Feminism Festival in Norway Bars Israeli Participants Citing ‘Culture as Whitewashing Occupation’

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

TEL AVIV – A group of Israeli women were barred from participating in a femininity and gender identity festival in Norway over what the organizers described as Israel’s “propaganda,” which uses culture to “whitewash or justify its occupation of the Palestinian people.”

Eden Wiseman, Roni Rotem, Nitzan Lederman, Maayan Cohen Marciano, Adi Shildan and Maia Halter were rejected from joining “Feminine Tripper,” slated for this Saturday in Oslo on political grounds, Ynet reported.

“We regret to have to inform you that after careful consideration we have decided we cannot at this moment invite Israeli participants to our festival,” organizers Kristiane Nerdrum Bøgwald and Margrete Slettebø wrote to the women.

“The reason that we have made this decision is that we cannot, with a clear conscience, invite Israeli participants when we know that artists from the occupied Palestinian territories struggle with very restricted access to travel to international art venues and that they have little opportunity to communicate their art outside of the occupied territories.”

There is nothing to support the claim that Palestinians cannot travel to international art venues. Palestinians from the West Bank are permitted to enter more countries than Israelis and frequently do. Palestinians in Gaza may have more restrictions but those are imposed by the ruling Hamas government.

“We also have reason to believe that the Israeli government at the moment uses culture as a form of propaganda to whitewash or justify its regime of occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people,” the organizers added.

The organizers included a link to a 2005 article from Haaretz‘s English website on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ decision to increase budgeting for Israeli cultural exposure worldwide.

“We appreciate your artistic project and hope to have the opportunity to invite you to Norway again once the political circumstances have changed,” they added. “We hope that you—as artists—will help raise awareness in your society about the concern many of us artists and cultural workers around the world have about the brutal effects of the occupation on Palestinian artists and the rest of the population.”

The Israeli artists responded by calling the decision hypocritical.

“We find that your decision to deny participation in the festival from Israeli artists is encouraging division and the continuum of conflicts rather than setting an example of another path to the world—one that meets the values of inclusiveness, freedom of speech and expression, dialogue, openness, seeing beyond labels and multiplied perspectives.

“Instead of using the same strategies you are coming out against, which can be defined as generalization and collective sanctions, we think that in order to make real change we all should (adopt) different strategies than the ones we oppose.”

The Israelis also took the organizers to task for using a 2005 article as a basis for its decision, saying, “Artists (in Israel) are fighting in order to obtain their freedom of speech and expression due to recent censorship attempts by the Israeli minister of culture. Surprisingly as it might sound, Maayan and Adi’s works were marginalized both by our own minister of culture and by your own festival.

“Would you reject a Spanish artist for the Spanish policy against Catalonia and the Basques? Would you reject a Saudi artist for Saudi restrictions on women’s rights? Would you reject an American artist for the American policies regarding the ‘Muslim ban’ regulations? Would you reject a Syrian artist for bloodshed caused by the Syrian government? Would you reject an Iranian artist for the forceful reaction to the last uprising in the country?

“If we were Muslim Arab Israeli artists, Christian Arab Israeli artists, Bedouin-Israeli artists, Circassian-Israeli artists, Druze-Israeli artists or Jewish-Israeli artists living abroad, would we have been denied participation in your festival as well?

“We are confused. Your decision to deny access to Israeli artists seems to go against your mission and values, as it is not based on an artistic appropriation of our works, but on political reasons. The only conclusion we can come to is that (this) is an act of reverse-discrimination.”

Festival organizers Bøgwald and Slettebø acknowledged receiving the Israeli reply, but said their decision stood. They promised to elaborate on it once their “heavy workload” of preparing for the festival was over.

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