|Boycott Calls Against Israel|
|Controversy of the book Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production|
The book discusses boycotts by and large but is essentially an attempt to legitimate BDS against Israel. Coming from the New School of Social Research in New York is no surprise. The house of the Frankfurt school of thought, the founding fathers of the critical theory concept which enables adherents to refrain from providing bona fide evidence to their claims, something that Palestinians and their supporters happily embrace.
The latest BDS brouhaha was in August when the third book editor, Laura Raicovich, director of Queens Museum, turned down a request by Israeli officials to rent the hall where the General Assembly voted for partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states on Nov. 29, 1947. While Israel’s mission to the United Nations reserved the space in June for the November 70th anniversary, Raicovich contacted Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the UN, in August after it became known to the public, to inform him that the reservation is cancelled due to pressure by the "Palestinian friends of the museum". After some pressure, the Museum agreed to reinstate the reservation.
The book's targeted audience is creative leaders and cultural practitioners. It examines boycotts such as the historical precedent of South Africa, the current cultural boycott of Israel, freedom of speech vs self-censorship and activism, and the use of boycotts for civil rights, most notably today in its adoption by the BDS movement. The book also explores the land wars in 19th century Ireland, when Irish farmers defied actions by Captain Charles Boycott and English landlords. In the 20th century boycott played central roles in the liberation of India, South Africa and the U.S. civil rights movement, such as the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, a turning point for the movement against black and white segregation.
But the book's main goal is to put the boycott campaign against Israel on the same ontological plane as these successful historical boycotts. As can be seen, most of the contributors are Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists. The book includes essays by Nasser Abourahme, Ariella Azoulay, Tania Bruguera, Noura Erakat, Kareem Estefan, Mariam Ghani with Haig Aivazian, Nathan Gray and Ahmet Öğüt, Chelsea Haines, Sean Jacobs, Yazan Khalili, Carin Kuoni and Laura Raicovich, Svetlana Mintcheva, Naeem Mohaiemen, Hlonipha Mokoena, John Peffer, Joshua Simon, Ann Laura Stoler, Radhika Subramaniam, Eyal Weizman and Kareem Estefan, and Frank B.
There are two Israeli academic contributors, Ariella Azoulay (Brown University) and Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths, University of London), both staunch supporters of BDS who made names to themselves by attacking Israel. In January IAM reported that Azoulay, formally of the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University has contributed a chapter, reproduced below. Her chapter is full of venom against Israel. A short example is, "Acknowledging the Nakba is a prerequisite to join the BDS movement, but it cannot be enough for Israeli Jews. The destruction of pre-1948 Palestine should concern them not only as a problem of or a catastrophe for the Palestinians, but also as a crime against humanity for which they bear responsibility. Hence, in recognizing Palestinian rights, they should also supplement them with a right of their own—the right not to be perpetrators, the right to refuse to inhabit the position allocated to them by the Israeli regime. In the context of this regime, under which Jewish responsibility for the destruction of Palestine and the perpetuation of the catastrophe is still widely denied by many Jews, the universal value of the right not to be a perpetrator can be acknowledged today mainly by Palestinians and within the BDS movement."
Weizman's reading of Israel is quit similar. Yagil Henkin of the Institute for National Security Studies at TAU, who reviewed Weitzman's book notes: "Reading Hollow Land, one is left with the impression that Israel can do nothing at all of which Weizman would approve. Quite simply, the Jewish state contaminates everything with which it comes in contact. Frequently this stance leads him into flagrant contradictions, such as when he condemns Israel both for dismantling evacuated settlements and for considering the possibility of not doing so; both for making life difficult for Palestinian residents of the territories and for preventing a humanitarian crisis there (in order to consolidate its control, of course). He attacks the IDF’s decision to use precision-guided munitions with special warheads (which cause fewer civilian casualties) because, he argues, it renders targeted killings (of terrorists, that is) more “tolerable,” and he denounces Israeli architecture in Jerusalem because it aspires to a false “Orientalist” authenticity. To Weizman, even the shingled roofs used in settlement housing are just a means of demonstrating distinction from Arab homes, although almost every community in Israel has them. His use of data is also decidedly selective."
