Jeremy Deller, Ed Atkins, and Hundreds of UK Artists Support Cultural Boycott of Israel

They see Israel's policies against Palestinians as a new apartheid.

Jeremy Deller

Nearly 1,000 British artists have signed an open letter in support of the cultural boycott of Israel. The ban includes accepting professional invitations to Israel or funds from institutions linked to the Israeli government. The online initiative Artists for Palestine UK was launched on February 13, 2015, and since then, some 700 signatories have left their names in support of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) guidelines for the boycott.

Among the signatories are prominent figures in the art world, including Jeremy Deller, John Berger, Mona Hatoum, Bob and Roberta Smith, Phyllida Barlow, and Ed Atkins, as well as luminaries from the field of arts and entertainment, such as Roger Waters, Brian Eno, and directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. It is widely known in the Israeli art world that many artists who haven’t signed also refuse to engage with any form of cultural activity there.

UPDATE: Jeremy Deller’s name should not have appeared on the petition, the artists tells artnet News. See Jeremy Deller Never Meant To Be on the Artists for Palestine Petition.

The cultural boycott Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), launched in Ramallah in April 2004, is part of a larger call for the cultural, academic, and economic boycott (BDS)—which aims to pressure Israel to end Palestinian plight under occupation. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem stated that 2014 was “one of the cruelest and deadliest in the history of the occupation.” The UK pledge echoes the BDS movement’s comparison of the situation in Gaza and the West Bank to South African apartheid.

The BDS movement was initiated in 2005 in reaction to an official campaign launched by the State of Israel, which marketed Tel Aviv as a liberal city, cultural hub, and gay-friendly destination.

In January 2015, a conference organized by Israeli curators, including Chen Tamir and Joshua Simon, took place in Tel Aviv where the cultural ban’s guidelines were discussed, as those are less clear cut than the guidelines for the financial boycott. A representative from the country’s Boycott From Within movement also spoke at the event. PACBI’s ban targets independently-funded exhibitions that promote “normalization,” and present Israeli and Palestinian artists as equal counterparts:

“In general, PACBI urges international cultural workers (e.g. artists, writers, filmmakers) and cultural organizations […] to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation of events, activities, agreements, or projects involving Israel, its lobby groups or its cultural institutions, or that otherwise promote the normalization of Israel in the global cultural sphere, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights, or violate the BDS guidelines.”

Voices criticizing the cultural boycott have emerged in the media as well. Opponents of the boycott often speak in favor of an academic and financial boycott, but argue that the cultural ban targets the wrong people, and tends to simplify a complex conflict.

Nevertheless, the cultural boycott is seen by its supporters as an essential act of solidarity and a way to enhance the conflict’s visibility within the art world, as the recent case of the São Paulo biennial demonstrated (see Artists Call on Bienal de São Paulo to Reject Israeli Funds).

A group of German-speaking artists, curators, and cultural producers has launched the counter initiative Challenging Double Standards, which argues against the boycott. The petition is signed by Diedrich Diederichsen, Clemens von Wedemeyer, Daniel Richter, and Kathrin Rhomberg, among others.

Update: Artists For Palestine informed artnet News that Jeremy Deller had withdrawn his name from the list of signatories. It was removed from AFP’s website on February 19, or two days after the publication of this article.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.