Earlier this month, activists with the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee scored an important victory in the cultural and academic boycott movement. Hip-hop artist Marvin Casey from Universal Beatz was disinvited to perform at Washington University in St. Louis, following revelations that his dance troupe is sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel.
From their press release:
The St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (STL-PSC) welcomes the decision by program organizers to disinvite Israeli hip-hop artist Marvin Casey from Universal Beatz, a week of performances at Washington University in St. Louis by Middle Eastern rappers and dancers, due to begin on Monday, April 11, 2011.
Casey’s dance troupe, Tribe 13, is sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel, a Zionist organization that facilitates the immigration of Jews from around the world to Israel while denying the right of Palestinian refugees exiled from their homes and lands from returning. Today, the Jewish Agency for Israel continues to deny Palestinians the use of land in Israel and is connected to the initiative, “Brand Israel,” which seeks to divert worldwide focus away from Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies and towards its scientific and cultural institutions.
The Electronic Intifada has reported widely on the Jewish Agency’s projects, which have ranged from helping to dispossess Palestinians from their land in 1948 to currently partnering with right-wing evangelical Christian Zionist groups in facilitating “immigration and resettlement” of Jews.
There has also been an entrenched presence on college campuses. In fact, today, 27 April, a philanthropic donation of $1 million was donated to the Jewish Agency in order to expand its “Israel Fellows” program at universities across North America. Linking up with campus group Hillel, the Israel Fellows program “places recent Israeli college graduates in Hillels on US and Canadian campuses to assist with Israel education and advocacy” (“Adelsons give $1 Million for Israel Advocacy,” 27 April 2011).
In order to confront the expansion of such “Israeli advocacy” programs while Palestinians are continuing to face apartheid policies and a decades-old military occupation, STL-PSC stated that it “celebrates this cultural boycott victory as part of the growing global movement in solidarity with the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for broad boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it fulfills its obligation to comply with international law and respect the human rights and self-determination of the Palestinian people.”
The press release continued:
…STL-PSC member and Palestinian-American, Sandra Tamari, who had been slated to present, explained: “We have no problem working with Israeli individuals who are committed to justice, but we will not cooperate with Israeli institutions perpetuating Israel’s policies of discrimination.” The decision to exclude Casey followed pressure from STL-PSC and both local and international artists threatening to boycott this event if Casey’s invitation was not revoked. Artists included Malikah, Sharif “the Truth,” BiRD, and Excentrik.
Explained the latter: “The whole point of the ‘Brand Israel’ campaign is to further normalize the general public’s view of Israel, to soften it in the eyes of the next generation. They utilize artists like Casey to display a fantastical dream world of tolerance, peace, democracy and diversity that is simply an illusion. The reality of apartheid, systematic displacement, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, house demolitions and illegal occupation are simply washed over if we, as artists and public activists, do not honor the BDS movement.”
These artists join the growing number of international performers, such as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Gil Scott Heron, and the Pixies, who maintain that there can be no “business as usual” with institutions complicit in apartheid. Organizers of Universal Beatz have also disinvited members of STL-PSC from participating. The stated reason for revoking both Casey’s and STL-PSC’s invitations is to de-politicize Universal Beatz. STL-PSC rejects the notion that art can ever transcend politics in the context of gross injustice, but we whole-heartedly agree that welcoming any official Israeli cultural institution that is complicit with Israel’s discriminatory state policies is in itself a highly political act and should be recognized as such.