Virtually all Israeli cultural institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence or actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights. (PACBI Cultural Boycott Guidelines, 2010)
The complicity of Israeli cultural institutions takes many forms. Some Israeli artists and performers are commissioned directly by the Israeli government for public relations purposes. For example, the Batsheva Dance Company is funded by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which hails the group as “the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture.” Idan Raichel is proud to call himself a cultural ambassador for Israel. Raichel is also a strong supporter of the Israeli army. He has held performances for the Israeli army before, during, and after the brutal attacks on Gaza in August 2014 and for Americans moving to Israel to become soldiers in Israel.
Other cultural institutions are funded by organizations or corporations that collude in and profit from the occupation. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), originally the Palestine Orchestra created by 75 Jews brought from Europe to Palestine in 1936, is sponsored by the billionaire settlement-builder Lev Leviev as well as by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO). The AFIPO boasts that "the goodwill created by [the IPO's] tours...is of enormous value to the State of Israel.”
The deafening silence of Israeli cultural institutions in the face of violations of Palestinian human rights is another form of complicity. To date, Israeli cultural institutions have abdicated their responsibility to stand up to their government’s crimes. While individual Israelis of conscience have spoken out against the bombing of Gaza and against the harassment and repression of Palestinian cultural workers, no major Israeli cultural institution has yet taken such a stance in defense of Palestinian rights. Instead, insofar as these institutions represent Israel to the world, they serve to whitewash the crimes of the Israeli state, attempting to present an image of Israel from which apartheid has been scrubbed out.
In 2005, in recognition of the unique ability of the arts to lend Israel a false image of normalcy, the Israeli government launched a “Brand Israel” campaign, with the goal of salvaging its deteriorating image abroad. Promoted by institutions throughout Israel and internationally, the Brand Israel campaign uses artists, musicians, and other cultural workers to obscure Israel’s violations of international law. In 2009 after Israel’s devastating attack on Gaza, Arye Mekel of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told a reporter, "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.”