News | 500 MTL artists protest Israeli policy

Signatories support boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israeli government

On February 25, Montreal-based Palestine solidarity group Tadamon! announced that 500 local artists had signed a declaration of support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against what they call Israel’s apartheid policies against Palestinians.

The statement argues that there are parallels between South Africa and Israel’s systems of segregation, and that support for the Palestinian struggle for human and civil rights should mirror the international anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and eighties.

“A matrix of Israeli-only roads, electrified fences, and over 500 military checkpoints and roadblocks erase freedom of movement for Palestinians,” it states. “Israel’s apartheid wall, which was condemned by the International Court of Justice in 2004, cuts through Palestinian lands, further annexing Palestinian territory.”

The statement goes on to reference the Israeli military’s blockade of the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, which has been ongoing since 2007. “Israel continues to impose collective punishment on the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza, who still face chronic shortages of electricity, fuel, food, and basic necessities.”

“These 500 artists signify a very critical shift in our society: a shift toward questioning in many ways the Israeli government and its policies and Canada’s support for Israel and Israel’s policy of occupation and apartheid,” said photographer and Tadamon! member Stefan Christoff.

He added that the artists are not calling for the boycott of Israel to be all-encompassing. “Is this a boycott of all Israeli artists? No. It should be on a case-by-case basis. It should target institutional structures,” he said.

The BDS movement began following a 2005 request by Palestinian civil society groups that Israel conform to international law by withdrawing from the Arab territories it annexed in 1967, and by permitting the return of Palestinian refugees to the homes they lost in 1948.

Several of the artists in attendance stated that support for the BDS movement has become necessary due in part to the Canadian government’s unwavering support for Israel.

“I think the BDS movement is something that will permit us to slowly take back the reins of control and help pull back the money that is flowing into the government that is propelling this occupation,” said Yassin Alsalman, a local hip-hop artist who goes by the anonym The Narcicyst.

Fortner Anderson, a poet who also signed the declaration, echoed Alsalman’s statement, and added that the letter should be seen as a first step in a broader, global movement.

“The 500 Montreal artists, who create the climate of ideas that we live in, have said enough is enough – something must be done,” he said. “This cannot be left to the governments because the governments are incapable of resolving the problem.”

Freda Guttman, an installation artist and Tadamon! member, said that the 500 signatures were a significant accomplishment given the pressures artists often face from their patrons.

“There are people who wanted to [sign the letter] but couldn’t to protect their jobs,” she said. “[Blacklisting] is happening more and more because Israel realizes it’s working.”

Anderson agreed that the political statements artists make can adversely affect their professional lives. “A lot of artists in Canada survive entirely off government largess, so for people to take positions like this can, for some, be of concern,” he said.

The list of signatories includes members of local bands Kalmunity Vibe Collective, Nomadic Massive, Silver Mt. Zion, and The United Steelworkers of Montreal.