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.
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.
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.