Tell the World Music Institute that presenting Idan Raichel is not in line with your values or theirs.
To the staff and board of the World Music Institute:
As organizations and individuals who support the struggle for justice, human rights, equality and democracy in the Middle East, we are contacting you because we do not feel that Idan Raichel’s presence on the Symphony Space stage (scheduled for November 18, 2014) for a concert presented by the World Music Institute is in keeping with our values or yours. Idan Raichel has publicly endorsed torture and explicitly describes his role as an artist in terms of uncritical support for the Israeli military and government. He wrote in the Jerusalem Post in June 2014 that “In creating this musical project we feel as if we are cultural ambassadors for Israel.” He added, “When I look back over the past few years, I see an Israel I am happy with.”
In 2006, the Israeli government launched a public relations initiative called “Brand Israel,” which uses art and music to whitewash Israel’s human rights violations. According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sending Israeli artists and musicians abroad “show[s] Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” In an October 2013 ABC interview with Idan Raichel conducted together with Israel’s Consul General to the Pacific North-West Andy David, David emphasized Raichel’s value to the Israeli government, saying. “I think Idan is maybe the best ambassador that Israel has through his music and his inclusiveness.” This cynical use of art and music serves to obscure Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s overall history of grave human rights abuses, including the collective punishment of Palestinians through home demolitions, kidnappings, bombings and other means.
As you say in your mission statement, “Music and dance are both a means to communicate social values and a measure of a society’s aspirations. . . . WMI’s programs are intended to reinforce the cultural values of the community and to communicate to all the unique power of each individual culture.” No doubt, Idan Raichel is a popular musician who has persuaded many artists across cultures to collaborate with him. But he hardly represents our social values. Raichel has strong ties to the Israeli military. In his endorsement of the right-wing US organization Thank Israeli Soldiers, he said that supporting “Israeli soldiers is a fulfillment of the Jewish ideal.” Raichel performed for the army before, during, and after its August 2014 attack on Gaza, which killed over 2100 Palestinians, including 500 children.
The Idan Raichel Project’s 2012 tour of Africa was initiated and produced by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Israeli embassies in Africa to portray Israel as a welcoming, multicultural society. Avi Granot, head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Africa Division, said, “The goal in sending Raichel to Africa was to present Israeli culture at its best.” This effort is particularly disingenuous in light of Israel’s treatment of Africans seeking political asylum, whom Israeli officials routinely refer to as “infiltrators.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called African asylum seekers “a threat to the social fabric of society, our national security, our national identity . . . [and] our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.” Raichel’s performances in Africa, and with African artists like Vieux Farka Touré, are a calculated distraction from Israel’s policies and the attitudes of its leaders.
Presenting Idan Raichel runs counter to the very values you espouse in your mission statement. It also ignores Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to target complicit Israeli institutions until Israel respects international law and ceases violating Palestinian rights. This boycott, modeled on the boycott of apartheid South Africa, will continue until Israel ends its military occupation of Palestinian land, grants equal rights to the Palestinians of Israel, and respects refugees’ right to return to their land.
We all look forward to the day when WMI can celebrate a post-Apartheid generation of socially conscious Palestinian and Israeli musicians, just as you are doing with South African musicians. We hope that WMI will act in that spirit now by canceling the Touré-Raichel Collective’s planned November 18 concert at Symphony Space.