Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
18th July 2016
Dear Ms McCarthy
International Shalom Festival Gala Concert, Central Hall, 17 August 2016
I write to you to ask that you remove the above event from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme since it is nothing more than an explicit attempt to whitewash the crimes of a state, in this case the state of Israel. Edinburgh Festival Fringe should not be helping to promote an event that is openly being promoted by its sponsors as state propaganda, propaganda for a state that stands accused by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and other bodies of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
The event is organised by the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (CoFIS) and StandWithUs UK who partner with the Israeli Embassy to counter advocacy and campaigning work in support of Palestinian rights. StandWithUs UK helped to establish and launch CoFIS, assistance that included financial contributions. CoFIS is officially affiliated to StandWithUs UK.1
StandWithUs UK is a branch of US-based StandWithUs2, an organisation that is known to have close relations with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs3, receives funding from the Israeli government and disseminates propaganda on its behalf4. Their partnership with the Israeli government5 aims to whitewash Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian rights and the brutal military blockades of Gaza and occupation of Palestinian territories, as part of the ‘Brand Israel’ project6. Another important Israeli government partner in the ‘Brand Israel’ project is Israel21c7, an exhibitor and participant of the event promoted by Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
A key objective of both CoFIS and StandWithUs is to counter the success8 of the international movement that supports Palestinian rights through active campaigns for the boycott, divestment and sanctions against the state of Israel and complicit institutions (BDS). The BDS Call from Palestinian civil society was made in 20059, after decades of confiscations of Palestinian land, home demolitions, imprisonment and torture of political activists and of Palestinian children, military attacks on Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank, alongside the failure of international diplomacy and of any effective mechanism to end Israel’s violations of international and human rights law. All of these atrocities continue to this day.
In March 2016 the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) wrote to Edinburgh Fringe Festival calling on you “to reject funding from, and cooperation with, the Israeli government and its complicit institutions”. We ask that you heed this call and refuse to promote the CoFIS and StandWithUs ‘Brand Israel’ event.
While repressing Palestinian culture, Israel has unabashedly used culture to whitewash its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. In 2005, as a response to the nascent boycott movement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry launched the “Brand Israel” campaign that instrumentalizes culture and academia in the service of Israel’s propaganda agenda.
Soon after the campaign was launched, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, a deputy director general of the Israeli foreign ministry said, "We are seeing culture as a hasbara [propaganda] tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture."
In 2009, Arye Mekel of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs admitted, "We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits . . . This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
Brand Israel initiatives seek to distract from Israel’s systematic violations of UN resolutions and international law. Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people include: denying millions of Palestinian refugees their inherent and UN-stipulated right to return to their homes of origin; the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, the Naqab (Negev) and the Jordan Valley; building illegal colonies on occupied Palestinian land; and continuing the medieval siege of 1.8 million Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip.
PACBI, Open Letter to Edinburgh International Festival and Festival Fringe: Keep your Festivals Apartheid Free! Do not whitewash Israel’s crimes, March 2016, http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=2774
If you would like to meet to discuss the content of this letter please do not hesitate to contact me.
Sofiah MacLeod (Chair)
on behalf of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
07931 200 361
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
101 Rose Street South Lane, Edinburgh, EH2 3JG, 0131 208 1948
180 West Regent Street, Glasgow, G2 4RW, 0141 416 1948
1. StandWithUs UK Accounts, April 2016, http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends29/0001151329_AC_20150930_E_C.pdf
2. StandWithUs, https://www.standwithus.com/aboutus/; StandWithUs UK, http://standwithus.co.uk/
3. StandWithUs Draws Line on Israel, http://forward.com/news/146821/standwithus-draws-line-on-israel/
4. StandWithUs to take cash, messaging from Israeli gov't, http://972mag.com/standwithus-to-take-cash-messaging-from-israeli-govt/101314/
5. StandWithUs: “Ambassadors Club”, https://international.tau.ac.il/standwithus
6. Israel Aims To Improve Its Public Image, http://forward.com/news/2070/israel-aims-to-improve-its-public-image/
7. Marketing a new image, http://www.israel21c.org/jewish-week-marketing-a-new-image/
8. Eleven signs that BDS continues to grow despite Israel’s war of repression, https://bdsmovement.net/2016/eleven-signs-bds-14310
9. Palestinian Civil Society Calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights, https://bdsmovement.net/call