Kara Walker, Joan Jonas, Judith Butler, and Other Cultural Luminaries Are Calling on Institutions to Denounce Israeli ‘War Crimes’ in Gaza

Many art institutions have stayed silent on the issue.

People holding banners and Palestinian flags, take part in pro-Palestinian rally to show their solidarity with Palestinian people at the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, on October 19, 2023. Photo by Ibrahim Ezzat/Anadolu via Getty Images.

Going on two weeks into the deadly crisis in the Middle East, three open letters from high-profile artists and cultural figures are calling for justice for Palestinians in Gaza.

One letter, addressed “from the art community to cultural organizations,” was signed by artists Peter Doig, Nan Goldin, Barbara Kruger, Tomás Saraceno, Joan Jonas, and Kara Walker, as well as filmmaker Laura Poitras and scholars Judith Butler and Fred Moten.

“We support Palestinian liberation and call for an end to the killing and harming of all civilians,” the letter read. “We demand that the institutional silence around the ongoing humanitarian crisis that 2.3 million Palestinians are facing in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip be broken immediately.”

Many institutions in the art world have stayed quiet on the issue, perhaps reluctant to choose sides given the long, divisive history of tensions and armed violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

The conflict ignited anew on October 7 with Hamas’s surprise rocket launch and massacre of Israeli civilians. But while the Israeli death toll has been horrific, the letter, as well as two others from leading writers and actors in the U.S. and U.K., focuses on the even larger numbers mounting in Gaza.

A letter from the U.K. group Artists for Palestine, which counts actors Tilda Swinton, Charles Dance, and Steve Coogan among its signees, focused on the losses faced by the people of Palestine, writing that “Israel has reduced much of Gaza to rubble, and cut off the supply of water, power, food and medicine to 2.3 million Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, a letter from the London Review of Books signed by artists Molly Crabapple, Chitra Ganesh, and William Powhida, among others, also condemned Israel’s deadly retaliation in Gaza.

“We can only express our grief and heartbreak for the victims of these most recent tragedies, and for their families, both Palestinians and Israelis,” the letter read, going on to note that “human rights groups have long condemned Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the inhumane treatment of—and system of racial domination over—Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state.” It notes that Israeli historian Raz Segal has called “the situation in Gaza as a ‘textbook case of genocide.’”

Israel responded to the offensive, which the U.S. has denounced as an act of terrorism, with air strikes that have led to the mass displacement of an estimated 1 million Gazans.

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