Robert Cohen, a thoughtful commentator on the politics of Israel and Palestine, addresses an animated propaganda video designed to undermine support for the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) among students, particularly during Israel Apartheid Week . The film is voiced by, and credited to, former chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and is produced by an Israeli advertising production company.
Dear Jonathan Sacks:
Pictured: Jo Johnson MP, minister for Universities, suggested they seek to ban Israel Apartheid Week
On February 27, a letter signed by 243 academics appeared in the Guardian (copied below) condemning “outrageous interferences with free expression” and “direct attacks on academic freedom” resulting from attempts “to silence campus discussion about Israel, including its violation of the rights of Palestinians for more than 50 years.”
The letter attributed these developments to adoption by the UK government of “the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism” which is being interpreted as meaning that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is prima facie evidence of antisemitism.
On Monday The Guardian put out a press association report on high-profile sculptor Anish Kapoor’s acceptance of Israel’s $1 million Genesis prize. The prize is awarded by the Genesis Prize Foundation, the office of the Israeli prime minister and the Jewish Agency for Israel and “recognises individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their fields and whose actions and achievements express a commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish community and the State of Israel”.
Miri Regev, Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport, has commented , 27th December, on the change of presidency in the United States: ‘Obama is history,’ said Regev. ‘We have Trump.’
Christian Viveros-Fauné, writing in Artnet, suggests that ‘like Trump, the Likud politician consistently engages in a brazen, counter-factual brand of right-wing populism’. Viveros-Fauné charts the growing scope of Regev’s ‘war against culture’ noting inter alia that:
‘At least one major institution, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, has already found itself in the crossfire. As reported in February 2016 by Shany Littman at Haaretz, its director and chief curator Suzanne Landau recently “called off an exhibit by Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei and Israeli photographer Miki Kratsman because of political pressures.” Kratsman’s contribution to the show, which was scheduled to open in November 2016, consisted of a Harvard University-funded series of 3,000 portraits of Palestinians he met on his travels to the Occupied Territories. Many of the photographer’s portrait subjects have since been killed in clashes with Israeli Defense Forces. When [the reporter] reached Landau for comment, the curator cited “scheduling problems.”’
Habima and Ashtar: tales from two theatres Continue reading
First published by Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, this illuminating report looks at the repression of Palestinian cultural expression by Israel and collusion and censorship here in the UK by British government ministers. It traces this relationship all the way back to the wording of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The briefing offers an essential perspective for understanding Israel’s attempts to erase the Palestinian past and future, and proposes practical steps groups such as ours can take here in the UK to end the silencing of Palestinian voices and perspectives.
The dangers of satire
The wild fires that swept through Northern Israel in mid-November provoked some Facebook posters in neighbouring countries into words of celebration. Abudaabes responded satirically, writing that the way to earn the respect of posters like these would obviously be to light more fires.
In paranoid and authoritarian states, satire is often a weapon that endangers the satirist. Israel’s legal system chose to take the words of Abudaabes literally, as an incitement to arson. On 25th November, Judge Alon Gabison ruled that there was reasonable suspicion that the post included incitement to harming state security, and that the author of the post should have thought about how others would interpret his words. A judge in a higher court speedily confirmed this ruling. Abudaabes, freed on bail, was placed under house arrest for five days and not allowed to use Facebook for 15 days.
The episode suggests that in addition to the multitude of other restrictions it imposes on the right of Palestinians to free expression, the Israeli state has now moved on to proscribing certain kinds of literary genre. If you are a Palestinian, do not be a satirist.
The continuing ordeal of Dareen Tatour
In June and July, Artswatch reported on the situation of Dareen Tatour, jailed and then placed under house arrest for poems and other writing that she posted on Facebook. In November, PEN International took up Dareen’s case, featuring her as one of the ‘Imprisoned Writers’, whose freedom it is demanding. On 24th November, Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, reported that the court that is hearing her case will reconvene on 26th January – and that Dareen’s period of house arrest has been extended accordingly. Dareen faces the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence, as Israel continues to escalate its war against a militant Palestinian presence on social media.
Fighting back against Facebook
Charlotte Silver reports on Electronic Intifada (16th November) that Palestinian groups have joined with black and civil rights activists in the US to protest against the increasing tendency of Facebook – documented in September Artswatch – to block material at the behest of states. ‘Facebook’, a spokeswoman for the Oakland-based Center for Media Justice told the Guardian, is ‘a platform where people are documenting human rights injustices and breaking news’, yet for both black activists and Palestinians, it is a platform which is getting narrower by the month.
Confirming the CMJ’s claim, Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, reports that Facebook has granted 95 percent of Israel’s 158 requests to remove content in the last four months. Alongside this persistent pressure on internet companies, Israel continues to persecute individuals. Palestinian journalist Khalid Maaliimprisoned on the basis of his social media posts, was released by court order in mid-November – but only on the condition that he turn over his laptop to Israeli occupation forces and close his Facebook account, as well as paying a fine of $1700.
Miri Regev and the absolute politicisation of culture
Writing on AlJazeera’s website, Jonathan Cook (10th November) catalogues the long list of interventions made by Israel’s far-right culture minister, Miri Regev, since she took office 18 months ago. Aiming to ‘silence the Palestinian narrative’ Regev has been swift to denounce the broadcasting and performance of poems about the Palestinian experience. At the same time, she is completely explicit that Israeli cultural institutions should see themselves as arms of the Israeli state, supporting its policies: theatre companies which refuse to perform in the occupied territories will find themselves under-funded (see Artswatch October).
Cook notes that Regev’s efforts are increasingly successful: ‘people are starting to self-censor’, says the Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar, ‘the worst kind of censorship’. Yet, Cook concludes, there may be one positive side to Regev’s activities: for decades, those who have wanted to protect Israel from cultural boycott have argued that ‘culture’ exists in a different realm to ‘politics’, and that the border between them should not be crossed. Tenuous at the best of times, under Regev this claim has lost all credibility: in a society where culture has become just another channel for the politics of occupation, the case for boycott is strengthened.
The occupying power bans the call to prayer
Cultural repression is not limited to theatre and poetry. Middle East Monitor reports that the Israeli government is supporting the passage through parliament of a bill that will criminalise the use in occupied East Jerusalem of the loudspeakers that call Palestinian Muslims to prayer. The proposed ban is another step in the removal of the cultural presence of Palestinians from the occupied city: just as homes are demolished, so the material signs of Palestinian culture are effaced. Commenting on the move, Arab-Israeli MP Haneen Zoabi said that the proposed law was an attempt to change the culture and life in the occupied city. “This is part of the culture of the Arabic city and has been there since before the Israeli occupation,” she said. “For those, who are not happy with it, they have to go back home to Europe.”
Ashraf Fayadh – his poems translated
The Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, convicted of heresy, remains a prisoner in a Saudi jail (see Artswatch June and Artswatch July). The US publication Publishers Weekly, reports that English-speaking readers can now read his poems in a new collection, ‘Instructions Within’, produced by the independent publishing house, The Operating System.
Mohammed Bakri, actor – sign the petition
In August, Artswatch reported on the continuing persecution of actor and film-maker Mohammed Bakri, director of ‘Jenin, Jenin’. The Avaaz petition in support of Mohammed can be signed here.
‘The National Puppet Theatre of Israel’
Habima, Israel’s National Theatre, has announced that in mid-November it will put on a show in Kiryat Arba. Kiryat Arba is a settlement in territory illegally occupied by Israel, and a place which, in the words of an editorial in Ha’aretz (26th October), ‘has become a symbol of the injustices of the occupation and the settlements’.
Habima has performed in the occupied territories before – notably in Ariel in 2012. Then, the theatre’s co-director, Odelia Friedman, stated ‘Habima will perform for all residents of Israel. Residents of Ariel are residents of Israel and Habima will stage shows for them.’ Habima has now reaffirmed its support for occupation, again in the language of national inclusion. According to Ha’aretz, it ‘rejects with repugnance any call to exclude citizens and to exclude communities, and condemns any attempt at a cultural boycott in any place where Israeli citizens live’. Supporting the state-funded theatre, Israel’s culture minister, Miri Regev, said: ‘the decision to perform for the first time in Hebron exemplifies the national theatre’s being a central pioneer in treating all citizens of the state as equal in their right to experience culture.’
