Editors of ‘Assuming Boycott’ anthology speak out against anti-Semitism controversy at Queens Museum

US Politics
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The recent controversy over the Queens Museum’s handling of an event sponsored by the Israeli Mission to the UN has been condemned on the grounds of anti-Semitism. The evidence provided for this charge of anti-Semitism is that the director of the Queens Museum, Laura Raicovich, edited a book entitled “Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency and Cultural Production.” As co-editors of this anthology we wish to address that charge.

Cover of “Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency and Cultural Production.” published by Or Books.

First of all, the book focuses on cultural boycotts in many different situations – boycott campaigns and acts of protest past and present, from the anti-apartheid struggle to contemporary movements to end the abuse of migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates and the detention of asylum seekers forbidden from entering Australia. It seeks to analyze and contextualize the recent rise of such activism among artists and cultural producers, and to reframe debates surrounding censorship and self-censorship, and tensions between local and transnational activism. Advocates for the Israeli government frequently criticize activists because they “single out Israel,” as Ambassador Danon accused Raicovich of doing. Far from singling out Israel, the book amounts to an engaged, passionate, and plurivocal conversation among thinkers with varying perspectives and sometimes contradictory insights, and we hope it will be read for the quality of historical and political arguments rather than its adherence to the officially sanctioned views of any government.

Laura Raicovich (Photo: Art in America)

Second of all, the BDS movement is a nonviolent, international human rights campaign modeled on the global struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Called for by scores of civil-society organizations in the occupied Palestinian territories, it urges people around the world to use economic pressure in support of three essential Palestinian demands: an end to Israel’s military occupation of Arab lands, equal rights and full citizenship for all Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the UN-recognized right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Sincere people can and should debate the implications of these demands for Jewish citizens of Israel and Palestinians who are under siege in Gaza, subject to Israeli military rule in the occupied West Bank, facing dozens of discriminatory laws within Israel’s 1949 borders, or exiled in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. But it is utterly disingenuous to equate nonviolent actions carried out with ethical concern and solidarity for an oppressed population with the bigotry of neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and all manner of apologists for slavery and Jim Crow segregation. It is like comparing those courageous activists who took part in the Montgomery bus boycott and the Freedom Rides with those who beat them bloody in the streets.

In addition to being an accomplished editor and published author, Laura Raicovich is also a seasoned, enormously respected museum professional. She has shepherded the Queens Museum through an extraordinary period of growth leading to deep local engagement and new international recognition. The rigorous, beautiful and immensely popular programs of the museum are evidence of her sure hand in creating opportunities for informed genuine encounters of different people through art. It is absurd to insinuate that her decisions are motivated by anything other than profound commitment to the mission of the museum.

About Kareem Estefan

Kareem Estefan is a writer, editor, and PhD student in Brown University’s Modern Culture and Media department, where he researches contemporary visual culture from the Middle East.

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About Carin Kuoni

Carin Kuoni is Director/Curator of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School.

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21 Responses

  1. Paranam Kid
    August 18, 2017, 8:40 am

    As a general comment Israel would not be “singled out” if it had nothing to hide. The fact it fights so much against being “singled out” proves the contrary.

    Secondly, the fact that Israel always pulls the antisemitism card, and in this case also the comparison with the bigotry of neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and all manner of apologists for slavery and Jim Crow segregation, means it has absolutely NO real, fact-based arguments against BDS. In fact, I have thus far never heard 1 single sensible argument/explanation as to what makes BDS antisemitic. Even vociferous Israel critics, such as Noam Chomsky & Norman Finkelstein, who are anti-BDS have not put forward a single coherent such explanation.

    So, keep up the good BDS work !!

    • Arafatbastard
      August 18, 2017, 10:03 am

      Actually, Israel is being singled out by bigots, such as yourself.

      • Mooser
        August 18, 2017, 11:30 am

        “Actually, Israel is being singled out by bigots, such as yourself.”

        Well, not exactly. Jews can be singled out by bigots, but countries are singled out by critics and adversaries.
        Did you think Israel is some kind of exception to this? It’s not.

      • JosephA
        August 18, 2017, 11:45 am

        Yay! Fat bastard the racist has returned to grace us with his intelligence.

