Why Cultural Boycott?


Archbiship Desmond TutuJust 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.
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu

While the 2005 international call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) has by now become well known, a lesser-known, and oft-misunderstood aspect of the Boycott call is the Cultural Boycott. What many may not know is that in 2006, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) released its own statement with the support of an overwhelming majority of Palestinian cultural workers, filmmakers, and artists, appealing to international artists of conscience to join the cultural boycott.

In popular debates on the subject, it is often presumed that the Cultural Boycott entails a rejection of all Israeli artistic expression, or that international artists cannot set foot on Israeli soil. Neither are the case. The call specifically targets the institutional Israeli effort to display itself as a “normal” country, instead of the pariah state it is. This is a country that actively recruits musicians to go to international festivals to promote its “image”, launching the “Brand Israel” campaign in 2006 with the explicit goal of turning attention away from the country’s war crimes in order to prop itself up as a cultural capital of the world instead. Directly or indirectly, all artists will find themselves in the orbit of this institutional effort to ‘rebrand’ Israel, and it is for this reason that the cultural boycott remains important: so that we do not lose sight of the racist discrimination, violence, imprisonment, and siege of Palestinians undertaken every day by the Israeli government.

As Judith Butler wrote in regards to visit to Israel years ago,

the rector of Tel Aviv University said, ‘Look how lucky we are. Judith Butler has come to Tel Aviv University, a sign that she does not accept the boycott,’ I was instrumentalized against my will. And I realized I cannot function in that public space without already being defined in the boycott debate. So there is no escape from it. One can stay quiet and accept the status quo, or one can take a position that seeks to challenge the status quo.

It is with this principle in mind that artists are urged to heed the boycott call.

We, Punks Against Apartheid, urge all artists–but especially punks!–to heed the BDS call and recognize the importance of their voices being raised against the apartheid state. Punk has had an important history in politicizing its listeners and forming a distinct counter-cultural message against the complacency of mainstream industry music; as punks and people inspired by this legacy, we hope to maintain the integrity of that history by expressing our unwavering support for Palestinian resistance to the occupation and convincing our fellow punks to do so as well!

As PACBI writes,

international visitors who insist on including Israeli cultural institutions in their itinerary, in violation of the boycott, should not expect to be welcome by Palestinian cultural institutions…. 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.

Artists in solidarity with the Palestinian call should not alienate the very people they claim to support by playing shows in Israel, but rather openly and clearly refuse to do so. We guarantee you–the allies and fans you will gain will be more faithful than the suits who will use your show as a justification for Israel’s respectable status on the international scene in order to cover up 60 years of ethnic cleansing.

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