Artists as ‘ambassadors’ for NGOs: on what terms?

Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, due to perform in the Israeli-occupied Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday 20 September, is a Global Ambassador for Oxfam.

Artists for Palestine UK has engaged in discussion with Oxfam in the hope the organisation would dissuade him from going ahead with the performance.

We have argued that an NGO which recruits artists to promote its values needs to make sure the artists’ actions are consistent with those values.   Baaba Maal appearing in occupied East Jerusalem is not, we’ve argued, consistent with Oxfam’s stated opposition to Israeli colonisation policy.

We are making public an edited version of our most recent letter to our Oxfam interlocutors.

London, 14 September 2016

Dear Oxfam,

We’ve been reflecting on Oxfam’s unwillingness to take any kind of stand against Baaba Maal’s imminent performance in occupied East Jerusalem.   Your last letter to Artists for Palestine UK said, ‘Oxfam’s policy does not extend to supporting a boycott of Israel’.   But this is to misunderstand the meaning of Baaba Maal’s action and its very real challenge to Oxfam policy.   Oxfam is behaving inconsistently with respect to Israeli violations of international law.

By agreeing to perform in a Jerusalem Municipality event in occupied East Jerusalem, Baaba is signalling that he considers as legitimate Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem (the basis on which Israel controls East Jerusalem).   It would be different if Baaba were performing at a Palestinian event in East Jerusalem.   But he is participating in an official Israeli initiative.

Oxfam would not support a Global Ambassador who performed at the invitation of a settlement municipality in the West Bank, because to do so would be to endorse the illegal settlement enterprise.   Oxfam should not support an ambassador who performs at the invitation of the Jerusalem Municipality in East Jerusalem, because the Municipality is the equivalent of an Israeli settlement municipality – it is an Israeli local government authority which exercises control over Palestinian territory by virtue of an illegal annexation.

The Jerusalem Municipality is the main authority behind Israel’s settlement and ethnic cleansing campaign in East Jerusalem, which results in severe violations of Palestinian human rights.  In particular, it is official Municipality policy to ‘Judaise’ Jerusalem (as mayor Nir Barkat boasted to a Likud gathering on 25 August:   The Municipality is responsible for planning and approving illegal settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes, and putting in place a myriad discriminatory measures that disadvantage Palestinians and privilege Israeli Jews, including in the fields of culture and tourism.

At both moral and political levels, it sends out the wrong message for an Oxfam Global  Ambassador to accept an invitation from the Jerusalem Municipality, and it is inappropriate for Oxfam to endorse an ambassador who would accept such an invitation.  Oxfam needs to take public steps to criticise the performance and distance itself from Baaba.

The Artists for Palestine UK Collective

French translation.

Nous faisons du public une version révisée de notre plus récente lettre à nos interlocutors à Oxfam.

Londres, le 14 Septembre 2016

Cher Oxfam,

Nous avons réfléchi à la réticence d’Oxfam à prendre quelque position publique que ce soit, contre le concert imminent de Baaba Maal dans Jérusalem Est occupée. Votre dernière lettre aux Artistes pour la Palestine UK a déclaré « la politique d’Oxfam ne va pas jusqu’à soutenir un boycott d’Israël ». Mais c’est un malentendu sur le sens de l’action concernant Baaba Maal et c’est un vrai défi à la politique d’Oxfam. Oxfam se comporte de façon inconséquente eu égard aux violations du droit international par Israël.

En acceptant de se produire dans un événement de la Municipalité de Jérusalem dans Jérusalem Est occupée, Baaba Maal signifie qu’il considère légitime l’annexion illégale par Israël de Jérusalem Est (qui est la base du contrôle de Jérusalem Est par Israël). Il n’en irait pas de même si Baaba jouait dans le cadre d’un événement palestinien à Jérusalem Est. Mais il participe à une initiative officielle israélienne.

Oxfam ne soutiendrait pas un Ambassadeur International qui interviendrait en public à l’invitation de la municipalité d’une colonie de Cisjordanie, car le faire reviendrait à endosser le processus de colonisation illégale. Oxfam ne devrait pas soutenir un ambassadeur qui se produit à l’invitation de la municipalité de Jérusalem Est parce que la municipalité est l’équivalent de celle d’une colonie israélienne – c’est une autorité locale israélienne qui exerce son contrôle sur un territoire palestinien en vertu d’une annexion illégale.

