Despite appeals from thousands of people all over the world, Native American peers, and Palestinian civil society, poet and musician Joy Harjo has rejected pleas to cancel her performance at Tel Aviv University and respect a Palestinian call for boycott.
Since plans of her performance became known a few days ago, Harjo heard appeals to heed the boycott from prominent Native American scholars, and 2,300 people signed a petition launched by USACBI, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
Tel Aviv University, as other Israeli academic institutions, is notorious for its deep and well documented collaboration with the Israeli military and intelligence establishment, its racially exclusivist university policy towards Palestinian citizens of Israel, and its refusal to acknowledge its past and to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian village on which grounds it was built.
Listing the prominent international artists who have heeded the Palestinian call, including U2, the Pixies, Gorillaz Sound System, Gil Scott Heron, Elvis Costello, Roger Waters and Alice Walker, the letter urged:
We hope that you will not be persuaded by the argument that music builds bridges and can bring smiles to people’s faces, thus hopefully spreading a message of peace. Any message of peace you hope to bring will be drowned by Israel’s well-oiled publicity that will use you to rebrand itself as a normal state that promotes music and culture and present your appearance as an endorsement of its policies.
Invisible “support” for Harjo’s performance
But in a message on her Facebook page this morning, Harjo justified her decision to go ahead with the performance. Her message read in part:
I will perform at the university as I promised, to an audience that will include Palestinian students. The students have written in support of me being here. I will let the words and music speak for that place beyond those who would hurt and destroy for retribution, or to be right. It is my hope that my choice will generate discussion and understanding for many paths to justice.
Harjo also condemned what she called an “atmosphere of censure” around her decision. But in contrast to the outpouring of Palestinian calls on Harjo to cancel her performance, her claim that some Palestinian students supported it could not be substantiated.
Of the dozens of comments left on her Facebook page over recent days by users identifying themselves as Palestinians, messages supporting her performance were not immediately apparent. Most messages seemed to be calling on her to heed the boycott.
A comment by Facebook user “lamisfalasteen,” in response to Harjo’s message this morning, was typical:
You acknowledge that the Palestinian situation is similar to that of your people, and yet you ignore calls for support. Palestinian civil society has asked that people of conscience heed their call for cultural and academic boycott. It is our non-violent way to resist the occupation.
Over 2,000 people asked you to cancel your performance, and you cite a few Palestinian students in your audience voicing their support for you being there as a justifiable reason to break the boycott?
“When someone like you performs for Israel, it allows people to interpret your performance as a political statement supporting the occupation,” lamisfalasteen concluded.