76 Musicians Stand For Justice For Palestinians

Visualizing Palestine’s latest data-driven visual highlights the growth of collective action for Palestinian human rights, amidst trend of censorship.

Dozens of musicians have cancelled appearances in Israel, pulled out of events sponsored by Israeli institutions, or expressed their support for the cultural boycott of Israel. Visualizing Palestine’s latest visual explores the broad cultural impact of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, amidst widespread censorship and suppression targeting activism for Palestinian human rights.

View and download the visualPalestinians Call for Boycott of Eurovision 2019
From May 14–18, 2019, the 64th Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Tel Aviv, Israel. Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott of Eurovision 2019. Those who respond to the boycott call will join the 76 musicians featured in this visual, as well as hundreds of other cultural figures who have spoken out on Palestinian human rights since the BDS call was first initiated in 2005.

Two days after Israeli performer Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision contest, Israeli snipers shot and killed 62 Palestinian protesters in Gaza. The United Nations issued a new report this month with evidence that these and other killings and injuries by Israeli forces “may constitute crimes against humanity.” The report says that Israeli forces “killed and maimed” Palestinian civilians, including children, who “did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities.” Israeli authorities quickly dismissed the report.

May 1, 2019, also marks the one year anniversary of the passage of Israel’s Nation-State Law, which further codified the state’s already well-documented apartheid policies by limiting the right to self-determination to its Jewish community, downgrading the status of Arabic language, and defining Israeli settlement expansion as a state interest. Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently referenced this law in the run up to Israeli elections, saying, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people — and only it.”

It is in this context that Palestinian civil society calls for boycott. The movement calls on Israel to comply with its human rights obligations under international law by ending the occupation in the West Bank, ending the blockade on Gaza, facilitating the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and guaranteeing equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Stories of Solidarity
While many prominent cultural figures have joined the boycott movement, musicians’ unique platforms and visibility allows them to play an especially powerful role. In 2005, Roger Waters recounted how Palestinian children adopted his song Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 to protest the Israeli wall. In 2006, Waters visited the West Bank, an experience that inspired him to cancel his concert in Israel and became one of the boldest proponents of BDS.

Robert Del Naja, lead singer of Massive Attack, was heavily influenced by ‘Artists against Apartheid’ and ‘Rock against Racism’ gigs, which challenged the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s. Today, Massive Attack refuses to play in Israel, with Del Naja clarifying, “I can’t play in Israel when the Palestinians have no access to the same fundamental benefits that the Israelis do.” Similarly, Tom Morello, former member of the band Rage Against the Machine made the statement, “I have never crossed a picket line and I am not about to start.” Lauryn Hill, Lana Del Rey, and Lorde have all engaged with cultural boycott campaigns from their fan bases and canceled their appearances in Israel. To see more musicians’ statements, view our datasheet.

Trend of Growing Censorship
It is important to highlight acts of solidarity in the face of growing censorship and repression of activism for Palestinian human rights. In 2011, Israel passed an anti-boycott law, which was used in 2018 to sue two New Zealand-based activists for writing an open letter to Lorde asking her to cancel her Israel gig. Twenty-six US states have passed laws to penalize BDS activism. This year, the Senate passed S.1, which included a provision endorsing anti-BDS measures by states. The ACLU and other civil rights groups strongly oppose such laws as unconstitutional. Palestine Legal reports that it responded to 289 attacks against Palestinian human rights activists in the US in 2018, and 1,247 attacks in the last five years, many directed at students.

Prominent figures are not immune from attacks. This month, Democratic lawmakers’ threatened to formally rebuke Rep. Illhan Omar over comments about AIPAC and US military aid to Israel. In January, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute moved to disinvite Angela Davis from a prestigious award because of her outspoken support for Palestinian human rights. Last November, CNN quickly fired commentator Marc Lamont Hill after he spoke on behalf of Palestinian human rights at the UN. Lorde was targeted with a full-page ad in the Washington Post calling her a bigot. The German Ruhrtriennale Festival disinvited Young Fathers due to their refusal to “distance themselves” from BDS. The BBC censored a statement from Nigel Kennedy about Israeli apartheid during a televised concert with the Palestinian Strings.

Because of their visibility, these figures are better able to withstand backlash. In response to outcry by civil society, the US House of Representatives changed course on censuring Rep. Omar, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute re-invited Angela Davis. More than a hundred well-known artists signed an open letter defending Lorde’s right to boycott. Over 75 artists signed an open letter criticizing the Ruhrtriennale Festival for “impos[ing] political conditions on artists supporting Palestinian human rights”, eventually causing the festival to reverse its position.

Visualizing Palestine’s Methodology
To create this visual, we selected a sample of 76 musicians from a list our researchers compiled of over 140 musicians whose actions were consistent with the cultural boycott of Israel. The visual highlights musicians with at least 10,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Relying on the artist’s own words from public statements, we contextualized musicians’ actions within one of three categories of support: endorsed BDS, responded to the call for boycott, and unspecified position. We included cases where musicians canceled with unspecified positions as, given the chilling effects of the anti-BDS laws and suppression described above, some artists may be apprehensive to speak out or acknowledge boycott campaigns. Others are learning about Palestinian stories for the first time through engagement with activists, showing how boycott is a tool for eliciting principled dialogue and exchange of ideas, rather than a deterrent to it.

As this is an active and growing movement, the data is subject to change. It is also important to note that numerous Palestinian musicians are supportive of the boycott, but they are not named here, since this visual focuses on international solidarity stemming from Palestinian grassroots leadership.

For more details on our methodology and data please see our data sheet

These visuals are part of an ongoing Visualizing Palestine series titled Growth of a Movement: Stories of Collective Action. Previous visuals have highlighted writers who have spoken out for Palestinian rights, and revisited the role of boycotts in the anti-apartheid movement.

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Visualizing Impact (VI) is a non-profit organization that uses data, design, and technology for social justice. VI’s largest initiative, Visualizing Palestine (VP), promotes a factual, rights-based narrative of the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Academics, students, and human rights advocates in 65 countries have used VP visuals since 2015. VI has been recognized by international awards such as the Deutsche Welle BOBs Award for Best Social Activism, the Prix Ars Electronica Award of Distinction for Digital Communities, and the Kantar ‘Information is Beautiful’ Community Award.