By Eric Walberg – Cairo
The Boycott, Divests and Sanctions (BDS) movement is growing relentless. On the boycott front, Natacha Atlas, who won a 2007 BBC Music award for her fusion of Arabic and Western styles, cancelled a planned concert in Israel: “I had an idea that performing in Israel would have been a unique opportunity to encourage and support my fans’ opposition to the current government’s actions and policies, but after much deliberation I now see that it would be more effective a statement to not go to Israel until this systemised apartheid is abolished once and for all.”
Atlas, who grew up in Belgium, is of Egyptian, Moroccan and Palestinian ancestry and has Jewish roots. She was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Conference Against Racism in 2001, which was boycotted by the United States and Israel, for raising issues about US treatment of African Americans and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
The flip side of cultural boycotts of Israel is to prevent Israeli cultural figures from presenting a false image of Israel abroad. Idan Raichel, “Israel’s most popular dread-locked musician” according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, prominent in Masa (Journey) Israel tours to recruit young Jews from American and Europe to Israel, is more than just a musician, seeing Israel’s cultural icons as “ambassadors of Israel in the world, cultural ambassadors, hasbara ambassadors, also in regards to the political conflict”.
Raichel’s hasbara message prompted American Jews to protest a recent Masa “journey” across the US, using the Internet to coordinate leafletting at the concert tour sites. His recent album “Open Door” prompted signs at the demos entitled “Does ‘Open Door’ include Palestinians?” and “Don’t entertain apartheid.” “Idan Raichel can’t support apartheid,” countered one concert-goer, “He sleeps with a black woman!” Raichel is part of the Brand Israel campaign, which aims to bring arts to the world in order to, in the words of an Israeli foreign ministry official, “show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war”.
A Finnish campaign is under way to cancel a new deal to purchase Israeli drones. Like Canada, the US, Turkey and Russia, Finland has been attracted by Israeli know-how in lethal weapons. The Finnish Defence Ministry recently signed an agreement on drone purchases, in defiance of EU regulations. This prompted Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja to break ranks with his colleagues and declare, in reference to Israel, that “No apartheid state is justified or sustainable.” Earlier while in opposition, Tuomioja himself signed a petition calling for an end to the arms trade with Israel. As foreign minister, Tuomioja could demand the suspension of EU-Israel Association Agreement, which gives Israel special trade access to EU markets, but on condition that Israel respects human rights.
The EU’s “common foreign policy” has been a bitter disappointment, especially with respect to Israel, as consensus prevents principled nations within the EU from acting, and attempts to enforce EU regulations are easily buried in bureaucratese. For instance, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) provides research funds for universities and companies from Israel as a result of the Association Agreement. Despite Israel´s consistent violation of the Agreement´s human rights clause, Israeli companies such as Ahava, “academic” institutions such as Technion, and worse, Elbit Systems and Israeli Aerospace Industries receive European funding through FP7 on an equal footing with EU member states.
EU Scientific Commissioner M