Boycott message reaches Baaba Maal: please don’t play Israel’s PR game

Baab Maal WOMAD by Paul Hellyer

Baaba Maal  on stage during WOMAD 2016 (Picture credit: Paul Hellyer)                                                        

“I’ve been a fan of Baaba Maal for around a quarter century. The thought of him playing in apartheid Israel instead of showing solidarity with the Palestinian people makes no sense to me” – audience member at the WOMAD festival.

The campaign to persuade renowned Senegalese musician Baaba Maal to reconsider his decision to perform on September 20 in Occupied East Jerusalem made headway last week with his appearance at two music festivals in the UK and boycott calls spreading internationally.

Israeli citizens urged him to act in solidarity with the Palestinian people, addressing him in his own words: “I stand as one because I believe we all deserve to live in safety.”

The call was taken up in France at the same time as leaflets headlined “Baaba Maal: Don’t support apartheid Israel” were well-received by the crowd at Baaba’s gig at the WOMAD, Charlton Park, festival in southwest England on Saturday July 30. They were mentioned by Financial Times reviewer David Honigmann in his festival report.

Baaba Maal flyer

At WOMAD and again at the Cambridge Folk Festival the following day, fans spoke to Baaba Maal as he was signing CDs they had bought. He indicated that he had seen a letter sent by Artists for Palestine UK urging support for the Palestinian boycott, but his tour manager Julian Hickman was at pains to close down dialogue between the artist and activists. After the WOMAD concert, a female fan was threatened with security being called if she handed Baaba a copy of the letter.

The letter explains that Baaba’s scheduled presence at the Sacred Music Festival, run annually by the Jerusalem Municipality, is being widely used to promote it as part of a sophisticated Israeli public relations exercise portraying an illegally occupied city as if it were a haven of multiculturalism.

Hickman refused to acknowledge any comparison with the global solidarity effort that helped end apartheid in South Africa and is the model and precedent for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. He had no answer when confronted with the facts: that Palestinians would be denied free access to Baaba’s gig in Israeli occupied East Jerusalem; that prominent South Africans such as Desmond Tutu actively support the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and characterise Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as worse than that experienced by blacks under apartheid, and that Israel views BDS as so effective that it devotes huge resources to demonising and opposing it.

Hickman reiterated an oft repeated cliché directed at proponents of boycott, that Baaba Maal would never “take sides”. He was either unaware of, or deaf to, the clearly formulated case for boycott which is based on Israel’s deliberate exploitation of culture as a political weapon and its equally deliberate suppression of Palestinian artistic expression. Complicity with Israel’s cultural branding campaign entails taking sides with the oppressor against the oppressed – a position entirely at odds with Baaba Maal’s role as a vocal defender of human rights and an Oxfam Global Ambassador.

APUK has asked Oxfam to help put the case that appearing in Occupied East Jerusalem “doesn’t square with his reputation as a human rights advocate and sends a very discouraging message to Palestinians struggling to stay on their land….The festival Baaba is scheduled to appear at is part of a sophisticated public relations effort to dress up the occupation in diversity garb.”

Fan Paul Hellyer, whose picture of Baaba at WOMAD appears at the top of this post, said:

“I’ve been a fan of Baaba Maal for around a quarter century. The thought of him playing in apartheid Israel instead of showing solidarity with the Palestinian people makes no sense to me. I’m convinced that either his management is making decisions for him, or that he is just unaware of the basic facts of the situation. I support the open letter – please read it Baaba.”

We invite readers to join Artists for Palestine UK and others in writing to Baaba Maal asking him to reconsider performing in Israeli occupied East Jerusalem on September 20. You can acknowledge his role as a human rights defender and Oxfam Global Ambassador, then politely point out the contradiction.

Email his management team via
Tweet him @baabamaal


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