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

Palestinian and Israeli Artists Urge Aurora: Don’t Play Israel!

Norwegian pop star Aurora is booked to play Tel Aviv on November 14th and 15th. Palestinian artists, and Israeli artists, have each launched appeals to the singer. 

Artists for Palestine UK is pleased to host both letters below.

Palestinian artists to Aurora

Dear Aurora 

It is with great regret we have become aware of your planned performance in Tel Aviv in November. You have quickly become one of the great new names in the international popular music scene, including among Palestinians and other Arabs. Regardless of your intentions, your decision to perform in Tel Aviv will be seen as endorsing Israel’s whitewash of its occupation and denial of human rights to Palestinians. 

Israel is intensifying its decades-old regime of oppression against Palestinians, especially its theft of Palestinian land and resources to build more illegal settlements and apartheid walls. UN investigators have concluded that Israeli occupation forces’ intentional targeting of journalists, medics, children and disabled people with sniper fire in Gaza “may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity”. Moreover, Israel’s 12-year-old siege of Gaza has reduced it into an “unliveable” territory, according to the UN. Israel’s military occupation counts per-capita calories allowed into Gaza to keep the two million Palestinians there on the verge of starvation.

Given this reality, many celebrities, including Lana del Rey, Lorde and Natalie Portman, have cancelled scheduled events or performances  in Israel. As during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, such expressions of solidarity by artists sends the right message that they will not lend their names to covering up Israel’s oppression and that they stand with the oppressed Palestinians, including artists, who are not allowed to travel freely to share our art and culture.  

The people of Norway have been among the most supportive of Palestinian freedom. The LO Trade Unions Congress resolution of 2017 in support of our nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, for instance, was a very important international victory for us Palestinians. It mainstreamed boycott as a tool of Norwegian solidarity with the oppressed. And when more than 150 Norwegian artists endorsed the Palestinian, Israeli and international calls for 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. 

You describe yourself as a “down to earth” personality, uncompromising and not to be pushed around by producers and the like. This sounds like somebody who would be inclined to side with the oppressed and downtrodden, as did Lana del Rey and Lorde, rather than siding with the oppressors and perpetrators of war crimes. 

You may be approached by a group called “Creative Community for Peace” (CCFP), an Israel lobby group that presents itself as an “independent” entertainment industry organization trying to convince you why crossing the Palestinian nonviolent picket line to perform in Tel Aviv is good for your career and the “right” thing to do. CCFP carefully hides from artists that it is actually a front group for StandWithUs (SWU), a long-established right-wing, anti-Palestinian, pro-Israeli settler lobby group with long-time ties to Israel’s far-right government.

We Palestinian artists appeal to you to stand with the thousands of artists worldwide who refuse to allow their art to art-wash Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid and thus to contribute to our peaceful struggle for freedom and rights.

Signed,

Shahd Abusalama, dancer

Raed Andoni, filmmaker 

Nai Barghouti, singer

Nabil Bey, musician, songwriter

Samir Eskanda, musician

Adnan Joubran, musician, composer

Remi Kanazi, poet

Hannah Khalil, playwright

Ramzi Maqdisi, actor 

Ahmed Masoud, author, playwright

Kareem Samara, musician

 

 

Israeli artists to Aurora

Dear Aurora,

We are Israeli artists, musicians, filmmakers, and authors, active for a just society here and for a better world. We respect and empathise deeply with your commitment to artistic independence and an artistic voice on pressing global issues. We would like to share our perspective on your planned concert in Israel. 

We, as Jewish Israelis who yearn to live in a peaceful, democratic society, recognise that there is no way to achieve that without ending our government’s oppression of millions of Palestinians. A society can’t be considered democratic, if millions have no vote and no say in the regime that rules them. Such is the situation in Israel, where millions of Palestinians are under military siege and occupation. 

Playing in Israel at this moment necessarily means making a political statement. On one hand, it would be wonderful to hear your message calling to action around pressing global issues. On the other, this message will be delivered in Tel Aviv, which Israel uses as means of public relations, to distract from its military occupation, apartheid policies, and ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Palestinian people.

In Tel-Aviv itself Israel displaces the Palestinians of Jafa, vis-a-vis the Tel-Aviv-Jafa municipality, using economic and legalistic means, evicting families, demolishing homes, and neglecting and defunding whole neighbourhoods, in a process of gentrification that favours Jewish-Israelis over Palestinians.

We, as artists, can’t sit silent as our Palestinian counterparts suffer silencing, dehumanisation and violence, and we ask you to join us in speaking out. Palestinian artists have asked you to cancel your concert, and we strengthen their call.

Respectfully,

Meira Asher, sound and radio artist, educator

Ohal Grietzer, composer, mixed-media performer

Avi Hershkovitz, filmmaker

Jonathan Ofir, conductor

David Oppenheim, artist, musician 

Timna Perets, filmmaker

Danielle Ravitzki, artist 

Ben Ronen, visual artist

Itamar Shapira, musician

Yonatan Shapira, musician

Professor Eyal Sivan, filmmaker, Amsterdam University of the Arts (AhK)

Hamutal Song, author, artist, journalist

Karen Zack, photographer