Jews for a Just Peace-NC set up a “Palestinian house demolition” tableau in front of the Durham Performing Arts Center to protest an American Dance Festival performance by the Israel-based Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company on June 17, 2010. The protesters exposed the fact that Israel’s cultural exports have become a tool to divert attention from Israel’s human rights violations. The setup of a demolished home guarded by Israeli soldiers returns the spotlight to those violations. It represents the more than 24,000 Palestinian homes destroyed since 1967 and symbolizes Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans under siege due to Israel’s blockade.
Sponsorship and funding for this dance company and other Israeli cultural endeavors come in part from the Israeli government, which is engaged in the Brand Israel campaign to reshape the image of Israel through public relations. Ido Aharoni, head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry’s brand management team, wishes to reposition “Israel away from an image of a country in a state of war and conflict to a brand which represents positive values and ideals like ‘building the future,’ ‘vibrant diversity,’ and ‘entrepreneurial zeal'” (Winning the Battle of the Narrative, presented at the January 2010 Herzliya conference).
With such compromised political backing, art cannot be considered simply a positive expression of human creativity. Israeli artists performing abroad are cultural ambassadors legitimizing Israel as a whole, including its policies. These policies — exemplified by the violent intransigence of the Netanyahu/Lieberman government — are not in the long-term interests of Israelis, Palestinians, or Americans. Until the conflict is resolved justly, there can be no peace or security in the Middle East or elsewhere. Misleading public relations campaigns are not substitutes for constructive steps towards a just peace.
Jews for a Just Peace asks the US government to withdraw its yearly $ 3 billion support until Israel acts towards Palestinians in ways that respect their human rights as well as their internationally recognized right to self-determination. It also asks that the American Dance Festival refrain from inviting artists who provide de facto cover for policies that flout international law and human rights.