Open letter to Anna-Sofie von Otter
As a classical musician and a longstanding admirer of yours, I am horrified to learn that you propose to perform in Tel Aviv next month.
I understand that your personal background – the honourable role of your father in attempting to awaken the world to the reality of the Nazi extermination camps – might predispose you towards performing in Israel. However, while it was possible to keep Nazi atrocities secret for many years, nobody in today’s linked-up world can claim to be unaware of the appalling crimes perpetrated by the Israeli state, which frequently and shamefully instrumentalises the Holocaust as an excuse for its own inexcusable behaviour.
Do I need to draw your attention to the Goldstone Report into crimes committed during Israel’s so-called “Operation Cast Lead“, the merciless onslaught on the occupied and blockaded Gaza Strip that Israel perpetrated in 2008-9? Over 1400 defenceless Palestinians were killed, more than 300 of them children, under horrific circumstances that the Report outlines in forensic detail. Indeed the Report amounts to the most dramatic indictment of the criminal actions of any purportedly democratic state in modern times.
Richard Goldstone, a respected Jewish judge who, together with a team of highly qualified experts, had been on a mission on behalf of the United Nations, was subsequently stripped of his position as an honorary governor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem: an action that says a great deal about the vengefulness of the Israeli state and its unwillingness to accept justified, meticulously documented criticism of its actions.
Subsequently, the Israeli navy intercepted a flotilla of boats sailing to break the illegal blockade of Gaza, illegally boarded the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, and killed 9 unarmed Turkish peace activists. Your compatriot the novelist Henning Mankell, who has eloquently expressed his belief in “solidarity as an instrument to change the world“, was on board another boat which was piratically boarded by Israeli forces at the same time (the Sophia). He stated: “I think the Israeli military went out to commit murder…”
These are only two of the more recent proofs that the state of Israel considers itself to be above the law. It has been enabled to retain this status for decades only because of unstinting support from the governments of the USA and the EU. It is because of this complicity between our governments and the government of Israel that civil society organisations and individuals have felt obliged to have recourse to the boycott tactic that was so effective in isolating the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
Note that in those days South Africa’s defenders often referred to it as “the only democracy in Africa“, as if it were possible for a state to be democratic and simultaneously enshrine racism in its laws, and as if crimes committed by a democracy would have been any less heinous that those committed by a dictatorship. Similar arguments are often adduced to defend Israel against the deployment of the boycott tactic, with equal lack of justification.
In July 2005 some 170 Palestinian civil society organisations (they now number over 200) “call[ed] upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era…until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people‘s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law.“ (http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=66). One year later, in the wake of Israel’s murderous assault on Lebanon, this call was supplemented by one for a cultural boycott of Israel from over 120 Palestinian artists, filmmakers and cultural workers. (http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=315)
Observe that these calls from representative organisations and individuals from an oppressed people constitute a powerful mandate for boycott action on the part of international artist(e)s, a mandate the only precedent for which was provided by the South African case. It is precisely Israel’s claim to democratic status and to embody “civilised Western values“ that justifies its being “singled out“ for such treatment, just as it is “singled out“ by Western governments to be exempt from international law and international humanitarian law.
On the cultural front, positive responses to this mandate are becoming more frequent: last February 500 artists from Montreal endorsed the call for a boycott (www.tadamon.ca/post/5824), while in August over 150 Irish artists (they now number almost 180) from all disciplines including classical music pledged “not to avail of any invitation to perform or exhibit in Israel, nor to accept any funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.“ (http://www.ipsc.ie/pledge/)
Meanwhile, individuals like Carlos Santana, Gil Scott-Heron, Roger Waters and Elvis Costello (with whom I know you have worked) have called off performances in Israel. Courageously ahead of his time, the British violinist Nigel Kennedy has refused invitations to Israel for several years.
In 2005 Nissim Ben-Sheetrit of Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated: “We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.” (Ha’aretz, 21/09/05). This shameless statement of intent should make it clear that you cannot perform in Israel without your very presence in that country being exploited by the state for propaganda purposes. Whether you like it or not, you will be exploited to whitewash the crimes of an oppressive, murderous, apartheid and – yes – anti-democratic state.
Please do not lend yourself to such exploitation: please do not perform in Israel.