Open Letter to Jon Bon Jovi: Don’t Play Apartheid Israel

It is with great disappointment that the undersigned organizations learned of your scheduled performance in Israel set for 2011 as part of your “Circle Tour” [1].  Given that Israel is involved in grave violations of international law and human rights, particularly as indicated in the UN Goldstone Report, we urge you to cancel this gig until the time comes when Israel is in compliance with its obligations under international law and fully respects Palestinian rights.

We were particularly surprised by news of your planned performance given your deep involvement in affordable housing and homelessness issues [2]. As part of its ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people, Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes and entire villages, including the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib, which was destroyed seven times this year [3].  Indeed, the entire modern history of the Palestinian people is based on dispossession and homelessness as more than 750,000 people were made refugees to enable the creation of the state of Israel, then kept in permanent refugee status despite the requirements in international law that they be allowed to return to their homes.  In your commitment to effect change you have understood that your position as a respected and prominent musician can weigh on politics and contribute to advancing freedom, justice and human rights.  It is in this spirit that we address you.

Don’t be Complicit in Entertaining Apartheid

In 2004, inspired by the triumphant cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a call for boycott of institutions involved in Israel’s occupation and apartheid [4].  We wish, in our letter to you, to stress the importance of this Palestinian call, and underscore the rationale for the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The 2004 Palestinian call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel appealed to international artists to refuse to perform in Israel or participate in events that serve to equate the occupier and the occupied [5] and thus contribute to the continuation of injustice.  Following this, in 2005, an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing BDS campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality [6].  The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights standards as other nations. It is asking artists to heed the boycott call until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid.” [7]

Your performance in Israel would constitute a rejection of the appeal from over 170 civil society organizations that comprise the Palestinian BDS movement.  It would also seem like a rejection of your own sentiments, as expressed in your song in response to a newspaper report about “a young boy in the West Bank living smack in the middle of the conflict between Palestine and Israel” [8].

Your song, “Hook me up”, proclaimed that “everybody’s waiting for someday” [9]. What better moment is there than this one for you to answer the call coming from the Palestinian people?  Years after you wrote that song, they are telling you that they are hooked up, they have a voice, and they are asking to be heard.  Indeed, in light of your song, your performance in Israel would appear as tragicomedy!

Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession and racial discrimination

Perhaps you are not familiar enough with Israel’s practices, widely acknowledged as violations of international law. If this is the case, then we hope you will reconsider your planned concert after thinking through some of Israel’s trespasses.  Your performance would function as a whitewash of these practices, making it appear as though business with Israel should go on as usual.Concretely, Israel routinely violates Palestinians’ basic human rights in some of the following ways:

  1. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal and unlawful military occupation.  Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank.  All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans.
  1. Palestinian citizens of Israel face a growing system of Apartheid within Israel’s borders, with laws and policies that deny them the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy.  These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people’s daily lives. In many ways this system strikingly resembles Jim Crow and apartheid South Africa.
  1. Since 1948, when Israel dispossessed more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands.  Israel also continues to expel people from their homes in Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev).  Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees still struggling for their right to return to their homes, like all refugees around the world.
  1. In Gaza, Palestinians have been subjected to a criminal and immoral siege since 2006. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but alsomusical instruments from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison [10].

Could you possibly perform in such a state with a clear conscience?  In a country in which Palestinians living just minutes away in the West Bank and Gaza will not be able to attend?  Are we back to the Jim Crow South?

Israel uses arts and culture to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights.

In December 2008 and January 2009, Israel waged a war of aggression against Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians, predominantly civilians, dead [11], and led the UN Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes [12].  In the wake of this assault and to salvage its deteriorating image, Israel has redoubled its effort to “brand” itself as an enlightened liberal democracy [13]. Arts and culture play a unique role in this branding campaign [14], as the presence of internationally acclaimed artists from the West is meant to affirm Israel’s membership in the West’s privileged club of “cultured,” liberal democracies. But it should not be business as usual with a state that routinely violates international law and basic human rights.

Numerous distinguished cultural figures and public intellectuals have joined the call for BDS.

After the Gaza assault and even more so after the flotilla massacre in May 2010, many international artists, intellectuals, and cultural workers have been rejecting Israel’s cynical use of the arts to whitewash its Apartheid and colonial policies. Among those who have supported the BDS movement are distinguished artists, writers, and anti-racist activists such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu [15], John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Adrienne Rich, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, and Alice Walker [16].

World-renowned artists, among them Bono, Snoop Dogg, Jean Luc Godard, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart, Faithless and the Pixies have also cancelled their performances in Israel over its human rights record.  Maxi Jazz (Faithless front-man) had this to say as he maintained his principled position not to entertain apartheid,

While human beings are being willfully denied not just their rights but their needs for their children and grandparents and themselves, I feel deeply that I should not be sending even tacit signals that [performing in Israel] is either ‘normal’ or ‘ok’. It’s neither and I cannot support it. It grieves me that it has come to this and I pray everyday for human beings to begin caring for each other, firm in the wisdom that we are all we have. [17]

Please say no to performing in Israel.

If you remain unconvinced because of claims that a cultural boycott of Israel may infringe on freedom of expression and cultural exchange, may we recall for you the judicious words of Enuga S. Reddy, director of the United Nations Center against Apartheid, who in 1984 responded to a similar criticism voiced against the cultural boycott of South Africa by saying:

It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms… to the African majority… should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world. We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime. [18]

Today, Palestinian civil society groups are calling on artists to shun Tel Aviv in the same way that South African activists called on artists to boycott Sun City.  All we are asking is for you to act consistently in the spirit of your past social actions, and to refrain from crossing a picket line called by Palestinian society, endorsed by international organizations, and increasingly supported by progressive-Israelis [19].  Palestinian civil society is asking this of you as the most essential contribution to their struggle to achieve peace and justice.  We urge you to hear their call.


Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)


Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel


South African Artists Against Apartheid

Creative Workers Union of South Africa (Affiliate of the Congress Of South African Trade Unions)

European Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (EPACBI)

Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (Occupied Ramallah)


Yabous Productions (Jerusalem)


Popular Art Centre (Al-Bireh, Occupied Ramallah)


Oriental Music Ensemble (Occupied Ramallah)

Palestinian Students for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PSACBI)

BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within (Israeli BDS activists)

Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK)


The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC)


British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP)

US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)


Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine (AURDIP)


International Jewish anti-Zionist Network


British Writers in Support of Palestine (BWISP)

Artists Against Apartheid (International Alliance)


Americans AGAINST Apartheid UK

Leeds Palestine Solidarity Campaign


International Solidarity Movement-France (ISM-France)

Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods

Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) UK

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid




Educators for Peace and Justice (Toronto)

Tadamon! Montreal

Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right To Return Coalition


New York City Labor Against the War

Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (InCACBI)

BDS Group Berlin

Action Group at KTH for Boycott of Israel (Sweden)


Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (Toronto)


Australian Artists Against Israeli Apartheid (Australia)

Italian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (ICACBI)


Belgian delegation for the academic boycott of Israel


Berlin Academic Boycott (BAB)


Comissió Universitària Catalana per Palestina (CUNCAP)


*Original lyrics are “This one goes out to the ones in need” from Bon Jovi’s hit song We Weren’t Born to Follow on their album The Circle.  See: