A good response to a cultural boycott bullying attempt

One has to applaud the recent steadfastness of the director of Adelaide’s world music festival, who last month bluntly rejected calls by supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to bar Israeli act the Alaev Family.

As reported in the Australian “WOMADelaide director Ian Scobie defended the inclusion of the group, whose 73-year-old patriarch Allo Alaev originally hails from Tajikistan, and lashed the BDS movement’s comparison of Israel to apartheid-era South Africa.  BDS activists are angry that the multi-generational group, which plays the traditional Jewish music of Bukara, has received support from the Israeli government to play at next weekend’s WOMADelaide.  Artists Against Apartheid issued an open letter to organisers and launched an email and Facebook campaign over the participation of the Alaev Family.

“The Israeli regime has long used all culture as propaganda unashamedly,” they charged.  Mr Scobie yesterday quoted from a letter he wrote in response in which he calls art a tool for cross-cultural understanding.

“The festival has a proud record of presenting artists from around the world, from many different political and economic circumstances and we feel that our role is to provide the artists with a platform for performance and the associated cultural exchange rather than taking a particular view of an organisation with regard to specific conflicts,” he wrote.

“The 2013 festival program has artists from 26 countries, many of which face significant issues of political unrest and moral complexity, which in our view makes it even more important to ensure the ability for artists to be able to give voice in their own way to the lives they live and the futures they seek.”    Mr Scobie excoriated BDS activists for their comparison of Israel with South Africa.

“I have refrained from engaging in the debate about or in the characterisation of the Israeli government as an apartheid regime because I think it so cheapens what South Africa went through,” he told The Weekend Australian’s special Sunday edition.   “It doesn’t bear comment.”   Mr Scobie’s stand was applauded by Jewish Community Council of South Australia president Norman Schueler.

“Culture is an equaliser that brings people together,” he said. “Yes, there are differences but there can be common ground where culture is concerned.”  Mr Schueler warned that BDS activists risked harming Palestinians by denying them economic opportunities.  Mr Scobie said WOMAD festivals around the world, begun in 1982 by former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel, “would never consider boycotting an artist”.  We’ve had a number of emails suggesting we should boycott Israeli artists,” he said. “An artist is a free person and in our view the best way to deal with (conflict) through our festival is to provide the artist with a platform for what they want to say.

“The festival has presented Palestinian artists in the past and we’ve presented Israeli artists.”  Local Liberal MP Christopher Pyne warned BDS protesters that they opened themselves to charges of anti-Semitism by denying Israel’s right to exist.

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