Toronto’s Koffler Centre of the Arts has finally responded to a petition that called on artists to boycott the institution, saying the gallery opposes censorship and will continue to show the work of underrepresented artists, including Palestinians.
Last month, a petition signed by hundreds of artists and arts organizations called for a boycott of the centre unless it divested from UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and “other explicitly Zionist organizations that undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom.”
The petition also demanded the gallery acknowledge “the ongoing harm caused by its complicity in Zionist artwashing.” The gallery must also state it will “no longer discriminate against artists with anti-Zionist politics.”
In a response posted to social media on June 22, the Koffler Centre said it has had “many conversations with artists, audiences and stakeholders in recent weeks.
“As a Jewish organization and multidisciplinary cultural platform, we strive to foster social justice, equality and cross-cultural dialogue through the arts,” its statement read. “We demonstrate this commitment through our curatorial choices, programming partnerships, employment equity and board recruitment strategies,” the statement continues.
“We can state unequivocally that the Koffler is committed to:
- Providing a platform for artists of all cultural backgrounds to explore complex issues openly and respectfully;
- Actively opposing censorship and welcoming diverse cultural, social and political perspectives in our programming;
- Continuing to present the artistic work of traditionally underrepresented artists, including Palestinian artists;
- Creating a welcoming, safe space for artists and audiences of all communities.
“Equity is a continuous, proactive process of listening, learning and changing. With this in mind, the Koffler’s board, gallery advisory committee and staff are engaging in a comprehensive strategic planning process to ensure our policies and practices fully align with our mission and equity goals.”
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)’s petition was signed by several hundred artists and 27 arts organizations, including mostly lesser-known Toronto-based art galleries and small magazines.
The arts centre is currently closed due to COVID regulations. Its board declined to comment by deadline.
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, which contributes funding for the centre’s Jewish programming, said the call for a boycott “exposes the moral bankruptcy of BDS (anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions) activists.”
In a statement, Linda Frum, chair of UJA Federation said, “this is a movement that now takes pride in boycotting a Canadian charity that funds meal deliveries for local Holocaust survivors and seniors, social services for women to escape domestic violence, and mental health supports for children in Israel, to name just three examples among many of UJA’s work to serve our community, Canadian society, and the Jewish people.”
In boycotting Toronto’s organized Jewish community, BDS activists “have once again demonstrated that anti-Zionism is simply anti-Semitism,” Frum said.