A new organisation, Artists for Palestine UK, has mobilised hundreds of UK artists in support of Palestinian rights  and produced a booklet arguing The Case for a Cultural Boycott of Israel. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

On February 14, a letter in the Guardian announced that 700 UK signatories, representing every field of the arts, had pledged not to accept professional invitations to Israel as long as the state continues to deny basic Palestinian rights. The names, collected without the benefit of any publicity over the previous year, included many leaders in their fields:

Writers Tariq Ali, William Dalrymple, Aminatta Forna, Bonnie Greer, Mark Haddon, Asif Kapadia, Hari Kunzru, Liz Lochhead, Jimmy McGovern, China Mieville, Andrew O’Hagan, Laurie Penny, Michael Rosen, Gillian Slovo, Ahdaf Soueif, Marina Warner, Benjamin Zephaniah

Film directors Mike Hodges, Peter Kosminsky, Mike Leigh, Phyllida Lloyd, Ken Loach, Michael Radford, Roger Michell, Julien Temple

Comedians Mark Thomas, Jeremy Hardy, Alexei Sayle

Musicians Richard Ashcroft, Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, Kate Tempest, Roger Waters, Robert Wyatt

Architects Peter Ahrends, Will Alsop,

Actors Rizwan Ahmed, Anna Carteret, David Calder, Simon McBurney, Miriam Margolyes,

Theatre writers/directors Caryl Churchill, Dominic Cooke CBE, David Edgar, Sir Jonathan Miller, Mark Ravenhill,

Visual Arts Ed Atkins, Phyllida Barlow, John Berger, Mona Hatoum.

Within a fortnight the number had swollen to one thousand. New signatures continue to be added daily.

The full text of the pledge they signed reads:

We support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality. In response to the call from Palestinian artists and cultural workers for a cultural boycott of Israel, we pledge to accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.

In launching the pledge, theatre director Hilary Westlake, a member of the organising collective, said APUK’s message to British artists is: ‘Together we can defend our right to decide whose patronage we accept, despite groundless accusations of antisemitism and threats of financial and reputational ruin.’

The letter to the Guardian read:

Along with more than 600 other fellow artists, we are announcing today that we will not engage in business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel. We will accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government. Since the summer war on Gaza, Palestinians have enjoyed no respite from Israel’s unrelenting attack on their land, their livelihood, their right to political existence. “2014,” says the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, was “one of the cruellest and deadliest in the history of the occupation.” The Palestinian catastrophe goes on.

Israel’s wars are fought on the cultural front too. Its army targets Palestinian cultural institutions for attack, and prevents the free movement of cultural workers. Its own theatre companies perform to settler audiences on the West Bank – and those same companies tour the globe as cultural diplomats, in support of “Brand Israel”. During South African apartheid, musicians announced they weren’t going to “play Sun City”. Now we are saying, in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ashkelon or Ariel, we won’t play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run masterclasses or workshops, until Israel respects international law and ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians. To see the full list of supporters, go to

The letter, signed by 112 pledge signatories, appeared online on Feb 13 and in the newspaper on Feb 14. Simultaneously novelist Kamila Shamsie explained her reasons for signing in the Guardian’s review section and the Artists for Palestine UK website went live listing all the signatories to date. It carried an impressive selection of statements from many of them and opened up the pledge for signing by any UK cultural worker. APUK’s Facebook page quickly attracted more than 2000 likes, supportive emails poured in and fair-minded articles appeared in respectable arts media – Dazed, The Art Newspaper, Artnet, Architects Journal, Building Design and The Stage among others. Where opposition has been voiced, we have claimed the right to reply.

In advance of the Pledge launch, Artleaks carried a piece titled ‘Challenging Double Standards: a call against the boycott of Israeli art & society’, which paid little attention either to the situation they purported to analyse, or to the movement they aimed to critique. APUK stepped in with a reply, also endorsed by the Israeli group Boycott from Within, stating...It is odd that a text which insists on the need to reject generalisation and respect ‘specificity’, is itself so unspecific. There are some quite basic ‘specifics’ that don’t get mentioned at all: occupation, ethnic cleansing, settlements…’

When online magazine published a sneering piece by art critic JJ Charlesworth, The Cultural Boycott of Israel Isn’t Solidarity, It’s Condescension, it gave APUK the right of reply.

After publishing the launch letter, the Guardian inexplicably followed up with a vicious attack on the hundreds of pledge signers from Yair Lapid, a former Israeli finance minister, on the letters page and  in Comment is Free. Naming well-known artist signatories to the pledge, Lapid alleged that the logical outcome of their action was the mass slaughter of Israeli Jews – ‘Women and children first.’

Israeli dissident writer Gideon Levy trashed Lapid’s arguments in Ha’aretz. His blistering assault, reproduced on the APUK website, says: ‘Lapid’s Israel is the height of temerity – the occupier that not only presents itself as a victim, but as the only victim. It is hard to believe, but that’s the truth.’

APUK is determined to widen rational debate on cultural boycott among artists and the public at large. This is just the beginning of the fight for artists’ right to say “no” to the pro-Israel cultural establishment. Breaking through the dead weight of fear and – in too many instances – craven acquiescence within UK arts organisations will be a long struggle.  This month news emerged of a theatre in Wales that had taken all the captions off photographs in an exhibition showing, according to the affronted artist, “the scattered remains from across the country of the now historic Palestinian presence in much of Israel’s landscape.” The captions were removed when a Christian pastor claiming to represent unnamed Jewish organisations visited the venue threatening unspecified consequences if the “political” material remained on view. They were only reinstated after artists and activists in the area complained to the theatre and local media.

We have often said that it won’t be too long before the question both artists and academic have to face is not “Why Boycott?” but “How can you not?” We are not there yet but the launch of the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine is a step in the right direction.


Be Sociable, Share!

About naomiwi