Saturday, July 30, 2011

City artist Spurns Israel invite for Palestine cause

City artist Spurns Israel invite for Palestine cause

Bangalore Mirror

It was billed as the first major show of Indian art in Tel Aviv.  But with a section of Indian artists deciding to skip the event, and launching a political offensive for the cultural boycott of Israel, the issue now is snowballing into a vicious controversy which has split the artist fraternity down the middle.

Bangalore-based Pushpamala N was apparently among the 20-odd artists invited by the Israeli government to participate in ‘Deconstruct-ing India’, a show to be held in April 2012 at the newly-built Amir Wing of the Tel Aviv Museum.

The 55-year-old photo-artist first dashed off a mail to the show’s curator, Tami Katz-Freiman, declining to take part, and then started a signature campaign to show solidarity with a Palestinian civil society movement which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.

Well-known English novelist and art critic John Berger and author-activist Arundhati Roy are among a handful of international names who support the cultural boycott of Israel, while Sir Nicholas Hytner, the director of the London’s National Theatre, is one of the strongest critics of this approach. “It seems profoundly counter-productive to cease contact with precisely that section of Isra-eli society most likely to provoke a change in direction within Israel,” he has said.

In her mail, which has been widely circulated amongst Indian artists and galleries, Pushpmala drew attention to the efforts of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and claimed, “If we exhibit in this show, we will be legitimising the racist and apartheid policies of the Israeli government.”

Pushpamala’s stand is now being supported by a section of artists, including Tushar Joag, but others like noted art critic Girish Shahane have struck a strongly cautionary note. “If we start boycotting museum shows because of bad things governments are doing, where will it end? Why should Indian artists exhibit in China, when the regime there has been responsible for horrendous massacres and continues to deny basic freedom of expression to its citizens? Israel has done terribly by the Palestinians, but associating art institutions and centres of learning, even state-funded ones, so closely with state policy is a silly mistake in my opinion, and tokenism of the worst kind as well,” wrote Girish.

But it seems a section of artists is planning to lend support to the boycott call. Speaking to Mirror, Pushpamala said, “We are in the process of collecting signatures. I already have the backing of five participating artists and some more have expressed solidarity. Some artists are travelling. So, I am waiting for them to get back to me. I plan to issue a press statement in a few days.”

However, senior artists like Laxman Shreshta are firmly opposed to any such boycott. “It’s like the case of the rebel without a cause. I would not support Pushpamala at all. If Indian artists have been invited for this interesting exhibition, they should go there and show the world what they are doing. There’s no need to mix politics in this,” he said. It’s a feeling echoed by Atul Dodiya. “Any country which commits atrocities should be roundly condemned. But while even artists have political viewpoints, art itself cannot be a political tool. It is a means to create bonds, not break them. That’s why even with Pakistan, we continue to maintain cultural relations. So why not Israel?” he asked.

But the matter is set to escalate with the rest of the invited Indian artists being forced into taking a public stand, especially since the entire list of participating names, including Ravi Agarwal, Atul Bhalla, Anita Dube, Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Ranbir Kaleka, Jitish Kallat, Riyas Komu, TV Santhosh, Sudarshan Shetty, Hema Upadhyay and Lochan Upadhyay have been made public.

At least Sudarshan Shetty isn’t amused by the hullabaloo. “I don’t have any fresh work to show there, so the curator is arranging to get some earlier works of mine from some private collectors. I will be participating though I am still to figure whether most of the others plan to. Though I personally condemn the Israeli occupation, I don’t think boycotting the show is a solution. You can instead use that opportunity to express your view. There are problems in almost every country, including India, so should we completely stop exhibiting our art?

‘Make a point through your art’

I have travelled extensively in Israel. I remember being at the artist’s colony, Ein Hod, in the Haifa district. They have a well-developed art situation there.

An artist is a universal being whose background and traditions will but naturally reflect in his/her works. I was once asked to comment on a topic by an NYT reporter as being an Indian artist and my immediate response was to contest that. Artists belong to the world, we don’t need to be labelled. In that sense, politics and arts needn’t mix. Of course, you can make a political statement through your work. Picasso did too. But then again, let your art works speak for you. Surely, artists can oppose a matter vocally, but I would say exhibit your works, make a point through your art. —Yusuf Arakkal

Thursday, July 21, 2011

We won't back down

We won't back down until TIAA-CREF divests from the Israeli occupation!

