New York, NY, March 24, 2017 - Braving the cold and wind on Wednesday night, thirty-five New York human rights advocates protested on the sidewalk outside Israeli musician Idan Raichel’s performance at the City Winery in Manhattan. Raichel calls himself a cultural ambassador for Israel and is an outspoken and uncritical supporter of the Israeli army. Raichel regularly performs at Israeli government events as part of the government’s Brand Israel public relations campaign, which uses art and music to divert attention from Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.
The protesters chanted, “Idan let us set you straight. Israel is a racist state.” And “Voice of peace? That’s a lie! Idan plays while people die!” They held signs saying, “Idan Raichel, Apartheid Tool, Not Cool,” and “Boycott Israeli Apartheid.” City Winery covered over the large glass windows that normally provide a view of their concert space from the street, possibly because the demonstration outside Raichel’s 2015 concert there was visible to Raichel and attendees inside. The protesters called on City Winery, which is hosting Raichel’s concerts in a number of cities, to end their complicity with Israeli apartheid, chanting “City Winery, don’t you see, Art should be apartheid free.” City Winery also serves a number of wines from illegal Israeli settlements.
An Israeli government representative slammed the BDS movement on Friday for falsely implying that a prominent US literary society had decided to boycott the Jewish state.
Shimon Mercer-Wood — spokesman and consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York — was referring to an Adalah-NY press release that heralded the lack of Israeli government funding for PEN America’s 2017 World Voices Festival — an annual New York event that Israel had been a sponsor of in recent years.
February 23, New York, NY—Human rights advocates welcome the decision by PEN America to hold PEN’s annual World Voices literary festival without funding from the Israeli government. The decision followed a campaign and a call supported by leading literary figures asking the organization to reject Israeli government sponsorship. PEN America accepted Israeli government support for the World Voices Festival four of the previous five years, and despite writers’ opposition in 2016. The leading US free expression and literary organization announced its program last week for the May 2017 World Voices Festival in New York.
PEN America did not, however, offer a reason for the absence of Israeli government support for World Voices in a February 2017 email exchange with Adalah-NY and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
February 6 Email from Adalah-NY and JVP to PEN America
Dear Ms. Nossel,
We are writing to reiterate the call made almost a year ago by over 100 well-known writers, poets, publishers, and other members of the literary community for PEN America to reject sponsorship from the Israeli government for the annual World Voices Festival. Twenty-two of those writers explained in more detail why they supported that call.
All of them agree that it is wrong for PEN America, an institution with the stated aim of defending writers' freedom of expression, to accept sponsorship from the Israeli government. PEN International has criticized the Israeli government for "the killings and the reported deliberate targeting of certain journalists, media organizations, and their infrastructures” and “the practice of administrative detention against journalists and other writers."
In an April 2016 meeting, you told us that being responsive “may take time and space.” Also in April, PEN International President Jennifer Clement wrote to Adalah-NY that, “PEN International shares your concern. At present we are formalizing our recommended guidelines for the world’s PEN Centres regarding funding from countries with a poor record on freedom of expression."
PEN America is no longer accepting funding from the Israeli government, after five years of accepting such sponsorship for the literary group’s annual World Voices festival in New York, the activist group Adalah-NY has learned.
PEN America came under heavy criticism last year for accepting funding from the Israeli government, which jails Palestinian journalists and writers in Israel and the occupied West Bank for their work.
As the Batsheva Dance Company winds its way across North America, the media has clamored to laud the show on its artistic merits, glossing over the political implications of the group’s visit. Articles in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune offer timid critiques of the show but fail to mention politics altogether.
But the irony of showcasing uninhibited movement on stage as a product of a country where the every movement of the occupied Palestinians is restricted was not lost on the hundred or so protestors outside BAM on opening night of “Last Work.”
The yelling and cheering could be heard more than a block away from the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Saturday evening. For an hour and a half before Batsheva Dance Company performed at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House, protesters gathered in support of a cultural boycott of Israel, part of the larger Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the country. The protesters’ signs, held high around a Palestinian flag waving in the frigid wind, featured slogans like “Don’t dance around apartheid” and “Batsheva proud ambassador of racism.”