Organizers of an Irish dancing festival in Tel Aviv have made false allegations — reported uncritically by some media outlets — that they had to cancel the event because of “threats” from Palestine solidarity campaigners.
The festival was planned by the Carey Academy Israel, an Irish dancing school with branches in Israel and Russia.
In an early attempt to deflect criticism, the organizers claimed on their Facebook page that it would be wrong to “starve” people in Israel of their “enjoyment of Irish dance just just because they live in a country who’s [sic] politics we do not agree with.”
“War crimes and atrocities are happening all over the world and maybe Irish dancing and this feis will ease the pain and suffering of some of the good people that live in these countries that have nothing to do with these war crimes,” the organizers added. “We are dancing for peace and friendship, not for politics.”
This disingenuous statement ignores how Palestinian fans of any kind of art are routinely “starved of their enjoyment” by Israeli military occupation and travel restrictions, and that cultural events are a major strand in Israel’s attempts to whitewash its abuses to international audiences.
The claim to neutrality was also undermined by the heavy use of the Israeli flag and other Israeli imagery in the promotional material for the event.
The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign stressed that it did not call for the cancelation of the feis, but for performers not to travel to Israel or take part in it.
A letter to An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG, the Irish dance commission) pointed out that many musicians and dancers had already taken an ethical stance by signing the Irish artists’ pledge to boycott Israel. These included the singers Damien Dempsey, Paul Brady and Frances Black and the musicians Sharon Shannon and Donal Lunny.
The statement also noted that Robert Ballagh, an artist who designed the set for Riverdance, a commercially successful Irish dance show, had protested against Riverdance being performed in Israel during 2011. Ballagh donated his royalties from the performance to an Irish ship that attempted to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza.
With the social media exposure eroding the organizers’ cheery image of the Tel Aviv feis, the Carey Academy’s tactics turned nasty.
The academy’s 7 July announcement that it had had to cancel the festival included allegations of threats and threatening behavior by campaigners.
A statement by the academy — which also included incorrect information about the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign — tried to construct a spurious victimhood for participants. Without any examples or concrete facts, the message alleged that “parents and students” had received “threatening messages” and that the feis — an innocent “celebration of dancing, friendship and joy” — had turned into an event which “risked the safety” of the dancers involved.
In a wearingly familiar display of uncriticial journalism, parts of the Israeli and Irish press swallowed the claims whole — never thinking to ask for evidence.
Some articles also cited allegations that a demonstration outside the Carey Academy’s headquarters in the English city of Birmingham had been violent and intimidating, despite video footage of a small, peaceful protest in which those present maintained constant coordination with police observers.
And a letter from the CLRG — the main focus of the IPSC campaign, which asked the commission to withdraw its endorsement from the festival — confirmed that it had not experienced threats or threatening behavior.
The case was even raised in a committee of Ireland’s parliament, the Oireachtas. One senator angrily rejected the unsupported claims of threatening behavior.
A more rigorous report by the website Mondoweiss noted, however, that special hotel deals offered by the Tel Aviv organizers to participants were still available days after they were supposed to have closed.
It seems improbable that every dancer eligible to participate from across the world can have been “intimidated” into withdrawing. This raises the likelihood that disapproval of the feis from within the Irish dancing community may well have succeeded, showing organizers that their attempts to shackle Irish culture to Israeli propaganda were not going to work.