PACBI Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel (Revised July 2014)

Being that part of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) tasked with overseeing the academic and cultural boycott aspects of BDS, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott….

Being that part of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) tasked with overseeing the academic and cultural boycott aspects of BDS, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has advocated, since 2004, for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions.[1] This is based on the fact that these institutions are complicit in the Israeli system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international law, or has hampered their exercise of these rights, including freedom of movement and freedom of expression.

Cultural institutions are part and parcel of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people. Israeli cultural institutions (including performing art companies, music groups, film organizations, writers’ unions and festivals) have cast their lot with the hegemonic Zionist establishment in Israel, and notwithstanding the efforts of a handful of principled individual artists, writers and filmmakers, these institutionsareclearly implicated in supporting,justifying and whitewashing Israel’s occupation and systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

The cultural boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa has been a major source of inspiration in formulating the Palestinian boycott calls and their criteria, despite some crucial differences. In particular, the Palestinian boycott, unlike the South African cultural boycott, is institutional and does not target individuals as such.

Freedom of Expression

Given that the BNC, through the PACBI guidelines presented below, rejects censorship and upholds the universal right to freedom of expression, the institutional boycott called for by Palestinian civil society does not conflict with such freedom. PACBI subscribes to the internationally-accepted definition of freedom of expressionas stipulated in the United Nations’International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).[2]

Anchored in precepts of international law and universal human rights, the BDS movement, including PACBI, rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion.Mere affiliation of Israeli cultural workers to an Israeli cultural institution is therefore not grounds for applying the boycott. If, however, an individual is representing the state of Israel or a complicit Israeli institution, or is commissioned/recruited to participate in Israel’s efforts to “rebrand” itself, then her/his activities are subject to the institutional boycott the BDS movement is calling for.

While an individual’s freedom of expression should be fully and consistently respected in the context of cultural boycotts, an individual artist/writer, Israeli or otherwise, cannot be exempt from being subject to “common sense” boycotts (beyond the scope of the PACBI institutional boycott criteria)that conscientious citizens around the world may call for in response to what they widely perceive as egregious individual complicity in, responsibility for, or advocacy of violations of international law (such as war crimes or other grave human rights violations),racialviolence,or racial slurs. At this level, Israeli cultural workers should not be exempted from due criticism or any lawful form of protest, including boycott; they should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse.This is in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on which the BDS movement’s principles are based, and which states:

In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order, and the general welfare in a democratic society. [3]

InternationalCultural Boycott Guidelines

During years of intensive work with partners in several countries to promote the cultural boycott of Israel, which is supported by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian artists, writers, filmmakers and cultural institutions [4] [5],PACBI has thoroughly scrutinized many cultural projects and events, assessing the applicability of the boycott criteria to them and, accordingly, has issued open letters, statements or advisory opinions on them. The threemost important conclusions reached in this respect were: (a) many of these events and projects fall into an uncertain, grey area that is challenging to appraise, (b) it is important to emphasize thatthe boycott must target not only the complicit institutions but also the inherent and organic links between them which reproduce the machinery of colonial subjugation and apartheid, and (c) strategically, not every boycottable project must be met with an active boycott campaign, as activists need to invest their energies in the highest priority campaigns in any given time.

Based on this experience and in response to the burgeoning demand for specific BDS guidelines for applying the international cultural boycott of Israel to diverse projects, from film and literary festivals to art exhibits to musical and dance performances to conferences, PACBI lays out below unambiguous, consistent and coherent criteria and guidelines that specifically address the nuances and particularities inthe field of culture.

These guidelines are mainly intended to assist international conscientious artists, writers and cultural workers, as well as cultural organizations and associationsto be in harmony with the Palestinian call for boycott, as a contribution towards upholding international law and furthering the struggle for freedom, justice and equality. Similar guidelines for the academic boycott have been issued by PACBI [6].

International cultural workers who fail to heed the call for boycott, crossing the BDS “picket line,” and then attempting to visit Palestinian institutions or groups in a“balancing” gesture, contribute to the false perception of symmetry between the colonial oppressor and the colonized. Although visits to the occupied Palestinian territory by international supporters and advocates of Palestinian rights have always been welcomed as a source of encouragement and support, Palestinians believe that solidarity entails respecting the boycott call, which is an authoritative call of the oppressed, and not combining a visit to Palestinian institutions or groups with activities with boycottable Israeli institutions. International visitors who insist on including Israeli cultural institutions in their itinerary, as a form of “fig-leafing”[7], should not expect to be welcomed by Palestinian cultural institutions.

In general, PACBI urges international cultural workers (e.g. artists, writers, filmmakers) and cultural organizations, including unions and associations, where possible and as relevant, to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation of events, activities, agreements, or projects involving Israel, its lobby groups or its cultural institutions, or that otherwise promote the normalization of Israel in the global cultural sphere, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights, or violate the BDS guidelines.

In all the following, “product” refers to cultural products such as films, artworks, plays, among other art forms; “event” refers to film festivals, conferences, art exhibits, art performances (including music and dance), tours by artists and writers, among other activities.

Specifically, these are the BDSguidelines for assessing whether events or products are in violation of the Palestinian cultural boycott of Israel:

(1) As a general overriding rule, Israeli cultural institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence or actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights.

Accordingly, these institutions, all their products, and all the activities they sponsor or support must be boycotted by cultural organizations and cultural workers worldwide. As in the cultural boycott of South African apartheid, international artists and cultural workersare urged not to extend recognition in any way to Israeli cultural organizations by exhibiting, presenting, and showcasing their work (e.g. films, installations, literary works); lecturing or performingat or in cooperation with complicit Israeli cultural institutions or events, andgranting permission for the publication, exhibition or screening of such work by such institutions. Likewise, activities and projects involving individuals explicitly representing these complicit institutions should be boycotted.

It must be emphasized that a cultural product’s content or artistic meritis not relevant in determining whether or not it is boycottable.

(2) Acultural PRODUCTisboycottable if it iscommissioned by an official Israeli body or non-Israeli institution that serves Brand Israel or similar propaganda purposes [8]

Israelicultural products(as opposed to public events) that are funded by official Israeli bodies but not commissioned or otherwise attached to any political strings are not per se subject to boycott. “Political strings” here specifically refer to conditions that obligate a fund recipient to directly or indirectly serve the Israeli government’s or a complicit institution’s rebranding or propagandaefforts. Israeli cultural products that receive state funding as part of the individual culturalworker’sentitlement as a tax-paying citizen, without her/him being bound to serve the state’s political and propaganda interests, are not boycottable. Accepting such political strings, on the other hand, would clearly turn the cultural product into a form of complicity, by contributing to Israel’s efforts to whitewash or obscure its colonial and apartheid reality, and would render it boycottable as a result. Using this logic, we consider all non-Israeli (e.g., international, Palestinian) cultural products that are funded by official Israeli bodies or international “brand Israel” organizations to be commissioned and to be politically motivated, therefore being subject to boycott.

The clearest example is the well-documented fact that many Israeli artists, writers and other cultural workers applying for state funding to cover the cost of their — or their cultural products’ — participation in international events are obligated to contribute to Israel’s official propaganda efforts. To that end, the cultural worker must sign a contract with the Israeli Foreign Ministry binding her/him to “undertake to act faithfully, responsibly and tirelessly to provide the Ministry with the highest professional services.” The contract also states that, “The service provider is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.” [9]

All cultural products,whether Israeli or international, that arecommissioned by an official Israeli body (e.g., government ministry, municipality, embassy, consulate, state or other public film fund), or by an Israeli rebranding project or organization, deserve to be boycotted on institutional grounds. Such products are commissioned by the Israeli state or by colluding institutions specifically to help the state’s propaganda or “rebranding” efforts

(3) A cultural EVENT/ACTIVITYis boycottable if it is partially or fully sponsored by an official Israeli body or a complicit institution

As in the previous guideline, the general principle is that a publicevent/activity carried out under the sponsorship/aegis of or in affiliation with an official Israeli body or a complicit institution constitutes complicity and therefore is deserving of boycott. The same may apply to support or sponsorship from non-Israeli institutions that serve Israel’s branding/propaganda purposes.

(4) Normalization Projects are boycottable. Cultural activities, projects, events and products involving Palestinians and/or other Arabs on one side and Israelis on the other (whether bi- or multi- lateral) that are based on the false premise of symmetry/parity between the oppressors and the oppressed or that assumethat both colonizers and colonized are equally responsible for the “conflict” are intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible forms of normalization that ought to be boycotted [10]. Far from challenging the unjust status quo, such projects contribute to its endurance. Examples include events, projects, publications, films, or exhibitions that are designed to bring together Palestinians/Arabs and Israelis so they can present their respective narratives or perspectives, or to work toward reconciliation, “overcoming barriers,” etc., without addressing the root causes of injustice and the requirements of justice. Other factors that PACBI takes into consideration in evaluating such products and events are the sources of funding, the design of the product or event, the objectives of the sponsoring organization(s), the participants, and similar relevant factors.

Given that the only normal – and indeed welcome — relationship between those from the oppressor community and those from the oppressed community is one that recognizes the basic rights of the oppressed under international law and involves a common struggle against oppression, joint projects that meet the following two conditions are not considered forms of normalization and are therefore exempt from boycott:

  • (a) the Israeli party in the project recognizes the comprehensive Palestinian rights under international law (corresponding to the 3 rights in the BDS call) [11]; and
  • (b) the product or event is one of “co-resistance” rather than co-existence.[12]

Public debates between Palestinians/Arabs and Israelis are also excluded from the boycott if organized without any cooperation with Israel, its lobby groups, or its complicit institutions.

(5) Fact-finding missions and study tours that receive funding from Israel, its complicit institutions, or its international lobby groups are subject to the boycott.

On the other hand, balanced, independent fact-finding missions or study groups, even those that include meetings with complicit Israeli academic institutions, are not boycottable, provided that no institutional link (e.g., seminars, workshops, exhibits, etc.) of any sort is established with complicit Israeli institutions.

The cultural boycott of Israel should continue until Israel is in compliance with the three basic demands outlined in the 2005 BDS Call.

To end their collusion in Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid and become non-boycottable, Israeli cultural institutions must fulfill two basic conditions:

  • a. Publicly recognize the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people as enshrined in international law (including the three basic rights in the 2005 BDS Call)and
  • b. End all forms of complicity in violating Palestinian rights as stipulated in international law, including discriminatory policies and practices as well as diverse roles in whitewashing or justifying Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.









[8] One such organization is the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, whose mission includes depicting the State of Israel “as a thriving cultural environment that stimulates creativity and artistic life.” See The organization takes credit for having supported and promoted all major cultural institutions in Israel, such as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Museum. See: