action alert: protest amnesty international & leonard cohen

this is from an open letter from pacbi (palestinian academic & cultural boycott of israel) in response to amnesty international’s support of leonard cohen’s ignoring the boycott. below is an action alert where you can protest this as well as more analysis of this issue:

The following open letter was sent to Amnesty International USA by the The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) on 30 July 2009.

In May, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called on singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen to heed the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel and avoid complicity with Israel’s violations of international law by cancelling his planned September concert in Israel, particularly in view of Israel’s war crimes in Gaza earlier this year. Sadly, according to a 28 July article in the Jerusalem Post, Amnesty International USA has agreed to cooperate with Cohen in dealing with Israel on the basis of business as usual. Amnesty International USA will serve as sponsor of a new fund that will whitewash the money raised at Cohen’s concert in Israel by using it to finance programs for “peace.” Being one of the world’s strongest proponents of human rights and international law, you shall thus be subverting a non-violent, effective effort by Palestinian and international civil society to end Israel’s violations of international law and human rights principles. We call on you to be true to your values and immediately withdraw support for Leonard Cohen’s ill-conceived concert in Israel.

The Jerusalem Post report indicates that Cohen and his public relations staff, having been criticized for trying to normalize Israel’s occupation and apartheid, are trying to whitewash the concert in Israel by using Amnesty International USA’s good name. According to the article, “All of the net proceeds from Leonard Cohen’s 24 September concert at Ramat Gan Stadium will be earmarked for a newly established fund to benefit Israeli and Palestinian organizations that are working toward conciliation,” and the fund will be “sponsored by Amnesty.” Curt Goering, the senior deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA, told the Jerusalem Post that, “We saw this as an exciting opportunity with potential to recognize, support and pay tribute to the Israelis and Palestinians who have been working for peace and human rights amid a difficult environment and insurmountable odds. I see our participation as complementary to what we do, even though this initiative is different from Amnesty’s ongoing work.”

Why we are calling on Amnesty to withdraw from the project

By supporting Cohen’s concert in Israel, Amnesty International is actively undermining a particularly successful effort by Palestinian and international civil society to end Israel’s occupation and other violations of international law and human rights principles. We find this position by Amnesty particularly frustrating and puzzling given your call for an arms embargo against Israel following its atrocities in Gaza earlier this year, which your organization described as constituting war crimes.

Accepting funds from the proceeds of Cohen’s concert in Israel is the equivalent of Amnesty accepting funds from a concert in Sun City in apartheid South Africa. Profits earned through violations of human rights and international law are tainted and should not be accepted by any morally consistent human rights organization, particularly when this money is intended to be used to whitewash the very violations behind those profits.

Furthermore, your Israeli partners in this venture actively hinder efforts to achieve a just peace. The Peres Center for Peace, with its multi-million dollar annual budget and fifteen million dollar building, is listed incongruously by the Jerusalem Post as both a beneficiary of the fund and a member of the new fund’s board of trustees. The Peres Center has been denounced by leading Palestinian civil society organizations for promoting joint Palestinian-Israeli projects that are “neither effective in bringing about reconciliation, nor desirable” and that enhance “Israeli institutional reputation and legitimacy, without restoring justice to Palestinians, in the face of continued Israeli Government violations of international law and fundamental Palestinian human rights, including breaches of the Geneva Conventions.” A columnist in Israel’s daily newspaper Haaretz called the Peres Center patronizing and colonial, explaining that “Efforts are being made to train the Palestinian population to accept its inferiority and prepare it to survive under the arbitrary constraints imposed by Israel, to guarantee the ethnic superiority of the Jews.”

Your other indirect partner in this project, according to the Jerusalem Post, is Israel Discount Bank, a key sponsor of the Cohen concert. Who Profits, a project of Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace, reports that the Israel Discount Bank has branches in the settlements of Beitar Illit and Maale Adumim, has financed construction in the settlements of Har Homa, Beitar llit and Maale Adumim, and is a major shareholder in a factory in a settlement. Amnesty hardly needs any reminder that all Israeli colonial settlements built on occupied Palestinian territory are not only illegal under international law but are considered war crimes in the Fourth Geneva Convention. Your intention to indirectly partner with a bank that profits from the occupation and to oversee a fund that uses some of that legally and morally stained money contradicts Amnesty’s founding principles and commitment to human rights.

The latest attempt by the Cohen team to find an alternative Palestinian fig leaf has also failed. The only Palestinian organization falsely reported in the Jerusalem Post article as being a partner in this project, the Palestinian Happy Child Center, has confirmed that it is not taking part. There is no Palestinian organization participating in this whitewash.

