Second letter to Brooklyn Academy of Music responding to their reply re: Batsheva performances 2012

Alan H. Fishman
Chairman of the Board
Brooklyn Academy of Music

Karen Brooks Hopkins
President
Brooklyn Academy of Music

February 6, 2012

Dear Ms. Brooks,

Thank you for your February 2nd e-mail responding to Adalah-NY’s January 26th letter in which we called on you to cancel the Batsheva Dance Company’s upcoming performances at BAM. Adalah-NY supports the Palestinian civil society call for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, such as the Batsheva Dance Company, that are complicit in Israel’s violation of international law and denial of Palestinian rights, and that refuse to take a stand against Israel’s systematic discrimination against the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, within Israel, and as refugees in the diaspora.

In your e-mail you defend Batsheva’s planned performances at BAM by noting that “In the past few years we have presented artists from Kuwait, China, Taiwan, Cuba, and Russia, to name a few. By presenting those artists, we did not imply or express support of their respective countries' governmental policies or political activities.” A crucial difference, however, between Israel and the countries you mention is that Israel is the subject of a broad-based boycott call initiated by hundreds of Palestinian groups, representing the full spectrum of Palestinian civil society, including artists. The Palestinian boycott call is also supported by a growing number of Israelis. There is no similar unified civil society boycott call focused on the countries that you mentioned. In its broad-based nature, the Palestinian boycott call resembles most closely the apartheid-era call by black South Africans for a boycott of South African cultural, academic and athletic institutions, a boycott that contributed to ending apartheid there. It would be unfortunate for BAM, a generally progressive institution, to place itself on the wrong side of history, standing with Israeli government repression and against Palestinian civil society and artists.

In your email you stated that “Batsheva will not appear at BAM to further a political agenda.” You also suggest that allowing artists to perform does “not imply or express support of their respective countries' governmental policies or political activities.”  However, as we noted in our January 26th letter, Batsheva’s performances at BAM will very clearly further the Israeli government’s political agenda by supporting the government’s public relations initiative “Brand Israel.” Launched in 2005, Brand Israel aims to distract the world from Israel’s human rights abuses.  Arye Mekel, of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained to the New York Times how Israeli artists like Batsheva support “Brand Israel,” saying, "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.”  Batsheva receives funding from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, their upcoming performances at BAM are prominently advertised on the cultural calendar of the Israeli consulate in New York City, and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs proudly touts Batsheva as "the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture.” Batsheva is clearly a “global ambassador” enlisted by the Israeli government to “show Israel’s prettier face.” Therefore, it is not credible to suggest that Batsheva’s performances at BAM will be apolitical.

It is worth reiterating that on the BAM website, BAM calls Batsheva “Israel’s leading cultural ambassador,” suggesting that BAM accords Batsheva a special role representing Israel.  Though you mention BAM’s presentation of “artists from Kuwait, China, Taiwan, Cuba, and Russia,” as a defense for Batsheva’s performances, a search of the BAM website suggests that BAM has not labeled those groups as ambassadors representing their respective countries. It is BAM that has placed Batsheva in the unusual position of representing a country, as has Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We reject the notion that an ambassador for a country is without a “political agenda.” Helping “Brand Israel” to exploit culture in order to whitewash Israel's violations of Palestinian rights is a political act that cannot be brushed aside by BAM as simply supporting art.

Again, we hope that, like a growing number of Israelis, Palestinians, and organizations around the world, Batsheva will take a strong, unequivocal stance against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and support justice and equality for all. Until they do, we reiterate our call for BAM to respect the boycott of Israeli institutions by cancelling Batsheva’s upcoming performances at BAM, and by committing not to partner with them again in the future.Continuing to stand against human rights and justice for Palestinians places BAM on the wrong side of history and tarnishes BAM’s progressive legacy.

In light of your stated commitment to proceeding with Batsheva’s performances at BAM, we will call for a popular boycott of and protests against Batsheva’s performances at BAM. At the same time, we reaffirm our willingness to meet with you to discuss this matter further and to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you,

Patrick Connors & Hannah Mermelstein for Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel