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]



2011 – A Year of Major Cultural BDS Accomplishments

2011 Summary of the Cultural Boycott of Israel for Musicians

The year 2011 was a year full of many successes in the campaign for the cultural boycott of Israel. This summary will focus on the cultural boycott with emphasis on musical artists and groups.

The fall of South African apartheid was preceded by many musical artists who joined to create a movement. That movement became known popularly as “I’m not gonna play Sun City.” Israel has not yet seen its Sun City moment fully, but as you’ll see, significant rumblings are beginning.

January, 2011: Jon Bon Jovi was asked not play in Israel. Thus far, boycott efforts have been successful. The singer had announced on Larry King Live he would perform in Israel. After boycott efforts to ask him to refrain, no concert ever happened. [1]

French pop star Vanessa Paradis refuses to perform in Israel.[2] Her partner, American film icon Johnny Depp also cancels his visit to Israel.

February, 2011: Roger Waters (founder of Pink Floyd) comes out in strong support of the cultural boycott when he writes “Artists were right to refuse to play in South Africa’s Sun City resort until apartheid fell and whites and blacks enjoyed equal rights. And we are right to refuse to play in Israel until the day comes — and it surely will come — when The Wall of occupation falls and Palestinians live alongside Israelis in the peace, freedom, justice and dignity that they all deserve.” [3]

German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, scheduled to sing five classical concerts in Israel, withdraws shortly beforehand. He’d been asked to cancel his concerts by BRICUP, Boycott from Within and others. He said his withdrawal was on grounds of illness.

Pete Seeger unequivocally supports the cultural boycott, stating “I misunderstood the leaders of the Arava Institute because I didn’t realize to what degree the Jewish National Fund was supporting Arava. Now that I know more, I support the BDS movement as much as I can.” [4]

May, 2011: August Burns Red refrained from playing at Tel Aviv’s Barby. Just over one week prior to their gig sources said “they have no plans to reschedule, they cancelled because they do not want to play in Israel.” A three month long effort had been launched to ask the band to refrain. [5]

Marc Almond’s cancellation was welcomed by the BDS Movement. [6] Letters, as well as a Facebook page were created to let the “Tainted Love” singer know about the real Israel. His fans passed out leaflets before a UK concert at the Royal Festival Hall, London. His welcome response came four days later when he refused to play in Israel.

June, 2011: Although Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not a musician, the cancellation of his film promotion at the Jerusalem Film Festival brought a whirlwind of attention to the cultural boycott of Israel. 101 organizations signed a letter praising the basketball legend. [7]

Also, in late June, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine announced that they would refuse to perform in Tel Aviv. [8] The voice of the Palestinian people was ultimately respected by the vintage punk rocker Jello Biafra.

Punk rock fans unite with punk bands and artists to launch Punks Against Apartheid.

July, 2011: Musicians Dave Randall, Maxi Jazz, and Jamie Catto release the single “Freedom For Palestine” with the Durban Gospel Choir. As the video went viral it gained momentum from endorsements by Coldplay, LUSH Cosmetics, Lowkey, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Massive Attack, Roger Waters, and many more. [9]

August, 2011: Tuba Skinny, while in Rome en-route to Israel , received information about the cultural boycott. Tuba Skinny refused to perform at the Israel Government-sponsored Red Sea Jazz Festival, cancelling their concert only a few days prior to their scheduled gig. [10] Latin jazz great Eddie Palmieri of Puerto Rico [11]and jazz musician Jason Moran of Houston [12] followed Tuba Skinny, and also cancelled their appearances at the Red Sea Jazz Festival.

September, 2011: Natacha Atlas stuns her Israeli booking agents when she refuses to play her scheduled concert in Israel. She bravely states on her facebook page:

“…after much deliberation I now see that it would be more effective a statement to not go to Israel until this systemised apartheid is abolished once and for all. Therefore I publicly retract my well-intentioned decision to go and perform in Israel and so sincerely hope that this decision represents an effective statement against this regime.”[13]

The cultural boycott came closer to home as the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra went on tour. Creative protests were seen in many cities in the USA and Europe. A protest in London during the BBC’s Prom Live Broadcast of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra resulted in worldwide press coverage when the BBC decided to halt its live broadcast of the concert.

