Please, Youn Sun Nah, Don’t Let Your Jazz Smooth Over Israel’s Crimes

OPEN LETTER to Youn Sun Nah: It’s Not Smooth to Jazz and Dine in Eilat while Gaza Suffers

Dear Youn Sun Nah,

The Red Sea Jazz Festival is a festival that is sponsored and promoted by the government of Israel. The festival is a part of the effort to normalize apartheid and talented Jazz musicians are being used to cover up Israel’s crimes. Your presence at such a festival sends the message that there is nothing wrong with the injustices that Israel commits daily against the Palestinian people. It undermines their non-violent call to boycott, which is their last resort for justice and freedom after 64 years of oppression and dispossession.

Your recent effort to raise awareness for the children of Africa through UNICEF was very commendable and would lead us to believe you would be interested to hear more about the plight of the Palestinian people. Being a musician of conscience, would you consider staying home? Would you refrain from playing in Israel?

Imagine if the children of Africa that you raised funds for were under military rule, and because of their ethnicity they were placed behind tall cement walls, and made to wait for hours to go through checkpoints. Suppose they were forced into an open air prison in which musical instruments and chocolate were not allowed in, and drones littered their skies daily, their memories grey with sadness from 22 days of bombing where over 1400 people were left dead, white phosphorus burning hands that would have liked to play music. If they asked you not to play for the government that was harming them, would you ignore their request and play anyway? Would you wine and dine with the elite in a resort, letting them hear your lovely voice and smooth jazz music all the while ignoring the suffering just miles away? Three artists based in France decided to cancel their Israel gigs in 2011 – will you join Vanessa Paradis, Mireille Mathieu, and Oumou Sangare?

Students in Seoul, Korea participated in Israel Apartheid Week in 2011. Please watch their very creative efforts:

If you are still not sure why over 170 civil society organizations in occupied Palestine have come together since 2005 to ask artists like yourself to boycott Israel, we’ve included some valuable background information below, written by the Palestinian BDS movement.


Don’t Play Apartheid Israel

We are a group, of over 820 members, representing many nations around the globe, who believe that it is essential for musicians & other artists to heed the call of the PACBI, and join in the boycott of Israel. This is essential in order to work towards justice for the Palestinian people under occupation, and also in refugee camps and in the diaspora through the world.


Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession and racial discrimination

Perhaps you are not familiar enough with Israel’s practices, widely acknowledged as violations of international law. If this is the case, then we hope you will reconsider your planned concert after thinking through some of Israel’s trespasses. Your performance would function as a whitewash of these practices, making it appear as though business with Israel should go on as usual. Concretely, Israel routinely violates Palestinians’ basic human rights in some of the following ways:

1. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal and unlawful military occupation. Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank. All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans.

2. Palestinian citizens of Israel face a growing system of Apartheid within Israel’s borders, with laws and policies that deny them the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people’s daily lives. In many ways this system strikingly resembles Jim Crow and apartheid South Africa.

3. Since 1948, when Israel dispossessed more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. Israel also continues to expel people from their homes in Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev). Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees still struggling for their right to return to their homes, like all refugees around the world.

4. In Gaza, Palestinians have been subjected to a criminal and immoral siege since 2006. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also musical instruments from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison [9].

Israel uses arts and culture to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights.

In December 2008 and January 2009, Israel waged a war of aggression against Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians, predominantly civilians, dead [10], and led the UN Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes [11]. In the wake of this assault and to salvage its deteriorating image, Israel has redoubled its effort to “brand” itself as an enlightened liberal democracy [12]. Arts and culture play a unique role in this branding campaign [13], as the presence of internationally acclaimed artists from the West is meant to affirm Israel’s membership in the West’s privileged club of “cultured,” liberal democracies. But it should not be business as usual with a state that routinely violates international law and basic human rights.

Your performance would serve this Israeli campaign to rebrand itself and will be used as a publicity tool by the Israeli government.

Numerous distinguished cultural figures and public intellectuals have joined the call for BDS.

After the Gaza assault and even more so after the flotilla massacre in May 2010, many international artists, intellectuals, and cultural workers have been rejecting Israel’s cynical use of the arts to whitewash its Apartheid and colonial policies. Among those who have supported the BDS movement are distinguished artists, writers, and anti-racist activists such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu [14], John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Adrienne Rich, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, Roger Waters, and Alice Walker [15].

World-renowned artists, among them Vanessa Paradis, Bono, Snoop Dogg, Jean Luc Godard, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart, Faithless and the Pixies have also cancelled their performances in Israel over its human rights record. Maxi Jazz (Faithless front-man) had this to say as he maintained his principled position not to entertain apartheid,

While human beings are being willfully denied not just their rights but their needs for their children and grandparents and themselves, I feel deeply that I should not be sending even tacit signals that [performing in Israel] is either ‘normal’ or ‘ok’. It’s neither and I cannot support it. It grieves me that it has come to this and I pray everyday for human beings to begin caring for each other, firm in the wisdom that we are all we have. [16]

Please say no to performing in Israel.

If you remain unconvinced because of claims that a cultural boycott of Israel may infringe on freedom of expression and cultural exchange, may we recall for you the judicious words of Enuga S. Reddy, director of the United Nations Center against Apartheid, who in 1984 responded to a similar criticism voiced against the cultural boycott of South Africa by saying:

It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms… to the African majority… should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world. We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime. [17]