The Case for a Cultural Boycott of Israel


Although we are a small country about as far away as you can get from Israel and Palestine, New Zealand has punched above its weight in the past in terms of calling out racist regimes, the most notable example being our protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour. When Nelson Mandela heard from his prison cell that the demonstrators had succeeded in cancelling the Hamilton game, he said, “it was like the sun had come out”. Our actions at that crucial time reverberated around the world, bolstering those fighting the Apartheid regime. As New Zealanders we are once again in a unique position to play a similar role in bringing to an end the present-day system of vicious Apartheid in Israel-Palestine, by ending our own complicity by way of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). This means withdrawing from association with and investment in Israel – economically, politically and culturally, including (but not limited to) the recently signed film agreement.


What is the film agreement?

As mentioned in a previous blog, a film co-production agreement was signed between the Israeli and NZ governments in March this year. Co-production agreements aren’t a problem per se, but this one is part of Israel’s self-named ‘Brand Management’ campaign to promote itself as a tolerant and progressive nation when the opposite is true. Since then concerned New Zealanders have launched a Campaign to Boycott the Film Agreement. The campaign is part of a larger picture of cultural boycott, which is just one tactic of the international, Palestinian-led BDS movement, a peaceful strategy of isolating Israel economically, culturally, academically and politically, until it complies with international law with regard to human rights.

US-Palestinian author Ali Abunimah, who toured New Zealand earlier this year, described the film agreement as a “travesty”, by which Israel hopes “to cloak itself in New Zealand’s good reputation… to whitewash its crimes.”

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Why cultural boycott?

BDS is the most effective non-violent option. It targets Israel economically and politically as well as through academic and cultural boycott. The official BDS Movement website explains why cultural boycott is not only justified but a key part of the movement:

“BDS does not target artists. It targets institutions based on their complicity in Israel’s violations of international law. Israel has made a deliberate decision to use culture to whitewash its crimes. Following the Gaza massacre in 2009, an Israeli official announced a plan to ‘send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits’ to ‘show Israel’s prettier face’. This was part of the Brand Israel project, launched by Israel’s foreign ministry in 2005 to counter the boycott. Often when Israeli artists perform overseas using government funding, they have to sign a contract promising to ‘promote the policy interests of the State of Israel’… When international artists violate the boycott and perform in Israel, it helps to normalise Israel’s crimes. That’s why the Israeli government portrays concerts in Israel as a sign of support for its policies.”


Israeli film industry

NZ’s campaign to boycott the film agreement was recently vindicated by the actions of the Israeli Minister for Sport and Culture, Miri Regev. At the Israeli Film Awards last month the minister, notorious even in Israel for her extreme Zionist ideals and divisive rhetoric, walked out of the ceremony in protest when an excerpt from Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “ID card” was performed onstage by jewish performer Yossi Tzaberi and Tamer Nafar, the Palestinian star of the award-winning film “Junction 48”.




Later she returned to make a speech, accusing the film industry of elitism and threatening to cut funding. In her usual melodramatic style vowed that she would not allow Israeli cinema to become an “exclusive club” (translate: infiltrated by lefties), and yet an exclusive club is exactly what she wants it to be. She talks about limiting the term of heads of film funding organisations, but she denies the facts of the ‘Nakba’ and will not fund so-called ‘subversive’ films that deal with the occupation. Needless to say, she has never advocated shortening her own term in office. It was clear to most of the audience that her tirade was not tethered to reality, and she was loudly booed.

Nor does she have the full support of the all-jewish academy, many of whom see her as a divisive hypocrite. The film academy’s chairman, Mosh Danon, is reported to have said, “I think putting Darwish on the stage would be provoking Regev. I don’t want them to cut off our funding.”

Two Palestinian films, ‘Junction 48’ and ‘Sand Storm’, received awards in this year’s Ophir Awards (a.k.a. the ‘Israeli Oscars’). Actresses from ‘Sand Storm’ refused to receive the ‘Best Film’ award from Regev, who said later, “I was very irritated that one of the actresses in the film did not want to go onstage because she self-identifies as a Palestinian. Whoever self-identifies as a Palestinian — they can move and live elsewhere… And if actors receiving prizes from the State of Israel define themselves as Palestinians, it is a very serious problem.”

Disclosure: Siân Robertson is an organiser for the New Zealand Palestine Solidarity Network, an umbrella organisation that aims to unite the many Palestine solidarity groups within New Zealand as a united front aligned with the international, Palestinian-led ‘Boycott Divestment and Sanctions’ movement.


  1. How did that anti apartheid thing work out in the long run?

    Are black South Africans any better off (No)

    Do they have better governance (No)

    • Were you ever a black person in South Africa under apartheid?
      So STFU because you have no right to make that obscene comment.

      • Why do you people turn nasty when your naïve ideology is questioned?

        Last time I looked there was freedom of speech in our Bill of Rights.

        As it happens I spent 20 years of my life working in various countries in Africa and personally witnessed the appalling suffering experienced by Africans under the rule of their black rulers in the post colonial era.

        Starvation, genocide, torture, detention without trial and massive corruption followed the various independence movements. The infrastructure and economies built up during the colonial period have all been destroyed.

        And so it is with South Africa. It is already well down the same slippery slope of nepotism and theft by the ANC. One can only hope for better times in SA but based on the performance of all the other independent states, I’m not holding my breath.

        • What about the theft and damage to Africa from the greedy resource grabbing ; criminal hypocrites worldwide ?
          Their govt. is owned and dictated to by these criminal facets so it is not all about the African govt. alone destroying a nation.

          Andrew – I feel it is you who are naive a lot of the time.
          You keep coming back to TDB because, down deep inside, you know that you will not hear sanity and intelligence much of anywhere else in NZ. Resist it and shame us all you want.

          Ah the sweet sound of lies and empires being exposed and crumbling. Music to some folks ears.

        • “Last time I looked there was freedom of speech in our Bill of Rights.”

          Bigots always seek refuge in the Right to Free Speech when challenged on their prejuduce.

          The thing is, Andrew, that it’s not your Right to Free Speech that is being challenged – but what you’re saying with it.

          Your support of apartheid is noted for future reference. You are a bigot.

    • Oh, so now you’re a supporter of the apartheid regime, Andrew? So you’re a racist fascist and will support any oppression against people who aren’t your colour and ethnicity?

      You’re a sad indictment.

    • So you’re a supporter of apartheid, Andrew?? No wonder you’re also a fervent supporter of Zionist aggression against the Palestinian people. Stands to reason, as bigots spread their hate far and wide.

  2. Maybe we could start with closing our Facebook accounts. Not that we can avoid supporting all compromised Corporations…but seriously, who needs fb. There are so many forums for political discourse, Aunty Dot in Tokoroa can always contact you via email for pictures of the kids, and those life affirming gifs aren’t doing you any favours.

    “Shortly after news broke earlier this month of the agreement between the Israeli government and Facebook, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests to the social media giant over the previous four months asking it to remove content it deemed “incitement”. She said Facebook had granted 95 percent of the requests.”

    Of course this is the least of fb’s problems. The bottom line is ..we do not need fb..and the coming revolution doesn’t need it either !.

  3. To me it seems a but hypocritical to call for boycotts of Israel when we do not call for boycotts of big countries like the US and China (and several Arabic countries like our friend Saudi Arabia) that do things that are every bit as bad or worse and at a much larger scale. The US actually enables Israel in a very substantial way (militarily, economically) yet we never hear calls for boycotts of the US. There is a big double standard here in that it’s obviously more unacceptable for a small Jewish country than a big powerful country (or a small Arabic country) to behave in a certain manner, which suggests that those calling for these sorts of boycotts simply do not like Jews. And there is a name for that…..

    • Your argument would seem to exclude criticism of Israel. Some sort of exceptionalism.

      I have no qualms about a boycott of the USA for their support of Israel’s genocide
      Whether Jew, Christian, Muslim, or any other religious or political persuasion or matriarchal line.

    • Israel is a democracy, one of a very few in the Middle East. Israel doesn’t execute homosexuals, or subjugate women. Israel is a sovereign nation, whose right to existence, recognised by virtually every nation on the planet, is threatened by madmen living on and within its borders.

      • Groundhog, so that gives Israel the right to build illegal settlements and blockade another nation?

        Tell us, whose side would you have been on when Jews were confined to the Warsaw ghetto, and were hunted down and killed by their oppressors, if they dared resist?

        You’re another apologist for Zionist aggression, that much is clear.

        • Israel has approx 1.5 million Muslims living in its borders, many in the police, IDF and judiciary.

          The PA would like to make the West Bank a Jew free zone.

    • March Hare, so we should do nothing because no matter where we start, apologist for injustice like you will always point the finger elsewhere?

      I don’t see you coming up with any practical suggestions. Meanwhile, Israel continues to oppress the Palestinian people. You’re ok with that?

