Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
التضامن الإيرلندي الفلسطيني

Riverdance should not go to Israel: Two Open Letters from the IPSC and set designer Robert Ballagh

See below for two Open Letters concerning Riverdance’s planned tour of Israel in September 2011. The first is from Irish artist Robert Ballagh who was the set designer for Riverdance, and the second is from Raymond Deane, Cultural Boycott Officer of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Please feel free to republish both far and wide.

Riverdance in Irsael: Robert Ballagh’s Open Letter

26th April 2011

As the designer of Riverdance I am personally disappointed to learn of the decision to perform the show in Israel at this time.

Many years ago I was honoured to meet Nelson Mandela when he was in Ireland. I took the opportunity to ask his opinion on the cultural and sporting boycott of South Africa. He replied by saying that the boycott was an essential weapon in the struggle against apartheid. His forceful words came back to me last year when I, along with many other Irish creative and performing artists, signed a cultural boycott pledge not to visit Israel (www.ipsc.ie/pledge). This was a positive response to the call by Palestinian film-makers, artists and cultural organisations for a cultural boycott of Israel. I believe that this non-violent cultural boycott will contribute to the struggle for justice for the Palestinian people.

Because I have signed up to support the cultural boycott I will not be travelling to Israel with Riverdance, and also I have decided to donate any royalties due to me for performances in Israel to the fund for the Irish boat which will be taking part in the international flotilla which is hoping to break the illegal and inhuman blockade of the citizens of Gaza.

Robert Ballagh
Artist and Riverdance Set Designer

Riverdance in Israel: Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign Open Letter

26th April 2011

We can all remember the thrill we experienced when watching the original Riverdance during the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. It now appears that the full-length show that grew from it is bowing out with a disgraceful gesture that will poison this memory. Between 1-13 September, Riverdance’s “farewell tour” will include three Israeli cities, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. This violates the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel issued by 170 Palestinian civil society organisations in July 2005, and the subsequent call for a cultural boycott issued by Palestinian filmmakers, artists and cultural organisations.

Would Riverdance have toured South Africa during the dark years of Apartheid there? If not, then how can its creators and performers justify touring the rogue Israeli state that has devised its own form of Apartheid that in many respects is worse than that once practised in South Africa? Don’t take our word for it – ask former ANC government minister Ronnie Kasrils (himself Jewish), who said that South Africans “never saw tanks and planes firing at a civilian population. It’s a monstrousness I’d never seen before. The wall…, the checkpoints and the roads for Jews only – it turns the stomach, even for someone who grew up under apartheid. It’s a hundred times worse.” These sentiments have been echoed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and by Nelson Mandela himself, who said that “we South Africans cannot feel free until the Palestinians are free.”

Just as BDS – including the cultural boycott – played a part in isolating South Africa and helping to bring an end to Apartheid, similar tactics can help isolate the Apartheid Israeli state and compel it to end its illegal occupation and colonial settlement of Palestinian lands, and its refusal to negotiate a just peace without preconditions – such unconditional negotiations, as we all know, having been indispensable to drawing up the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. Considerations such as these have led some 210 (to date) Irish creative and performing artists to sign a pledge that they will accept no invitations to Israel “until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.” (see www.ipsc.ie/pledge)

Some say that, unlike Apartheid South Africa, Israel is a democracy and must be treated differently. Even if this were true, do the crimes of a democracy weigh less than those of a dictatorship? But it is not true: Israel calls itself “the state of the Jewish people”, not that of its citizens, and discriminates against non-Jews; intent on continued expansion, it has never negotiated internationally recognised borders; it is in permanent violation of international law and international humanitarian law by virtue of its occupation and colonisation of Palestinian and Syrian territory and its cruel siege of the Gaza strip; and it holds thousands of Palestinian political prisoners (including over 200 children) subject, according to Amnesty International, “to torture and other ill- treatment.“ Does such a rogue state truly deserve the noble epithet “democracy”?

You may protest that culture is above politics and builds bridges between peoples, even opponents. But culture is not above being exploited for political ends by states that serially abuse human rights. Israel’s Foreign Ministry has explicitly stated that it “sees no difference between culture and propaganda”. Artists who visit Israel are not merely spurning with contempt the boycott call from the oppressed Palestinians, but they are normalising the abnormal regime that causes such suffering. The presence of such artists in Israel will be exploited brazenly by that state, and hence they will have let themselves become tools of oppression.

Riverdance includes a number called Freedom. Please do not allow the final Riverdance tour to be exploited by those who rob the suffering Palestinian people of freedom and hope. Please cancel your tour of Israel.

Raymond Deane
Cultural Boycott Officer
Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign