Shalom-festival

Opposition mounts as Edinburgh Fringe marred by “pro-Israel advocacy event”

shalom fest logoThe 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.

They promote the one-day event as a “celebration of the diverse culture, music, art, dance and food of Israel” featuring  “Arab, Jewish, Christian, Druze, Bedouin and Samaritan performers from all over Israel,” and “aiming to build cultural bridges and develop international friendship.”

There is no mention by name of the Palestinians who make up one fifth of Israel’s population as well as the entire population of the occupied territories, besieged Gaza and numerous refugee camps across the Middle East, nor of those in exile around the world. Israel’s “cultural bridges” bypass the people it has dispossessed, seeking “international friendship” with those prepared to ignore a decades-long injustice to collaborate in an empty dance of dialogue.

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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.

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Photo credit: 'Playing for Change'

OPEN LETTER TO BAABA MAAL – Please don’t play in occupied East Jerusalem

Artists for Palestine UK, working together with campaigners in France, Senegal, Palestine and Israel, has addressed an open letter to the renowned West African musician Baaba Maal, urging him to withdraw from a planned appearance at an Israeli musical festival in the Old City of Jerusalem in September.  A French language version  of the letter follows the English text below.

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Artists for Palestine UK protests Brand Israel on the Fringe

Palestinian youngsters from Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe in August

Palestinian youngsters from Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Artists for Palestine UK has written to the organisers of the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe enclosing a letter of protest from the founder of Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem, over the inclusion on the Fringe programme of an event billed as “probably the most significant pro-Israel advocacy event of the year in the United Kingdom”.

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speakout_challenge_leanna_mohd

‘Speak Out’ – or ‘Shut-Up’?

Leanne Muhamad, a student at Wanstead High School who is British-Palestinian, won the “Speak out” challenge after giving this impressive performance to enthusiastic applause. But one day later, the Speakers Trust decided Leanne will no longer be sent through to the grand final of the public speaking competition.  It seems that giving a personal account of the Nakba and a plea for end to discrimination against Palestinians is not acceptable in the UK in 2016. Once Leane’s win was retracted, the video was removed from the Speak Out Challenge website and Youtube channel, but we managed to retrieve the copy below.

The Speak Out Challenge is described by its organisers thus: “In each one-day workshop, students take part in games and exercises to encourage them to think on their feet in a fun, interactive and safe environment. The day culminates in a “Speak Out” speech contest where students can speak on any topic they feel strongly about ­– using only their voices, their words and their passion. Notes are not allowed; they must use the techniques from the training.”

Judge for yourself the quality of this young person’s presentation.

UPDATE:

Erased: Speakers Trust rewrites history by removing all trace of Leanne Mohamad’s win  See more at: http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/erased-speakers-trust-rewrites-history-removing-trace-leanne-mohamads-win/#sthash.iK2XO8a5.vjAm5JeL.dpuf

Amendment: This post has been amended since the source of this news, Jewish Chronicle were reporting falsehoods. They wrote “Following complaints by blogger Edgar Davidson to the Speakers Trust” the decision was taken not to put her through to the grand finals. In fact, they had already taken the decision to censor her.

The JC were correct on this: the letter from Speakers Trust CEO to Davidson: “There are two fundamental rules that are made explicit during the training: the speech must have a positive and uplifting message – in fact this is one of the core terms of the agreement with the Jack Petchey Foundation [and] a speaker should never inflame or offend the audience or insult others and this, by definition, means that propaganda is ruled out absolutely from the outset… Speakers Trust and Jack Petchey Foundation judging panel decided unanimously against sending Leanne Mohamad through to the next stage and she will not be speaking at the Grand Final. These were precisely our concerns.”

Edgar Davidson, as we previously reported, is an anti-Palestinian activist with extreme views, who has published his exchanges with the Speakers Trust CEO on his blogsite.

May 31, 2016
Update: Speakers Trust betrays ignorance of the Palestinian experience
– See more at: http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/update-speakers-trust-ignorance-palestinian-experience/#sthash.RWP5SK0m.dpuf

June 1, 2016

Update: Speakers Trust re-instate Leanne’s video and issue statement. http://www.speakoutchallenge.com/leanne-mohamad-winner-jack-petcheys-speak-challenge-redbridge-regional-final-2015-16-2/?utm_campaign=leanne-mohamad-winner-jack-petcheys-speak-out-challenge-redbridge-regional-final-2015-16&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitter

 

Israel’s war on Palestinian media – Why no protest from the UK government?

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.

Israeli troops invading Palestinian radio station. Picture:Palestine News Network.

Israeli troops invading Palestinian radio station. Picture:Palestine News Network.

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Strategy of Silencing: What Britain does for its ally Israel

In its determination to assist Israel in silencing criticism, the British government betrays the values of freedom and tolerance that it claims to see as fundamental. This article, written by a member of the Artists for Palestine UK collective, charts the resulting pattern of attacks on the rights of Israel’s critics in Britain, from local councils to academics and arts organisations.

 

2016 began with ringing declarations about British liberty. David Cameron’s New Year message to the nation contrasted the freedom and tolerance of ‘our way of life’ with the ‘poisonous narrative of grievance and resentment’ laid out by ‘murderous extremists’, seething with hatred for the west.

These are claims that have come to sound more hollow with every month that passes. Domestically, the Prevent strategy operationalises the defence of ‘freedom’ with an apparatus of reporting and repression which extends across schools, universities and the NHS – some NHS trusts have made it mandatory for staff to attend Prevent workshops.  In its foreign policy, Cameron’s government holds firmly to alliances with states which are deeply committed to the oppression of the populations they rule over: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, to name only the most prominent. Turkey, a NATO member, uses airstrikes against its Kurdish population without reaction from the defenders of freedom. Saudi Arabia kills its opponents, and is met only with an expression of ‘disappointment’ from a British junior minister.

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apartheid Globe projection

Artists’ group tells Globe – Listen to Palestinians, don’t play Tel Aviv

 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”.
A5 Globe flyer flat copy

SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE TOLD “DON’T GIVE THIS PERFORMANCE IN ISRAEL”

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.

inminds Globe apartheid pic

Image projected on the Globe’s iconic riverside building by activists taking part in a protest organised by inminds.com in London on Friday

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.

Flyer used during the protests against Shakespeare's Globe hosting Habima in May 2012

Flyer used during the protests against Shakespeare’s Globe hosting Habima in May 2012

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