Background on the boycott

With the international community failing to take action to stop Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, and inspired by the international boycott movement that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa, Palestinian civil society has launched calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, including an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Endorsed by nearly sixty Palestinian cultural and civil society organizations and inspired by the South African anti-apartheid boycotts, PACBI calls on “the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.” These Palestinian calls have inspired a growing international boycott movement which gained added momentum following Israel’s assault on Gaza last winter.

In April, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) and over 100 Israelis called on Leonard Cohen to cancel his planned September concert in Israel. Protests against Cohen’s plans to play in Israel were then held at Cohen’s concerts in New York, Boston, Ottawa and Belfast, among other cities. Feeling the rising heat of the protests, Cohen tried to schedule a small concert in Ramallah to “balance” his concert in Israel. However, Palestinians rejected the Ramallah concert. The Palestinian group that was supposed to host the Ramallah event cancelled its invitation to Cohen after realizing the adverse effects this would have on the boycott movement, which is widely supported by Palestinians. Reflecting the general mood in Palestinian society against any claimed symmetry between the occupying power and the people under occupation, a 12 July PACBI statement explained, “Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel’s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel. PACBI has always rejected any attempt to ‘balance’ concerts or other artistic events in Israel — conscious acts of complicity in Israel’s violation of international law and human rights — with token events in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

For all the above reasons, we strongly urge you to distance Amnesty International from this discredited project and its tainted money.

Signed:

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), Adalah-NY: The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, American Jews for a Just Peace (US), Boycott from Within (Israel), British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Jews Against the Occupation-NYC, New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel (NYCBI), Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK), US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.

now TAKE ACTION:

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and groups around the world have been calling for months for musician Leonard Cohen to cancel his planned September concert in Israel. With the international community failing to take action to stop Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, and inspired by the international boycott movement that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa, Palestinian civil society has launched calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, including an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Ninety-three artists, writers and other cultural workers have signed onto the Palestinian cultural boycott call. Many dignitaries signed the “No Reason to Celebrate” pledge and refused to participate in any artistic or literary event during Israel’s year-long 60th anniversary celebrations.

Feeling the heat of the protests, Cohen and his PR staff tried to schedule a small concert in Ramallah to “balance” his concert in Israel. However, Palestinians rejected the Ramallah concert and any claimed symmetry between the occupying power and the people under occupation.

Now Cohen and his PR staff are trying to whitewash the concert in Israel by using Amnesty International USA’s good name. According to a July 28th article in the Jerusalem Post, Amnesty International USA will serve as sponsor of a new fund. The fund will launder the money raised at Cohen’s concert in Israel by using it to finance programs for “peace.”

In response, sixteen groups and coalitions issued a July 30th Open Letter to Amnesty International calling on Amnesty to be true to its values and immediately withdraw support for Leonard Cohen’s ill-conceived concert in Israel. The groups noted that by supporting Cohen’s concert, Amnesty International is undermining a successful effort by Palestinian and international civil society to end Israel’s occupation and other violations of international law and human rights principles. Amnesty International also is partnering in the initiative with Israeli institutions that undermine peace, including a bank directly involved in supporting Israeli settlement construction. The only alleged Palestinian partner has announced it is not taking part.

TAKE ACTION

Please email Amnesty International, calling on Amnesty to withdraw from support for Cohen’s concert. Amnesty International is recognized by many as defending human rights worldwide, so please be respectful and courteous in your message.

You can write and email your own letter, or use the sample letter below and email it, or send an editable form letter from here. For reference, here is the full Open Letter to Amnesty International.

If you send your own email, please email your letter to:

lcox[at]aiusa.org, cgoering[at]aiusa.org, ZJanmohamed[at]aiusa.org, ikhan[at]amnesty.org, msmart[at]amnesty.org, ccordone[at]amnesty.org, drovera[at]amnesty.org

-Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA
-Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA
-Zahir Janmohamed, Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA
-Irene Khan, Amnesty International Secretary General
-Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International (UK) Senior Director
-Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International (UK) Middle East Director, Research and Regional Programs
-Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International (UK) Researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories)

If you email your own letter, please cc it to: noamnesty4israeliapartheidat]gmail.com so that we can keep track of the responses.

SAMPLE LETTER TO AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Dear Amnesty International,

I hold Amnesty International’s worldwide work for human rights and international law in high esteem. For this reason, I was very troubled to learn that Amnesty International has agreed to manage a fund that will disburse the proceeds from Leonard Cohen’s planned concert in Israel in September. I call on Amnesty International to be true to your values, distance yourself from efforts to normalize Israel’s occupation and apartheid, and immediately withdraw support for Leonard Cohen’s ill-conceived concert in Israel.

