May 07, 2010

Fifty-Seven organizations and artists thank Gil Scott-Heron for heeding Palestinian call to boycott Israel

A May 7 press release issued by Adalah-NY:

Fifty-Seven organizations and artists thank Gil Scott-Heron for heeding Palestinian call to boycott Israel

More than 50 organizations and artists from eight countries have written to legendary political singer and poet Gil Scott-Heron to thank him for his decision to drop Israel from his current tour. The letter, facilitated by Adalah-NY, highlighted the parallels between the South African Apartheid that Scott-Heron crusaded against decades ago and the Israeli system that currently subjugates Palestinians.

Palestinian civil society has called for grassroots pressure on Israel to end its oppressive behavior through a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), including cultural events. “To salvage its deteriorating image abroad, Israel has launched a 'rebranding' campaign which uses arts and culture to whitewash its violations of international law and Palestinian human rights,” said Randa Wahbe of Adalah-NY. Gil Scott-Heron is the latest in a list of notable artists, including Sting, Bono, Snoop Dogg, and Carlos Santana, who have recently declined to play Israel. Distinguished artists, writers, and peace activists—among them John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Adrienne Rich, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Alice Walker—have declared support for the BDS movement.

The signatories told Scott-Heron: “As you recognized in your iconic anti-Apartheid anthem “Johannesburg,” when “brothers over there are defyin’ the man…they need to know we’re on their side.” They added “ refusing to do business as usual with Israel, you join ranks with the growing number of international artists, intellectuals, and cultural workers who have rejected Israel’s cynical use of the arts to whitewash its Apartheid and colonial policies.”

Haidar Eid, of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) praised the singer's action: “Gil Scott-Heron's decision to cancel his concert in Tel Aviv is warmly welcomed by all of us here in Gaza and Palestinian civil society at large. This does not come as a surprise to us due to his luminous heritage in support of the anti- apartheid struggle in South Africa. Once again, we wholeheartedly thank him for heeding our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, until it complies with its obligations under international law and fully respects Palestinian rights.”

Since the 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza, in which 1400 Palestinians were killed, there has been rapid growth in the BDS movement world-wide. Wahbe also noted that “The outpouring of anguish from Scott-Heron’s fans on his website when he was scheduled to perform in Israel, and the more than 50 artists and organizations that have joined together to communicate the importance of Scott-Heron’s decision, represent a new phase in this growing movement.”

The concert, first announced in Ha’aretz April 15, was to be held May 25. After a torrent of postings on the internet expressing shock and dismay, the singer announced his cancellation during his April 24 London concert, at which activists protested. Within days, the Tel Aviv show was removed from his website and tickets were no longer available.

In the wake of the cancellation, Facebook groups have sprung up calling on Elvis Costello, Joan Armatrading, and Bob Dylan to cancel their planned concerts in Israel. On May 5, PACBI issued its own call to Armatrading.

The BDS campaign has the backing hundreds of Palestinian civil society groups and is coordinated through the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campaign National Committee and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

The thank you letter and list of signatories can be seen here. Among the signatories: the Palestinian-Israeli rap group DAM, and longtime activist Bill Fletcher, Jr., who used to the head of the TransAfrica Forum, which was a leader in the movement to overthrow South African apartheid. Fletcher wrote a Feb.7 article for CNN titled Don't deny peaceful protests in West Bank, on Israel's crackdown of the non-violent Palestinian-led protest movement, including the arrests of protest & boycott leaders:

These recent crackdowns make even more ironic the hope expressed by Bono last month in The New York Times "that people in places filled with rage and despair, places like the Palestinian territories, will in the days ahead find among them their Gandhi, their King, their Aung San Suu Kyi." As a commenter on his column noted, these people exist today and have existed within the Palestinian movement. They are just in jail ... or dead.

See here for our last post on Scott-Heron.

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