Occupied Palestine, 8 March 2016 -- The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) calls on the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to reject funding from, and cooperation with, the Israeli government and its complicit institutions.
Israel’s repressive colonial policies spare no aspect of Palestinian life, including culture. Nowhere is this more evident than in occupied Jerusalem where Israel’s ongoing attacks on Palestinian cultural life are part and parcel of its efforts to ethnically cleanse native Palestinian Jerusalemites by making their lives unbearable.
Israel is now threatening to shut down the only Palestinian theatre in Jerusalem, Al Hakawati, a key pillar of Palestinian culture and art in the city. Palestinian cultural events, dance troupes, poets and other cultural performers are routinely targeted, repressed and harassed by Israel’s occupation authorities because they are rich expressions of Palestinian identity, steadfastness and calls for freedom.
In 2002, the Israeli army invaded and vandalized the Al Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Centre in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, while in 2011, Israeli commandos raided the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp, arresting several of its members.
While repressing Palestinian culture, Israel has unabashedly used culture to whitewash its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. In 2005, as a response to the nascent boycott movement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry launched the “Brand Israel” campaign that instrumentalizes culture and academia in the service of Israel’s propaganda agenda.
Soon after the campaign was launched, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, a deputy director general of the Israeli foreign ministry said, "We are seeing culture as a hasbara [propaganda] tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture."
In 2009, Arye Mekel of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs admitted, "We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits . . . This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
Brand Israel initiatives seek to distract from Israel’s systematic violations of UN resolutions and international law. Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people include: denying millions of Palestinian refugees their inherent and UN-stipulated right to return to their homes of origin; the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, the Naqab (Negev) and the Jordan Valley; building illegal colonies on occupied Palestinian land; and continuing the medieval siege of 1.8 million Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip.
Thousands of artists around the world, including many celebrities, are standing firm in their refusal to cooperate with Israel and its complicit institutions until it fulfils its obligations under international law. More than 1,100 artists in the UK have signed a pledge “to accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.”
Renowned Scottish author, the late Iain Banks, wrote that the best way to “convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation” is “simply by having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.” His words echo those of Enuga S. Reddy, director of the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, whose analysis of the South African regime in 1984 applies to Israel today:
It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms … to the African majority … should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world… [Artists] need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid…and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime.
Thanks to the dedication and persistence of Palestine solidarity networks in Scotland, Edinburgh has an unbroken record of preventing Scottish cultural events from being used to cover up Israel’s colonial and apartheid system (see below).
Most recently, protests at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe saw two state-funded Israeli troupes ejected from the Fringe, while two other Israeli troupes not connected to the Israeli State performed unimpeded, underlining the BDS movement’s institutional boycott guidelines that target complicity, not identity. No Israeli State-funded troupes came in 2015. Despite incessant hostile efforts to misrepresent the BDS protests as a form of “censorship” or as “anti-semitic,” the message that BDS targets Israel’s regime of oppression and its cultural ambassadors is getting through to Israeli artists.
We salute our Scottish allies and supporters, especially the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) and its role in spreading the cultural boycott of Israel in Scotland. We appeal to BDS supporters worldwide to rally behind this campaign and to call on the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe not to accept funding from or otherwise cooperate with the apartheid Israeli state and its complicit institutions.
In the words of BDS supporter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
More information on Israel’s continued, albeit failed, efforts to 'Brand Israel’ in Scotland:
In 2006, during the Israeli war of aggression on Lebanon, protests led to the return of Israeli Embassy sponsorship money by the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), in response to local grassroots mobilization and the threat of a call for an international boycott.
Similarly, in 2009, following the Israeli massacre in Gaza, the EIFF again returned Israeli Embassy sponsorship monies, with internationally renowned Film Director Ken Loach adding his voice to the “torrent of email protests.” Recently revealed emails sent by then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton underline how seriously Israel took that 2009 boycott success. Clinton had personally intervened to thwart the boycott by setting up a team in Washington to pressure the EIFF to reverse its decision. Their plan was to exert pressure through UK and Scottish Governments, and stimulate a popular backlash. The plan clearly failed.
Likewise, following protests against the Jerusalem Quartet and a high profile, unsuccessful legal attack on some of the protesters, those “Distinguished IDF musicians” have yet to return to Scotland. The Israeli Batsheva dance troupe, a key part of Israel’s cultural propaganda campaign, has also stayed away since protests in 2012 that followed the group into every one of their performances across the UK.
For more information, contact SPSC at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on 08-03-2016