Last Update 23:6
Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Arab, international musicians boycott Berlin's Pop-Kultur festival over Israeli sponsorship

The Egyptian band Islam Chipsy & EEK are among a number of artists who have dropped out of the festival

Mariam Mecky , Wednesday 23 Aug 2017
Pop Kultur boycott
File photo of a poster calling for Boycott of Pop Kultur over Israeli sponsorship. (Photo Courtesy of PACKI twitter account)
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A number of artists have withdrawn from this week's Pop-Kultur festival in Berlin after learning that the Israeli embassy was sponsoring the event.

One of the major festivals held in Germany and dedicated to the contemporary pop culture, the first edition of the Pop-Kultur festival took place in 2015 at the Berghain and the second one in the district of Neukölln in 2016. The third edition of the Pop-Kutur festival takes place at the Kulturbrauerei and features over 70 concerts, alongside dozens of DJ sets, talks, exhibitions, and films. The festival is attended by thousands of young audience.

This year among the first voices calling to boycott of the festival was the Syria’s Mazaj Rap band which expressed their disappointment after hearing about the Israeli sponsorship, trigerring a domino effect. 

"Our stand is not against a culture, but resistance against a discriminatory, colonial government. 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," the band's lead singer Mohamed Abu Hajar said in a Facebook post.

"Considering this, and to be consistent with our political commitment against any form of oppression, colonialism or discrimination, we proudly declare our withdrawal from the festival as long as it endorses the discriminatory policies of the Israeli state by collaborating with and displaying its logo. Hence we consider participation in [the festival] as an acceptance of what this embassy represents," the band said.

The Egyptian band Islam Chipsy & EEK then announced their withdrawal “because of the participation of the Israeli embassy as one of the sponsors of the festival and to show that we were not aware of this until today.”

“We make it clear that through our music, we seek to resist violence, persecution and discrimination of any kind. This reflects our personal belief,” the band said.

Tunisia’s Emel Mathlouthi and the Syrian Hello Psychaleppo also announced they would join the boycott, issuing similar statements.

Berlin-based artist and musician Annie Goh also pulled out Sunday.

"As an artist and academic, I am taking a stand against participating in the festival due to its partial sponsorship by the Israeli embassy, in solidarity with Palestinians who have called for a boycott of Israeli state institutions until they adhere to international law,” Goh said in an online statement.

The most recent artists to boycott are Finnish black metal group Oranssi Pazuzu, who said on Tuesday they would pull out because the controversy had given a political character to the festival, "and therefore to all the artists participating.”

"We do not want to endorse any state, governance or agenda; open or hidden. Therefore, in order to distance ourselves from this political reality, we have decided to cancel our performance at the Berlin Pop-Kultur festival," the band said in an online statement.

Palestinian activist Abir Kopty told Ahram Online that “the Syrian band Mazaj and their announcement to boycott drew attention to the Israeli sponsorship and made us call on other artists to withdraw, and they did.”

Kopty said the artists had not previously known about the Israeli sponsorship of the festival, because it had not been announced.

“All Arab artists are boycotting. Acid Arab is actually a French band, according to [Jordanian band member] Shadi Khreis, who said that he is not performing at the festival even though his name appeared with Acid Arab, and this is why there was confusion about Jordanian participation," Kopty said.

“However, it is important to emphasise that the boycott of Israeli colonisation is not exclusive to Arab artists; we call on all artists to boycott because it is a principled stance and not about nationalism,” she said. 

In response to the boycotts, Pop-Kultur has released two statements in the past week criticising the calls to boycott the festival as well as the international movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

“Pop-Kultur offers a platform for artists from different territories across the world, regardless of religion or culture, encouraging exchange beyond all borders," the festival said in a statement.

"Partners and sponsors of Pop-Kultur do not have any influence on the programming of the festival. Therefore we regret the cancellations of the artists above."

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS movement, said that “the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) saluted the Arab artists who have cancelled their participation in Pop-Kultur to protest Israel's sponsorship."

"This proves again that the absolute majority of Arab artists support the Palestinian struggle for rights and endorse the cultural boycott of Israel, which Palestinians, including artists, have called for as an effective means of achieving freedom, justice and equality."

“Artists from the UK and elsewhere are also considering withdrawing from the festival, as they do not wish to lend their names to Pop-Kultur's whitewash of Israel's occupation and apartheid,” Barghouti said.

British artists Klan, featuring Law Holt, were the first to respond to Palestinians’ appeal to withdraw from the Israeli-sponsored festival on Thursday.

Brian Eno and Roger Waters have told Artists for Palestine UK that they endorse APUK’s open letter to Pop-Kultur musicians.

"The struggle against apartheid in South Africa, a regime of oppression and racism, like Israel's, should never be welcomed in cultural spaces claiming to advocate for openness, inclusion and human rights," Barghouti said, echoing PACBI’s argument.

Barghouti said that Israel funds Israeli artists' international tours on the condition that they sign a contract that commits them to "promote the policy interests of the state of Israel via culture and art," and to counter the international outrage at Israel's human rights violations by showing Israel's "prettier face."

BDS as a global movement

Launched in 2005, the BDS movement calls for boycotting Israel as a way to pressure it to comply with international law and end its aggression against Palestine.

The BDS campaign has persuaded many to boycott products and companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and to boycott academic and cultural institutions that directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians.

In 2016, PACBI, a division of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), called for a cultural boycott of Israel at the Edinburgh Festival.

Organisers of the boycott said that Israel is suppressing Palestinian culture while using its own culture to mask a "regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid."

In the 2014 edition of the festival, two Israeli state-funded performances were boycotted.

In 2015, around 1,000 British artists signed a pledge to boycott Israel culturally.

Major filmmakers, writers, music bands and artists, including Hollywood star Danny Glover, have endorsed BDS or refused to participate in Israeli cultural events, according to Haaretz.

In 2015, over 40 filmmakers and actors, including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Miriam Margolyes, announced a call for cinemas to drop screenings of Israeli films as part of the London-based Seret International Film Festival, protesting Israeli policy in the West Bank, British newspaper The Guardian reported.

“By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people,” a statement by the artists said. “Such collaboration and cooperation is unacceptable.”

Last Thursday, the campaign by Israeli citizens who support BDS issued a statement backing the boycott of Pop-Kultur.

"We are citizens of Israel who oppose our government’s policies of colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid against the Palestinian people. We write to you in support of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli institutions, and specifically the call to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions," the campaign said.

"We support this campaign since it follows universal principles of human rights, including opposition to any form of racism."

On Tuesday, the German Jewish groups Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East and Jewish Antifa Berlin joined forces to call for a boycott of Pop-Kultur, urging festival organisers to cancel Israel's partnership with the festival.

"Once again media outlets and politicians have chosen to ignore the problem of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and instead blame the artists or label their protest as connected to anti-Semitism," a statement by the German groups said.

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