A local art exhibition that was to be an exercise in progressing beyond the rhetoric of Israeli/Palestinian politics instead has become a fatality in the cultural war against Israel driven by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).“Sites of Passage: Borders, Walls & Citizenship,” scheduled to run at the Mattress Factory museum on Pittsburgh’s North Side from June 1 to July 27 — with a corresponding exhibit scheduled to run at Filmmakers Galleries in Oakland from June 6 to Aug. 1 — was the culmination of a joint multimedia project begun a year ago and featuring the work of three Israeli, three Palestinian and three American artists.
The trouble began when a website promoting the exhibit used terms such as “collaboration” and “dialogue” to describe the exhibit, drawing the wrath of anti-normalization Palestinians. The Israeli group then withdrew from the event to protect the Palestinians, who then also withdrew, forcing the event to be cancelled.
Tavia La Follette, who curated the exhibit, praised the Israeli artists for trying to defend their Palestinian counterparts, who were being threatened online:
After the Palestinian artists were accused on Facebook of normalizing relations with Israel, all three Israeli artists — Emmanuel Witzthum, Dror Yaron and Itamar Jobani — withdrew from the exhibition to allow the Palestinians to remain in the show, said La Follette, adding that what was supposed to be a celebratory party at her home last weekend, “turned into Camp David.”“The Palestinian artists said, ‘We can’t be in this show,’ so the Israelis withdrew,” she explained. “The whole idea behind the project was to move it beyond political rhetoric. But we need to protect the Palestinian artists. It shows the integrity of the Israeli artists that they pulled out of the show.”
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the branch of the BDS movement that pushes the cultural element of BDS, explicitly opposes cultural events that bring Israelis and Palestinians together as equals :
Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or “reconciliation between the two sides” without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice. All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless the Israeli side is explicitly supportive of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and unless the project/event is framed within the explicit context of joint opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott.
The turn of events around the art exhibit demonstrates yet again how the BDS movement turns back progress that could build trust and understanding. If artists can find enough common ground to create the work that would have appeared at the exhibit, then others can tread the same common ground in other areas of life."