Artists Boycott Finnish Art Museum Over Board Member’s Ties to Israel's Arms Industry
06:37 GMT 09.12.2022 (Updated: 17:27 GMT 15.01.2023)
Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, who is sometimes referred to as “Finland’s richest man,” inherited a family fortune built on arms deals with Israel and is an active pro-Israel advocate, donor and lobbyist. The artists, however, accused him of financially supporting Israel’s “apartheid policy” against Palestinians.
Nearly 130 Finnish artists have suspended their relations with Kiasma, a branch of the Finland National Gallery, after the contemporary art museum refused to remove an Israeli-Finnish billionaire with ties to the arms industry from its board.
The artists explained that the boycott was in protest of the museum’s relationship with Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, who is sometimes referred to as “Finland’s richest man” and whose family has partnered with Israeli and Finnish arms industries. The justification, according to their letter, is that Zabludowicz “finances organizations that support the apartheid policy that Israel directs against Palestine and Palestinians.”
The Zabludowiczs are a well-known entrepreneurial family. Poju Zabludowicz's father Shlomo survived Auschwitz and came to Finland via Sweden. He then built his wealth on arms deals with Israel.
Zabludowicz now resides in the UK and oversees Tamares, the family’s holding company which invests in real estate and has ties to properties in Palestine. Furthermore, he is an active pro-Israel advocate and the founder of the lobbying group Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, and has donated to Conservative Friends of Israel.
“As art workers, we expect the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art to refuse financial or other support from private parties involved in arms trading or manufacturing and financial investments in conflict zones,” the artists’ statement said.
The artists furthermore cited an investigation by Amnesty International earlier this year that concluded Israel meets the criteria of an apartheid system. They argued that Kiasma cannot turn a blind eye to Zabludowicz's connections to Israel and argued that he must resign as a board member. Otherwise, they believe, Kiasma loses its credibility.
2 December 2021, 08:07 GMT
Kiasma said in a statement that “as an organization operating under the Finnish state, the National Gallery and its museums cannot participate in boycotts directed at individual citizens.”
Poju Zabludowicz responded by calling it “a personal attack based on incorrect information” in Finnish media. He stressed that he supports a two-state solution which “guarantees the right of Palestinians and Israelis to live and work in peace side by side.” He furthermore argued that a boycott damages the prospects for peace and makes dialogue more difficult.
The Finnish artists' action is part of an international campaign running for several years. Last year, 25 artists disaffiliated themselves from Zabludowicz Art Trust in a push called BDZ, which stands for Boycott/Divest Zabludowicz and is a variation on the Palestinian-led advocacy group BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions), which promotes financial and cultural divestments from Israel.