This year’s NZ Festival includes four performances by the Israeli Batsheva dance company.
Batsheva is an integral part of Israel’s Brand Israel public relations campaign. The dance company receives funding from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which has described Batsheva as ‘the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture’.
Artists who receive funding from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs are required to sign a contract committing to ‘promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.’
In the past Batsheva faced protests outside their performances across the USA and in the UK. Palestine solidarity activists target the company specifically because of their role in using art and culture to whitewash over Israel’s human rights violations.
In February 2012 over 20 organisations representing human rights activists and artists around the United States and Canada signed an open letter calling on Batsheva to cut all ties to the Brand Israel campaign and take a stand against the Israeli government’s violations of Palestinian rights.
The letter pointed out that exhibits and performances by Palestinian artists are systematically banned, sabotaged, and closed down by Israeli occupation, while Israeli artists and performers like Batsheva are free to tour internationally.
Hana Awwad of Palestinian dance troupe El Funoun told human rights activists that ‘as a Palestinian dancer based in the West Bank, I am prohibited by the Israeli government from traveling to Gaza for performances. After Israel’s 2008–2009 military assault on Gaza, our Ramallah-based dance troupe resorted to performing for our people in Gaza via a satellite link in protest of Israel’s siege on Gaza. Some of our dancers are also prohibited by the Israeli government from ever accompanying the troupe when it performs in neighboring Palestinian cities and abroad.’
Batsheva’s performance at NZ Festival is sponsored by the Embassy of Israel in New Zealand. One of the embassy’s roles is to enhance Israel’s public image in New Zealand by sponsoring Israeli cultural events such as this one. This is part of a deliberate strategy of using arts and culture to whitewash over Israel’s human rights abuses and violations of international law.
It’s disappointing that the organisers of NZ Festival have chosen to ignore pressing human rights issues when booking artists for the festival.
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