Indefatigable Palestinians and their supporters try to delegitimize Israel on every occasion. Among them is a substantial contingent of radical Israeli academics. Indeed, as IAM has frequently pointed out, their job security seems to depend on how much they can trash Israel. It is a sad commentary on the universities which employ them.
Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency & Cultural Production | Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU | Friday, 20. October 2017
A New Book (OR Books, 2017) edited by Kareem Estefan, Carin Kuoni, and Laura Raicovich
Cultural boycott is an essential tool for activists around the world, including those advocating Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel, a campaign inspired by the international movement to end apartheid in South Africa. Today, across a range of political causes and contexts, artists and writers are leveraging cultural production—and challenging its institutional supports—to transform situations in the name of social justice. "Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production" (OR Books, 2017) is the essential reader for creative leaders and cultural practitioners, featuring original contributions by artists, scholars, activists, critics, curators, and writers who examine the historical precedent of South Africa; the current cultural boycott of Israel; freedom of speech and self-censorship; and long-distance activism.
To mark the publication of "Assuming Boycott," this conversation will focus on the BDS movement and the cultural boycott of Israel, the lessons that BDS activists can learn from the anti-apartheid struggle and other, contemporary boycott campaigns, and the challenges that activists **** in the form of anti-BDS legislation, censorship, and the rise of the far Right in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere. The discussion will feature Kareem Estefan, co-editor (with Carin Kuoni and Laura Raicovich) of Assuming Boycott; Sean Jacobs, editor and founder of Africa Is A Country and a contributor to Assuming Boycott; and Radhika Sainath, a staff attorney for Palestine Legal. Helga Tawil-Souri, director of the Hagop Kevorkian Center, will moderate.
Kareem Estefan is co-editor, with Carin Kuoni and Laura Raicovich, of Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production (OR Books, 2017). His writing has appeared in publications including Art in America, BOMB, Frieze, Ibraaz, and The New Inquiry, among others. He is presently a PhD student in Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, researching contemporary art, speculative fiction, and experimental documentary films that engage histories of conflict, displacement, and dispossession in the Levant.
Sean Jacobs is an associate professor of International Affairs at The New School and editor and founder of Africa Is a Country. He was born and grew up in apartheid South Africa. He co-edited, with Jon Soske, the book Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy.
Radhika Sainath is a staff attorney at Palestine Legal, where she defends the civil and constitutional rights of students, professors, and grassroots activists advocating for Palestinian freedom. Together with the Center for Constitutional Rights, she brought a landmark lawsuit against Fordham University after it refused to grant club status to Students for Justice in Palestine. She has published articles in The Nation, Huffington Post, Haaretz, Jacobin, Mondoweiss, and Electronic Intifada, and has appeared on or in Al Jazeera English, Democracy Now!, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, New York Times, Univision and other outlets discussing Israel/Palestine, workers' rights, and the crackdown on democracy protests in Bahrain.
Assuming Boycott: The Ultimate Guide to Resistance, Agency and Cultural Production
E - The Environmental Magazine
August 6, 2017
Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency and Cultural Production is the essential reader for today’s creative leaders and cultural practitioners, including original contributions by artists, scholars, activists, critics, curators and writers who examine the historical precedent of South Africa; the current cultural boycott of Israel; freedom of speech and self-censorship; and long-distance activism. It is about consequences and causes of cultural boycott. Far from withdrawal or cynicism, boycott emerges as a productive tool of creative and productive engagement. Street protests are one side of a worldwide citizens’ movement. Another side is the increasing use of boycotts, one of the most powerful weapons in the organizer’s arsenal: it is an effective and moral lever for civil rights, most notably today in its adoption by the BDS movement. Since the days of the 19th century Irish land wars, when Irish tenant farmers defied the actions of Captain Charles Boycott and English landlords, “boycott” has been a method that’s had an impact time and again. In the 20th century, it notably played central roles in the liberation of India and South Africa and the struggle for civil rights in the U.S.: the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott is generally seen as a turning point in the movement against segregation. Assuming Boycott includes essays by Nasser Abourahme, Ariella Azoulay, Tania Bruguera, Noura Erakat, Kareem Estefan, Mariam Ghani with Haig Aivazian, Nathan Gray and Ahmet Öğüt, Chelsea Haines, Sean Jacobs, Yazan Khalili, Carin Kuoni and Laura Raicovich, Svetlana Mintcheva, Naeem Mohaiemen, Hlonipha Mokoena, John Peffer, Joshua Simon, Ann Laura Stoler, Radhika Subramaniam, Eyal Weizman and Kareem Estefan, and Frank B.
UPDATE: Queens Museum Reinstates Israel Event After Backlash
August 17, 2017
BY JAMES FARRELL
After Queens elected officials rebuked the Queens Museum for cancelling an event commemorating the state of Israel’s 70th anniversary, the institution affirmed that they had reconsidered and will be holding the event after all.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Danon was organizing the event, which was supposed to be a historic recreation of the 1947 vote that established the state of Israel. It was scheduled to take place on Nov. 29, and the location was significant: the Queens Museum occupies the same building that once housed the U.N. hall where the original agreement was signed 70 years ago.
But according to Danon, Queens Museum Executive Director Laura Raicovich contacted him on Aug. 14 to announce that the event had been cancelled. She cited a decision by the museum’s executive board not to hold a “political event” as outlined in the museum’s policies, Danon said.
“We will not accept this blatant discrimination against the State of Israel and we will not let this decision stand,” Danon said. “Celebrating the momentous decision of the U.N. recognizing the right to a Jewish state in our homeland is not a political event, but rather an expression of the historical and legal rights of our people.”
Since then, the museum has told Danon it had reconsidered.
“We welcome this step by the Museum to rectify their earlier unfortunate decision,” Danon said. “Any attempt to discriminate against Israel is completely unacceptable and we will continue to fight against such injustices. We look forward to proudly celebrating this historic UN decision.”
Danon claims that a museum official had confirmed the event as recently as June, telling the ambassador that he was “looking forward to a wonderful and meaningful event in its natural setting.”
After the event became publicized, Danon alleged, the same official contacted him to express concern about feedback from “Palestinian friends of the museum.”
On Aug. 14, Raicovich notified Danon that the Queens Museum’s board of trustees decided it would not host the event.
That prompted an angry response from Danon, who alleged that Raicovich has ties to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, which organizes international political action against Israel. He notes that Raicovich co-edited a book titled “Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency and Cultural Production,” which describes “boycott and divestment” as “essential tools for activists around the globe.”
“It is unacceptable for BDS activists to single out Israel and ban our event,” Danon continued. “I call on the board of directors of the Queens Museum to dismiss Ms. Raicovich from her position immediately and honor their commitment to hold this important event.”
The museum’s change of heart on Thursday comes after a flood of outrage from Queens and New York City leaders, some of whom called for Raicovich’s resignation.
Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) were quick to issue a joint statement siding with Danon. In it, they label the initial decision as “anti-Semitic” and a “violation of law.”
“We are deeply troubled that the museum’s executive director and president, Laura Raicovich, let her own personal support for the BDS movement infect her decision making in this matter,” the lawmakers said. “The celebration of the vote establishing the state of Israel is a recognition of a historic turning point at the site of the Queens Museum and is profoundly meaningful to New York’s Jewish community. She has abused the trust placed in her by the people of the City of New York, who fund the museum as a cultural representation of Queens, the most diverse county in the United States. We call on the NYC Human Rights Commission to fully investigate this decision and take appropriate action to ensure that such discriminatory and unlawful conduct never happens again.”
The NYC Commission on Human Rights told the Queens Tribune it had not received a complaint regarding this matter.
In an interview on Wednesday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz disagreed with the Queens Museum’s initial decision and said that she was talking with the museum about overturning it. She said that in her view, “this is a historical event” with special significance in Queens.
“The vote by the U.N. is a historical fact—it’s a part of Queens’ history that we are proud of,” she said. “Clearly, I’m disappointed. I would like to see the reenactment. Hopefully, there’s still more time for discussion.”
Katz also offered Queens Borough Hall as an alternative space for the venue.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) also sent a letter to the Queens Museum on Wednesday, urging it to host the event.
“As a proud, Queens elected official and strong supporter of the state of Israel and of the museum, I am very disappointed in this decision,” she said. “Do not deny those who want to remember and celebrate this important moment in history. Countless people throughout the borough and the city are proud of their Israeli heritage, and I implore you and the museum to not diminish that pride, but instead celebrate it.”
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) expressed initial shock over the incident.