This Tuesday in Charlotte, NC, I was proud to stand up and demand answers from retirement giant TIAA-CREF CEO Roger Ferguson and CREF Trustees at their annual corporate meeting. I stood side by side with many other TIAA-CREF investors like me who, one after another, told them that we did not want to build our future retirements on a foundation of demolished Palestinian homes, illegal Israeli settlements, and military occupation.

I felt supported to speak out by people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who called the TIAA-CREF campaign "important because it is one of the most broad-based divestment efforts in the U.S." just days before in an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer, and by tens of thousands of people like you who have signed petitions and letters and advocated in your own communities.

TIAA-CREF leadership told us that, when it comes to Israel and Palestine there is no consensus, but rather controversy. In fact, a representative from Amnesty International reminded them that there is consensus in the human rights community: the Israeli occupation is a legal term, not a disputed one, and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal. A fellow investor asked why, if TIAA-CREF cared so much about the opinion of their clients, did they block a resolution that would have allowed them to be polled about their comfort with investing in companies profiting from the Israeli occupation with their retirement funds? And yet another reminded Mr. Ferguson that on issues of justice -- slavery, segregation, Apartheid -- there was no consensus either, but there was and still there is a moral compass. Challenges like mine dominated the shareholder meeting yesterday in Charlotte. In fact, the main topic of that meeting was our campaign—the largest divestment campaign for Palestinian human rights in US history.

What is the most exciting to me, though, is that as I was inside the meeting in Charlotte, actions took place nationwide—outside the meeting in Charlotte, as well as in Baltimore, Ithaca, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Lexington, St. Louis, New York City, Washington D.C., Detroit, Palo Alto, and Sacramento. See images of the simultaneous protests.

Jewish Voice for Peace

Monday, July 18, 2011

From Archbishop Desmond Tutu

From Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009:

As shareholders with the retirement giant TIAA-CREF head to Charlotte this week for their national meeting, there is one issue they will find conspicuously absent from the agenda: divestment from the Israeli Occupation. Despite pleas from shareholders, including medical professionals, students and academics from universities across the United States, the pension fund refused to allow a vote on a resolution that would have compelled TIAA-CREF to consider divestment from companies such as Caterpillar or Elbit. These are companies that profit substantially from the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

In an effort, presumably, to avoid the topic altogether, TIAA-CREF even went so far as to move its annual meeting to Charlotte from its usual location in New York City. But even in Charlotte, they will not be able to escape from "occupation." Throughout the United States and the world, people will continue to speak truth to power about the apartheid perpetrated in the Holy Land.

I, for one, never tire of speaking out against these injustices, because they remind me only too well of what we in South Africa experienced under the racist system of apartheid. I have witnessed firsthand the racially segregated roads and housing in the Occupied Palestinian territories. I have seen the humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children at the checkpoints and roadblocks. I have met Palestinians who were evicted and replaced by Jewish Israeli settlers; Palestinians whose homes were destroyed even as new, Jewish-only homes were illegally built on confiscated Palestinian land.

This oppression, these indignities and the resulting anger are only too familiar. It is no wonder that so many South African leaders in the anti-apartheid struggle, including Nelson Mandela and numerous Jewish leaders, have found ourselves compelled to speak out on this issue.

Though the situation deteriorates daily, I am not without hope. Before apartheid ended, most South Africans did not believe they would live to see a day of liberation. They did not believe that their children, or even their children's children, would see it. But we have seen it, and I know that if apartheid can end in South Africa, so too can this occupation.

We could not have won our freedom in South Africa without the solidarity of people around the world who adopted non-violent methods to pressure governments and corporations to end their support for the apartheid regime. Faith-based groups, unions, students and consumers organized on a grassroots level and catalyzed a global wave of divestment, ultimately contributing to the collapse of apartheid.

More than two decades later, another wave of divestment has emerged, this time with the goal of ending Israel's 44-year-old occupation and its unequal treatment of the Palestinians.

The TIAA-CREF campaign is important because it is one of the most broad-based divestment efforts in the U.S.: thousands of professors, doctors, students, and many other people of conscience are coming forward demanding that the suffering of the Palestinians not be ignored in the company's bottom line. The campaign originated with a call from the American group Jewish Voice for Peace, whose members understand that ending the occupation means a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians; a future in which both the violence of the occupier and the violent resistance of the occupied come to an end, where one people no longer rule over another, and where the cycles of suffering, humiliation and retaliation are broken.

In South Africa we understood that true peace could be built only on the basis of justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute. I encourage TIAA-CREF, whose slogan is "for the greater good," to heed the call for divestment, to refuse to profit from oppression of a people, and thus to stand on the side of what is right: a safe, secure and peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis.

For the Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer's, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Waiting for a full-fledged Palestinian genocide?

Next week I am going to Charlotte, NC, and I want to bring your voice with me. You see, financial giant TIAA-CREF is having its shareholder meeting in Charlotte, but the company refuses to talk about the Israeli occupation.

That's why I am asking you to sign this open letter to TIAA-CREF CEO Roger Ferguson before Tuesday and ask him to divest from companies such as Caterpillar, which manufactures the bulldozers used to demolish tens of thousands of Palestinian homes, and Veolia, which operates buses in a segregated highway in the West Bank. Segregation! I am old enough to have witnessed myself segregation in the South. I did not like it then and I do not like it now.

I have been proud to be a Jew all my life, but after visiting Israel three times and the West Bank once, I've seen the effects of the Israeli occupation with my own eyes, and what I have seen harms not only Palestinians but also Jews everywhere.

I started investing in a TIAA-CREF pension fund back in the 1970's, and now as a retired professor, I draw almost half of my income from TIAA-CREF. I do not want to have my retirement money contributing to injustice. That's why I am asking you to sign this open letter to Mr. Ferguson.

Together with other TIAA-CREF participants, I filed a shareholder proposal asking TIAA-CREF to talk with companies that profit from the Israeli occupation and ask them to stop profiting from human rights violations. TIAA-CREF decided not to include that proposal on the ballot.

I also wrote TIAA-CREF personally to express my concerns. All I got was a brief letter from them saying no, and that profit was their only concern.

TIAA-CREF has already divested from Sudan because of the genocide in Darfur. And yet the company says that the case in Palestine is different because the genocide in Darfur was recognized as such by the US government.

Is TIAA-CREF waiting for a full-fledged Palestinian genocide before deciding to divest? How many more Palestinians need to be made homeless before TIAA-CREF takes action? And if the company can only take its cues from our government, does it mean that it was in favor of segregation when such a practice was legal in the US? It is certainly in favor of segregation today if it keeps on profiting from the Israeli occupation and its Jewish-only roads and settlements. And it is doing this with my hard-earned money.

Please, sign the letter to Ferguson.


Evalyn Segal, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita. Department of Psychology. San Diego State University.

Roger Waters endorses BDS and speaks against Israeli anti-boycott law

Saturday, July 9, 2011

First CVS event in Woodstock

About 10 of us showed up outside the Woodstock CVS with our new banner and about 400 flyers. Three or four held the banner while the rest passed out flyers (220 were given out in the hour we were there). At the end, two of us went around Woodstock and handed out flyers to everyone on the streets. Then we went in to talk the the store manager about CVS products made in the occupied West Bank.

We were respectful, and the manager said that she would talk to her national office on Monday.

A Palestinian man and his son stopped by and said: "I never thought I would see this in America." He and his son stood with us for the rest of the rally. Later an English man stopped by and said that he was amazed to see America finally waking up to the issue of Palestinian rights.

We had a few negative opinions, but not many. One middle aged women said she would "wipe her ass" with the flyer and went into the CVS to tell on us. Another women was horrified that "anti-Semitism had come to Woodstock." She hadn't read the flyer, but she thought the word, apartheid, was all she needed to see.

In all, I thought it was a great first effort.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Responsibility as an artist not to lend legitimacy

July 5, 2011

To Whom It May Concern:
After much deliberation, I have turned down the Fellowship offered me by the Jewish Foundation for National Culture to attend the first American Academy in Jerusalem from October 23-December 23, 2011.

I stand in solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine, but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government's policies by joining the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel. Although I am not a member of the BDS movement and do not endorse all their claims, I do oppose the occupation and do not want to normalize it. I accept and exercise my social responsibility as an artist not to lend legitimacy to the State of Israel as long as it continues the occupation.

My conscience will not allow me either to participate in programs funded by the current Israeli government at this point in time, or to show my films at venues that receive funding from that government. I stand in support of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples who believe in justice for all, equal representation, and an end to the oppression of the Palestinian peoples. It is the least I can do. The most is yet to be seen.

Barbara Hammer

Film Director

New York, New York


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