The organisers of #VisualArtsforPalestine are a multinational group of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals based in the UK, US and Europe, who are in direct communication and consultation with representatives of Palestinian civil society, including artists and their associations.
As with South Africa in the past, Israeli arts institutions, including galleries, museums, multi-arts venues and festivals, that fail to publicly take a institutional position against apartheid and to recognise the comprehensive rights of the Palestinian people under international law – including the UN-stipulated right of return for Palestinian refugees – are complicit in apartheid. Aside from this form of complicity, many play an active role in whitewashing or justifying apartheid and colonisation.
For example, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art describes itself as “an Israeli bastion of modernity and openness” without taking a stand against apartheid, choosing instead to art-wash it. Pluralism in curation is expected in any cultural institution and does not imply an institutional stance against apartheid. Along with the overwhelming majority of Israeli arts institutions, the museum has never denounced apartheid nor endorsed Palestinan human rights under international law, including the rights of Palestinian refugees.
The museum has also repeatedly partnered with multiple agencies of Israel’s far-right government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, all of which are deeply complicit in the systemic racism of Israel’s colonial regime. It has also accepted funding many times from the Israel Lottery Council (Pais), which also funds constructions in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), including East Jerusalem.
The museum is located in the vicinity of the destroyed Palestinian neighbourhoods of al-Mas’udiyya, al-Jammasin al-Gharbi and Jarisha, whose inhabitants were ethnically cleansed in the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 and never allowed to return by Israel’s racist laws. The museum’s directors include the Mayor of apartheid Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai.
The Israel Museum’s branch in East Jerusalem, the Rockefeller Museum (known before 1967 as the Palestine Archeology Museum), houses the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), a state entity which is used to legitimise Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem. The IAA is currently working with Israeli settler groups to falsify history and expel Palestinians from Silwan and elsewhere in the OPT, as documented by Israeli NGO Emek Shavak, among others. Additionally, the Israel Museum stores looted Palestinian possessions in its warehouses, including clothes and personal belongings of Palestinian refugees who were expelled in 1948 from their homes in over 500 depopulated towns and villages.
Israeli galleries and other cultural institutions — including Holon Design Museum, MOBY – Bat Yam Museum of Art, Haifa Museum, Beer Sheva Museum, Museum on the Seam, Ein Harod Art Museum, Ein Hod – Marcel Janco Museum, Herzilya Museum, Petah Tikva Museum, CCA Tel-Aviv, Artport Tel Aviv, Arad Contemporary Art Center, The Israeli Center for Digital Art, Pyramid – Artists Workshops Haifa, Artist house Jerusalem, Artists Residence Herzliya, Muslala, Barbur, Ha-Mifal, Artists Workshops Jerusalem, Dvir Gallery, Braverman Gallery, Gordon Gallery, Givon Gallery, Hezi Coehn Gallery, Kav 16 Gallery, Midrasha Art Gallery, Fresh Paint Art Fair, Print Screen Festival — have consistently failed to declare their institutional opposition to Israel’s system of apartheid, occupation and colonisation, and failed to endorse the comprehensive rights of the Palestinian people under international law.
This year, Human Rights Watch and Israel’s leading human rights organisation B’Tselem confirmed what Palestinians, South Africans, international legal scholars and dissenting Israeli voices have long said: Israel operates an apartheid regime against the Indigenous Palestinian people and should be held accountable under international law. As with South Africa, global solidarity, particularly in the form of ending complicity, will help this come to pass.
We condemn white supremacy, anti-Black racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination and racism. For the same reason, we will not exhibit in support of apartheid. Because decolonizing is a practice, we will not allow the artwashing of injustice with our work and the legitimization of apartheid through culture.