“The decision by the Queens Museum is puzzling and it’s bizarre that such an outstanding facility in our borough would pull the plug on a project to celebrate not just the establishment of Israel, but a key piece of Queens history,” she said.
“Personally, I do not see how this project is ‘political.’ How is commemorating a major world event that took place in Queens and the U.N.’s establishment of one of America’s closest allies political? The museum and Israeli mission already agreed to this reenactment of the U.N. vote and planning for it was well underway before the museum backtracked. The museum should reverse its decision and allow the event to take place as scheduled.”
Zak Pyzer, director of print and online media for the Consulate General of Israel in New York, expressed a more hopeful tone, foreshadowing the museum’s ultimate reversal.
“The Consulate General of Israel in New York is hopeful that the Queens Museum will host the reenactment of the United Nations vote on the partition plan,” he said. “Marking the occasion in the museum simply respects the historical rather than the political significance of the event.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also weighed in, evoking imagery from the controversial events that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend, where white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups marched and had violent spats with counter protestors.
“This decision is a deeply unfortunate one that sends the wrong message to Jewish communities across New York City,” Stringer said. “The 1947 U.N. vote is historic, and holding this re-enactment where it actually happened matters. That’s why I believe the museum must revisit this decision and host this important event. At a time when we literally have neo-Nazis marching in American streets, when bigotry is on the rise, the Queens Museum has sent a disappointing message to New York City and the world.”
The Queens Museum did not respond to email requests for comment.
Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production
Please note the new location is John L. Tishman Auditorium on the main floor.
The refusal to participate in an oppressive system has long been one of the most powerful tools in the organizer's arsenal. Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production
is the essential reader for today's creative leaders and cultural practitioners, and includes original contributions by artists, scholars, activists, critics, curators and writers who examine the historical precedent of South Africa; the current cultural boycott of Israel; freedom of speech and self-censorship; and long-distance activism. Far from representing withdrawal or cynicism, boycott emerges as a special condition for discourse, artmaking and political engagement.
As U.S. cultural and academic organizations are increasingly subjects of boycotts -- in response to the ban on immigration from majority Muslim countries issued by the current U.S. administration -- the question of boycott attains additional urgency. This May Day Book Launch features the three editors, Kareem Estefan
, Carin Kuoni
and Laura Raicovich
, in a lively exchange with book contributors artist Mariam Ghani
and art historian Chelsea Haines
, joined by Claire Potter,
Professor of History, The New School,
and investigates the potential of boycott as a tool for organizing and art-making.
A festive reception with DJs ConVex
(Salome Asega and Derek Schultz) follows, in celebration of the book and other May Day assemblies in the city. Co-sponsored by Interference Archive, on occasion of the archive's April 23 Sowing Resistance, Propaganda Party No. 5
, Brown University
, Gulf Labor
, Graduate Center, CUNY
, Vera List Center for Art and Politics
, Professor of History, The New School
, Queens Museum
as well as
(Salome Asega and Derek Schultz)
features twelve newly commissioned essays and six contributions by Nasser Abourahme, Ariella Azoulay, Tania Bruguera, Noura Erakat, Kareem Estefan, Mariam Ghani with Haig Aivazian, Nathan Gray and Ahmet Öğüt, Chelsea Haines, Sean Jacobs
, Yazan Khalili, Carin Kuoni and Laura Raicovich, Svetlana Mintcheva, Naeem Mohaiemen, Hlonipha Mokoena, John Peffer, Joshua Simon, Ann Laura Stoler, Radhika Subramaniam
, Eyal Weizman and Kareem Estefan, and Frank B. Wilderson III.
It is published by OR Books
, in association with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics.
For pre-orders -- at a discount! -- please visit OR Books
Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: Reasons to Support BDS
July 2, 2017, 2:26 PM GMT
1. Who Is Called on to Boycott Israel?
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a way to achieve three things: (1) to expose the mechanisms of dispossession, segregation, and legalized discrimination against Palestinians that are part of the Israeli democratic regime; (2) to publicly and internationally express solidarity with the Palestinians as a people, confronting the Israeli regime’s continuous efforts to fragment them into groups that are governed differentially within and beyond the green line; and (3) to mount pressure capable of impacting daily life for the privileged group of the governed population, i.e., Jewish Israelis, in order to radically alter the conduct of the Israeli regime or transform it altogether. A call for boycott is based on the assumption that sovereign states are actors in an international arena, and hence individuals, groups, institutions, and states can suspend their interactions with particular regimes until the justice of certain demands are recognized and adequately addressed. The Palestinian-led BDS movement thus aims to mobilize the international community to respond to a triple call from within that advocates: full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, an end to the military occupation of the Palestinian territories, and the right of Palestinians who were expelled in 1948 to return to their homes, on which more later.
The 2005 call for BDS is a way to reverse what the state of Israel has achieved since 1948—on the one hand containing “the conflict” as an internal affair between a sovereign state and its subjected population, and on the other hand determining who among the Palestinians can be “partners” for peace negotiations. Denied their rights to shape the regime or participate in its ruling apparatuses, Palestinians were thus deprived of their status as political actors both internally and internationally.
The boycott targets the Israeli regime, not Israeli citizens, unless they act as representatives of the regime. What, then, is the position of Jewish Israeli citizens with regard to this call? They may not be able to suspend their relations with the state completely, as BDS leaders themselves acknowledge. However, they can narrow them down. Occasionally, when they are able to mobilize symbolic power, they can publicly boycott particular events, prizes, and ceremonies, and avoid giving services that they are required to give. In this sense, their responses to the crimes and abuses practiced by their own regime do not come from an external position and hence do not consist of solidarity of the sort offered by citizens of other countries. Jewish Israelis are governed alongside Palestinians, and they are subjects of the same political regime; their citizenship is not external or incidental to the abuses of Palestinians under this regime, but its constitutive element. Unable to endorse the boycott from the outside, Jewish Israelis can still take part in it, and their participation, as citizens denouncing their own political regime, makes the BDS movement’s call a call to redefine the nature of their citizenship altogether.
2. Why Call for a Boycott?
The Israeli occupation regime has governed the West Bank and Gaza through military rule that employs disastrous measures such as concentration sites and camps, blockades, destruction, dispossession, and lethal violence. “The occupation” lies at the center of the effort to mobilize people to support the boycott. When measures employed in the occupied Palestinian territories become more visible through their imprint on the bodies of the regime’s direct victims, and when these harms are associated with the Israeli regime that bears direct responsibility for their infliction, the reasons for BDS become clear and the movement gains supporters around the world. This is not a negligible achievement. Criminalizing Israel, as is well known to those who seek to expose the state’s crimes, is an extremely difficult task. The growth of the boycott movement is an indication that the filters implemented globally by the Israeli propaganda machine are no longer as effective as they used to be. Many are beginning to realize that the Israeli regime is directly responsible for the disastrous conditions under which Palestinians live.
And yet, the occupation is not the sole reason for supporting the boycott. Already in the initial 2005 call for BDS, its authors made clear that at stake is also “Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination” and “[r]especting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.” It is important to note that these two rights, of self-determination and of return, are formulated differently. The first is stated as an “inalienable right” while the second is formulated more hesitantly, as a right in need of “respect, protection and promotion.” The latter statement seems to petition for the very acknowledgment of this right, rather than to demand that the entitled persons be able to freely exercise this right. The hesitant tone anticipates, based on past experience, Israel’s possible response to such a petition and the type of support that can be expected in the international arena, especially from other states. It is not a coincidence that these two rights are expressed differently. These are two distinct types of rights: the first reassesses the imperial policies required for the creation and maintenance of sovereign states, such as the acts of partition and deportation necessary for a people to achieve self-determination (at the expense of another people); while the second threatens to reverse the authority of sovereign states to decide who will be included in their body politic and what status they will be given. The difference between these two rights testifies to the way the civil imagination is bounded by a post–World War II consensus on the legitimacy of sovereign states constituted by differential rule.
In the years following WWII, armed Jewish forces in Palestine devised and embraced imperial measures that formed a part of policies aimed at implementing a “new world order” in and beyond Europe. Those policies, such as partition, massacres, deportation, destruction, and looting, helped to construct a body politic in which the most populous group—Palestinians—became an exception to the rule, that of Jewish self-determination. Though the numbers are widely known, it is still important to mention them. With the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled and the remaining 150,000 became a minority. Meanwhile, almost 700,000 Jewish refugees and immigrants, most of whom were oblivious to both the scope of destruction that preceded their arrival and the fabric of the mixed society that had lived there before 1948, nothing of which remained after they arrived, were incorporated into the new nation-state. These immigrants were immediately recruited to partake in the war against the “enemy,” whose identity was intentionally blurred. The “enemy” was a result of the conflation of the British colonial power with “Arab armies” and the local Palestinian population. Thanks to this deception, the neocolonialism pursued by the nascent state of Israel could pass as anti-imperial struggle and provoke international support.
