Boycott on cultural events in Israel

For everyone who knows how much effort goes into organizing a festival, the pledge of PACBI to boycott the 26th Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat must be surreal. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel believes that this festival is designed to whitewash the crimes of Israeli apartheid.  How do fans and artists respond to this request?

by Charlie Crooijmans

Last week the news came out  that the Indian master of tabla Zakir Hussain did make the decision not to perform in Israel. He cancelled the planned performances after reading a letter from INCACBI (The Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) signed by 90 Indian artists (INCACBI). Here you can read what is in the letter and how other artists look at the matter.

Dear Zakir Hussain,

We, a group of artists, academics and activists in India, came together in June 2010 to campaign against yet another apartheid regime by extending support to the international campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel (see We understand that you are scheduled to perform in Israel in July this year. We appeal to you, as an artist of conscience, to cancel your scheduled performance in Israel.

Doing otherwise would inadvertently lend a stamp of approval to Israeli policies of colonialism, apartheid and occupation. Should Israel be admitted into the global cultural arena when it does not respect international law and recognize the Palestinian people s right to freedom, equality and justice? At a time when the international movement to isolate Israel is gaining ground in response to the escalation of Israel’s colonial and racist policies, we urge you to reflect upon the ethical implications of your accepting an invitation to perform in Israel. Your performance in Israel would help whitewash Israel’s practices, making it appear as though business with Israel should go on as usual.

We are aware that in February 2012, the Palestinian Al Mada Association for Arts Based Community Development, in partnership with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and UNICEF, hosted you together with the group Remember Shakti in Ramallah. You played free of charge in the knowledge that the event was a solidarity concert and a fundraising event to develop music therapy programs for Palestinian refugee children.  In addition to your music, this is what we admire you for.  So please don’t let your wonderful music be used to legitimize home demolitions, illegal raids, the use of white phosphorous, political and child imprisonments, racist marriage bans, piracy and execution in international waters, collective punishment, Occupation, checkpoints, roadblocks, and the bombing and closing of educational institutions. If you cancel your performance in Israel, you will also be encouraging other artists to follow your lead. And your fans all over the world will know you stand for justice and an end to apartheid (INCACBI).

Here is a (mediocre quality) mobile phone video of the solidarity concert that took place at Ramallah Cultural Palace on the 14th of February 2012.

In August 2010 the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) launched a pledge to boycott Israel which is signed by more than 200 Irish artist of different disciplinesOn the the website Punks against Apartheid you can find their explanation why there should be a cultural boycott.

Punk rock icon (former frontman of Dead Kennedys) Jello Biafra and his band the Guantanamo School of Medicine also decided not to perform in Israel for the same reasons.

In many ways I really wish my band, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, had played in Tel Aviv. But I also share most of the boycott’s supporters’ feelings about Israel’s government, the occupation and ongoing human rights violations. (Al Jazeera)

Somehow it didn’t feel a hundred percent right for Biafra and he flew to Israel to see if the boycott is justified. Even though he has to disappoint his fans, he comes to the conclusion that he will not play in Israel,

I will not perform in Israel unless it is a pro-human rights, anti-occupation event that does not violate the spirit of the boycott. Each artist must decide this for themselves. I am staying away for now, but am also really creeped out by the attitudes of some of the boycott hardliners, and hope someday to find a way to contribute something positive here. I will not march or sign on with anyone who is more interested in making threats than making friends (Al Jazeera)

Artists like Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, U2 and Coldplay have refused to play in Israel (INCACBI). However the boycott is not shared by every artist. In the event list of Tourist Israel we can see that Tom Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Jennifer Lopez and many others will perform in Israel this year (Tourist Israel). And we saw that Madonna started her tour in Israel. It is unclear if she is making a statement with this concert.

Also very interesting is the interview Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim had with Der Spiegel about Israel and Wagner. Barenboim has strong views on the Middle East peace process and on performing Wagner’s music in Israel. In the interview he explains why the Israeli antipathy toward Wagner is grotesque and argues that Israel should not depend too much on Germany and the US for support (Spiegel Online International).

In 1999 Barenboim and Edward Said formed the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, composed of musicians from Israel, Palestine, and other Arab countries. In the video below Al Jazeera is speaking to Barenboim on the occasion of the orchestra’s tenth anniversary.

3 thoughts on “Boycott on cultural events in Israel

  1. About Zakir Hussein: very, very good artist. Due to all trouble, he’s right.
    About Jello Biafra, uncredible performance! He’s got very much talent. The public got totally ecstatical. Marvellous. People should respect eachother. Life is too short for otherwise.

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