Palestine, BLM and Boycott in the Arts

In recent years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has made significant headway in the United States despite intensive, and unconstitutional, efforts by pro-Israeli forces to stop its spread. In academia, the campaign has won endorsements from a number of professional associations, and is seriously debated within others. This year, Cornel West used the Democratic National Convention’s platform deliberations to publicly amplify the claim for BDS, bringing the issue into the US election process. Meanwhile, the Movement for Black Lives declared its support for BDS in its official platform, drawing connections between the 49-year occupation of Palestine and the centuries-long subjugation of black people—a connection that rekindles internationalist, decolonial affinities from the past and provides a new level of moral legitimacy to BDS in the contemporary public sphere.

Yet, the artistic sector (from the visual arts to music, dance and architecture) has remained largely impervious to BDS. This is despite important work by small groups of artist-organizers and the inspiring example of those in other countries who have signed off with BDS, often by alluding to the role of the cultural boycott in delegitimizing apartheid in South Africa. In 2015, over 1,100 artists in the UK signed on to BDS as part of Artists for Palestine UK, pledging to accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.

Why has BDS not taken off in the arts in this country? "Palestine, BLM, and Boycott in the Arts" will place writer and professor Robin D.G. Kelley in discussion with author and theorist Jasbir Puar as well as members of the artist-organizer collective MTL+ Amin Husain and Marz Saffore, questioning the cultural implications of BDS for art workers and across the struggle for black liberation. What are the obstacles and challenges faced by artists who would otherwise align themselves with the call from Palestinian civil society to support freedom and justice? How can the visibility and currency of artists and art institutions be leveraged to challenge the occupation? How can we support one another when activists, scholars, and artists affiliated with BDS are subjected to intimidation, harassment, and blacklisting? If boycott is the floor and not the ceiling, what is the broader horizon of the struggle against settler colonialism at home and in the Middle East? How can we, as artists, cultural producers and workers, embrace boycott in the arts as an act of solidarity and revolutionary love?