The destruction of Palestine as a mixed society involved the expulsion of the majority of Palestinians, the dispossession of their property, and the refusal to allow their return. Those expelled were confined to sites and concentration zones (“refugee camps,” ghettoes within cities such as Jaffa, Ramleh, and Lydda, and geographical regions such as “the triangle” and zones of the West Bank and Gaza Strip), many of which still exist today. There, for years to come, those expelled were exposed to the accumulating consequences of a regime-made disaster. The constant refusal to allow their return, which has been reaffirmed by every Israeli government since the state’s foundation, makes Israeli Jews both preservers of the consequences of crimes committed when the country was founded and perpetrators of new crimes. Under the emergency regulations that have not been revoked since 1948, and whose purpose has been to maintain the principle of differential rule, to be a good citizen means being involved, in more or less direct ways, more or less enthusiastically, in exercising the violence necessary to maintain this principle. Therefore, from the point of view of an Israeli citizen, the call for boycott can also be the beginning of the recognition of a right that Israeli Jews have been consistently deprived: the right not to be perpetrators.
The crimes that justify the boycott of Israel, crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians, are not just crimes against Palestinians but, to use Hannah Arendt’s expression, crimes against humanity.1 Stopping crimes against humanity and addressing the plight of their victims, providing reparations, and inventing forms of compensation should not remain the interest of Palestinians alone. These should be, first and foremost, the obligations and interests of Israeli Jews and the Jewish community worldwide, of all those who were implicated in committing and perpetuating these crimes, all those who—by collaborating with the political regimes that have ordered the crimes, refused to acknowledge them, and spread misinformation about them—have been deprived of their inalienable right not to be perpetrators.
Since the institution of popular sovereignty in the eighteenth century, and more intensely in the wake of WWII, with the consolidation of an international system of sovereignties based on mutual protection (often against their own governed populations), the “inalienable right of self-determination” has been the most sacred right protected by sovereign states. The recent recognition of a Palestinian state by several European parliaments, including that of the European Union, even before such a state has been established and without any significant changes in the lives of its inhabitants or reparations for past crimes, is symptomatic of this pact among sovereign nation-states. The return of those expelled, on the other hand, is somewhat like a Pandora’s box for sovereign states, many of which would refrain from endorsing such a demand for fear of exposing themselves to a tu quoque objection. The qualified formulation of the right of return in the BDS movement’s foundational statement betrays a tacit acknowledgement of this pact among sovereign nation-states and shows how this pact limits what the movement knows it can expect from the Israeli regime—if, that is, Israel is ever ready to comply with some of the BDS movement’s demands. This is, again, symptomatic of the power that the Israeli regime has acquired since it was founded on the ruins of Palestine and the mixed society that lived there.
The right of self-determination foregrounded by the BDS movement is a particular form of rule that was invented in the late eighteenth century by imperial powers through the American and French revolutions and was proposed to colonized peoples against whom crimes were committed. In the name of this right, regime-made disasters spread across the world. Crimes were committed in Palestine in the name of Jews’ right to self-determination, a right that was recognized by the UN General Assembly in 1948.2 These crimes require absolution: Palestinians’ place in an undifferentiated body politic should be acknowledged, and Israelis should be free to exercise their right not to become or remain perpetrators. The return of those expelled and the liberation of Israeli Jews from their role as perpetrators are linked and can be achieved only through processes of undoing this regime-made disaster rather than through more partitions, transfer, and cleansing.
3. What Makes a Civil “We” Possible?
The citizen-perpetrator is not only a particular kind of perpetrator but also a particular kind of citizen. Distinct from those high up in the state hierarchy, who plan and order the crimes, and unlike the “thoughtless” Nazi perpetrator described by Arendt,3 citizen-perpetrators are deprived of the choice not to be perpetrators. For the most part, they act within the capillaries of regime-made disaster and, hence, may at best alleviate the plight of Palestinians, be “more humane” or generous toward the Palestinians in different spheres of life. Even refusal to serve in the army, which few exercise, does not spare them the role of citizen-perpetrator they automatically reassume as soon as they are released from jail. Nothing short of a complete transformation of the principle that organizes the body politic can spare them from assuming this role. Studying the conditions of citizen-perpetrators within a regime based on differential rule, and understanding these conditions as part of the disaster, is a first step toward recognizing the disaster as inseparable from the political regime that generates it.
Implicit complicity with the reproduction of the regime awaits every newborn Israeli Jew. Her situation is not very different from that of the new Jewish immigrants of the late 1940s, thrown into a situation construed as an “existential war” in which they had to do their share in order to become good citizens. True, enough information about the disaster has always been available, but always in bits and pieces—and always mingled with lies. People could have known that this or that war they were recruited to fight was not really a war of “no choice” and that they did not fight for their very existence. More generally, people could have known that crimes had been committed, that Palestinians had been wronged, that they were made into enemies and not born so, and that the Israelis were constructed as natives in order to make the political regime appear as a fait accompli. However, assembling the numerous pieces of the puzzle into a coherent picture, while this fragmented information is almost always distorted, concealed, and scattered, framed as part of a story of “nation building” or as another response to “existential threat,” and buried under lies and misleading axioms, is as difficult as it is to persuade people to support the boycott. It takes a lot of time and some civic courage to invest political structures and situations with meanings that would counter those produced by the state. It takes more than a few individuals to propagate as crimes against humanity deeds that were originally made to appear as natural and necessary acts of self-defense.
The ongoing catastrophe visited upon Palestinians is inseparable not only from the structure of the Israeli regime and its system of citizenship but also from the fact that the very nature of this regime remains concealed from most Jewish Israelis, who take the differential rule at its foundation as either natural (in “Israel proper”) or temporary (in the occupied territories) and cannot understand that—or why—their regime should be dismantled. This collective blindness is an essential aspect of the catastrophe, produced and distributed along the dividing lines of the differential body politic in Israel-Palestine, and is what makes it a regime-made disaster. This disaster is constitutive of the regime, not incidental to its functioning, and contributes to its self-preservation. Most Jewish Israelis do not perceive themselves as perpetrators and do not recognize their regime as one whose end is long overdue; at the same time, conflating the state, the regime, and the people, they perceive calls to dismantle their regime as calls to destroy their country and annihilate its Jewish population. Today, Jewish citizens comprise no more than 52 percent of the governed population in Israel-Palestine. The unreserved support for and unconditional legitimization of differential rule by this group is necessary for the perpetuation of the Israeli regime.
In a decades-long process, the Israeli regime has succeeded in making it almost impossible either to imagine civil life in Israel-Palestine or to recognize the common history of Jews and Palestinians as a point of departure for any process of Palestinian reparation. The engaging call of the BDS movement—“Let us harness solidarity into forms of action that can end international support for Israel’s crimes”—should be understood as addressed to the international community. Israelis cannot allow themselves the luxury of solidarity, as if the struggle to overthrow the Israeli regime and the history of almost seven decades of regime-made disaster is a Palestinian cause they support from the outside. Israeli Jews should engage in the BDS movement’s call, but they should also do much more. It is their duty to start imagining new forms of partnership devoid of any claim for Jewish supremacy, working to recover pre-1948 modes of civil coexistence, which had not yet been nationalized, and which many of their ancestors opted for at the time.
They should do this not because the BDS movement requires or even welcomes such shared effort and common work of political imagination. Regretfully, it does not. The movement was initiated by Palestinians, in the name of Palestinians, and for the Palestinian cause, as if dismantling a regime-made disaster should be the onus of its direct victims alone. To the contrary, it is only through shared work by Israelis and Palestinians toward a total transformation of the regime under which they have been ruled together as perpetrators and victims that a fertile common ground can reemerge. That said, Palestinians cannot be blamed for not seeking Israelis as partners and collaborators. For decades, they have been deceived by Israeli Zionists who presented themselves as leftists but didn’t acknowledge the Nakba, and continued to support the Israeli regime’s militaristic logic and principle of differential rule, while rejecting expelled Palestinians’ right of return.