By supporting Cohen’s concert, Amnesty International will be subverting the worldwide movement to boycott Israel, a non-violent, effective effort by Palestinian and international civil society to end Israel’s violations of international law and human rights principles. Accepting funds from the proceeds of Cohen’s concert in Israel is the equivalent of Amnesty accepting tainted funds from a concert in Sun City in apartheid South Africa.

Ninety-three artists, writers and other cultural workers have signed onto the Palestinian cultural boycott call. Many dignitaries signed the “No Reason to Celebrate” pledge and refused to participate in any artistic or literary event during Israel’s year-long 60th anniversary celebrations.

In his protest resignation from Amnesty International over this issue, Irish author and composer, Raymond Deane, wrote: “By assisting Cohen in his ruse to bypass this boycott, Amnesty International is in fact taking a political stance, in violation of the premise of political neutrality with which it so regularly justifies its failure to side unambiguously with the oppressed. Amnesty is telling us: resistance is futile, the voice of the oppressed is irrelevant, international humanitarian law is a luxury.”

Furthermore, the Israeli partners in the concert, the Peres Center for Peace and Israel Discount Bank, actively hinder efforts to achieve a just peace. A columnist in Israel’s Ha’aretz Daily called the Peres Center for Peace patronizing and colonial organization that is in the business of training “the Palestinian population to accept its inferiority and prepare it to survive under the arbitrary constraints imposed by Israel.” According to research by Who Profits, a project of Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace, Israel Discount Bank is deeply involved in supporting Israel’s settlement enterprise. Israeli settlements violate the very tenets of international law that Amnesty International works to uphold.

Finally, the only Palestinian organization falsely reported in the July 28th Jerusalem Post article as being a partner in this project, the Palestinian Happy Child Center, has confirmed that it is not taking part. There is no Palestinian organization participating in this whitewash.

Thank you for your attention to this vital human rights issue. I look forward to learning of Amnesty International’s withdrawal of its support for the Leonard Cohen concert in Israel.

Sincerely,
Your name

here is some more background information on leonard cohen from pulse media:

Artist, writer and activist, and friend of PULSE, Tali Shapiro on Leonard Cohen and Amnesty International.

I always talk about Israeli pacifists and their inability to see the barriers they place on the Palestinian road to justice, dignity, and human rights. Today I’d like to talk about a much more appalling occurrence; Amnesty International supporting Leonard Cohen’s breach of the boycott of Israel.

The Leonard Cohen Myth

Personally, it’s hard for me to understand the disillusionment of pro-Palestinian Leonard Cohen fans. In the history of his involvement with Israel, Cohen has always sided with Israel, or made statements of officially taking no sides, when his side was rather obvious:

I don’t want to speak of wars or sides … Personal process is one thing, it’s blood, it’s the identification one feels with their roots and their origins. The militarism I practice as a person and a writer is another thing. … I don’t wish to speak about war.

In case I’m misconstruing my information, I’ll repeat the quote I’ve embedded on my front page and have, personally, had no choice but to live by:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmund Tutu)

In Cohen’s most recent history, he is consistent. He refuses to take a side, thus siding with the oppressor. Cohen has received a letter from many organizations (originated with PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel), asking him not to preform in Israel. As response, typically trying to balance out a situation in which balance is not there to be found, Cohen decided to preform for the Palestinian Prisoners‘ Club Society. The Society declined to entertain Cohen’s notions of equality:

We are now pleased to announce that we have received confirmation from the Palestinian Prisoners‘ Club Society that they will not be hosting Leonard Cohen in Ramallah. A strong consensus has emerged among all parties concerned that Cohen is not welcome in Ramallah as long as he insists on performing in Tel Aviv, even though it had been claimed that Cohen would dedicate his concert in Palestine to the cause of Palestinian prisoners. Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel‘s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel.

The Problem with the International Centrist

As if all this wasn’t enough, Cohen was dead-set on clearing his conscious:

All of the net proceeds from Leonard Cohen’s September 24 concert at Ramat Gan Stadium will be earmarked for a newly established fund to benefit Israeli and Palestinian organizations that are working toward conciliation…

The above quote is taken from non-other than the very-Zionist Jerusalem Post. Here’s another quote from the same article:

Attempting to maneuver through the barbed wire of both Israeli and US tax laws to enable the organizations to benefit from the concert, Kory realized that an intermediary neutral vehicle would be required to facilitate the financial funneling. He approached Amnesty International for advice, and the concept of a special fund was raised.

