The following statement was published by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on August 25, 2015:
Occupied Palestine, 23 August 2015 — Rototom Sunsplash festival organizers had canceled the performance of US artist Matisyahu from this year’s program after pressure from human rights activists in Spain objecting to his incitement to racial hatred and his defense of Israeli war crimes. The festival, which focuses on human rights and issues of justice, has now backtracked on the decision, following reported high-profile pressure by Israel lobby groups and the Spanish government.
Frustrated at their failure to thwart the fast spread of the global, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, supporters of Israel’s regime of oppression have used this opportunity to unleash vicious propaganda and a smear campaign against the activists and the movement.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the part of the Palestinian leadership of the BDS movement that deals with the academic and cultural boycott, issues this clarification to set the record straight.
Since the launch of our campaign in 2004 we have adopted a principled approach to the cultural — and academic — boycott of Israel. To enable a consistent and effective implementation of the institutional cultural boycott of Israel, PACBI has devised a set of guidelines for a coordinated, principled and focused approach to ending complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.
An important part of this work is to expose Israel’s cynical use of culture “as hasbara,” or propaganda, in the “Brand Israel” campaign to whitewash its decades-old regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.
From its inception, PACBI has called for boycotts against Israeli institutions, including its international lobby groups, that are complicit in Israel’s violations of international law. Israeli cultural institutions are clearly implicated in supporting, justifying and whitewashing Israel’s occupation and systematic denial of Palestinian rights. The cultural boycott does not target individual artists unless they serve as cultural ambassadors to rebrand Israel as a normal country, or are representatives — as opposed to mere affiliates — of complicit institutions, as specified in the BDS guidelines.
This approach of targeting institutions and not individuals differs from the cultural boycott movement against apartheid South Africa, which targeted individuals and institutions alike. This is not because individual Israeli artists or academics tend to be more progressive or opposed to injustice than the rest of society, as often mistakenly assumed or falsely argued without any evidence, but because we are opposed on principle to political testing and “blacklisting,” both forms of McCarthyism that the BDS movement categorically rejects.
The campaign for cancelling Matisyahu’s concert at the Rototom Sunsplash festival objected specifically to his defense of Israeli war crimes and gross violations of human rights, incitement to racial hatred, and connections to extremist and violent fundamentalist groups in Israel.
Furthermore, Matisyahu has performed for AIPAC, fundraised for Israel’s occupation army, which is directly responsible for massacres and other egregious war crimes against Palestinians, and collaborated in propaganda initiatives to paint Israel’s “prettier side” with the Israeli Foreign Ministry. This evidence is a far cry from Matisyahu’s absurd claim, “I do not insert politics into my music.”
This context is crucial to understand this “common sense” boycott, which is outside the realm of the BDS movement’s guidelines. The PACBI guidelines state that:
“While an individual’s freedom of expression should be fully and consistently respected in the context of cultural boycotts, an individual artist/writer, Israeli or otherwise, cannot be exempt from being subject to “common sense” boycotts (beyond the scope of the PACBI institutional boycott criteria) that conscientious citizens around the world may call for in response to what they widely perceived as egregious individual complicity in, responsibility for, or advocacy of violations of international law (such as war crimes or other grave human rights violations), racial violence, or racial slurs. At this level, Israeli cultural workers should not be exempted from due criticism or any lawful form of protest, including boycott; they should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse.”
This is in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on which the BDS movement’s principles are based, and which states:
“In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order, and the general welfare in a democratic society.”
The organizers of the festival saw a contradiction between Matisyahu’s participation in the festival and the festival’s founding values of “peace, equality, human rights and social justice,” especially given the festival’s long history of solidarity with Palestinians and opposition to Israel’s occupation and grave violations of international law, as demonstrated in the several debates it has hosted throughout the years in the Social Forum highlighting the Palestinian plight.
PACBI is convinced that the pressure campaign waged by human rights activists in Spain to cancel this bigoted artist’s performance at this progressive festival is a well justified “common sense” boycott campaign, even though it falls outside the realm of the BDS institutional boycott guidelines.
We are further convinced that this was a campaign guided by universal principles of human rights and justice and opposed to a performer’s record of incitement to racial hatred, violence and war crimes. Contrary to the lies spread by Israel’s influential propaganda machine in the mainstream western media, this was absolutely unrelated to Matisyahu’s identity.
Any artist in a similar situation, irrespective of his/her identity, who has consistently expressed racist views and defended, as well as helped to whitewash, gross violations of international law should expect to face outrage and common sense calls for boycott by people of conscience everywhere, as a reasonable measure of accountability.