Don’t let the Israel Ballet tip-toe around Apartheid!

Feb 5, 2010

Adalah-NY, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within, and American Jews for a Just Peace call for a boycott of and protests against the performances of the Israel Ballet during their February, 2010 US tour, due to the Israel Ballet”s complicity in whitewashing Israeli apartheid.

The Israel Ballet will perform from February 8 – 27, 2010 in Panama City (FL), Ft. Myers (FL), Sarasota (FL), Bunnel (FL), West Palm Beach (FL), Gainesville (FL), Newport News (VA), Burlington (VT), Worcester (MA), Brooklyn (NY), Morgantown (WV), Buffalo (NY), Elmira (NY) and Rockville (MD). We call on individuals and groups to mobilize to boycott and protest against these performances.

The Israel Ballet comes to the United States as part of the ongoing effort to “re-brand” Israel”s image in the West as an enlightened center of arts and technology, to conceal the facts about its occupation, racial discrimination and grave violations of international law and fundamental Palestinian rights. The Israeli government-sponsored campaign to promote cultural performances is a result of the steady decline of Israel”s standing in international public opinion. Consistent reports by the UN and leading human rights organizations have revealed the extent of Israel”s colonial oppression, gradual ethnic cleansing and even war crimes against the Palestinian people, as pointedly revealed in the UN”s recently published Goldstone Report on Israel”s war of aggression on Gaza.

The Israel Ballet, which receives around $1 million annually from the Israeli government, is being advertised as a cultural ambassador of the state by the Israeli Consulate in New York. The dance group also boasts holding “special performances” for Israeli soldiers.

Arts and culture have become an important weapon in the Israeli government”s public relations campaign, and in 2006, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched an initiative called “Brand Israel,” to salvage Israel’s deteriorating image abroad. Arye Mekel of Israel”s Foreign Ministry has stated that, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits… This way you show Israel”s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

Rather than distancing itself from the Israeli state”s cynical use of the arts to whitewash its apartheid and colonial policies, the Israel Ballet has embraced its ties with the state and proudly proclaims on its website that it is “earning recognition and bringing honor to the state of Israel.” Israel”s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in turn, affirms the troupe”s service to the state, calling them “a valued cultural representative.”

Rather than denouncing the Israeli army”s commission of well-documented human rights violations against Palestinians, the Israel Ballet solicits funds for “special performances” for Israeli soldiers, makes use of a special army program to keep an active duty soldier as an intern, and performs an encore to the tunes of the Israeli army band–saluting “with a smile the achievements of the state, Zionism and the art of classical ballet.”

In the press, the Israel Ballet actively obfuscates Israel”s regime of racial discrimination and segregation and shows complete disregard for Palestinian suffering. In late January, 2009, as Palestinians reeled from Israel”s assault on Gaza that indiscriminately killed 1400 residents, mostly civilians, Israel Ballet founder Berta Yampolsky told TimeOut Beijing, “Luckily, right now we don”t have to worry about war: despite our problems, this is a safe place; there”s no crime, and you don”t have to be afraid at night.”

Yampolsky continued, “We don”t care what religion or nationality you are, as long as you are a good person.” Yet none of the dancers, board members, or staff listed on the Israel Ballet website are Palestinian, though Palestinians comprise 20% of Israel”s citizenry. Furthermore, the Israeli government systematically discriminates against Israel”s Palestinian citizens, including providing less funding for Palestinian citizens” cultural and educational activities. Palestinian artists in occupied Gaza and the West Bank fare even worse. The Ramallah-based Palestinian dance troupe, El-Funoun, must continuously contend with Israel”s ongoing occupation, and its members have faced military roadblocks, military curfews, random arrests, injury, performance closures and travel bans.

To combat Israel”s denial of Palestinian rights, in 2004, Palestinian civil society, led by the newly formed Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), called on colleagues in the international community “to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid.” A year later, the Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) was issued, endorsed by over 170 NGOs, trade unions, political parties, networks and campaigns representing Palestinians inside and outside Palestine. The Palestinian boycott campaign advocates a nonviolent form of resistance to oppression that is inspired by the historic role played by people of conscience in the international community who have shouldered the moral responsibility to fight injustice, as exemplified in their struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa through diverse forms of boycott.

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