In other words, trooper Cohen maneuvered through the barbed wire with the assistance of the Amnesty International brigade. How poetic. How utterly embarrassing for Amnesty International to be portrayed favorably by the Jerusalem Post.

I understand big groups like Amnesty International have to be diplomatic and must exercise impartiality, and quite frankly I respect the ability to do so. However, being diplomatic doesn’t mean endorsing pseudo-diplomatic initiatives, especially when they are completely avoidable, as in the case of Leonard Cohen.

To refrain from repeating myself, here’s my own attempt at diplomacy, that I sent to Amnesty International (at the event of a response, I will update):

Hello Amnesty International,

I’m a big supporter of Amnesty International and a regular donation contributor. As an Israeli citizen- who opposes the occupation and violence wreaked by my government, army and countrymen on the Palestinian people, and supports the international movement to boycott Israel- I am appalled that Amnesty USA might break the boycott efforts. The international community has set the terms for the Palestinian struggle and rightfully made it clear that no violence will be tolerated. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has done a wonderful job in stating the terms of the BDS campaign- I don’t have to tell you what a huge commitment to a long-term strategy of non-violence that is. Terms which seem very fair and have been accepted around the world as the guidelines for this world-wide initiative.

When Leonard Cohen decided to come to Israel, PACBI made themselves clear, once again, that it is unacceptable, under the guidelines of a cultural boycott. As I’m sure you know, Cohen tried to appease PACBI by scheduling a show in Ramallah, which PACBI rejected. There is no need to be balanced in a situation that balance doesn’t occur. Had Cohen canceled in Israel he would have been making a meaningful statement and propelled the boycott movement by sheer power of his fame. Performing in both Israel and the Occupied Territories is a wishy-washy peace-faking statement, the kind that Israeli “peace” groups have been making, in order to stroke their own sensibilities, meanwhile marginalizing the other organizations (Palestinian, Israeli and International), who believe in the importance of keeping one’s stand, when it comes to the BDS initiative. “Peace” is a word that has lost all meaning in Israel, we demand human rights instead.

To find that Amnesty International might support this damaging endeavor is shocking, for me, but I take it you decided upon it with the best of intentions. Since I don’t expect you to understand the inner workings of the Israeli Center-Left and its psychological motives, I urge you to consider simple facts: Leonard Cohen preforming in Israel breaches the cultural boycott and normalizes the occupation. This is not something that should be supported by Amnesty International. It is morally wrong and diplomatically wrong. The boycott movement must stick to a standard of “no business as usual”, in order to be effective. I urge you to reconsider.

Awaiting your reply,
Tali Shapiro

What’s Wrong with Balance?

If some of you are wondering how donating the proceeds of the concert to both Israeli and Palestinian organizations is a “damaging endeavor”, here’s PACBI’s words:

PACBI has always rejected any attempt to “balance” concerts or other artistic events in Israel–conscious acts of complicity in Israel‘s violation of international law and human rights–with token events in the occupied Palestinian territory. Such attempts at “parity” not only immorally equate the oppressor with the oppressed, taking a neutral position on the oppression (thereby siding with the oppressor, as Desmond Tutu famously said); they also are an insult to the Palestinian people, as they assume that we are naive enough to accept such token shows of “solidarity” that are solely intended to cover up grave acts of collusion in whitewashing Israel‘s crimes. Those sincerely interested in defending Palestinian rights and taking a moral and courageous stance against the Israeli occupation and apartheid should not play Israel, period. That is the minimum form of solidarity Palestinian civil society has called for.

And some wonderful words from Irish composer and novelist Raymond Deane:

What could any reasonable person have against “programs for peace”?… By assisting Cohen in his ruse to bypass this boycott, Amnesty International is in fact taking a political stance, in violation of the premise of political neutrality with which it so regularly justifies its failure to side unambiguously with the oppressed. Amnesty is telling us: resistance is futile, the voice of the oppressed is irrelevant, international humanitarian law is a luxury.

In my words: I’ve long covered the problematic programs and people that dare call themselves “peacemakers”. I’m thought of as the extreme of the extreme, in Israel, but if asking for unconditional human rights is extreme, then I am a proud extremists. Many on the self-proclaimed Left are easy to spot, their key phrase is:

They deserve human rights/freedom/their own country, but…

This “but” is a fearful one, rooted in a deeply ingrained and denied racism. The people who say this are well aware of Israel’s crimes- past and present, and yet still afraid of what may happen, once we let the “two legged beasts” out of their cage, whether they call Palestinians that, or not. In my journey of discovering the truth behind Israel, I’ve realized some things are not negotiable. That is human rights and as a result, this boycott.

Learning from the Cohen/Amnesty Debacle

As the Zionist propaganda machine goes into overdrive, we may find new claims, resulting in the Cohen/Amnesty debacle. For now, Israelis are generally unaware of the international boycott against their state, already underway. Last time I observed any mention of this in the mainstream media was during Cast Lead, when Channel 10 aired the typically condescending and ignorant Before you boycott Israel! video. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this article in their archives.) Nothing more responsible than your main stream media instilling blind confidence in you, when an international boycott of your country is rapidly developing.

I can’t predict the creativity of the Zionist mind, but I’m expecting that when the boycott is finally made clear to Israelis, the first rebuttals will be that nothing is enough for those “demanding” Palestinians, and even when the “reasonable” and “unbiassed” offer to give a little to both sides is made, they still “demand the whole arm”. These kinds of underhanded remarks are exactly why I decided to document the Cohen/Amnesty incident.

There should be no questions as to what the boycott’s goals or guidelines are. Some areas are unclear to many, and these cases should be studied. But to those who are unclear, I direct you again to PACBI, who are the Palestinian voice on the issue of the boycott, and have articulated their terms thoroughly. When in doubt, contrast and compare your specific case to their statements. Implementing a boycott on Israel isn’t as hard as Zionist propaganda would like you to think. The best way to deal with the occupation army is to arm yourself with knowledge.

and one more letter/analysis from pulse media:

Renowned Irish composer and novelist Raymond Deane on the reasons why he has chosen to resign from Amnesty International. We encourage readers to follow Deane’s example.

When I first – and belatedly – began fretting about human rights and political injustice in the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf War, I joined Amnesty International and started writing letters and cards to political prisoners and to a variety of Embassies.

Although I was subsequently drawn deeply into activism of a more explicitly political nature – particularly on the Israel/Palestine issue – I retained my Amnesty membership out of residual respect for the organisation, but also because I wished to be in a position to say “as an Amnesty member myself, I completely disagree with the organisation’s stance on…” (fill in the dots as appropriate).

On 30th July I read the “Open Letter to Amnesty International” from 10 admirable organisations involved in seeking justice for the Palestinian people, ranging from PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) through the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign to the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. This letter was prompted by Amnesty’s decision to sponsor “a new fund that will whitewash the money raised at [Leonard] Cohen’s concert in Israel by using it to finance programs for ‘peace.’”

What could any reasonable person have against “programs for peace”? Well, one answer is that these include the Peres Center for Peace, described by the Israeli paper Ha’aretz as a “patronizing and colonial” organization that trains “the Palestinian population to accept its inferiority and… to guarantee the ethnic superiority of the Jews”, and the Israel Discount Bank, which has branches in three illegal Jewish settlements and hence functions in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Another answer is even simpler: Leonard Cohen should heed the call from the oppressed Palestinian people not to perform in Israel until that state dismantles its apartheid structures and complies with international law and international humanitarian law, ends the occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territories, and concedes the inalienable Palestinian right of return. By assisting Cohen in his ruse to bypass this boycott, Amnesty International is in fact taking a political stance, in violation of the premise of political neutrality with which it so regularly justifies its failure to side unambiguously with the oppressed. Amnesty is telling us: resistance is futile, the voice of the oppressed is irrelevant, international humanitarian law is a luxury.

I was one of the organizers of the protests held outside Leonard Cohen’s four recent Dublin concerts (19th, 20th, 22nd, 23d July) in which we called upon the singer not to perform in Tel Aviv, using the text of his 1960s classic “Please don’t pass me by” to deliver a demand for solidarity and engagement with the Palestinian people and against their oppressor, the Zionist Israeli state.

I used to be a Cohen fan. Should Cohen continue with his plan to perform in Israel on 24th September next, I shall consign my Cohen albums to the charity shop, although I’ll do so with considerable grief and disillusionment. It is with similar feelings that today I have sent the following message to the Irish branch of Amnesty International:

To whom it conferns: I am terminating my membership of Amnesty. The last straw has been Amnesty’s decision to support a cynical scheme dreamt up by Leonard Cohen’s PR department to whitewash the fact that he is ignoring the call from Palestinian civil society to respect the cultural boycott of Israel. While I respect Amnesty’s policy of not supporting particular political positions and not itself participating in boycott campaigns, on this occasion it is actively supporting actions that undermine a boycott campaign supported by the Palestinians themselves, and doing so by lending support to Israeli organisations the raison d’etre of which is to seek “conciliation” without an end to oppression.

Sincerely – Raymond Deane.

now it is your turn!

One thought on “action alert: protest amnesty international & leonard cohen

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