Thursday, February 2, 2012

PACBI Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel (Revised October 2010)

Originally posted by PACBI at
Brought to my attention via Twitter by @Jinjirrie

Since April 2004, PACBI has called upon intellectuals and academics worldwide to “comprehensively 
and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle 
to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.” [1]

In 2006, a decisive majority of Palestinian cultural workers, including most filmmakers and artists, 
supported by hundreds of international cultural workers, appealed to all international artists and filmmakers 
of good conscience to join the institutional cultural boycott against Israel. [2]  In response, the renowned 
British artist and writer, John Berger, issued a statement that was backed by dozens of prominent 
international artists, writers and filmmakers calling on their colleagues everywhere to endorse the 
Palestinian cultural boycott call. [3]

In the spirit of this cultural boycott and consistent with its logic, on 8 May 2008, in a half-page advertisement 
in the International Herald Tribune under the banner “No Reason to Celebrate,” tens of leading international 
cultural figures -- including Mahmoud Darwish, Augusto Boal, Ken Loach, Andre Brink, Ella Shohat, 
Judith Butler, Vincenzo Consolo, Ilan Pappe, David Toscana and Aharon Shabtai -- signed a statement 
responding to worldwide celebrations of Israel’s “60th anniversary” saying [4]:

There is no reason to celebrate!  Israel at 60 is a state that is still denying Palestinian refugees 
their UN-sanctioned rights, simply because they are 'non-Jews.’  It is still illegally occupying 
Palestinian and other Arab lands, in violation of numerous UN resolutions.  It is still persistently 
and grossly breaching international law and infringing fundamental human rights with impunity 
afforded to it through munificent US and European economic, diplomatic and political support.  
It is still treating its own Palestinian citizens with institutionalized discrimination.

The cultural boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa has been a major source of inspiration in 
formulating the Palestinian boycott calls and their criteria.  In that context, the key argument put forth by 
the South African apartheid regime and its apologists around the world against the anti-apartheid cultural 
and sports boycott--that boycotts violate the freedom of expression and cultural exchange--was resolutely 
refuted by the director of the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, Enuga S. Reddy, who in 1984 wrote [5]:

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. 

Similarly, the Palestinian boycott call targets cultural institutions, projects and events that continue to serve 
the purposes of the Israeli colonial and apartheid regime.

During years of intense work with partners in several countries to promote the cultural boycott of Israel, 
PACBI has thoroughly scrutinized tens of cultural projects and events, assessing the applicability of the 
boycott criteria to them and, accordingly, has issued open letters, statements or advisory opinions on 
them.  The two most important conclusions reached in this respect were: (a) many of these events and 
projects fall into an uncertain, grey area that is challenging to appraise, and (b) the boycott must target 
not only the complicit institutions but also the inherent and organic links between them which reproduce 
the machinery of colonial subjugation and apartheid.  Based on this experience and in response to the 
burgeoning demand for PACBI’s specific guidelines for applying the cultural boycott to diverse projects, 
from film festivals to art exhibits to musical and dance performances to conferences, the Campaign lays 
out below unambiguous, consistent and coherent criteria and guidelines that specifically address the 
nuances and particularities of the field of culture.

These guidelines are mainly intended to help guide cultural workers and organizers around the world in 
adhering to the Palestinian call for boycott, as a contribution towards establishing a just peace in our region. 

Cultural Boycott Guidelines

Before discussing the various categories of cultural products and events and as a general overriding 
rule, 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.  Accordingly, these institutions (mainly major state and public 
entities), all their products, and all the events they sponsor or support must be boycotted. By the same 
token, international artists and cultural workers are urged not to exhibit, present, or showcase their work 
(e.g. films, installations, literary works) or lecture at complicit Israeli cultural institutions or events, or to 
grant permission for the publication or exhibition of such work by such institutions. Events and projects 
involving individuals explicitly representing these complicit institutions should be boycotted, likewise.
International cultural workers who fail to heed the call for boycott and attempt to visit Palestinian 
institutions as a "balancing act" are assuming "parity between justice and injustice," which Nelson 
Mandela has warned against. Although visits to the occupied Palestinian territory by international 
supporters and advocates of Palestinian rights have always been viewed by Palestinians as a source 
of encouragement and inspiration, Palestinians increasingly believe that solidarity entails respecting the 
boycott call and not combining a visit to Palestinian institutions with visits to or attending conferences 
and other events at boycottable Israeli institutions.  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.

