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More Than 700 UK Artists Pledge To Boycott Israel

(Mohammed Asad / APA images)

More than 700 creative professionals living in the United Kingdom – including writers, visual artists, actors, musicians and many others – have signed up to a pledge to boycott collaboration with Israeli state-funded projects. Disclaimer: I have the privilege of being one of them.

The announcement marks a significant step for the UK cultural boycott campaign. There have been many open letters and other statements of support for Palestine from UK artists, but the website and pledge bring together a huge number of creatives in one coordinated effort.

The pledge, which was launched on 14 February 2015 with a letter in The Guardian newspaper and a new website, 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.

The Guardian letter goes on to add that:

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 theater 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.

The list of signatories includes many high-profile artists based in the UK, including:

  • Writers Tariq Ali, William Dalrymple, Aminatta Forna, Bonnie Greer, Mark Haddon, Hari Kunzru, Liz Lochhead, Jimmy McGovern, China Mieville, Andrew O’Hagan, Michael Rosen, Kamila Shamsie, Hanan al-Shaykh, Gillian Slovo, Ahdaf Soueif, Marina Warner, Benjamin Zephaniah
  • Film directors Mike Hodges, Asif Kapadia, Peter Kosminsky, Mike Leigh, Phyllida Lloyd, Ken Loach, Roger Michell, Michael Radford, Julien Temple
  • Comedians Jeremy Hardy, Alexei Sayle, Mark Thomas
  • Musicians Richard Ashcroft, Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, Kate Tempest, Roger Waters, Robert Wyatt
  • Actors Rizwan Ahmed, Anna Carteret, David Calder, Simon McBurney, Miriam Margolyes
  • Theater writers/directors Caryl Churchill, David Edgar, Dominic Cooke CBE, Sir Jonathan Miller, Mark Ravenhill
  • Visual artists Phyllida Barlow, John Berger, Jeremy Deller, Mona Hatoum
  • Architects Peter Ahrends, Will Alsop

Many of those participating added moving statements to their signatures, outlining the reasons why they felt the need, as creatives, to take this step. Examples include director and screenwriter Michael Radford’s sentiment that:

As the son of a Jewish refugee, the anger and despair I feel can only faintly echo that of the people of Gaza. Art is a celebration of humanity, and the symbolic gesture of refusing any artistic collaboration with a state which values its own contribution to the arts so highly is the least we can do to protest against the horrifying inhumanity of its actions.

Actor Miriam Margolyes, meanwhile, said that:

as an artist I wish to pursue a moral journey through life and the right and wrongs here are very clear to me. A suffering group has asked for my support; it cannot be withheld.
 My support for the Palestinian cause is fiercer because I am Jewish and I honor the strengths of that religion and the suffering my people have experienced through the years. My visits to Palestine showed me at first hand how the people there are treated by Israeli forces. Their lack of humanity disgusts me – I want no part of it. I realize we were fed a lie about the foundation of the State of Israel.

And choreographer Jonathan Burrows emphasized that:

the choice not to present work in Israel is not an attack on Israeli artists, but rather a recognition that the thing you do may not be appropriate in a situation of ongoing violent conflict, and that to ignore that is to support the idea that everything is under control and life and culture continue as normal, while bombs fall.

Songwriter and children’s author Leon Rosselson, a signatory to the pledge, posted the video (see top of this post) of him performing the song “The Ballad of Rivka and Mohammed” as his statement.

The full range of artists’ statements can be found on the pledge website.

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