its deteriorating image, Israel has redoubled its effort to “brand” itself as an enlightened liberal democracy. Arts and culture play a unique role in this branding campaign, as the presence of internationally acclaimed artists from the West affirms Israel’s membership in the West’s privileged club of cultured, liberal democracies. But it should not be business as usual with a state that routinely violates international law and basic human rights.
Palestinian civil society calls for BDS and distinguished artists of conscience have joined the call.
The BDS movement is a nonviolent, morally consistent way to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights standards as other nations. Inspired by the struggle of South Africans against Apartheid, Palestinian groups have called on international civil society to engage in BDS until Israel ends its three forms of oppression against the Palestinian people:
(1) the occupation of all Arab lands, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem;
(2) the legalized and institutional discrimination of Palestinian citizens of Israel; and
(3) the denial of Palestinian refugees’ right to return.?
In refusing to do business as usual with Israel, you join ranks with the growing number of international artists, intellectuals, and cultural workers who have rejected Israel’s cynical use of the arts to whitewash its Apartheid and colonial policies. Distinguished artists, writers, and peace activists—among them John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Adrienne Rich, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Alice Walker—have declared support for the BDS movement. World-renowned artists Sting, Bono, Snoop Dogg, Jean Luc Godard, and Carlos Santana have cancelled their performances or participation in festivals in Israel.
Please maintain your principled stance against Israeli Apartheid.
Consistent with your commitment to anti-racist struggles for social justice and freedom in the United States and around the world—a commitment so powerfully expressed in your work—you have chosen to stand on the right side of history. Your cancellation was warmly received in occupied Gaza and the West Bank, as a similar action were received by black South Africans in the anti-apartheid era. We urge you not to bow to pressure to reverse your principled stance, and not play Israel as long as it continues its apartheid policies.
With respect and solidarity,
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
Al-Nakba Awareness Project
Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Information Society
American Jews for a Just Peace
Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
Artists Against Apartheid
Bay Area Coalition to End Israeli Apartheid
Berlin Academic Boycott
Bill Fletcher, Jr., BlackCommentator.com* (for purpose of identification only)
Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within (Israel)
Break the Siege (California)
British Committee for the Universities of Palestine
Canadian Arab Federation
Canada Palestine Support Network (CanPalNet)
Center for Immigrant Families (NYC)
Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (Canada)
DAM, Palestinian Hip Hop
Don't Buy Into Apartheid (California)
Educators for Peace and Justice (Toronto)
Global Women's Strike
Hodari Abdul-Ali (Host, Freedom Sounds, WPFW, Washington, DC)
Imperial College London Palestine Society
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
Invincible, Detroit based Hip-Hop artist
Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign
JBIG - Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (UK)
Jews Against the Occupation – NYC
Jews Say No! (NYC)
Reem Kelani, Palestinian musician and singer
King's College London Action Palestine (KCLAP)
King's College London Creative Writing Society (KCLCWS)
Labor for Palestine
London School of Economics Palestine Society
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
New York City Labor Against the War
QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) (California)
The One Democratic State Group
Palestine Solidarity Committee – Seattle
The Palestinian Club of Brooklyn College
Palestinian Queers for BDS (Palestinian)
Palestinian Students' Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)
Queen Mary University London Palestine Society
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Palestine Society
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Committee
Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) (14 Chapters in Canada)
Students Against Israeli Apartheid-Carleton (Ottawa, Canada)
Students Boycott Apartheid (North America)
Students for Justice in Palestine–Columbia University (NYC)
Students for Justice in Palestine–New York University
Students for Justice in Palestine-UC Berkeley
University College London Friends of Palestine Society
University Teachers' Society in Palestine
US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation