Dear queers, academics, artists and activists,
Some of you might be planning a visit to Israel to participate, and maybe even support, queer, cultural or academic events. Some of you might be visiting for religious or personal reasons, or perhaps simply out of curiosity. While an invitation to Israel might seem flattering and exciting, we hope that – before taking a stand and booking that flight – you read the following open letter, written by Palestinian queers, activists, academics and artists, to queers, activists, academics and artists around the world.
We are determined to inform every person wishing to travel to Israel on the political and social realities of life in Israel/Palestine. “Occupation,” “Palestinians,” “Gaza,” “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” “boycott,” and “refugees” are not terms you would come across in flyers, itineraries, and travel brochures promoting Israel; yet, these words define the daily lives of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. As Palestinians and as queers, these words have shaped our history and continue to determine our future.
Some of you might feel that boycotting Israel would be too one-sided for such a complex conflict. You might think that it is too controversial. Some of you are probably wondering whether this boycott movement is actually effective. To start the conversation, we put together background information on BDS and Israel/Palestine; and we also encourage you to get in touch and explore with us any questions or issues you might have with BDS. Our aim is for every person to have a historically-informed understanding of Israel/Palestine, and for every queer, academic, artist, and activist to support the Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS.
1) I don’t know much about the BDS campaign and cultural and academic boycotts. What are they?
In April 2004 a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals met in Ramallah to launch the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) to join the growing international boycott movement. In July 2004, the Campaign issued a Call for Boycott addressed to the international community urging:
- A comprehensive and consistent boycott of all Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem;
- A removal of all its colonies in those lands;
- Compliance with United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees’ rights;
- Dismantlement of its system of apartheid.
This statement was met with widespread support, and has to date been endorsed by nearly sixty Palestinian academic, cultural and other civil society federations, unions, and organizations, including the Federation of Unions of Palestinian Universities’ Professors and Employees and the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) in the West Bank. 1
On July 9, 2005, the clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon the international civil society organizations and people of conscience from around the world to start imposing a broad boycott and divestment measurements against Israel, inspired by the successful Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaigns against apartheid in South Africa.2 The goal was to send a message to Israel and pressure it to meet its obligations, recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination, and fully comply with international law. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has been endorsed by over 170 Palestinian parties, organizations, trade unions, and movements representing the majority of the Palestinian people. Given the breadth of its participants and endorsers, BDS movement is the most significant nonviolent movement against Israeli apartheid.3
Following these calls on June 27th 2010, a group of Palestinian Queer activists issued a call, calling upon all LGBTQI groups, organizations and individuals around the world to Boycott the Apartheid State of Israel.4
- But if I am in solidarity with the LGBTQ communities, how can I boycott queers?
We believe that, as Queer communities, we must pay close attention to any grave human rights violations on our way to support the LGBTQ struggle, especially in a context where the country in question that oppresses, discriminates, and implements an apartheid system. We should question the ethics and the values of Queer organizations or groups that voice fervent support for and participate in an apartheid state’s institutions. Human rights should not be compartmentalized, and the human rights of a certain group should not be more important than others’. We, as Palestinian queers, cannot ignore the struggle and the rights of the Palestinian people. To us, the two struggles go side by side.
For 62 years, the Israeli occupation and expanding apartheid system has denied the Palestinian people their basic human rights. Palestinians in the West Bank have been living under a brutal military occupation manifested by illegal Israeli colonies, checkpoints, and a system of walls, barriers and roads accessible solely to Israeli settlers. Palestinians living inside Israel are continuously facing discriminatory policies. There are currently over 25 laws which specifically target them as non-Jewish and reduce them to second class citizens of Israel. Palestinians in the Diaspora and in UN administered refugee camps are by default denied their UN-sanctioned right to return to their lands. Finally, over 1.8 million Palestinian in the Gaza Strip are living in an open air prison under an illegal siege, described by many prominent international experts as “slow genocide.” Israeli oppression, racism, and discrimination does not distinguish between Queer Palestinians and Heterosexual Palestinians.
3) What events should I boycott?
After over sixty years of occupation and apartheid, the damaging effects of Israel’s wars in Lebanon, the invasion of Gaza in 2009, and the overwhelming growth of the BDS movement, the Israeli government re-initiated an old/new massive PR campaign called ‘Brand Israel.’ The purpose of the campaign was to whitewash Israel’s decades of war crimes and portray it as the only democratic country in the Middle East.
More recently, pinkwashing became a major component of this campaign. Israeli foreign affairs ministry, Israeli academic institutions, international Zionist and pro Israel groups, and some Israeli LGBTQ organizations/groups worked to capitalize on the modest successes of the Israeli LGBTQ community and pander to anti-Arab, Islamophobic biases by painting Palestinian society as maliciously homophobic. Indeed, a central theme in their pinkwashing campaign, which included numerous cultural events, tourism efforts targeting LGBTQ groups, and cultural products, was that Israel is the only gay haven in the Middle East and the only place Palestinian queers feel safe. Thus, pinkwashing in this context is a mean of galvanizing support for the apartheid system and military occupation – all in the name of gay rights.
Most Israeli LGBTQ groups, Israeli academic institutions, Israel support groups worldwide, whether officially part of the ‘Brand Israel’ campaign or not, are often supporters complicit in the Israeli war crimes, and the effort to pinkwash these crimes and should be boycotted. According to ‘The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – PACBI’ and their general overriding rule, virtually all Israeli cultural and academic events, groups and organizations (i.e. universities, museums, film festivals etc…), unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and therefore boycottable.
4) Can you be more specific? What is boycottable?
The following situations are boycottable:
- All Israeli cultural and academic institutions (i.e. universities, museums, film festivals etc…), unless proven otherwise, receive state funding and are, thus, complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and should be boycotted. This means that events organized by any of those, or cooperation with them should be avoided.
- Any group/organization that actively participates in Pinkwashing Israeli war crimes should be boycotted
- Any group/organization that is part of the ‘Gay tourism in Israel’ project to promote TLV and Israel as the gay haven of the Middle East.
5) So, what can I do? And How Palestinian Queers for BDS can help me?
It is always legitimate to ask your host to provide information about the event/product: Who are the organizing partners? Is the event funded and/or commissioned even partially, by an official Israeli body or a complicit institution? What is goal of the event and its vision? You can learn a lot from raising these “obvious” questions.
Secondly, if your hosts do not provide (or do not know) the needed information, ask them to direct their inquires to PQBDS. Most Israeli queer groups and organizations are not familiar with BDS and are not aware they are part of systematic oppression. Encouraging them to make direct contact with us will not only help you to collect the needed information, but will also help raise awareness among these groups about the importance of BDS.
Thirdly, PQBDS are willing to help and guide you personally through this process,. We will be more than happy to provide the necessary information, make contacts with relevant parties, and respond to you regarding whether the event meets the boycott’s guidelines.
Please consider us the “go-to person” for ANY question you may have regarding BDS, especially queer BDS situations.
We look forward to your questions and inquiries. Our email is: firstname.lastname@example.org