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Montreal group calls on Cirque du Soleil to respect cultural boycott of Israel

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Image by Nidal Elkhairy, a Palestinian artist living in Amman, Jordan, and former Montrealer.
Image by Nidal Elkhairy, a Palestinian artist living in Amman, Jordan, and former Montrealer.

Montrealers are speaking out against home-grown entertainment phenom Cirque du Soleil's plan to perform in Israel this August.

Calling the Cirque a "global ambassador" for Quebec and Canada, Palesitinian solidarity collective Tadamon! published an open letter on their site today, asking the Quebec-based circus troupe to cancel their show.

"We would like to encourage you to join other prominent artists such as Elvis Costello, Cat Power, and Gil Scott-Heron in refusing to serve as a cover for Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians by cancelling your performance in Israel," they write.

The letter also says that the Cirque is betraying it's own Global Citizenship initiative with its performance, which states that the group “[treat] its employees, partners, customers and neighbours with respect, as it does the environment, laws and cultures of every place it goes.”

Since 2005, Palesitinian civil society groups have been calling for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel. The boycott is meant to denounce the country's human rights abuses, including home demolishments, land seizures and administrative detention, against Palestinians.

In 2010, 500 Montreal artists signed on to an open letter, expressing support for the boycott and solidarity with the Palestinian people.

"In order to stay true to its stated principles, Cirque du Soleil must recognize that performing in Israel today disrespects the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel that aims at ending Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights," the letter adds.

You can read the entire letter below, or on their site here: http://www.tadamon.ca/post/10258.

Tadamon! open letter to Cirque du Soleil

We are a Montreal-based collective working in solidarity with the Palestinian people and are writing to you concerning your upcoming performances of Alegría in Tel Aviv, Israel in August 2012.

It is not uncommon for internationally renowned artists such as Cirque du Soleil to be invited to Israel. You may not be aware, however, that by performing in Israel, well-known artists provide credibility to, and indirectly endorse, the actions and policies of the Israeli government. In fact, the Israeli government is actively and openly pursuing a policy to attract artists to Israel in an attempt to whitewash its own violations of international law and the apartheid laws it imposes on Palestinians.

As criticism of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands and Israel’s human rights abuses against the Palestinian people increases, so the efforts undertaken by the Israeli government to mobilize artists to perform in Israel via the Brand Israel initiative.

We would like to encourage you to join other prominent artists such as Elvis Costello, Cat Power, and Gil Scott-Heron in refusing to serve as a cover for Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians by cancelling your performance in Israel.

The cultural boycott of Israel is led by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – PACBI. This initiative is part of the broader movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations including women’s groups, artists’ organizations, and trade unions. They call for a boycott of Israel until Israel respects Palestinian human rights and international law. The movement is inspired by the successful academic and cultural boycotts of apartheid-era South Africa and is intended to encourage artists and cultural workers to speak out against Israel’s apartheid policies.

The Cirque du Soleil Global Citizenship initiative states that Cirque du Soleil believes “that it is still possible to build a better world and that we can be responsible global citizens.” We certainly agree and, in this case, we consider that respecting the Palestinian call for BDS, which aims to secure Israel’s respect for international law and human rights standards, would be a responsible decision. Furthermore, the Cirque du Soleil official statement on global citizenship outlines the circus’ aims to “[treat] its employees, partners, customers and neighbours with respect, as it does the environment, laws and cultures of every place it goes.”

In order to stay true to its stated principles, Cirque du Soleil must recognize that performing in Israel today disrespects the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel that aims at ending Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.

Palestinians make up 20% of the population of the state of Israel. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have been living under a brutal military occupation for more than 40 years. As Enuga S. Reddy, Director of the U.N. Centre Against Apartheid, wrote in 1984 about South African artists, “they need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime.” During the international campaign for a boycott against apartheid South Africa, artists were, for example, discouraged from performing at concerts at the Sun City resort, as shown in the video for the 1984 hit track Sun City by Artists United Against Apartheid.

In 2010, 500 artists from Montreal, the home of Cirque du Soleil, signed a collective letter in support of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Signatories included Québecois cultural figures like Richard Desjardins and Gilles Vigneault. This letter built on a long-standing tradition of Montreal artists linking with struggles for environmental and social justice. Montreal artistic engagement with struggles for human rights at home and internationally is well established and is an essential part of the artistic identity of this city.

Given the very visible role that Cirque du Soleil plays internationally as a cultural ambassador of Québec and Canada, we appeal to you to respect the Palestinian call, which is supported by many progressive Israeli activists, for BDS.

art work accompanying this letter is by Palestinian artist Nidal Elkhairy in Amman.

Sincerely,
The Tadamon collective
Montreal, Québec
www.tadamon.ca
info@tadamon.ca
514-664-1036


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Tim McSorley (Tim McSorley)
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Portrait de anabraxas

And what about the Cirque's

And what about the Cirque's heavy record of sexual exploitation of women and general mistreatment of their employees? Is that less important as an issue than Israel?

Portrait de Tim McSorley

I'm not quite sure how

I'm not quite sure how speaking out on one issue negates others. This was specifically around the release of the call for Cirque to respect BDS. Why would you assume it means that people see Cirque's other failings as being unimportant?

Instead of simply accusing, maybe suggest references where people can get more information and build solidarity?

Portrait de anabraxas

I am not implying that

I am not implying that Tadamon and their supporters are neglecting this issue, most probably they're just unaware of it. This was a question, on whether Israel's invasive policy is enough as a political issue to put aside Cirque du Soleil's invasion of the female body as well as worker's rights in its own policies. We're talking about a huge transnational corporation here, that allowed two guys to amass and consolidate some of the world's biggest bank accounts... and as you may know for having probably studied Marx, big money does not grow out of threes ;)

The sexploitation of women in the Cirque has been all over the place for years, even though we are only seeing it from the outside, and all the stuff happening inside is shed from public view.

I have been hearing insider's stories from past workers, especially women, from their experiences in the Cirque, and their critics were about the same than what a soldier could say of the Army: terrible working conditions, people being abused, treated like shit, and the only good side is that it makes them travel and sometimes have a bit of fun. But beyond personal accounts, it's very hard to find more official evidence of this since the Cirque probably has, like any other big corporation, non-divulgation clauses about the company's activities, as well as a battery of well-paid lawyers.

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