Dear colleagues from the Music Department,
We, the Rhodes University Palestinian Solidarity Forum (RUPSF), note with alarm that the Rhodes University Music Department has invited a musician, described as a “native of Israel”, to perform during the global campaign, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). We also note that Dr Yossi Reshef’s performances in South Africa are made possible with “generous support from the Israeli Embassy”. His performance can thus only be viewed as being officially sanctioned by the Israeli government, and that he is coming to perform as a cultural representative of that government.
The fact that an Israeli representative is to perform during a week dedicated internationally to raising awareness of the illegal practices of the Israeli government, which has historical parallels to that of apartheid South Africa, comes across as an attempt to conceal these facts and to present Israel as ‘upstanding’ and ‘normal’.
The decontextualised reference in the Rhodes University Music Department’s advertisement to the links Dr Reshef has to Israel is disconcerting. There is no acknowledgement of a wider global context which should draw attention to: the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel; the documented human rights abuses by the Israeli Defence Force inflicted upon Palestinians in the Occupied Territories; and the international peaceful solidarity movement advocating an end to conflict and the violation of Palestinian human rights. The latter includes the use of a cultural and academic boycott of Israel (BDS movement), which is now gaining global momentum.
In other words, in its current format the Music Department’s concert advertisement, and the hosting of this concert at Rhodes University during Israeli Apartheid Week, directly contributes to the ‘normalization’ of public perceptions of Israel and Israeli performing artists. By neglecting to acknowledge contemporary circumstances, the Israeli Embassy and other state-sanctioned Israeli institutions are being engaged with through cultural representatives such as Dr Yossi Reshef, as would any other state. It is imperative to note that the majority of the global community does not view Israel and its occupation of Palestine as normal but as a blatant contravention of international law and human rights agreements. This is reflected in the recent unanimous support for Palestinian State Observer status in the UN General Assembly, thereby recognizing the need for Palestinian independence from Israeli illegal occupation.
The parallels here with the apartheid era are stark: successive apartheid governments operating through their international embassies attempted to present artists from South Africa performing internationally, in defiance of the cultural boycott, as completely ‘neutral’ and part of a ‘normal’ South African society. This was while the brutalities of apartheid legislation were being meted out on black people on a daily basis through the Group Areas Act, Internal Security Act, and “ethnic homeland” policy and its accompanying repression.
The Israeli Apartheid Week seeks to draw attention to the links between the daily experience of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and the experience of black people under apartheid. The example of a classical music loving Palestinian in the occupied territories might serve as instructive in this link with apartheid. If a Palestinian wanted to travel to Tel Aviv to see Dr Yossi Reshef perform they would have to overcome a number of likely insurmountable obstacles. These include:
Harassment at Israeli checkpoints guarding the flow of bodies between the Palestinian territories and Israel (in South Africa these would be equivalent to the SADF guarded ‘border posts’ separating the Homelands/Bantustans from ‘white’ South Africa);
They would need to have applied in advance for a special pass in their ID certification, that only Palestinians are compelled to carry, to allow them to enter Israel. Many Palestinians are barred from even applying for this pass that lasts for only 24 hours, and there are restrictions on the amount of passes one can obtain in a lifetime (in South Africa the near equivalent was called a ‘dompass’, which only black people were obliged to carry);
The Palestinian classical music lover would also be subjected to the routine public humiliation of being searched at the whim of an Israeli Defence Force soldier, or disallowed entry into a public venue for security reasons (which black people experienced, having to produce an ID ‘dompas’ on demand during random searches);
The Palestinian would most likely miss the concert performance of Dr Reshef, having to wait for many hours at the Israeli checkpoints, through which Israelis travel without hindrance.
Gaza is an ‘open-air prison’ and if this music lover were to be imprisoned in Gaza, they would simply not be allowed to leave (just as, at the height of the apartheid era, black people were required to be inside their homes at a certain time in the evening or risk arrest).
This would the experience of a Palestinian under occupation, attempting to enjoy a music performance of the like scheduled to be held at the Rhodes Music Department on Tuesday 12 March 2013.
It is unjust then that this concert event is being held in the same period as Israeli Apartheid Week. We can understand that the cultural performance may have been inadvertently timed and that the advertisement was not prepared as an attempt to ‘whitewash’ the public view of Israel as a normal society in the context of the occupation of Palestine. However, continuing with the concert despite what has been presented in this open letter amounts, in our view, to complicity in the process of normalisation of Israeli apartheid.
We would thus respectfully ask that colleagues in the Music Department consider, as an act of conscience, to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. This decision would reflect the manner in which millions across the world stood in solidarity with black South Africans during the apartheid era. In conclusion, we appeal to you to cancel Dr Reshef’s concert performance during Israeli Apartheid Week. To do otherwise would be complicit in the dehumanisation of Palestinian people.
Rhodes University Palestinian Solidarity Forum
1. Ms. Alette Schoon (School of Journalism and Media Studies)
2. Prof. Andrew Buckland (Head of Department of Drama)
3. Ms. Anthea Metcalfe (Rhodes Almuni)
4. Dr. Anthony Fluxman (Department of Political and International Studies)
5. Ms. Alex Sutherland (Department of Drama)
6. Mr. Brian Garman (School of Journalism and Media Studies)
7. Dr. Carla Tsampiras (Department of History)
8. Dr. Chandra Kumar (Visiting Lecturer of Political and International Studies)
9. Ms. Claudia Martinez Mullen (Department of Sociology)
10. Mr. Daniel Friedman (Rhodes Alumni)
11. Mr. David Fryer (Department of Economics)
12. Prof. Edward Webster (Rhodes Alumni)
13. Dr. Gemma Wright (Research Associate, ISER)
14. Ms. Georgina Barrett (Department of Political and International Studies)
15. Prof. Gilton Klerck (Department of Sociology)
16. Prof. Herman Wasserman (School of Journalism and Media Studies)
17. Irene Calis (Department of Political and International Studies)
18. Prof. Jane Duncan (Professor Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society)
19. Ms. Jaine Roberts (Director of Research)
20. Prof. Jean Baxen (Faculty of Education)
21. Ass. Prof. Kirk Helliker (Head of Department of Sociology)
22. Prof. Larry Strelitz (Head of School of Journalism and Media Studies)
23. Ass. Prof. Lynette Steenveld (School of Journalism and Media Studies)
24. Ass. Prof. Leonhard Praeg (Department of Political and International Studies)
25. Prof. Michael Drewett (Department of Sociology)
26. Prof. Michael Noble (Senior Researcher Associate, ISER)
27. Dr. Monica Hendricks (Department of Education)
28. Prof. Monty Roodt (Department of Sociology)
29. Mr. Nick Hamer (Department of Environmental Studies)
30. Dr. Nicole Ulrich (Department of History)
31. Mr. Niren Tolsi (Rhodes Alumni)
32. Mr. Patrick Donnelly (School of Journalism and Media Studies)
33. Prof. Paul Bischoff (Head of Department of Political and International Studies)
34. Prof. Pedro Tabensky (Department of Philosophy
35. Prof. Raymond Suttner (Visiting Professor Department of History)
36. Mr. Reg Rumney (Director of the Centre for Economics Journalism in Africa)
37. Ms. Ruby Patel (Department of Psychology)
38. Rhodes University Student Representative Council
39. Mr. Richard Pithouse (Department of Political and International Studies)
40. Prof. Robert van Niekerk (Director of Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER))
41. Ms. Siphokazi Magadla (Department of Political and International Studies)
42. Dr. Sally Matthews (Department of Political and International Studies)
43. Prof. Steven Friedman (Centre for the Study of Democracy Rhodes University and University of Johannesburg)
44. Ms. Tarryn Alexander (Department of Sociology)
45. Dr. Vashna Jagarnath (Department of History)
46. Prof. Vishnu Padayachee (Professor Extraordinaire, ISER)
47. Mr. Werner Böhmke (Department of Psychology)
48. Prof. Yusuf Sayed (Senior Research Associate, ISER)
49. Dr. Simon Mapadimeng (National Arts Council of South Africa)