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PACBI-Neil Young: Refrain from Undermining the Rights of the Indigenous Palestinian People

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27 March 2014

Neil Young: Refrain from Undermining the Rights of the Indigenous Palestinian People

[This letter was sent privately to Neil Young weeks ago with no response]

Dear Neil Young,

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Palestine, has learned that you reportedly plan to perform in Israel on 17 July 2014 [1].  We are writing to urge you to refrain from playing in apartheid Israel and not to condone Israel’s violations of international law and human rights against the Palestinian people. 

Over the past 20 years, Israel has intensified its construction of illegal colonies in the occupied Palestinian territory.  It continues to bomb and kill Palestinian civilians in Gaza and maintains its medieval siege of 1.8 million Palestinians there.  Its wall, condemned as illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, is still standing and expanding, separating Palestinians from their livelihoods, schools and farms.  Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities in the Naqab (Negev), East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley was condemned by a ranking UN official as constituting a strategy of exclusion and discrimination [2].  Its policy of home demolitions, uprooting trees and denial of freedom of movement have intensified in recent months.  It still maintains more than 50 racist laws [3] that are condemned by international and local human rights organizations.  Even the U.S. Department of State has censured Israel’s system of “institutional, legal and societal” discrimination against Palestinian citizens of the state. [4]

Why would you accept to perform in a country that is so deeply involved in war crimes and human rights violations?  Performing in Israel at this time is morally equivalent to performing in South Africa during the apartheid era.  We all remember how leading musicians played a prominent role in enforcing a cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa in the 1980’s. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights Prof. John Dugard, and South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils have repeatedly declared, Israel has created a worse system of apartheid than anything that ever existed in South Africa. 

Just days ago, a special solidarity conference convened by the South African parliament, attended by major parties, trade unions and civil society networks, issued the Cape Town Declaration, regarding Israel as guilty of the crime of apartheid and endorsing BDS against it until it meets its obligations under international law. [5]

You have been an eager speaker in favor of the rights of the indigenous First Nations in Canada, and you vividly defended their right to resist oppression and exploitation.  As you have noted “The blood of these people will be on modern Canada's hands. And it will be as a result of not just a slow thing, but a fast and horrific thing if this continues. There are many ways this could happen, and believe me these people are not going to sit back and let Canada, the modern Canada, roll over them. They're not saying it, but they're feeling it."[6]  Our non-violent strategy of resisting Israel’s violations of the rights of the Palestinians is BDS. By having your concert in Israel, you would be crossing the picket line and undermining our resistance of apartheid and colonialism.

PACBI and the broader BDS movement, representing the absolute majority of Palestinian civil society, appeal to you to respect our strategy of resistance and uphold the highest standard of respect for the human rights of the indigenous oppressed Palestinians people.  Brave decisions need to be taken in support of Palestinians exactly like you have supported the First Nations rights in Canada. Thus, the Palestinians call upon you to cancel your July 2014 performance in Tel Aviv.


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 [9], and led the UN Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes [10].  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 [11]. Arts and culture play a unique role in this branding campaign [12], 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.

Today, 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, public intellectuals and anti-racist activists such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Judith Butler, Naomi Klein, Ken Loach, Alice Walker, Angela Davis and Mira Nair.

World-renowned artists, among them Roger Waters, Bono, Snoop Dogg, Jean Luc Godard, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart, Faithless, Zakir Hussain, Stevie Wonder, Mike Leigh, Coldplay, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo school of Medicine, Mireille Mathieu, Oumou Sangaré, Cassandra Wilson, Cat Power, Lenny Kravitz, Carlo Mombelli, and Stanley Jordan have also cancelled their performances in Israel over its human rights record.  Maxi Jazz 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. [13]

Significantly, you may have already heard of the boycott spreading to the academic realm, with four associations now coming out publicly in support of academic boycott [14].  The movement is spreading and the taboo to speak out against Israel is breaking.  People in all quarters are no longer afraid to speak out, and we hope you will stand with them.


Please say no to performing in Israel. 

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 [15].  Palestinian civil society is asking this of you as the most essential contribution to our struggle to achieve peace and justice.



















[14] These associations are the Association for Humanist Sociology (AHS), Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS), American Studies Association (ASA), and Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). 


Posted on 27-03-2014

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