Artists stand with Ken Loach and against McCarthyism

“We are deeply troubled to learn of a McCarthyite campaign demanding Oxford University cancel a public event with director Ken Loach discussing his distinguished career in film. The campaign to silence a world-renowned artist, which has been active behind the scenes and which became public at the last minute, is using the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism to try to prevent a cultural event from taking place. If any further evidence were needed to demonstrate how a vaguely worded definition is being deployed to silence critics of Israeli policy towards Palestinians — then this is it. We have been warned by respected Palestinian academics, Israeli scholars, leading experts on antisemitism, dozens of progressive Jewish groups, and others that this definition is being used as a political weapon. We cannot fight racism, including antisemitism, by demonising and silencing supporters of Palestinian rights.”

Signed:

Hany Abu-Assad, filmmaker

Raed Andoni, filmmaker

Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian parliamentarian, scholar and civil society leader

Nahed Awwad, filmmaker

Victoria Brittain, journalist, author, playwright

Judith Butler, philosopher and gender theorist

David Calder, actor

Dame Carmen Callil, publisher, editor

Julie Christie, actor 

Caryl Churchill, playwright

Steve Coogan, actor, comedian, producer

Dror Dayan, filmmaker, senior lecturer 

Raymond Deane, composer, author

Esther Ruth Elliott, actor, director

Brian Eno, musician, producer

Peter Gabriel, musician, founder Womad music festival

Tony Graham, theatre director

Ohal Grietzer, composer and mixed-media performer

Barbara Harvey, civil rights and labor lawyer

Trevor Hoyle, novelist and radio dramatist

Ronnie Kasrils, former South African Government Minister

Mike Leigh, screenwriter, director

Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, South African Parliamentarian

Jean Said Makdissi, writer

Samir Makdissi, Professor Emeritus of Economics, AUB

Kika Markham, actor

Mai Masri, filmmaker

Thurston Moore, musician

David Morrisey, actor

Rebecca O’Brien, producer 

Ruth Padel, poet

Maxine Peake, actor

Mark Rylance, actor

Alexei Sayle, comedian

Eyal Sivan, filmmaker 

Rosemary Sayigh, journalist and scholar

Ahdaf Soueif, author, founder PalFest

Rima Tarazi, Palestinian pianist, composer and social activist

Harriet Walter, actor

Roger Waters, musician

Samuel West, actor, director 

Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace

Brian Eno: Artists must call out Germany’s anti-Palestinian witch-hunt

A 2019 parliamentary resolution has had a chilling effect on critics of Israeli policy. Now the cultural sector is speaking up.

  • This article was published in The Guardian under the title ‘Artists like me are being censored in Germany – because we support Palestinian rights’.

I am just one of many artists who have been affected by a new McCarthyism that has taken hold amid a rising climate of intolerance in Germany. Novelist Kamila Shamsie, poet Kae Tempest, musicians Young Fathers and rapper Talib Kwelli, visual artist Walid Raad and the philosopher Achille Mbembe are among the artists, academics, curators and others who have been caught up in a system of political interrogation, blacklisting and exclusion that is now widespread in Germany thanks to the passing of a 2019 parliamentary resolution. Ultimately this is about targeting critics of Israeli policy towards Palestinians.

Recently, an exhibition of my artwork was cancelled in its early stages because I support the nonviolent, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The cancellation was never publicly declared, but I understand it to have been the consequence of cultural workers in Germany fearing that they and their institution would be punished for promoting someone labelled as “antisemitic”. This is the work of tyranny: create a situation where people are frightened enough to keep their mouths shut, and self-censorship will do the rest.Advertisement

But as my own story is relatively minor, I’d like to tell you about my friend, musician Nirit Sommerfeld.

Nirit was born in Israel and raised in Germany, and retains her lifelong connection to both places, including to her extended family in Israel. As an artist, she has been dealing with the relationship between Germans, Israelis and Palestinians for more than 20 years in songs, texts and performances, dedicating all her shows to international and inter-religious understanding.

Yet now Nirit finds herself unable to do her cultural work freely. When considering her application for arts funding, state officials have told Nirit they needed to vet her work; when trying to book a concert venue in Munich, her hometown, she was told by the organisers that the show would be cancelled unless she confirmed in writing that it would feature no “support for the content, topic and goals” of the BDS campaign. She has repeatedly been a target of smear campaigns. 

Why has this happened?

Because she has spoken about what she has seen with her own eyes: Israel’s racist laws against its own citizens who are Palestinian; Israel’s military checkpoints, house demolitions, the separation wall, the land-grabs, the incarceration of children, and Israeli soldiers humiliating and killing Palestinians of all ages. She has witnessed the illegal use of phosphorus bombs against Gaza and the indifference – at best – of many in Israeli society.

I asked Nirit how she feels about the situation: “After returning for two years to Tel Aviv, and many visits to the occupied Palestinian territories, I understood that Israel doesn’t live up to its professed high moral standards. The lesson learned from the Holocaust was ‘Never again!’ But is it intended only to protect us Jews? For me ‘Never again!’ must include ‘never again to racism, oppression, ethnic cleansing anywhere – as well as never again to antisemitism’.”

Nirit’s music celebrates her Jewish past and present through song. As an artist whose grandfather was murdered in the Nazi genocide, she finds it “profoundly disturbing” that she is subject to censorship and inquisitorial McCarthyism by German public officials and institutions.

In Nirit’s view: “When defenders of Israel insist that these occupation and apartheid policies are done in the name of all Jews worldwide, they fuel antisemitism. Fighting antisemitism should not and cannot be done by demonising the struggle for Palestinian rights.”

Nirit’s experience is an example of the Kafkaesque situation we’ve drifted into: a Jewish woman, whose work is all about history, memory, justice, peace and understanding, falsely accused of antisemitism – by German institutions. The absurdity of the accusation makes one thing clear: this isn’t actually about antisemitism at all, but about limiting our freedom to discuss the political and humanitarian situation in Israel and Palestine. 

So how has this situation come about?

In 2019, a vaguely worded non-binding parliamentary resolution was passed in Germany, falsely equating the BDS movement with antisemitism. In a short space of time, this resolution has paved the way for an atmosphere of paranoia, fuelled by misinformation and political opportunism.

BDS is a peaceful movement that aims to pressure Israel to end its violations of Palestinian human rights and to respect international law. It is modelled on precedents from the US civil rights movement, and most famously the movement against apartheid in South Africa. It targets complicity with an unjust regime, and it targets institutions, not individuals or identity. BDS alerts public consciousness to an untenable and deeply unjust status quo and mobilises action to end any involvement in sustaining it.

Yet festival directors, programmers and entire publicly funded institutions are subjecting artists to political tests, checking if they have ever criticised Israeli policy. This system of surveillance and self-censorship has come about because cultural institutions find themselves under attack by anti-Palestinian groups when they invite an artist or academic who holds a view of Israel’s occupation deemed unacceptable to them.

To give one example among many, the director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, Peter Schäfer, was forced to resign after the museum tweeted the link to an article in a German newspaper about an open letter by 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars, including leading experts on antisemitism, that was critical of the anti-BDS resolution.

But now, in an unprecedented move, representatives of 32 of Germany’s leading cultural institutions, including the Goethe-Institut, have spoken out together, expressing alarm about the repression of critical and minority voices in Germany as a result of the parliament’s anti-BDS resolution.

Their joint statement says: “By invoking this resolution, accusations of antisemitism are being misused to push aside important voices and to distort critical positions.” A few days later, more than 1,000 artists and academics signed an open letter supporting the protest by cultural institutions.

At a time when colonial legacies are increasingly being questioned, discussing this particular instance of ongoing colonialism is instead becoming taboo. But it has never been more urgent: the situation for Palestinians living under apartheid and occupation worsens by the week.

We should all be alarmed by this new McCarthyism. Artists, like all citizens, must be free to speak out and take meaningful action, including principled boycotts, against systems of injustice. If left unchallenged, the silencing of dissent and the marginalisation of minority groups will not stop with Palestinians and those who support them.

  • Brian Eno is a musician, artist, composer and producer

Brian Eno: Israel must not be allowed to use Eurovision as a propaganda tool

Brian Eno’s op-ed is published in today’s Guardian, and copied below.

“Those of us who make art and culture for a living thrive on free and open communication. So what should we do when we see culture becoming part of a political agenda? “Music unites,” says UK Eurovision entrant Michael Rice. What happens when a powerful state uses art as propaganda, to distract from its immoral and illegal behaviour? Everybody involved in the Eurovision song contest this year should understand that this is what is happening.

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DJs, producers, electronic musicians join boycott of Israel en masse

Today a stream of DJs, producers, record labels, electronic musicians are speaking up for Palestine and endorsing the cultural boycott of Israel. Using the hashtag #DJsForPalestine, these artists and cultural producers say they are supporting the Palestinian call for boycott as a peaceful protest against the occupation, “for as long as the Israeli government continues its brutal and sustained oppression of the Palestinian people”.

This collective action follows the pattern of a similar wave of bands, including  Portishead and Wolf Alice, who came out in protest using the hashtag #ArtistsForPalestine, shortly after Israel’s massacre of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza this May.

Caribou, the Discwoman collective, Laurel Halo, The Black Madonna, Ben UFO, Tessela, Truants, Ciel, DEADBOY, FourTet, Room4Resistance and many, many more joined together for this action.   Some artists added personal messages, for example Ben Thomson / UFO explained:

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Jamiroquai, will you stand with the Palestinians?

Dear Jamiroquai,

We write to ask you to cancel your concert in Israel. We do so knowing that band members are not indifferent to the situation in Palestine. In a 2008 interview, Jay Kay said, ‘Ask me something else; Ask me about the situation in Palestine’.

If we asked you about the situation in Palestine today, you’d probably know  that it has greatly deteriorated since 2008, with three prolonged bombing campaigns by Israel on Gaza. The besieged Strip is, according to the United Nations, ‘unlivable’, and there’s an ever expanding colonisation of land in the Palestinian West Bank. Continue reading

Israeli cultural whitewash fails to impress at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

For the second August in a row, advocates for Israel have used Edinburgh’s huge annual cultural gathering as cover for an attempt to whitewash the state’s decades of oppression and racist discrimination against Palestinians.

Under the rubric of coexistence and cultural cooperation, this year’s International Shalom Festival, staged over three days at a community secondary school, sought to avoid the opprobrium heaped upon its blatantly propagandistic 2016 incarnation.

Last year the event’s organisers, known for working with the Israeli Embassy to undermine and oppose campaigning work in support of Palestinian rights, proudly proclaimed it as a major “Israel advocacy” initiative. This year the same groups – the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (COFIS) and StandWithUs – have tried to entice audiences with a vision of Israel as a haven of tolerance and harmony offering “real examples of coexistence”.

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Artswatch Palestine: February-March 2017

Introduction
‘Artswatch’ is a regular digest that monitors attacks on Palestinian cultural life. Such attacks are a constant and shocking part of  a long-term campaign that attempts to undermine Palestinian collective identity and resilience. The pattern of this systemic abuse is overlooked by the mainstream media,  yet is testimony to the fact that  ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘free cultural exchange’ are privileges that have never been extended to Palestinians by Israel. This fact demands an urgent response from international artists in particular.

[Photo: T Suárez. Palestine Philharmonie: Amandine Beyer demonstrating a phrase to (left to right) Lamar Elias, Carol Ibrahim, Gandhi Saad, and Lourdina Baboun. ]

raiding jenin

Rania Wasfi, program coordinator at The Freedom Theatre, whose home was turned over by the army.

The Jenin Freedom Theatre website reported on 27th March a raid by Israeli soldiers on the home of its co-ordinator, Rania Wasfi.

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‘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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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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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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Art is the velvet glove on Israel’s iron fist – Brian Eno in Apollo magazine

International art magazine Apollo devotes its December double-page  Forum discussion to the question, “Are artists justified in boycotting Israel?”

The debate can be viewed online here. We review it below.
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Welsh gallery censors exhibition on historic Palestine after complaints by Zionist groups

An artist based in Wales whose work on the Nakba was censored following complaints from local Zionist groups, has said the actions ‘amount to the defacement of a piece of art and a censoring of artistic expression, something that should not happen anywhere in Britain, let alone at a publicly funded arts organisation.’

James Morris wrote to the management of Clwyd Theatre Cymru, after a decision was taken – without consulting the artist – to remove the captions accompanying his photographic series, Time and Remains, during the final week of a six-week exhibition at the theatre’s Oriel Gallery. In his letter to the Welsh theatre, he informed them he would be cancelling his scheduled artist’s talk on Friday 6 March, adding that ‘Any talk or public debate which could now take place would have to focus on what my exhibition has become, a censored art piece. It would have to be rescheduled and readvertised as such.’

The series, also known as ‘That Still Remains,’ documents the ‘scattered remains from across the country of the now historic Palestinian presence in much of Israel’s landscape.’ Morris is an artist and not a campaigner or activist. He writes in his introductory text the history that give his photographs their meaning:  Continue reading