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PACBI | December 13, 2011

Jane Birkin: No Balance with Apartheid!

[This letter was sent privately to Jane Birkin on 21 November 2011.  We release it as we continue to wait for her response.]

Dear Jane Birkin,

 
Back in 2003, when you sang in Tel Aviv and the occupied Palestinian territory, many considered your project progressive, even daring, despite presenting both oppressors and oppressed as if they were symmetric. Today, seven years after the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) [1] was launched with overwhelming support from Palestinian artists and cultural centers [2], your upcoming performance in Tel Aviv would undermine our boycott against Israel's cultural institutions and provide Israel with a valuable cover of normalcy to divert attention from its system of occupation, colonialism and apartheid [3] against the Palestinian people.
 
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the moral leaders of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, today not only recognizes that Israel has a "worse" system of apartheid but also endorses our BDS call, including in the cultural field. When Cape Town Opera, a prominent South African music group, decided last year to ignore our boycott call and play in Tel Aviv, Tutu wrote: “Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity, so it would be wrong for Cape Town Opera to perform in Israel.” [4]
 
The 2004 Palestinian call appealed to international artists to refuse to perform in Israel or participate in events that serve to equate the occupier and the occupied [5] and thus contribute to the continuation of injustice. Following this, in 2005, an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing BDS campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality [6]. The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights standards as other nations. It is asking artists to heed the boycott call until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid." [7]
 
Your performance in Israel would constitute a rejection of the appeal from over 170 civil society organizations that comprise thePalestinian BDS movement. 
 
Today, Palestinian civil society groups are calling on artists to shun Tel Aviv in the same way that South African activists called on artists to boycott Sun City. All we are asking is for you to refrain from crossing a picket line called by Palestinian society, endorsed by international organizations, and increasingly supported by progressive-Israelis [8]. Palestinian civil society is asking this of you as the most essential contribution to our struggle to achieve peace and justice. 
 
Respectfully, 
 
PACBI
 
 
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
 
Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession and racial discrimination
 
Perhaps you are not familiar enough with Israel’s practices, widely acknowledged as violations of international law. If this is the case, then we hope you will reconsider your planned concert after thinking through some of Israel’s trespasses. Your performance would function as a whitewash of these practices, making it appear as though business with Israel should go on as usual. Concretely, Israel routinely violates Palestinians’ basic human rights in some of the following ways:
 
1.     Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal and unlawful 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 land 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 them 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. In many ways this system strikingly resembles Jim Crow and apartheid South Africa.
 
3.     Since 1948, when Israel dispossessed more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. Israel also continues to expel people from their homes in Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev). Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees still struggling for their right to return to their homes, like all refugees around the world.
 
4.     In Gaza, Palestinians have been subjected to a criminal and immoral siege since 2006. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also musical instruments from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison [9].
 
Israel uses arts and culture to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights.  
 
In December 2008 and January 2009, Israel waged a war of aggression against Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians, predominantly civilians, dead [10], and led the UN Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes [11]. In the wake of this assault and to salvage its deteriorating image, Israel has redoubled its effort to “brand” itself as an enlightened liberal democracy [12]. Arts and culture play a unique role in this branding campaign [13], as the presence of internationally acclaimed artists from the West is meant to affirm 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. 
 
Your performance would serve this Israeli campaign to rebrand itself and will be used as a publicity tool by the Israeli government.
 
Numerous distinguished cultural figures and public intellectuals have joined the call for BDS.
 
After the Gaza assault and even more so after the flotilla massacre in May 2010, many international artists, intellectuals, and cultural workers have been rejecting Israel’s cynical use of the arts to whitewash its Apartheid and colonial policies. Among those who have supported the BDS movement are distinguished artists, writers, and anti-racist activists such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu [14], John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Adrienne Rich, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, Roger Waters, and Alice Walker [15].
 
World-renowned artists, among them Vanessa Paradis, Bono, Snoop Dogg, Jean Luc Godard, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart, Faithless and the Pixies have also cancelled their performances in Israel over its human rights record. Maxi Jazz (Faithless front-man) had this to say as he maintained his principled position not to entertain apartheid,
 
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. [16]
 
Please say no to performing in Israel. 
 
If you remain unconvinced because of claims that a cultural boycott of Israel may infringe on freedom of expression and cultural exchange, may we recall for you the judicious words of Enuga S. Reddy, director of the United Nations Center against Apartheid, who in 1984 responded to a similar criticism voiced against the cultural boycott of South Africa by 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. [17]


[3] In its most recent session in Cape Town, South Africa, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine concluded that, “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid,” http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/en/sessions/south-africa.
[4] Tutu urges Cape Town Opera to call off Israel tour, Times, 26 October 2010. http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/article727749.ece/Tutu-urges-Cape-Town-Opera-to-call-off-Israel-tour.

Posted on 13-12-2011


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