The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel received another boost after Hollywood stars Viggo Mortensen and Danny Glover gave their backing. The actors were amongst 79 international artists, writers and producers from all fields of the arts in the UK, the US, Germany and beyond, plus public figures including Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, to speak out against what they say is an "alarming form of censorship, "blacklisting" and repression" of pro-Palestinian activists.
Their concerns over the suppression of free speech was raised in an open letter published in the Guardian today after an award-winning band called the Young Fathers was disinvited from an arts festival in Germany. The Scottish band was under pressure to declare themselves non-supporters of the Palestinian-led BDS movement for human rights as a condition of appearing at the festival later this summer.
Concert organisers, Ruhrtriennale, announced the cancellation of the group's participation saying: "Regrettably, the Young Fathers have not distanced themselves from BDS. (…) The Ruhrtriennale distances itself in all forms from the BDS movement and wishes to have absolutely no connection with the campaign. We have therefore decided to cancel the concert."
Following the cancellation, Young Fathers published a statement saying that it was "their views opposing the current Israeli Government's grave violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people and our support of the non-violent and anti-racist human rights movement, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)" which led to their disinvitation.
The band has since been re-invited as a result of the international outcry even though they have not backed down from their stance which they say is "only peaceful protests a person can take, in the hope to achieve a just and comprehensive peace that allows Palestinian refugees the right to return to a safe homeland, and that allows Israelis and Palestinians of all faiths (and none) to live together in peace".
International figures came out to support the band while also raising concerns over the growing number of incidences where people were being punished for criticising Israel. "We are disturbed by attempts in Germany to impose political conditions on artists supporting Palestinian human rights," the open letter said. Ruhrtriennale's decision to cancel the band was denounced as a "particularly alarming form of censorship, 'blacklisting' and repression".
After declaring their opposition to all forms of racism and discrimination they said:
Conflating nonviolent measures to end Israel's illegal occupation and human rights violations with anti-Jewish racism is false and dangerous. It denies Palestinians their right to peaceful protest and undermines the struggle against antisemitism.
The letter stated that the individuals supporting band held "diverse views on BDS" but they were "united in considering it a lawful exercise of freedom of expression".
In backing the BDS campaign they concluded: "Boycotts that are anchored in universal human rights and aimed at achieving justice for marginalised and oppressed communities are a legitimate nonviolent tactic. They have been used worldwide, including against apartheid in South Africa and the Jim Crow segregation laws in the US."