A German music festival is trying to bully artists into dropping their support for Palestinian human rights.
The Ruhrtriennale festival is threatening to cancel the 18 August performance by the Scotland-based band Young Fathers unless they publicly renounce the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
“This McCarthyite political testing should be opposed by all who care about free speech,” PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, stated.
It appears that Young Fathers is being targeted because it is one of a number of acts that withdrew from last year’s Pop-Kultur Festival in Berlin, over that festival’s acceptance of sponsorship from the Israeli embassy.
PACBI is urging “conscientious artists – and supporters of human rights and free speech around the world – to show solidarity with Young Fathers, to oppose the Ruhrtriennale festival’s attempt to shield Israel from criticism over its policies of apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing.”
In recent weeks as the toll from Israel’s slaughter in Gaza has mounted, dozens more UK bands have endorsed the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel.
Meanwhile PACBI has responded sharply to how Pop-Kultur is smearing the BDS movement as the festival faces another wave of cancellations from this year’s line up.
Already, four acts have pulled out of the 2018 Pop-Kultur Festival, which begins in mid-August.
PACBI said that a comment by the festival director that the BDS movement is “stupid” and “anti-Semitic” inherently “reduces Palestinians to lesser humans, by slandering our nonviolent struggle to achieve freedom, justice and equality.”
Austria cozies up to Israel
Conflating opposition to Israeli policies – illegal settlements, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, etc. – with anti-Jewish bigotry is a form of anti-Palestinian racism that is intended to silence critics of Israel,” PACBI stated. “It also does a disservice to the ongoing struggles against real anti-Jewish racism, as progressive Jewish groups in Europe and the US have often argued.”
Yet conflating criticism of Israel, including its recent massacres of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza, with anti-Semitism is the main – and increasingly only – strategy being employed by Israel and its lobby groups to silence dissent.
This strategy is especially effective in Germany and Austria, where a sense of guilt for the Nazi extermination of Jews is channeled into unquestioning support for Israel and demonization of those who believe Palestinians deserve full and equal rights.
The Zionist movement has a long history of seeking and making alliances with fascists, including Nazis.
Now the relationship between Israel and Europe’s far-right is being refounded on shared values of extreme, resurgent ethno-nationalism, xenophobia and a hatred of Muslims that carries ominous echoes of the anti-Semitism which in the past preceded genocide.
Among Israel’s old-new friends in Europe can even be found Holocaust deniers.
This week, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose coalition partner is the neo-Nazi Freedom Party, has been in Israel to bolster this far-right alliance with the Zionist state.
But some in Austria are fighting back against the silencing and censorship.
Fighting censorship in Vienna
Dar al Janub, an anti-racist organization that does a lot of Palestine solidarity work, is currently under attack from Austrian pro-Israel groups for hosting as speakers Tufts University professor of African American literature Greg Thomas and former Black Panther Dhoruba bin Wahad.
Thomas spoke in May at an event hosted by the Institute for African Studies at the University of Vienna that was co-sponsored by Dar al Janub.
Now, the Austrian Students Union and the Austrian Union of Jewish Students are calling on the University of Vienna to ban all future events sponsored by Dar al Janub, including the talk by Dhoruba bin Wahad scheduled for later this month.
They are claiming that Dar al Janub is closely associated with the Palestine solidarity group BDS Austria and that both organizations are anti-Semitic.
The student unions cite a dubious definition of anti-Semitism promoted by Israel lobby groups which conflates criticism of Israel and its state ideology Zionism with anti-Jewish bigotry.
Dozens of academics from all over the world, including Austria and Germany, signed an open letter to “condemn the interference” by the pro-Israel groups in the lectures hosted by the Institute for African Studies.
The academics say that efforts to ban events hosted by groups supporting the movement for freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people “violate academic freedom and the right to free speech at the University of Vienna.”
Heeding the call to ban the event would, moreover, stifle an initiative that aims “to open up the academic space to engage with Black civil rights activists, their community struggles for justice and equality and their histories.”
New threat to free speech in Canada
There is another looming threat to free speech about Palestine in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province.
Last week, the right-wing Progressive Conservative Party swept to power in general elections.
The incoming provincial premier Doug Ford wasted no time attacking Palestine solidarity activists, vowing that “our government will take action to ensure that events like al-Quds Day, which calls for the killing of an entire civilian population in Israel, are no longer part of the landscape in Ontario.”
“Blatantly racist or anti-Semitic ideology should never be permitted on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, or anywhere else in our province,” Ford asserted.
This was a grossly inflammatory characterization of International Quds Day, the last Friday in Ramadan when many Muslims rally in solidarity with Palestinians – including in Toronto.
Organizers of this year’s rally in Toronto had published their principles stating an explicit rejection of all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia prior to the event:
It was after giving a speech in support of Palestinian rights at a Quds Day rally in Toronto in 2016 that Ontario school teacher Nadia Shoufani was subjected to more than a year of suspension and investigation at the behest of Israel lobby groups.
Shoufani was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing but her ordeal likely sent a chilling message to others who might speak out.
B’nai B’rith Canada, an Israel lobby group that was involved in the smears against Shoufani, has already begun filing complaints against speakers from this year’s rally – apparently based on gross distortions of speakers’ words.
Dimitri Lascaris, a Canadian lawyer and journalist who spoke at this year’s Quds Day rally, says it is now a “certainty” that Ford’s government will reintroduce legislation to attempt to crack down on Palestinian solidarity activism, particularly BDS.
In May 2016, Ontario’s parliament soundly rejected an anti-BDS bill backed by the Progressive Conservatives.
Now that the right-wing party controls the legislature such a bill would be certain to pass.
Responding to the incoming premier’s tweets, Lascaris wrote, “I have news for you, Doug Ford: we will fight your lies and suppression of our free speech rights in the courts.”
- BDS Austria
- University of Vienna
- Young Fathers
- Pop-Kultur festival
- IHRA definition of anti-Semitism
- Sebastian Kurz
- Dar al Janub
- Dhoruba bin Wahad
- black panthers
- International Quds Day
- Nadia Shoufani
- Dimitri Lascaris
- Progressive Conservative Party
- B'nai B'rith