      • Donald Johnson
        August 18, 2017, 11:58 am

        He thinks Palestinians should fight for their rights and avoid antisemitism by using some fair method for selecting a target for boycotting. For instance, they could put a world map on the wall, blindfold themselves, and throw darts at it. If the first country struck was Papua New Guinea, and they dutifully launched a boycott against it, that would demonstrate their lack of antisemitic intent.

      • eljay
        August 18, 2017, 9:44 pm

        || Arafatbastard: Actually, Israel is being singled out by bigots, such as yourself. ||

        It’s nice to know that you’re in favour of treating Israel like other rogue nations and subjecting it to crushing sanctions, destabilization and regime change.

  2. Beauchard
    August 18, 2017, 9:41 am

    A few comments. Not to discuss. Only a fool discusses with zealots of any religious or political persuasion.
    The writers of this article do not refute the argument that Ms Raikovich’s support for BDS was the reason for her cancellation of the historic commemoration of the state of Israel’s founding.
    Instead, they maintain that her actions were not antisemitic, extol the virtues of BDS and imply that Israel is an Apartheid state like South Africa used to be.
    They do mention that one of the goals of BDS is the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees but forget the, “and their descendants”.
    In practice this would mean the destruction of the state of Israel and a Palestine from the river to the sea.
    BDS wants the state of Israel to commit suicide. Therefore, it is a non-violent movement.

    Now, a trigger warning. The following may be upsetting to some.
    I do not think that the arguments in this article will help Ms Raikovich much.
    Her museum is dependent on public funding. This is from the museum’s site:

    “The Queens Museum is housed in the New York City Building, which is owned by the City of New York. With the assistance of the Queens Borough President and the New York City Council, the Museum is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional funding is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts..”

    Your friends and all the internet sites you visit may agree with Ms Raikovich’s support for the “peaceful” destruction of the state of Israel. However, the public at large does not.
    Their political representatives are aware of this.
    A policy of discrimination on grounds of nationality is reasonable grounds for cessation of the public funding of the museum.

    • Mooser
      August 18, 2017, 12:09 pm

      “In practice this would mean the destruction of the state of Israel and a Palestine from the river to the sea.”

      Exactly, Israel cannot exist without, at the very least, complete dispossession and genocide of the Palestinians. Glad you see it so clearly.

      • Beauchard
        August 18, 2017, 2:54 pm

        That bad genocide that has reduced the rise in the Palestinian population since 1948 to 600%.

        That bad genocide that has reduced the current annual Palestinian population growth to just 2.91%. Only seven times the annual population growth of western countries. Much worse than the genocide in Syria where the population has decreased by 10%.

        That bad genocide that is responsible for a Palestinian life expectancy that is only 15 years longer than South Africa and is only on the same level as the EU countries Latvia and Lithuania.

        That bad genocide that is responsible for a Palestinian infant mortality rate lower than Jordan and Egypt and half of the infant mortality rate of South Africa.

        Not like the call of the “resistance” for the good genocide of 6.4 million Israelis because they are Jews.

      • Mooser
        August 18, 2017, 3:25 pm

        “That bad genocide has….

        Yeah, get a clue. The Palestinians aren’t going anywhere.

        “Not like the call of the “resistance” for the good genocide of 6.4 million Israelis because they are Jews”

        Zionist quote marks work a little differently from ordinary quote marks. The word, or words within the Zionist quote marks are exempt from context, attribution or meaning.

    • RoHa
      August 18, 2017, 8:36 pm

      “In practice this would mean the destruction of the state of Israel”

      If equal rights for Palestinians is the same as destruction, then destruction is a good thing. In practice, Israeli people could go on living in much the same way as they do now.

      “BDS wants the state of Israel to commit suicide.”

      No-one has to kill themselves. And “suicide” is the wrong term to apply to a state. Even when used metaphorically, it evokes the idea of literal death. But no literal death is required, only political reorganisation.

    • eljay
      August 19, 2017, 11:01 am

      || Beauchard: A few comments. Not to discuss. Only a fool discusses with zealots of any religious or political persuasion. … ||

      Yeah, but Zionist zealots like you – people who advocate Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine – make discussion so appealing that we’d be fools not to discuss.

      Just look at the awesome job Jack Green has been doing lately. :-)

    • Blake
      August 21, 2017, 11:12 pm

      Leaving a place doesn’t make someone a refugee. It’s forbidding him or her from returning that does it. The Palestinian problem is a human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem; this was Israel’s greatest success, making it look like a geopolitical issue.

      Their descendants will be refugees until such time they can return to their homes and lands ( which you fail to mention was a condition ‘israel’ agreed upon to get into the UN on and has never adhered to).

      Ironic the European zionists claimed a dubious 2000 year exile and you harp on about descendants of actual refugees from 1947/8 onwards.

  3. Arafatbastard
    August 18, 2017, 10:06 am

    Oddly, although he is in favour of a boycott of Israel, Kareem has a Facebook page, even though Facebook employs thousands of people in Israel.

    That’s a bit hypocritical.

    He doesn’t call for a boycott of Palestine, even though it is permissible to murder Gays and to carry out “Honour” killings there, either.

    Very amusing.

  4. Donald Johnson
    August 18, 2017, 10:29 am

    Kind of blowing my own horn here a bit, but this is why I wrote that piece about BDS and antizionism being equated with antisemitism.

    In short, advocates of Palestinian rights have got to stop playing defense on this subject. The accusations are blatantly racist against Palestinians because it assumes they have no right to use nonviolent protest methods against the government or ideology that strips them of their rights. It assumes that anyone who supports BDS must be motivated by hatred against Jews, the clear implication being that Palestinian rights are too trivial a matter to be worth supporting and so you must really be a Nazi.

    Too many articles in this subject adopt the defensive position, which gives the casual observer not directly involved the impression that it is people concerned in good faith about antisemitism on the one side vs people who are accused of antisemitism in the other. But the shoe should be on the other foot here– the accusers are the ones who are racist and they aren’t challenged on this so long as we stay within the framework of the accusers.

    Now there can be antisemites on the pro Palestinian side, but you need actual evidence of this before making the accusation in good faith and support for BDS is not that evidence. Rather the reverse– people who make that accusation simply because someone supports BDS are unknowingly exposing their own bigotry or at best, their own ignorance of the implications of what they are saying.

    I feel like someone should make this point over and over again until it becomes a well known meme in itself. People who attack BDS as antisemitic are racist. People who say antizionism is antisemitism are racist.

    • Donald Johnson
      August 18, 2017, 10:42 am

      It is completely appropriate that the writers of this piece would defend Raicovich. But what we really need is an article about the people and/ or organizations who are attacking her. What is their history on the subject of Israel and Palestine? What do they say about Israeli oppression of Palestinians? Why aren’t they being questioned about their bigoted assumptions?

    • JosephA
      August 18, 2017, 11:47 am

      Amen, Donald, point well taken.

    • MHughes976
      August 18, 2017, 11:49 am

      Playing defence means that we attempt to raise objections to something that is being done and immediately find ourselves accepting the right of the other side to accuse and sit in judgement on us, a certainly losing proposition. I think we have to begin ignoring, rather than responding to, accusations of prejudice when supported by no evidence except for the very fact that we make the objections concerned and call for a response to the questions we have raised.

  5. MHughes976
    August 18, 2017, 12:50 pm

    I suppose that Ms. Raicovitch thinks it contrary to the best interests of the museum for it to be associated with a celebration of dispossession and hideous killing. That would not really make it the decision of a museum professional concerned with the museum world, as Estefan and Kuoni rather tend to present it, but the decision of someone prepared to risk her career by making a political protest. I’m sorry that the New York political authorities are not prepared to grant the relevant degree of autonomy to its cultural institutions. If some such institutions wanted to put on something stridently Zionist I wouldn’t want them stopped in such a high-handed way. But we must register this as another refutation of the idea that Israel’s public and political position is seriously weakened.

  6. JoeSmack
    August 18, 2017, 4:01 pm

    Thank you Ms. Raicovich for making the right decision.

  7. Ossinev
    August 18, 2017, 5:05 pm

    @Beauchard
    “A few comments. Not to discuss. Only a fool discusses with zealots of any religious or political persuasion”
    Sounds to me like I wan`t to play with the toy but all those other kids are just nasties and I don`t want them to be able to play.

    He/she then proceeds to invite responses from/ discussion with “zealous” commentators of an opposing political persuasion. Foolish or what ?

    A new Hasbara kid on the block already zapped on Ziochol.

    Simples. If you don`t want to discuss then piss off to another forum.

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