A group of Israeli museum directors have called on the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to condemn the October 7 Hamas attack.
The call was circulated in an open letter that was dated October 21 and signed by more than 20 museum leaders who oversee cultural institutions in Israel. Among the letter’s signatories are ICOM Israel’s leader, Raz Samira, as well as Israel Museum director Suzanne Landau, Tel Aviv Museum of Art director Tania Coen-Uzzielli, and Haifa Museums director Yotam Yakir.
The letter stated, “We demand that ICOM condemn [Hamas’s] acts of terror with the utmost fervor.” ICOM joined many in issuing statements after the killing of George Floyd in 2020, but like most museums across the globe, the organization has not publicly spoken about the Israel-Hamas conflict.
In the past week, amid pressure from artists and art professionals, some institutions have begun to speak out on violence in Gaza and Israel.
An ICOM representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ICOM letter comes a little more than two weeks after Hamas led an attack in which more than 1,400 Israelis were killed; more than 3,500 are believed to have been wounded, and more than 200 are thought to be held hostage by the militant group, which has since released a few of them. After the attack, Israel initiated a series of airstrikes on Gaza that have killed more than 3,000 people there, according to the Gazan health ministry.
Published under the title “Urgent: Appeal for a Strong Stance by ICOM on Recent Events in Israel,” the open letter was circulated by the Israeli division of ICOM, a nonprofit museum group affiliated with the humanitarian agency overseeing cultural heritage at UNESCO.
The letter calls on the museum group to take a public position on recent violence in Israel and Gaza, calling on ICOM’s leadership to recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization. The letter further states that the museum committee has valued the “unwavering” statements from international governments against Hamas.”
“To be clear: this is not another episode in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the museum directors write “Hamas and Islamic Jihad have shown themselves to be brutal and inhumane organizations, akin to the Taliban and the Islamic State. We also want to remind the ICOM community that Israel is a liberal democracy that protects freedom of expression, diversity, and the arts.”
The letter also stated that museum staffers in Israel are working to safeguard artifacts housed at the institutions overseen by the letter’s signatories. These employees, the letter notes, “face risk because of this effort.”