In all the following, “product” refers to cultural products such as films and other art forms; “event” refers to 
film festivals, conferences, art exhibits, dance and musical performances, tours by artists and writers, 
among other activities.

The following criteria may not be completely exhaustive and certainly do not preempt, replace or void other, 
common-sense rationales for boycott, particularly when a cultural product or event is shown to be explicitly 
justifying, advocating or promoting war crimes, racial discrimination, apartheid, suppression of fundamental 
human rights and serious violations of international law.

Based on the above, the Palestinian cultural boycott of Israel applies in the following situations:

(1) Cultural product is commissioned by an official Israeli body or non-Israeli institution that serves 
Brand Israel or similar propaganda purposes [6]

All cultural products commissioned by an official Israeli body (e.g., government ministry, municipality, embassy, 
consulate, state or other public film fund, etc.) or an Israel rebranding effort or organization, whether Israeli or 
international, deserve to be boycotted on institutional grounds, as they are commissioned and thus funded by 
the Israeli state or colluding institutions specifically to help the state’s propaganda or “rebranding” efforts aimed 
at diluting, justifying, whitewashing or otherwise diverting attention from the Israeli occupation and other 
violations of Palestinian rights and international law.  However, this level of explicit complicity is difficult 
to ascertain quite often, as information on such direct commissioning may not be readily available or may 
even be intentionally concealed.

(2) Product is funded by an official Israeli body, but not commissioned (no political strings)

The term “political strings” here specifically refers to those conditions that obligate a fund recipient to directly 
or indirectly serve the Israeli government’s or a complicit institution's “rebranding” or propaganda efforts.  
Products funded by official Israeli bodies -- as defined in category (1) above -- but not commissioned, 
therefore not attached to any political strings, are not per se subject to boycott.  Individual cultural products 
that receive state funding as part of the individual cultural worker’s entitlement as a tax-paying citizen, without 
her/him being bound to serve the state’s political and PR interests, are not boycottable, according to the PACBI 
criteria. Accepting such political strings, on the other hand, would clearly turn the cultural product or event into 
a form of complicity, by contributing to Israel’s efforts to whitewash or obscure its colonial and apartheid reality, 
and would render it boycottable, as a result.

While an individual’s freedom of expression, particularly artistic expression, should be fully and consistently 
respected in this context, an individual artist, filmmaker, writer, etc., Israeli or not, cannot be exempt from 
being subject to boycotts that conscientious citizens around the world (beyond the scope of the PACBI 
boycott criteria) may call for in response to what is widely perceived as a particularly offensive act or statement 
by the cultural worker in question (such as direct or indirect incitement to hatred and violence; justification -- 
an indirect form of advocacy -- of war crimes and other grave violations of international law; racial slurs; 
actual participation in human rights violations; etc.).  At this level, Israeli cultural workers should not be 
automatically exempted from due criticism or any lawful form of protest, including boycott; they should be 
treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse. 

(3) Event is partially or fully sponsored or funded by an official Israeli body or a complicit institution 
The general principle is that an event or project carried out under the sponsorship/aegis of or in affiliation with 
an official Israeli body or a complicit institution constitutes complicity and therefore is deserving of boycott.  
The same may apply to support or sponsorship from non-Israeli institutions that serve brand Israel purposes.  
It is also well documented now that Israeli artists, writers and other cultural workers applying for state funding 
to cover the cost of their -- or their cultural products’ -- participation in international events must accept to 
contribute to Israel’s official propaganda efforts.  To that end, the cultural worker must sign a contract with the 
Israeli Foreign Ministry binding her/him to “undertake to act faithfully, responsibly and tirelessly to provide 
the Ministry with the highest professional services.  The service provider is aware that the purpose of ordering 
services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including 
contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.” [7]

(4) Product is not funded or sponsored by an official Israeli body or complicit institution

Unless violating any of the above criteria, in the absence of official Israeli or other complicit institutional 
sponsorship, the individual product of an Israeli cultural worker per se is not boycottable, regardless of its 
content or merit.

(5) Event or project promotes false symmetry or “balance”
Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote “balance” between 
the “two sides” in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false 
premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for 
the “conflict,” are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible.  Such events and 
projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or “reconciliation between the two sides” without addressing 
the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice.  All such events and projects 
that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless the Israeli side is explicitly supportive of the 
inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and unless the project/event is framed within the explicit context of 
joint opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates 
for boycott.  Other factors that PACBI takes into consideration in evaluating such events and projects are the 
sources of funding, the design of the program, the objectives of the sponsoring organization(s), the 
participants, and similar relevant factors.

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