Denise Jannah was written to just prior to her tour in Israel. She did perform in Israel, but her experience in Israel caused her to regret her choice, and she came out in support of the cultural boycott. She stated: “Please let me start by telling you this: of a cultural BDS boycott Ramon and I had NO knowledge, none at all. This is where the problem started, for had I known I would have done things differently: the reasons for this boycott are valid.” [14]

Riverdance set designer Robert Ballagh, in bold support for BDS, called for the cancellation of Riverdance’s tour in Israel, but he was unable to stop it because he does not possess the copyright. However he donated all his royalties from the performance of Riverdance in Israel to the Irish Ship to Gaza campaign.[15]

October, 2011: The Yardbirds were scheduled to play in Israel, and a letter [16] signed by professors in the UK was written to them from BRICUP. They subsequently cancelled their performance. Humanitarians are asking them not to reschedule in 2012.

Greek singer Martha Frintzila bows out of her performance at the Israel Government-sponsored Jerusalem Oud Festival with a the statement that she: “…will not participate in Oud Festival in Jerusalem for conscientious and political reasons.” [17]

Hosam Hayak, a regular performer at the Jerusalem Oud Festival, chose this year to cancel, making a press release in Arabic on his facebook notes.[18]

In another boost to the cultural boycott, John Michael McDonagh, director of Golden Globe nominated (director and main actor) film The Guard, announces that, “due to the conflict, [he] declined to attend the Haifa Film Festival 2011.”

November, 2011: The Jerusalem String Quartet was met with creative protests in both the UK and North America. Parody programs were received by concert attendees in at least four North American cities.[19]

Macy Gray tweets regarding her February Tel Aviv gig @MacyGraysLife “i had a reality check and I stated that I definitely would not have played there if I had known even the little that I know now.

Punkers Zdob si Zdub of Moldavia were also asked to refrain playing in Israel. They cancelled their 5 November concert, and the BDS movement is asking them to refrain from playing in 2012, as they are being pressured to “reschedule.”[20]

Mireille Mathieu was asked by BDS France [21] to cancel her concert in Tel Aviv. The French singer was also the recipient of a letter [22] signed by seventy people in the artistic community in Gaza asking her to respect the boycott. Mireille Mathieu’s courageous announcement [23] on her website that she has postponed playing in Tel Aviv is a welcome one. The BDS movement encourages her to stand strong against pressure from both French and Israeli booking agents to “reschedule” her concert in the apartheid state.

Rapper MF Doom was called on by numerous groups and individuals not to “rap in the apartheid state.” Press reports indicated he cancelled his 26 Nov concert due to illness. As of this publication, Doom has not rescheduled his concert in Tel Aviv.

In Switzerland, over 150 artists pledge to boycott apartheid Israel.[24]

December, 2011: Oumou Sangaré becomes the third French artist in 2011 to cancel her planned performance with the Israeli Opera, as BDS makes inroads into the classical music world. An informative letter from BDS France was followed by letters from DPAI and BDS Italy. [25]

Joe Lynn Turner’s 16 December concert in Tel Aviv is cancelled.[26]

Joker (UK) refuses to bring his dubstep-bass sounds to Tel Aviv. It appears that his decision might have been influenced by other musicians in the London music scene who asked him to reconsider.

Looking Ahead to 2012:

UK and Irish musicians are taking the lead under the “Freedom for Palestine” banner. In the USA, expect Lupe Fiasco to continue to vocalize his support for Palestinians.

Current campaigns for cultural boycott are underway for Bruce Springsteen, Arch Enemy and Red Hot Chili Peppers to alert them about the reasons to join fellow musicians in refusing to play in the apartheid state. Cultural BDS is growing and volunteers remain busy working in countless creative ways.


[1]See section “Pop Stars urged to Boycott” in
[2] Jan 16, 2011 Did pop star Paradis cancel Israel concert over politics?
[3] Roger Waters: My Journey to BDS
[5] August Burns Red Have Cancelled Their Planned Concert in Israel
[6] Marc Almond cancels Israel performance
[7] Media Release: 101 Organizations Praise Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Decision Not to Visit Israel
[9] ”From the muddy fields of Glastonbury to the occupied streets of Gaza”
[15] Riverdance should not go to Israel: Two open letters from the IPSC and set designer Robert Ballagh
[17] Martha Frintzila cancels participation in Jerusalem Oud Festival
[18] Hosam Hayak Press Release
[19] Jerusalem String Quartet Met By Protests Across North America
[20] Letter ouverte de la Campagne BDS France a Mireille Matthieu
[22] Dear Mireille Mathieu
[23] “le concert prevu le 22 novembre 2011 en Israel a Tel Aviv est reporte a une date ulterieure”
[25] See all three letters at “Victoire: Oumou Sangare annule son concert en Israel”