Ha’aretz describes the decision as ‘a moral stain worthy of condemnation’ and describes Habima as the ‘national puppet theatre of the Israeli state’.
Habima’s latest actions confirm the timeliness of the ‘apology video’ produced by Norwegian artists, directed at the collaboration of Norway’s national theatre with Habima, and calling for European theatres to break their links to the Israeli company. (See Artswatch September).
Palestinian children dance in Sheffield – and are arrested by Israel
The Sheffield Star (16th October) reports that three 14 year old boys, dancers in the Lajee Dance Troupe, have been arrested in a night raid by the Israeli military. The Lajee Centre is located in the Aida refugee camp, a settlement of 6000 people surrounded on two sides by Israel’s separation wall.
In October last year, an Israeli army sniper killed 13 year-old Abed al-Rahman Obeidallah in the streets of the camp. This year, attacks by the Israeli army on the Lajee Centre have escalated since August, when Celtic football fans raised over £170,000 divided between the Centre and Medical Aid for Palestinians. On 19th September, soldiers attacked the Lajee Centre with teargas and rubber bullets. The following night they forced open the gate of the centre, threw tear gas grenades inside and closed the gate, trapping children inside, forcing them to inhale toxic teargas.
The three boys have been released on bail but will be tried by an Israeli military court. In April this year 414 children under 18 were held in military detention by Israel; year on year, the number is rising.
The Art of Silencing: Berlin
The Berlin Festival ‘After the Last Sky’ (September-October 2016) brought together theatre, film, performance, literature, spoken word, dramatic readings, music, and dance, in events dedicated to the ‘artistic diversity of Palestinian narratives and visions’. In the words of its opening statement, it asked ‘what can we understand about our universal human condition through the example of Palestine and Palestinian narratives?’
Inna Michaeli, blogging for the magazine +972, writes that ‘After The Last Sky’ has been attacked as antisemitic and as an instance of ‘Israel hounding’ by right-wing press commentators – and also by a leader of the German Left Party, Die Linke. Klaus Lederer, party president in Berlin, quoted in Die Tagesspiegel, 21st October, claims that in referring to ‘apartheid’ and ‘colonialism’, the event has crossed the line between culture and propaganda. The decision of city government institutions to fund the event has been called into question.
Michaeli notes that ‘the very existence of Palestinian identity and culture’ is construed as antisemitic. The politics of Miri Regev have taken root in Berlin.
Even the dead are not safe
Writing in Electronic Intifada, 3rd November, Charlotte Silver reports that the Israeli Antiquities Authority has been outsourcing the management of major archaeological excavations and sites in Jerusalem to Elad, ‘a private organization that settles Jews in the militarily occupied eastern part of the city in violation of international law’. Elad manages the so-called City of David, a settlement containing an archaeological museum catering to tourists.
With the backing of the Israeli government, notes the alternative archaeology group Emek Shaveh, Elad is engaged in a double project: attempting to construct an historical narrative that emphasises the identity of Jerusalem as a Jewish city, while erasing artifacts from other cultures and wrecking the Palestinian heritage. At the same time, the requirements of archaeological research and recreation, are put forward as a reason for destroying Palestinian homes.
Palestinian rapper performs, is booed on stage following Regev ‘terror’ accusations.
Rapper Tamer Nafar, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, performed at the Haifa Community Theatre Festival in October – despite calls from Israel’s Culture Minister to cancel his performance. Regev had opined that ‘public funds should not support activity that undermines the state, its values and symbols in the name of art and freedom of speech’ and accused Nafar of writing lyrics that legitimated terrorism . ‘I won’t let them silence me’, said Nafar, as ‘protestors in the audience booed at him and even gave him the middle finger, lifting up hands wrapped in the Israeli flag’. ‘And to those of you yelling and trying to ruin this,’ he added, ‘I can’t even bring myself to hate you’.
Palestinians invade Israel in new video posted by Israel’s Foreign Ministry
Allison Kaplan Sommer, blogging in Ha’aretz (7th October), criticises a new propaganda film posted by Israel’s foreign ministry. Sommer notes that the film ‘takes liberties’ with history, is insulting, and possibly racist. The film presents Jewish links with the territory of Israel as unshared and unbroken. Other peoples, from Babylonians, to Greeks, to Arabs, to Ottomans are presented as a succession of invaders and interlopers. In the last scene of the film, the final group of aliens arrive: they are Palestinian.
Below the line commentators on her blog are forthright:
‘That the Israeli government would go out of its way to offend intelligent people with garbage like this is beyond belief’.
By the beginning of October, the film had received 150,000 views and had been shared more than 3,000 times.
The Edinburgh Fringe’s renowned open platform for all forms of artistic expression produced a curious juxtaposition this year, as Palestinians deployed creativity to shatter the bonds of political repression while Israeli state apologists cloaked a discredited political message in threadbare cultural clothing.
The gulf between the two was demonstrated in the pages of Scotland’s press, the airwaves and in the streets, as well as in performance and display spaces across the city.
Gaza’s celebrated Dawaween refused exit permits [photo Shadi Alqarra]
Borders closed to musicians from Gaza
Israel opens the door to Western performers, but as far as Palestinian artists are concerned, the borders are closed. Middle East Eye (23rd August) reports on two cases where singers and musicians from Gaza have been denied access to other parts of occupied Palestine. Decisions made by the Israeli authorities have prevented the ‘Palestine Sings’ children’s choir from performing at the Palestine Choral Festival, while Gaza’s most popular band, Dawaween, was not given the exit permits that would have allowed it to perform at the Palestine International Festival. The band responded with a protest performance at the Erez border point between Israel and Gaza. The full story is here.
Cement and Children’s Art
The German company HeidelbergCement owns quarries and cement works in the West Bank, extracting Palestinian natural resources, and transferring them to Israel. Meanwhile, back in the city of Heidelberg where the company’s head office is located, the authorities have banned, according to the German press, an exhibition of paintings and drawings entitled “Experiences, Fears and Dreams – Children in Palestine.” The event was supposed to host drawings from two rehabilitation centres in Gaza and Ramallah. Some of the pieces depicted aerial bombing and burning buildings. The city authorities explained that the exhibition was highly political, whereas the city was committed to neutrality.
In 2002, Mohammed Bakri made a film – ‘Jenin, Jenin’ – about the people of Jenin refugee camp, in which they told what happened to them during the Israeli invasion of April 2002.It was banned by the Israeli film censorship board. Though the ban was subsequently lifted, the persecution of Bakri did not stop. Ex-members of the Israeli Defence Force took legal action against him for defamation; screenings of his films have been disrupted, and his stage appearances have been the focus of protests by the Israeli right. In a comment piece in Ha’aretz (3rd August, firewall) Bakri refers to the years of boycott and ostracism that he has experienced, and challenges Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim to be a force for peace:
‘How can I believe your statements when on the ground the occupation continues to flourish, and plans for building thousands of apartments for Israeli Jews in the West Bank are published day after day?’
Flying while Palestinian
Ha’aretz reports (28th July ) that Israeli Palestinian actress Samar Qupty has written on Facebook about being delayed for two hours by security inspectors at Ben-Gurion Airport and forced to board her flight without her carry-on baggage.
Qupty, star of the Israeli film “Junction 48,” arrived at the airport for a flight to Colombia, where the film was being screened at a local film festival. Airport security refused to let her bring her carry-ons aboard.
“I don’t know how I dared to think I had a right to fly to Colombia,” she wrote. “After all, it’s not clear what an Arab woman is going to do there by herself.”
Mohammed Abu Sakha – update (see Artswatch July)
The Palestinian Prisoner Network, Samidoun, reported on 27th July that Mohammed Abu Sakha, circus performer and trainer, had joined a prison hunger strike in support of Bilal Kayed. Kayed is protesting against his imprisonment without trial. Sakha, likewise, is an administrative detainee, whose case has not been taken to court. The Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association noted on 25th August, that Sakha’s appeal against administrative detention had been turned down.
The 2016 Edinburgh Fringe once again offers a much-needed platform for Palestinian artists to demonstrate their talent, creativity and vitality despite the extraordinary difficulties they face in their daily lives and in producing, exhibiting and performing their work. But this year “the biggest arts festival on the planet” has shocked friends of Palestine with a last minute addition to the programme organised by groups committed to promoting Israeli interests and undermining those of Palestine. A letter of protest from Artists for Palestine UK is attracting growing support and a local campaign is gathering strength.
Sneaked onto the online programme after the printed version was published, the International Shalom Festival scheduled for August 17 is an initiative of COFIS, the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland, and StandWithUs – two pro-Israel advocacy organisations that work with the Israeli Embassy to undermine and oppose campaigning work in support of Palestinian rights.
In March 2016, Israel continued its assault on Palestinian media organisations by closing down the TV station, Palestine Today, and arresting some of its staff. The British government, so vocal at other times in its defence of ‘democratic values’, responded only with silence. The APUK collective sent this letter to the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, to request that he apply the principles that apparently underpin his government’s domestic policy, to relations with Britain’s allies overseas. We await a reply.
UPDATE: Globe actors defend playing in Israel “regardless of politics”
Shakespeare’s Globe theatre has ignored Palestinian appeals and the good counsel of a number of their UK peers by going ahead with their performance of Hamlet at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv on March 30.
Showing either ignorance of, or disregard for the highly politicised nature of culture in Israel-Palestine, members of the company justified their action at a press conference, stating, “It was clear to us that we would be coming to Israel, regardless of politics” and “We try not to deal with local politics of the places to which we travel”.
As is usual when the Palestinian boycott picket line is crossed by international artists, Israeli media portrayed the Globe’s appearance as a failure for the cultural boycott movement.
This English-language news report is a prime example.
Statements made at their press conference by actors Keith Bartlett and Jennifer Lang were quoted in a Hebrew language report . Thanks to Ofer Neiman for the following translations into English.
“We travel all over the world, and politics is none of our business”, said Keith Bartlett (playing Polonius), adding “We are here to tell a story, and it is exciting to see how it is received everywhere we perform. It was clear to us that we would be coming to Israel, regardless of politics”
Jennifer Lang (playing Ophelia): “We intend for this tour to tell its story to as many people across the world. Any viewer who is not a regular viewer of the Globe is an addition for us. We try not to deal with local politics of the places to which we travel”.
Why has Shakespeare’s Globe added a performance at Israel’s Cameri theatre on March 30 to the tour schedule for its production of Hamlet, in breach of the boycott of institutions that reinforce the oppression of Palestinian artists and their communities?
This is the question addressed on Friday (March 25) to artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, as his ten year stint at the celebrated London theatre draws to a close, in an open letter signed by British and Palestinian theatre professionals.
In 2012, 37 actors, writers and directors protested the fact that Shakespeare’s Globe had invited Habima, the national theatre of Israel, to take part in its Globe to Globe festival. The specific ground for the protest was that Habima regularly performs in Ariel, the largest of Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. A letter signed by the 37, including Mark Rylance who was Dromgoole’s predecessor as artistic director at the Globe, attracted considerable media attention and gave impetus to the cultural boycott campaign which is now supported by growing numbers of artists in all fields.
Four years on, the management of the Globe can be in no doubt that adding the Cameri theatre to its schedule attracts at least as much opprobrium as the invitation to Habima in 2012. Continue reading
Oscar nominees in the top acting and directing categories, as well as the host at tonight’s ceremony, Chris Rock, have received invitations from a coalition of groups to visit Palestine and experience life through the eyes of Palestinians living under apartheid and military occupation.
The ironic invitations were sent from musician Brian Eno on behalf of Artists for Palestine UK, the Palestinian Performing Arts Network, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, in response to an Israeli PR junket offered nominees as part of this year’s Oscar Swagbag.
