Four artists have cancelled their scheduled performances at an international festival in Berlin citing the festival's partnership with the Israeli embassy and their support for the Palestinian call for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The Pop-Kultur festival, which is due to take place in Berlin next week, is an annual event that attracts thousands of visitors. While the two-day event also boasts over 30 sponsors including several internationally recognised brands, Israel appears to be the only foreign country taking a keen interest.
Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi, one of the four to cancel their performance, said in a statement posted on Facebook yesterday that she "was looking forward to playing until [I] realised the festival was sponsored by Israeli embassy". The musician went on to say: "As things get tougher inside and outside Palestine, what each one of us can always do is show solidarity and empathy, as artists it starts by being true and faithful."
Announcing their cancellation, the Egyptian group Islam Chipsy said on Monday that they had cancelled their performance because of the participation of the Israeli embassy. The group posted on Facebook that they wanted to make it clear that their music seeks to "resist violence, persecution and discrimination of any kind against each other".
Mohammad Abu Hajar of the Mazzaj Rap Band, who was previously jailed in Syria for his activism, explained why his group had cancelled its appearance last week:
It did not take us a minute to know what we had to do; we will not participate in a festival that accepts the partnership with an embassy representing a state and a government – led by right-wing party Likud and Netanyahu – which openly declared on many different occasions anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Black attitudes.
"Given this and its perpetration of all previous government's colonial behaviour, we understand the partnership with an embassy as an attempt to whitewash the image of its government and an endorsement of its behaviour."
Abu Hajar went on to say that the festival cannot achieve its stated aim of bringing artists from different backgrounds together on one stage under such conditions. "Our stand is not against a culture, but resistance against a discriminatory, colonial government," he added. "It is not merely an opinion that we disagree with, but a whole set of oppressive structures, manifesting themselves in the policies of the Israeli state."
Syrian DJ and producer Hello Psychaleppo, the third artist to cancel, said on Monday that at the time he agreed to take part in the festival over a couple of months ago, he was not aware that the Israeli embassy was amongst the sponsors of the event.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) welcomed the cancellations saying in a statement released yesterday: "[PACBI] salutes the artists who have cancelled their participation in Pop-Kultur to protest Israel's sponsorship."
As in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, a regime of oppression and racism should never be welcomed in cultural spaces claiming to advocate for openness, inclusion and human rights.
PACBI, a founding member of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) National Committee, went on to condemn Pop-Kultur's acceptance of Israel's sponsorship describing the decision as "a conscious act of complicity in whitewashing Israel's regime of occupation and apartheid".
Pop-Kultur responded to the string of cancellations in a statement yesterday to confirm that the four artists had cancelled their performances at this year's festival due to its partnership with the Israeli embassy. They also confirmed that the Israeli embassy "partly contributes to the travel expenses for artists performing at the festival".
Meanwhile, Artists for Palestine UK (APUK) published an open letter addressed to UK musicians scheduled to perform at Pop-Kultur calling on them to withdraw from the event.
"When you signed up to play Berlin Pop-Kultur, you possibly didn't know that the Israeli embassy in Germany was a sponsor. Maybe you also don't know that Palestinian civil society, living under Israeli military occupation or in exile, is appealing to artists not to take part in events sponsored by the state of Israel, in solidarity with the Palestinians' long struggle for rights and freedom."
"But now that you do know, will you follow the example of the musicians who have withdrawn from Pop-Kultur in the past few days?"
APUK, whose pledge to uphold the cultural boycott of Israel has been signed by more than 1,200 UK artists continued:
You have the power to tell the Palestinians they are not alone under occupation and in exile. Please use your power. Please withdraw from Berlin Pop-Kultur.
Pop-Kultur is one of several cultural festivals which the Israeli embassy has been keen to support. The Edinburgh Fringe, one of the UK's major festivals, also partnered with the Israeli embassy. Critics say that under the banner of coexistence and cultural cooperation Israel is trying to whitewash its brutal occupation of Palestine and the long list of human rights abuses committed by its occupying forces against the Palestinians.