Acknowledging the Nakba is a prerequisite to join the BDS movement, but it cannot be enough for Israeli Jews. The destruction of pre-1948 Palestine should concern them not only as a problem of or a catastrophe for the Palestinians, but also as a crime against humanity for which they bear responsibility. Hence, in recognizing Palestinian rights, they should also supplement them with a right of their own—the right not to be perpetrators, the right to refuse to inhabit the position allocated to them by the Israeli regime. In the context of this regime, under which Jewish responsibility for the destruction of Palestine and the perpetuation of the catastrophe is still widely denied by many Jews, the universal value of the right not to be a perpetrator can be acknowledged today mainly by Palestinians and within the BDS movement. This universal right should be at the foundation of a different civil contract, which would emerge through a process of catastrophe reversal, including recognizing and promoting the right to return and reparations. Such common work on reversing the outcome of the catastrophe should include the inalienable right of all citizens to refuse to become perpetrators. This right could serve as the foundation of a new Palestinian-Jewish partnership. On this basis, a civil “we” might finally be uttered again.
1 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin, 2006).
2 The problem, of course, is with the right itself, not with the fact that Jews were granted this right.
3 Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, 287.
Ariella Azoulay is a professor of modern culture and media and comparative literature at Brown University, curator, and documentary filmmaker
Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production
ASSUMING BOYCOTT: RESISTANCE, AGENCY, AND CULTURAL PRODUCTION -- SEMINAR SERIESTHU 18 SEP 2014 4.30PM - MON 1 DEC 2014 9.00PMThe New School
New York City
Free admission; space is limited and registration required at email@example.com. Participants are strongly encouraged to make use of each event's Resource Guide, available on the respective event page.
From: The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880. The Land Agitation in Ireland—Captain Boycott and his family getting in their harvest before the arrival of the troops.
Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck.
Cultural production opens avenues for new ways of thinking. How productive or conducive can the methods of withdrawal and boycott be for politically oriented artistic practices? This series of seminars poses an alternative view: to consider withdrawal and boycott as special conditions for discourse and engaged artmaking. The goal of the seminars is to study boycotts as cultural work, and understand their motivations (why a boycott), practices (how a boycott) and consequences (what effects). The seminars, which will culminate in a public colloquium in spring 2015, address timely questions of the agency of artists in social and political spheres, and how culture can enact and perform change within a politics of disengagement.
Examples abound of contemporary artists holding institutions, exhibitions, and projects accountable for their practices. Labor issues in the United Arab Emirates, funding structures of the Sydney Biennale or the current São Paulo Bienal, participation in this year's Manifesta
in Saint Petersburg, and calls to renew a cultural boycott of Israel—artists are leveraging their power to affect shifts in the ways culture is produced on individual, civic, and educational levels.
This series of seminars addresses:
The Legacy of the Cultural Boycott in South Africa
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Cultural Production During BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel)
Monday, October 20, 2014
Going the Distance: Cultural Work in Far-flung Political and Geographical Spheres
Monday, December 1, 2014
Considering Palestine/Israel: What Does the Boycott Mean?
Saturday, February 7, 2015
Who is Silencing Whom? Censorship, Self Censorship and Charlie Hebdo
Monday, February 23, 2015
Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Each seminar begins in late afternoon with a film screening, conversation, performance, or another related event. It is followed from 6:30–7:30 pm by a succinct lecture or panel on core issues relating to the topic, and closes at 9:00 pm after an in-depth discussion between presenters and audience members. A Resource Guide, announced online in advance of each seminar, serves as an introduction to each conflict.
The seminar is open to the public. Registration is accepted on a first, come first served basis at firstname.lastname@example.org
. All participants are encouraged to avail themselves of the Resource Guides, introductory readings to each seminar, announced on each seminar event pages at www.veralistcenter.org
The program is curated by Carin Kuoni, director/curator, Vera List Center, and Laura Raicovich, Creative Time's director of global initiatives. It is organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics as part of the center's 2013–2015 curatorial focus on Alignment.
The Legacy of the Cultural Boycott in South Africa
Cultural Production During BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel)
Going the Distance: Cultural Work in Far-flung Political and Geographical Spheres
Who is Silencing Whom? Censorship, Self Censorship and Charlie Hebdo
Considering Palestine/Israel. What Does the Boycott Mean?
Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production