Boycott art and culture funded by Israeli (Picture: Guy Smallman

As a performing arts critic and a supporter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), I found myself boycotting artists who are funded by the Israeli state at three festivals this summer.

The Almada Theatre Festival in Portugal, the FIAMS puppet theatre festival in Saguenay, Quebec, and the Edinburgh International Festival chose to invite artists who had accepted funding from the Israeli government. 

The Batsheva Dance Company, theatre-maker Yael Rasooly and L-E-V Dance Company took money from the Israeli government and agreed to be“cultural ambassadors” for the Zionist state. 

For a state with a population of fewer than 10 million people, Israel invests an astonishing amount of money in the “soft power” of promoting its artists abroad.

This has continued under the far right coalition of the appalling Binyamin Netanyahu—which includes the far right Itamar Ben-Gvir as minister for national security.

The reason for the policy is a desperate desire to “artswash” the occupation of Palestine and an attempt to sell Israel to the world as a Western European-style democracy.

We should remember that apartheid South Africa sought to do something similar with sport and culture.

The South African state put a particular emphasis on sport. 

This led to a brilliant campaign by the anti-apartheid movement against events such as British fixtures involving the South African national rugby team, the Springboks.

We in the BDS movement agree with the late leaders of the South African struggle, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, that Israel is an apartheid state.

We should, however, address the argument that BDS against Israel, unlike the boycott of South Africa, is not sanctioned by the United Nations (UN). 

In the eyes of some, this makes the boycott of South Africa legitimate when BDS is not. This argument is disingenuous in the extreme.

The push for the international boycott of apartheid South Africa did not come from the UN. It was derived from the call from the anti-apartheid forces in South Africa itself, most notably Mandela’s African National Congress.  

At the UN, Israel is constantly protected by the veto powers of its imperialist ally and principal funder, the United States.

But as with the boycott of South Africa, BDS against Israel takes its moral authority from the oppressed themselves.

Every significant political and civic organisation representing the Palestinians calls for a boycott.

Another argument used against the cultural boycott is that it is opposed to artistic freedom.

A few years ago I had a conversation with the above‑mentioned Israeli theatre-maker Yael Rasooly.

She insisted that her taking money from the Netanyahu government was not an endorsement of its policies and, more importantly, that without Israeli state money, she couldn’t make her work.

This latter point begs the question, what kind of work does she want to make and on whose terms?

If Rasooly condemned the occupation and refused Israeli state funding, she would find that many artists and artistic companies around the world would want to collaborate with her.

A fantastic example of this is the superb show Soldiers of Tomorrow, which has been playing at the Edinburgh Fringe throughout August.

It is written and performed by Itai Erdal, a former conscript soldier in the Israeli army who left Israel for Canada more than 20 years ago in disgust at the occupation.

Erdal, collaborating with his friend, the brilliant Syrian musician Emad Armoush, uses his powerfully creative theatre to expose the brutal realities of the Israeli Occupation.

As Erdal says early in his current show, “Antisemitism is hatred of Jews as Jews. It is not a criticism of Israel.”

Every socialist should stand with the Palestinians and with brave and principled Israeli dissidents like Erdal and support BDS against the Israeli apartheid state.

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