Alan H. Fishman
Chairman of the Board
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Karen Brooks Hopkins
Brooklyn Academy of Music
January 26, 2012
Dear Mr. Fishman and Ms. Brooks,
We are a group of New York City-based human rights activists and artists supporting the struggle for justice, human rights, equality and democracy in the Middle East. As residents of New York City, including Brooklyn, we greatly appreciate the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) long history as a progressive arts institution that supports diversity, equal rights, environmental consciousness and grassroots community action. We are writing with respect to Batsheva Dance Company’s upcoming performance at BAM.
As you may be aware, Batsheva is part of “Brand Israel,” an Israeli government public relations initiative which seeks to use art, including dance performances, to distract from Israel’s human rights violations. Batsheva has done nothing to distance itself from the Brand Israel campaign, nor has it ever made a public statement against the oppression of the Palestinian people.
We believe that supporting this Israeli government PR effort runs counter to BAM’s historic, progressive legacy. As important, your collaboration with Batsheva violates Palestinian civil society’s call, modeled on the call for the boycott of apartheid South Africa, for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli institutions until Israel ceases its violations of Palestinian rights and respects international law, by ending its military occupation of Palestinian land, granting equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respecting the right of refugees to return to their land.
Accordingly, we respectfully request that you cancel Batsheva’s upcoming March performances at BAM, for reasons set forth in greater detail below.
How Batsheva Whitewashes Israel’s Oppression of Palestinians
Batsheva is not a progressive, or even an apolitical dance company, because it is actively complicit in whitewashing Israeli human rights abuses, apartheid, and occupation of Palestinian land.
Your website aptly notes that Batsheva is “Israel’s leading cultural ambassador.” Batsheva's upcoming performances at BAM are prominently advertised on the cultural calendar of the Israeli consulate in New York City. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs also refers to Batsheva as "the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture.” Indeed, Batsheva receives funding from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) – funding designed to divert attention from Israel's oppression of Palestinians. In 2009, Arye Mekel of Israel’s MFA stated, "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.”
Brand Israel initiatives such as Batsheva’s tour are designed to distract from the facts, including: Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands, the longest in history; Israel’s 223 Jewish-only settlements and “outposts” built on Palestinian land in violation of international law; Israel’s “Apartheid” wall in the West Bank that further appropriates Palestinian land, also in violation of international law according to the International Court of Justice; Israel’s demolition of over 24,000 Palestinian homes since 1967; and Israel’s 2009 invasion of Gaza, which killed over 1400 Palestinians, prompting allegations of war crimes by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission. In addition, Israel has enacted over 20 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and enshrine their status as second-class citizens.
BAM’s Progressive Values Demand the Boycott of Batsheva
Your stated commitment to diversity and progressive values – including a history of hosting notable equal rights activists – demands your support of the cultural boycott until Israel grants Palestinians the right to live in freedom and equality.
Hana Awwad, who spent years performing with one of the premier Palestinian dance troupes, El Funoun, explained to Adalah-NY, “Exhibits and performances by Palestinian artists are systematically banned, sabotaged, and closed down by the Israeli occupation. Artists themselves are targets of violence, arbitrary arrests, and deportations. Israel's three-tiered system of occupation, colonization, and apartheid ruthlessly suffocates the livelihoods of Palestinian communities, including our right to artistic and cultural expression.”
"As a Palestinian dancer based in the West Bank, I am prohibited by the Israeli government from traveling to Gaza for performances. After Israel's 2008 military assault on Gaza, our Ramallah-based dance troupe resorted to performing for our people in Gaza via a satellite link in protest of Israel's siege on Gaza. Some of our dancers are also prohibited by the Israeli government from ever accompanying the troupe when it performs in neighboring Palestinian cities and abroad."
Palestinian refugees whose families were driven from their homes by Zionist militias in 1948 are also often prevented by Israel from performing as dancers in their homeland, much less returning there to live. Houria Al Far, a dance trainer for the Kufiyeh Dabkeh Group in Ein El Hilweh Refugee camp in Lebanon, explained her experience: "The second time our group went to perform in Ramallah was in May of 2011. The night we were leaving Lebanon we received the names of the people who were granted permits by Israel to enter. As I read the names my heart sunk. I was refused entry with five other people from the group. And they were some of the older kids, the musicians who played percussions and bagpipe. I wasn’t sure what to do, should I let them go in without us or not. In the end they went. I dropped them off right at the King Hussein Bridge in Jordan. The first time we went they had refused entry to one of our younger girls Isra’a, who was nine at the time. She had made me promise that I would to say hello to Yasser Arafat. This time, Isra’a was going and I wasn’t. I knelt down and told her, now it’s your turn to say hello to Yasser Arafat for me."
As South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu noted, “[j]ust as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity, so it would be wrong for Cape Town Opera to perform in Israel.”
It is likewise inappropriate for BAM, with its professed progressive history, to host Batsheva, a cultural ambassador of Israeli apartheid. Hundreds of artists of conscience are taking a stand, including a growing number of musicians such as Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, the Pixies, and Gil Scott-Heron, who have refused to play concerts in Israel.
We hope that, like a growing number of Israelis, Batsheva will take a strong, unequivocal stance against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and support justice and equality for all. Until then, we will continue to urge a popular boycott of and protests against Batsheva’s performances in New York City and elsewhere.
Please let us know by February 3rd whether you will respect the call for a boycott of Israeli institutions by cancelling Batsheva’s upcoming performances at BAM, and by committing not to partner with them again in the future. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this matter further and to answer any questions you may have.
Patrick Connors & Hannah Mermelstein for Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel