WOMADelaide, Please Respect the Boycott of Apartheid Israel

From March 8 to 11, 2013, Adelaide is the venue of one of the most well-known music and culture festivals – WOMADelaide – the World of Music, Arts & Dance in Australia. This year, along with featuring legends like Jimmy Cliff and Hugh Masekela, prominent in their opposition to apartheid in South Africa, and Tuba Skinny, who respected the boycott of Israel, WOMADelaide is giving venue to the Alaev family, who are sponsored by the Israeli government through its embassy in Australia.

Israel’s international cultural exports who receive governement sponsorship are contractually obligated to promote the state as a condition of their sponsorship.

If they receive funding by the state, Israeli artists who play internationally are expected to be political ambassadors and must sign contracts which declare their cooperation with state marketing aims. The standard Israeli sponsorship contract states:

“The service provider [or in English, the artist] is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.

The Israeli regime has long used all culture as propaganda unashamedly. In 2005, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit of Israel’s Foreign Ministry emphasised:

“We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.”

Artists Against Apartheid Australia has published an open letter to WOMADelaide, emailed to WOMADelaide on February 3rd:

To the organisers of the WOMADelaide festival

We, Artists Against Apartheid Australia, members of an international movement of artists, noticed with disappointment that WOMADelaide, which we respect greatly as one of the worlds most exciting world music festivals, has received sponsorship from the Israeli Embassy in Australia to support the performance of the Alaev Family. We believe that this support should be rejected.

Many of us have visited Palestine and have seen first hand the way Palestinians in the west bank are treated by Israeli authorities. Israel restricts Palestinian freedom of movement and of speech; and imprisons without charge or trial Palestinian human rights defenders. Israeli authorities, on a daily basis, inflict humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks. 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. In Gaza, Palestinians are subject to a brutal siege and Israeli military assaults. As part of Israel’s siege, various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate are prevented from entering Gaza, but also musical instruments.

The treatment of Palestinians by Israel has been likened to the former apartheid regime in South Africa by respected former activists who were involved in the South African anti-apartheidmovement (including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela).

The policy of using culture to whitewash Israeli violations of international law was openly confirmed by the Israeli government with the launch of a global ‘Brand Israel’ campaign. According to an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, the objective of this rebranding campaign, which “could include organizing film festivals,” is to convey the message that “a better image for Israel and a better performance of that image is part and parcel [of] Israel’s national security. Contrary to popular belief, national security is not just based on military power, it’s also a strong economy and a strong image” [1]. This language reveals – as did similar endeavours by the South African Apartheid regime – a cynical and systematic attempt at manipulating world opinion. It aims to obfuscate the real nature of Israel’s military occupation and apartheid and to divert attention from its ongoing war crimes by portraying it as a vibrant, cultural and artistic hub.

We have noted that many of the performers who are a part of the program have a history of taking a stand against racism and apartheid and we eagerly await your response before we contact these artists to let them know your festival has received sponsorship from the Israeli Embassy. We particularly note the presence on the bill of a number of South African performers whose countries history is blighted by the stain of Apartheid and whose country is now a leading supporter of the Palestinian struggle against Apartheid Israel.

Increasingly performers around the world are heading the boycott and refusing to perform in Israel. Many have cancelled their shows after requests from their fans. The boycott has been supported by many prominent artists from the film director Ken Loach to former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters and the author Alice Walker. Many more musicians such as Carlos Santana and Elvis Costello have also cancelled and in recent years; Coldplay, U2 and Bruce Springsteen have declined invitations to play in Israel without supporting the boycott publicly. Just recently Stanley Jordan, the headline performer at the Red Sea Jazz Festival cancelled his performance in Israel. A number of other renowned performers due to perform at this festival also cancelled their shows. A full round up of the growing International Boycott in 2012 can be found at http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=2094 .

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the State of Israel is a growing world movement in support of the Palestinian people and the Cultural and Academic boycott is a very important part of this campaign. http://www.bdsmovement.net/

The boycott call was issued on July 9th in 2005 by over 171 Palestinian civil-society organisations, who called on the international community to implement the BDS campaign against Israel. Inspired by the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the Palestinian-initiated BDS campaign is conducted in a similar framework of international solidarity and resistance to injustice and oppression and calls for popular resistance through the BDS campaign until Israel complies with international law and meets its obligations towards the Palestinian people.

We therefore respectfully ask you to reject all support for WOMAdelaide from the Apartheid State of Israel.

Yours sincerely

Artists Against Apartheid Australia


A response to this letter from the WOMADelaide organisers, which to date has not been forthcoming, would be welcome.

People can let WOMADelaide know about the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions and persuade them not to accept Israeli government funding by tweeting @WOMADelaide, contacting them on their facebook group, or emailing

Don’t Play Apartheid Israel
We are a group, of over 1000 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 throughout the world.