On February 3, Artists Against Apartheid Australia (AAPA) sent an email to the organisers of WOMADelaide 2013 with a request to reject funds it received from the Israeli embassy for the upcoming show of the Alaev Family.
The call is part of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, initiated by a wide range of Palestinian groups.
It targets Israel in a bid to force it to abandon its apartheid policies against Palestinians.
The organisers of the festival of world music, arts and dance, held in Adelaide from March 8-11, did not respond. You can send a letter registering opposition to the decision to: email@example.com
AAPA 's letter is printed at the bottom.
Green Left Weekly asked AAPA some questions about their campaign. The group's answers are below.
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What was the aim of the campaign by artists against apartheid and what did you hope to achieve with it?
The campaign dos not target individual artists. The campaign is targeted at the institutional link between the Israeli Apartheid regime through it embassy in Canberra and the WOMAD festival. We call on the WOMAD festival, which has a proud history of presenting artist renowned for their stand against racism and colonialism to simply reject the funds from the Israeli embassy and respect the Palestinian boycott call.
In 2009 the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) organizers returned money donated by the Israeli embassy under pressure from artists and supporters of the BDS campaign.
The focus of the Palestinian BDS campaign is on the Israeli state, Israeli institutions and companies which profit from or attempt to whitewash Israel's occupation and apartheid practices.
The cultural boycott is an important part of the campaign for boycott divestment and sanctions until the State of Israel meets it obligations to the Palestinian people and complies with international law.
Is it only the funding by the Israeli embassy you object to, or do you feel the Alaev family should be boycotted regardless?
WOMAD festival can book whoever it wants. Artist Against Apartheid calls on the festival to respect the guidelines of the Palestinian Academic and Cultural boycott and not take money from the Israeli government.
Numerous Israeli government officials are on record stating that government sponsorship of the arts is "cultural and information diplomacy” and a key part of the propaganda program it uses to mask it colonial nature and it apartheid crimes.
Why is a cultural boycott so important? What has artists against apartheid managed to achieve?
As in the past during the campaign against apartheid South Africa the cultural boycott campaigns are a key aspect of the BDS movement. Cultural boycott are an important tool for raising awareness of the true nature of the Israeli apartheid system and provide an avenue for people all around the world to act in solidarity with the people of Palestine.
The campaign so far has resulted in many prominent artists cancelling their performances in Israel. Recently Stanley Jordan the headline act of the Red Sea Jazz festival cancelled his performance.
In Australia we are a new group that has sponsored a number of music events around the country as well as unsuccessfully called on two Australian acts to respect the boycott and not perform in Israel.
The director of the WOMAD festival was quoted in The Australian, a newspaper that has stridently campaigned against Australian supporters of the BDS, as slamming the comparison with the boycott of South Africa under apartheid. What is your response to this?
It is no coincidence that the people of South Africa are the strongest supporters of the Palestinian anti-apartheid movement. Prominent South African anti-apartheid figures have described the Israeli system as worse than the apartheid regime in white South Africa. People can choose between the Director of the WOMAD festival in Adelaide or Desmond Tutu as the better judge of the Israeli apartheid system.
The Director of WOMAD festival should spend a few days in shoes of the Palestinians who have to live in bantus surrounded by the apartheid wall, where families and spouses are separated by pass laws, whose houses are demolished, whose land and water is stolen, who live in a land of segregated roads and buses, who are detained without charges, who endure years of siege and violence, who have to travel through the humiliating checkpoints, or who have been waiting in refugee camps for over 60 years to exercise their legal right to return to their homes.
The article also quote Liberal MP Christopher Pyne as saying those artists against apartheid were opening themselves up "accusations of anti-Semitism". How do you respond?
Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti told The Guardian in a video recently posted by blogger Andrew Sullivan: “The accusation that BDS is anti-Semitic somehow is not just totally, categorically false–it itself is an anti-Semitic statement.
“Because it assumes any attack on Israel is an attack against world Jewry, and this equates Jewish communities in the world with Israel, making them all monolithic, as if they all have one mind, one ideology, and that’s a very anti-Semitic and dangerous statement to make …
"We are completely opposed to all forms of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism–any form of racism, because we believe that all humans deserve equal rights.”
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Letter to WOMADelaide
We, Artists Against Apartheid Australia, members of an international movement of artists, noticed with disappointment that WOMAdelaide, which we respect greatly as one of the world’s most exciting world music festivals, has received sponsorship from the Israeli embassy in Australia to support the performance of the Alaev Family. We believe that this support should be rejected.
Many of us have visited Palestine and have seen firsthand the way Palestinians in the West Bank are treated by Israeli authorities. Israel restricts Palestinian freedom of movement and of speech; and imprisons without charge or trial Palestinian human rights defenders.
Israeli authorities, on a daily basis, inflict humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank. All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into bantustans.
In Gaza, Palestinians are subject to a brutal siege and Israeli military assaults. As part of Israel’s siege, various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate are prevented from entering Gaza, but also musical instruments.
The treatment of Palestinians by Israel has been likened to the former apartheid regime in South Africa by respected former activists who were involved in the South African anti-apartheid movement (including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela).
The policy of using culture to whitewash Israeli violations of international law was openly confirmed by the Israeli government with the launch of a global “Brand Israel” campaign.
According to an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson, the objective of this rebranding campaign, which “could include organising film festivals,” is to convey the message that “a better image for Israel and a better performance of that image is part and parcel [of] Israel’s national security”.
“Contrary to popular belief, national security is not just based on military power, it’s also a strong economy and a strong image.”
This language reveals — as did similar endeavours by the South African apartheid regime — a cynical and systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion. It aims to obfuscate the real nature of Israel’s military occupation and apartheid and to divert attention from its ongoing war crimes by portraying it as a vibrant, cultural and artistic hub.
We have noted that many of the performers who are a part of the program have a history of taking a stand against racism and apartheid and we eagerly await your response before we contact these artists to let them know your festival has received sponsorship from the Israeli embassy.
We particularly note the presence on the bill of a number of South African performers whose country’s history is blighted by the stain of apartheid and whose country is now a leading supporter of the Palestinian struggle against apartheid Israel.
Increasingly, performers around the world are heading the boycott and refusing to perform in Israel. Many have cancelled their shows after requests from their fans. The boycott has been supported by many prominent artists from the film director Ken Loach to former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters and the author Alice Walker.
Many more musicians such as Carlos Santana and Elvis Costello have also cancelled and in recent years; Coldplay, U2 and Bruce Springsteen have declined invitations to play in Israel without supporting the boycott publicly. Just recently Stanley Jordan, the headline performer at the Red Sea Jazz Festival, cancelled his performance in Israel. Several other renowned performers due to perform at this festival also cancelled their shows. A full round up of the growing International Boycott in 2012 can be found at here.
The BDS campaign against the state of Israel is a growing world movement in support of the Palestinian people and the cultural and academic boycott is a very important part of this campaign.
The boycott call was issued on July 9, 2005 by more than 171 Palestinian civil-society organisations, who called on the international community to implement the BDS campaign against Israel. Inspired by the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the Palestinian-initiated BDS campaign is conducted in a similar framework of international solidarity and resistance to injustice and oppression. It calls for popular resistance through the BDS campaign until Israel complies with international law and meets its obligations towards the Palestinian people.
We therefore respectfully ask you to reject all support for WOMAdelaide from the apartheid state of Israel.