Artists criticize Barbican’s collab. with Israeli embassy for concert

More than 50 artists, writers and musicians urge major arts center to end engagement with the ‘apartheid embassy’ and consider the Jerusalem Orchestra East & West’s performance a ‘cynical attempt to re-brand apartheid as diversity’.

  •  A view of the Dome of the Rock shrine at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in al-Quds's Old City, occupied Palestine Tuesday, June 21, 2022
    A view of the Dome of the Rock shrine at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in al-Quds’s Old City, occupied Palestine Tuesday, June 21, 2022 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

More than 50 artists have protested over the Barbican arts venue holding a concert in collaboration with the Israeli embassy in London.

The Israeli government must be “held to account for its policies towards the Palestinian people”, the artists argued, saying that the concert is “a cynical attempt to re-brand apartheid as diversity and military occupation as tolerance,” according to The Guardian.

The Jerusalem Orchestra East & West, which will be performing the concert, claims to be “a multicultural orchestra, with members from all three religions, from all over the country and from all sectors that make up Israeli society”.

Mehdi Nassouli, a Moroccan singer and instrumentalist, will accompany the Barbican performance with three other Moroccan musicians.

The signatories, in a letter objecting to the concert, acknowledge “the appeal of an event” that appears to join together Al-Quds’ different cultures for a broad audience.

However, they say that “this has to be seen for what it is – a cynical attempt to re-brand apartheid as diversity and military occupation as tolerance. Far from exemplifying a convivial multiculturalism, Jerusalem [Al-Quds] itself is the site of long-running oppression and violent military occupation.”

Citing reports by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International that designate “Israel” an apartheid regime, they say they “doubt the Barbican would have partnered with the South African embassy during its apartheid era”.

Many of the letter’s signatories are well-known supporters of Palestinian rights, including writer Ahdaf Soueif, actors Miriam Margolyes and Stephen Rea, and filmmakers Peter Kosminksy and Ken Loach.

Supporters of the Palestinian cause have several points of view regarding possible actions. Some call for a complete boycott of the academic, cultural, business, and sports institutions of “Israel”. Others target Israeli activity in the occupied territories, mainly Al-Quds and the West Bank. At the same time, some consider that the protests and boycotts must be directed at the Israeli government and official agencies instead of Israeli citizens.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of “Israel” (Pacbi), part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, says in its guidelines that any cultural body that fails to explicitly recognize Palestinians’ rights, or that whitewashes or justifies the Israeli violations of international law, is a legitimate target for boycotting.

Artists for Palestine say that Moroccan human rights organizations have demanded the four Moroccan musicians participating in the Barbican concert to withdraw.

In recent years, major performers, such as Lorde and Lana Del Ray have canceled appearances in solidarity with the Palestinian people and the apartheid violence they are subjected to, while writers such as Sally Rooney have refused to deal with Israeli publishing houses.

“We present art and artists from all over the world. We are looking forward to welcoming Jerusalem Orchestra East & West, a talented and diverse group of musicians who celebrate musical traditions from North Africa, the Middle East and Europe,” a spokesperson for the Barbican said in a statement responding to the artists’ letter.

“Artistic work that is presented internationally often receives support from national governments, and we acknowledge the support for this event from the embassy of Israel in the UK,” the spokesperson added.


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