BDS (and why you should support it)

I and my band Hazeen are participating in the upcoming documenta fifteen art exhibition, to begin from 18 June 2022 in Kassel Germany. This iteration of documenta is directed by the brilliant Indonesian collective Ruangrupa who have facilitated an amazing convergence of socially engaged artists and art collectives from around the world. 

Unfortunately since January 2022 Ruangrupa have been the targets of a smear campaign (launched by an anonymous German blogger) accusing them of antisemitism for their support of Palestinian rights and the global, Palestinian-led BDS movement. Some sections of the German media have jumped on this accusation, opportunistically using it as cheap clickbait to amplify the smear. The accusation is baseless and you can read Ruangrupa’s statement about it here.

On 28 May, in the lead up to documenta, an exhibition space allocated to the Palestinian collective ‘A question of funding’ was broken into and defaced with graffiti (which included someone scrawling the number ‘187’ – which can be interpreted as a death threat). This may well have been a consequence of the smear campaign amplifying xenophobia amongst the far right or radical left (potentially anti-Deutsche Antifa, who are pro-Zionist) in Kassel or its surrounds. At this point the culprit is unknown and you can read the documenta artists’ statement in support of Ruangrupa here.

My band Hazeen is releasing our first record as part of the artwork Border Farce for documenta (called Sovereign Murders) and some German music magazines have sniffily refused to interview us because a quick google search shows we support also BDS, including the recent artists’ boycott of the 2022 Sydney Festival.

To be clear: we support the Palestinian struggle for dignity, autonomy and human rights and condemn Israel’s practices of settler-colonial occupation, home demolition, arbitrary arrest, land expropriation and apartheid over Palestinian lives. This is entirely consistent with our support for persecuted communities elsewhere, including Uighur people in Xinxiang, Rohingya people in Myanmar, Kashmiris in India, Ukrainians under Russian invasion, Afghans under the Taliban, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and first nations people under settler colonial regimes around the world. As activists for the recent Sydney Festival boycott so powerfully put it: ‘opposing settler colonialism here in Australia but embracing it elsewhere exposes a shallow understanding of how these systems of subjugation and segregation are interconnected.’ BDS is a laudable campaign for Palestinian justice and on this we follow many brilliant activists in the Australian context, such as Randa Abdal Fattah, Jennine Khalik, Fahad Ali and Sara Saleh, amongst others.

It is deeply unfortunate to see the charge of antisemitism instrumentalised against Palestinian rights — a recent consequence of the IHRA ‘Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’, which risks conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism. This definition has been enthusiastically adopted by the German and Australian governments, and problematically levels the charge of antisemitism against anyone who objects to Israel’s racism — its institutional and constitutional discrimination against Palestinian citizens and expropriation of Palestinian land and resources. As a letter supported by over 100 Palestinian and Arab academics, artists and intellectuals put it: 

‘To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination. It thus contravenes elementary justice and basic norms of human rights and international law.’ You can read the whole letter here.

For years anyone who cared about Palestine has stood by feeling helpless as the world ignored a 50+ year military occupation, the brutalisation and murder of thousands of innocent people, legalised mass incarceration, the interrogation and torture of Palestinian children, the theft of natural resources, the destruction of Palestinian Arab culture, the apartheid wall, military checkpoints, home demolition, curfews, the support of radical Zionist settlers (armed religious fundamentalists) who attack and kill Arabs, poison their Olive trees and literally push people out of their homes, all with the permission of the state. A series of meaningless peace initiatives and ‘road maps’ that go nowhere have ensured Isreal continues a daily process of occupation in direct contravention of international law, a process documented by numerous Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations. This has all taken place with the tacit backing of the international community, including Australia, funded by incredible US military aid. 

In this context, BDS is necessary, precisely for empowering individuals and grassroots organisations to come together and circumvent the inaction of our political leaders. Ordinary people can stand with Palestinians in defence of human rights, which is exactly why the recent boycott of the Sydney Festival was so inspiring and effective. Look to the example of South Africa and think about the legacy of the late Desmond Tutu, who memorably pointed out (for South Africa but also on Palestine) that if you choose inaction in the face of injustice you’re actually aiding the oppressor.