Aurora: Don’t be a sword, cancel Tel Aviv

Aurora says she is a lily, not a sword. As Palestinian and Israeli musicians, we urge her to be true to her word, by refusing to let her music and image be exploited as a weapon of propaganda by the far-right Israeli apartheid regime. Israel explicitly uses all international artists to cover up oppression, particularly those who consciously dismiss moral appeals for them to refuse shows at complicit Israeli cultural institutions.

Barby Club in Tel Aviv, where Aurora is booked to perform two shows in November, is one such cultural institution. Barby brazenly wears its complicity like a badge of honour, most clearly when it handed out free t-shirts to Israeli occupation  forces engaged in the 2014 massacres in Gaza that left more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children, dead.

These t-shirts were emblazoned with the phrase “fuck you, we’re from Israel” alongside the club’s own logo, who proudly posted images online. This incident alone should be enough to stir the conscience of any progressive artist, especially Aurora’s, whose own sense of morality is surely troubled by such a glaring example of a hyper-militarised society meshing seamlessly with culture, as it does in apartheid Tel Aviv today.

We are among the Palestinian and Israeli artists who wrote open letters to Aurora, calling on her to cancel her shows in apartheid Tel Aviv. Palestinian artists wrote that “when more than 150 Norwegian artists endorsed the Palestinian, Israeli and international calls to boycott Eurovision in apartheid Tel Aviv in May this year, they demonstrated their moral commitment to do no harm to our struggle for freedom, justice and equality.” Meanwhile, Israelis wrote that, as artists, they “can’t sit silent” as long as their “Palestinian counterparts suffer silencing, dehumanisation and violence”.

Another letter to Aurora was sent from Boycott from Within, whose public support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is now endorsed by a thousand Israeli citizens, mostly Jewish. They drew Aurora’s attention to the fact that last year’s so-called Jewish Nation-State Law “enshrines apartheid into Israel’s equivalent of a constitution”. This entrechment of apartheid was only the latest: Palestinian citizens of Israel were already subject to 65 racist laws

As in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the refusal of progressive artists to play Sun City, artists today are asked to do no harm to the nonviolent struggle of Palestinians, by refusing to perform in apartheid Tel Aviv. The growing solidarity between global grassroots movements and Palestinians, including LGBTQ+ organisations, feminist movements, Black liberation, and climate justice struggles, is best encapsulated by Angela Davis’s immortal statement that justice is indivisible.

We do not doubt that Aurora has good intentions. That much is clear from her various statements. The world we live in is often brutally indifferent to suffering, but people are calling on Aurora to cancel her shows at Barby because she can make a difference, because she has the power right now to take a stand and, crucially, not undermine a movement for freedom, justice and equality. Aurora says she sings for her Israeli fans, who are the future, but what future is there if one of the harshest occupations in history is art-washed by international performances?

When one sings on stage at the Barby club, one is 45 minutes away from the apartheid wall built by Israel to keep millions of Palestinians oppressed under martial law. Any statement an artist might make on stage in apartheid Tel Aviv would be overshadowed by the fact that they are crossing an international picket line established by the absolute majority of Palestinian civil society, including women’s organizations. As with apartheid in South Africa, only pressure from the outside on Israel’s far-right apartheid regime can compel it to end the denial of Palestinians’ fundamental human rights. 

We hope that Aurora continues to engage with those of us calling on her to reconsider her scheduled performances. She says that she stands “on people’s side, in the fight against injustice and violence”. We believe her. But we disagree that heeding the call of the oppressed Palestinians is “like looking the other way”. It is the opposite. Before her is the chance to look straight into the eyes of the oppressed, and to tell them she will hear them and heed their moral appeals. So far, despite many agreeable words, she has refused to do so.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a founding member of the largest coalition in Palestinian society that leads the global BDS movement for Palestinian rights, said that Aurora’s dismissal of Palestinian voices means she only “plays into the hands of the oppressor”. We hope that she will instead play a different tune: one of meaningful solidarity.

~ Samir Eskanda is a Palestinian musician
~ Ohal Grietzer is an Israeli composer and mixed-media performer 

* This article was originally published in Norwegian in Dagsavisen

* Photo credit: Mode Steinkjer

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