La municipalité de Jérusalem est la principale autorité de Jérusalem responsable de la campagne israélienne d’implantation de colonies et de nettoyage ethnique à Jérusalem Est, qui donne lieu à de graves violations des droits humains des Palestiniens. En particulier, la « judaïsation » de Jérusalem est une politique officielle de la municipalité  (comme le maire, Nir Barkat s’en est vanté lors d’un rassemblement du Likoud le 25 août :  La municipalité est responsable de la planification et de l’approbation de colonies illégales, de la démolition de maisons palestiniennes, de la mise en place d’une myriade de mesures discriminatoires qui désavantagent les Palestiniens et privilégient les Israéliens juifs, notamment dans les champs de la culture et du tourisme.

Au niveau moral comme au niveau politique, l’acceptation par un Ambassadeur International d’Oxfam d’une invitation de la municipalité de Jérusalem n’envoie pas un bon message et il est déplacé de la part d’Oxfam de donner son aval à un ambassadeur qui accepterait une telle invitation. Oxfam doit prendre une position publique de critique du concert et se distancier de Baaba. 
Sincèrement vôtres

Le Collectif Artists for Palestine UK



Italian press reports opposition to state-sponsored Israeli dance performance, citing letter from Brian Eno

Batsheva Dance Company show in Jerusalem

Batsheva dancers in rehearsal in Jerusalem.                     Credit: EPA/ABIR SULTAN


UPDATE 11 Sept: Il Fatto Quotidiano today printed a full page interview with Eno.


Italian newspapers are reporting opposition to Israeli state sponsorship of a performance by Batsheva dance company, due to take place tomorrow (Sept 6) in Turin.

La Republica has published in full a letter sent in June to Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin by composer Brian Eno, explaining why he has withdrawn permission for his music to be used in the performance. La Stampa has quoted from it and the story has been picked up by Italian news agency ANSA.

See here a translation by Stephanie Westbrook of BDS Italia of the Republica article, plus the text of Brian Eno’s letter.

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slashed gazan picture

‘Beautiful resistance’ meets cynical culture-washing on Edinburgh Fringe


Best singers

Alrowwad singers. Picture by Phil Chetwynd

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.

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Baaba Maal photo ©Oxfam

Baaba Maal yet to announce decision on going to Israel

Baaba and Gary YoungeUPDATE 3 SEPTEMBER:  Baaba Maal actively engaged with pro-Palestinian campaigners urging him to respect the Palestinian boycott call, seeming to leave open the possibility that he would not go to Israel on September 20.

Baaba is pictured (left) in discussion with Guardian editor-at-large Gary Younge during the Africa Utopia festival at London’s Southbank Centre, where hundreds of Artists for Palestine UK leaflets were in circulation. A separate protest took place outside the building.

Younge referred to his own experience as a participant in the Palestinian Literature Festival (PalFest) in which artists were obliged to travel to meet their audiences because Palestinians are not themselves free to move around.

“Why would you go to a place where people can’t travel and there is a boycott going on?” he asked.

Baaba said no one musician could make a significant difference, that change required action from world leaders, that his job as an artist was to write and perform songs that say what he believes is right.

A questioner from APUK reminded him that world leaders had failed the Palestinians for six decades, that the point of the boycott was to join large numbers of artists together in solidarity, as in the case of South Africa, and that Israel would take his appearance there as a sign of approval.

Baaba acknowledged the pro-boycott arguments and said he would have to choose between listening to them and not going to Israel, or listening to those who want him to go and represent his people’s culture there.

Asked by Younge to clarify his intentions, Baaba said: “This is not the place for me to say.”


On Aug 29, Artists for Palestine UK  sent a second appeal to Baaba Maal, expressing dismay that he should agree to perform in a city which is under an illegal military occupation and questioning how this can possibly be compatible with his current role as a ‘Global Ambassador’ for Oxfam.

The French version of the letter follows below the English one.
La version française de la 
lettre suit ci-dessous.

London, 29 August 2016

Dear Baaba Maal,

It is a month now since we wrote to you about your decision to perform on 20 September in the Old City of Jerusalem – which is under Israeli military occupation.

We called on you to cancel your show.   We know that this call has been taken up by many people, in many parts of the world.   We are astonished and dismayed that you have not responded to it.

You are a Global Ambassador for Oxfam.   ‘This year,’ says Oxfam’s website, ‘Baaba Maal is calling on world leaders to Stand As One with the more than 60 million people who have been forced to flee their homes by conflicts, violence and persecution.’

You must know that among the 60 million, are 5 million Palestinian refugees who are scattered around the world, most living in refugee camps, and not allowed to return to the homes which they were forced to leave in 1948.   You must know, too, that every month this number rises, as Palestinians are driven out to make way for new Israeli settlements.

This is happening in the very city where you are planning to perform.   Palestinian homes are being demolished by the Jerusalem municipality which sponsors the ‘Sacred Music Festival’ where you have been invited to play.   The fact that the venue for your performance, the al-Qal’a citadel, has been renamed the ‘Tower of David’ is a symbol of this expropriation, which seeks to wipe out the Palestinian past.

We appeal to you: do not perform in a city which is under illegal occupation, whose indigenous inhabitants continue to be under pressure to leave.   Act on your principles, stand up against injustice, do not give consolation to those who are driving a people from its homeland.

Doug Holton, theatre-maker

Jenny Morgan, film-maker

Miranda Pennell, film-maker

Kareem Samara, musician

Farhana Sheikh, writer

John Smith, film-maker

Hilary Westlake, theatre director


Notre lettre en français:



                                                           Londres, le 29 août 2016

Cher Baaba Maal,

Voilà un mois, nous vous écrivions à propos de votre décision de vous produire le mois prochain dans la Vieille Ville de Jérusalem – qui est sous occupation militaire Israélienne.

Nous faisions appel à vous pour que vous annuliez votre concert.   Nous savons que cet appel a été repris par beaucoup d’autres personnes dans de nombreuses parties du monde. Nous sommes étonnés et consternés que vous n’y ayiez pas répondu.

Vous êtes ambassadeur mondiale pour l’Oxfam.   ‘Cette année’, lit-on sur le site de l’Oxfam, ‘Baaba Maal appelle les dirigeants du monde entier à se dresser comme un seul homme avec les plus de 60 millions de personnes qui ont été obligées de fuir leurs maisons à cause des conflits, de la violence et des persécutions.’

Vous devez savoir que, parmi ces 60 millions, il y a 5 millions de réfugiés palestiniens, dispersés à travers le monde, vivant principalement dans des camps de réfugiés, et qui n’ont pas le droit de retourner chez eux en Palestine qu’ils ont été forcés de quitter en 1948. Vous devez savoir aussi que, tous les mois, ce nombre augmente, car les Palestiniens sont arrachés à leurs maisons pour faire de la place pour les nouvelles colonies israéliennes.

Ceci se passe dans la ville même où vous avez projeté de vous produire.   Des maisons palestiniennes sont démolies par la municipalité de Jérusalem, qui parrraine le ‘Festival de Musique Sacrée’ dans lequel vous avez été invité à jouer.   Le fait que le lieu prévu pour votre concert, la citadelle al-Qal’a, est maintenant rebaptisée la ‘Tour de David’ est un symbole de l’expropriation qui cherche à balayer son passé palestinien.

Nous faisons appel à vous : Ne vous produisez pas dans une ville qui est sous occupation illégale, dont les habitants indigènes demeurent sous pression pour la quitter.   Traduisez vos principes en actes, dressez vous contre l’injustice, ne confortez pas ceux qui arrachent une population à sa terre natale.

Doug Holton, créateur de théatre

Jenny Morgan, réalisatrice

Miranda Pennell, réalisatrice

Kareem Samara, musicien

Farhana Sheikh, écrivaine

John Smith, réalisateur

Hilary Westlake, directeur de théâtre


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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‘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.