- Mike Leigh, film director and five-times Oscar nominee said: “ A five-star trip to the land of their parents and grandparents is just what exhausted Palestinians from the refugee camps could do with. I think the world would be happy to see Israeli government money used for once to make reparations to Palestinians — and I hope the stars will agree.’
- Ken Loach, BAFTA nominee and Palme d’Or winner said: “Just think what $55,000 could do for Palestinians whose homes have been destroyed and their lands stolen. Let’s hope that film people can see through this crude propaganda.”
- Brian Eno, musician and composer suggested an alternative swag bag offering: “Visit Palestine! Enjoy a tear-gas filled weekend in an East Jerusalem ghetto!
Musician Roger Waters speaks out against the criminalisation in France of non-violent boycott in defence of Palestinian rights. We reproduce his letter, picked up from a French news agency by the website Mondoweiss.
Mes Cher Citoyens,
Along with most thinking, feeling and compassionate members of global civil society, I deplore the occupation of Palestine and the subjugation of all of its non-Jewish peoples. The State of Israel’s anti-Palestinian discrimination since 1947/8 is unacceptable.
I am anti-racist, anti-colonialist, anti-war, anti-oppression, and anti- discrimination.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has issued the following statement about the Zabludowicz Art Trust.
Art should not be used to cover up apartheid: Boycott the Zabludowicz Art Trust!
Occupied Palestine, October 26, 2015 — The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) calls for a boycott of the Zabludowicz Art Trust for its deep complicity in Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid.
The Zabludowicz Art Trust directly supports Israel’s oppression of Palestinians through its funder, The Tamares Group, which is responsible for investments in Knafaim, an Israeli-based holding company, focused on the aviation industry, with major holdings in several Israeli companies including Kanfey Tachzuka, which provides maintenance services to the Israeli Air Force, notorious for its ongoing commission of war crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. Continue reading
The appearance last week of some famous UK cultural names on a statement defending Israel against boycott has sparked a wave of incredulity and outrage from fellow artists.
Artists, actors, writers, editors, musicians and filmmakers are among those queuing up to defend the boycott tactic after JK Rowling, Hilary Mantel and historian Simon Schama joined well-known pro-Israel lobbyists in attacking it. Rowling and co urged cultural ‘coexistence’ and ‘dialogue about Israel and the Palestinians’ and called the Palestinian boycott campaign “divisive and discriminatory”.
“It is Israeli policies towards Palestinians which are divisive and discriminatory,” said actress Miriam Margolyes, one of more than 1000 UK artists who have signed a commitment not to cooperate with Israeli state-funded cultural institutions as long as Palestinian rights are denied.
“Artists used the tactic of boycott against apartheid in South Africa and we are doing it again in support of Palestine– because no one else is holding Israel to account,” she said.
Composer Brian Eno, one of a number whose letters were published in the Guardian on October 27, said he appreciated the desire for dialogue, “but what kind of dialogue is realistically possible between a largely unarmed and imprisoned people whose land is disappearing before its eyes, and the heavily weaponised State that’s in the process of taking it.” Continue reading
Daniel Barenboim, Israel and Iran: an APUK statement
Newspapers in Israel, the US and Europe reported last week that Daniel Barenboim, one of the world’s foremost pianists and conductors, was planning to take a Berlin orchestra [the Staatskapelle] to Iran for a concert. Immediately, Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev stepped in to call for the concert to be cancelled:
“This melody must be stopped. Barenboim promotes an anti-Israeli line and makes sure to bash [Israel] by using culture as a lever for his anti-Israel political views.” (1)
While the world was still digesting the hypocrisy of this demand from the minister of a government which, when threatened by boycott, never fails to talk the language of ‘communication’ and ‘bridge building’, Iranian officials said that they would block the concert because of Barenboim’s Israeli citizenship:
“The conductor of Germany’s symphonic orchestra is affiliated to Israel concerning his nationality and identity ,” the Spokesman of the Culture Ministry Hossein Noushabadi told reporters in Tehran. (2)