  4. There is a very creative and professional Israeli progressive dance group with an amazing director and choreographer and he states clearly that he and his group are not in any way supportive of his governments policies and horrors they have brought to the Palestinians.

    Not all ” culture ” in Israel supports their murderous and war mongering govt.

  5. To “March hare” , Israel is one of the most militarily powerful countries on the planet, a country that has shown no qualms about saturating Lebanon with cluster bombs, many still unexploded, drenching Gaza with white phosphorus, daily humiliating Palestinian men women and children, torturing, critically restricting the amount of water Palestinians are ‘allowed’, imprisoning thousands, murdering hundreds, shooting Gaza fishermen,..the abuse goes on and on, decade after decade after decade.
    Two points: many Jews are offended when Israel is called, as you did, a ‘Jewish’ state. It is a ‘Zionist’ state. Furthermore many supporters of the Palestinian call for justice and freedom, also oppose American militarism, American claims of ‘exceptionalism’ and as well oppose Saudi Arabian militarism, beheadings, financing & exporting violent fundamentalism. And many opponents of Zionism are Jews: Chomsky, Max Blumenthal, Miko Peled, Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levy, Jeff Halper, Medea Benjamin..and many many more.
    The oppression has gone on for far too long. A cultural boycott is certainly justified. Israel does use cultural groups as part of its hasbara (propaganda) campaign.

    • To ‘Lois’ — two points. First, there are multiple definitions of both ‘Zionist State’ and ‘Jewish State’ (look up these terms on Wikipedia); you appear to be cherry-picking particular definitions of these terms to reinforce your own opinion. Second, while we can all agree that the Israeli state does some pretty terrible things it is hardly alone in that regard — when folk like yourself start to call for cultural boycotts of other countries that also do really terrible things like the US and China then I might actually start paying some attention to calls for cultural boycotts of Israel.

      • March Hare, so because other countries do terrible things, we should do nothing?

        In effect, you’re advocating moral paralysis.

        Tell us, do you think the police should do the same against burglars? Should police ignore burglaries because other crime exists?

        How do you weigh up morality as if you’re some kind of accountant?

      • March Hare, Groundhog, Andrew, and other rodents have come out of their holes to support the Zionist aggressors.

        They have learned nothing from history.

    • Tom, give us a break!! Any country that demands subjugation of it’s neighbours to “protect” their own interests is not based on any moral precept.

      And if you’re going to invoke WW2, let me point out that the Nazis used their skewed moral “compass” as well to justify the slaughter of 6 million Jews,Gypsies, Communists, etc.

      So don’t be laying that Holocaust bullshit guilt trip on us because as justification for oppressing the Palestinians, it’s wearing mighty thin and won’t fucking wash with us.

    • Tom, do you endorse UN Resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw from all Occupied Territories, including the settlements on the West Bank?

      Do you accept international opinion that the Israeli settlements on the West Bank are illegal?

      If not, why not?

  6. Cultural boycotts will not make Israelis starve – but they might slowly erode the mental barrier walls that let them treat Palestinian as subhumans.

  7. Israel is historically the original Jewish territory. Generously, the state permits continued Muslim control of its two most sacred sites, Temple Mount and Tombs of the Patriarchs. Jews have only limited access. Previously, under Jordanian control, they were totally forbidden. Palestinians want total control, and Islamic states total annihilation of Jews and Israel. Israeli policies are a reaction to this, for their own survival. This is the historical, political and religious reality today. Peace could only come if Palestinians and Muslims recognise the right of Israel to exist. Jews are not warlike by nature or history, theirs is a peaceable religion.

    • John Allen, the issue is not ‘Jews’, it is the Israeli regime, followers of the Zionist ethnic doctrine which originated in Eastern Europe and is opposed by so many Jews. The early Zionists were atheists by the way. As for the holy sites, Temple Mount is constantly invaded by violent settlers accompanied by IDF and police. As for the Tombs of the Patriarchs, you are referring to Ibrahimi Mosque of Hebron , half of which was turned into a synagogue as a reward to the settlers for the 1994 massacre of Muslims at prayer. Hebron is like no other place on earth.
      The Israeli Jewish journalist Gordon Levy, has said “If you want to know what callousness is, if you want to know what racism is, if you want to know what evil is, if you want to know what injustice is and if you want to know what malice looks like, Hebron …is the best place on earth to find out.” Gideon Levy (in The Palestinians in Search of a Just peace by Cheryl Rubenberg )
      For more information see Christian Peacemakers

      Israel is not under any ‘existential threat’ but the Palestinians certainly are.

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