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UK artists call on London Barbican to end partnership with Israeli embassy

More than 50 artists, writers and musicians urge major arts centre to end engagement with the 'apartheid embassy'
Protesters with Israeli flags rallying in support of Israel outside the Israeli embassy in central London, 23 May 2021 (AFP)

More than 50 artists have voiced their opposition to the Barbican Centre in London holding a concert in collaboration with the Israeli embassy in the UK.

In a letter on Wednesday, artists, writers and musicians asked the famed performance venue to end its engagement with the "apartheid Israeli embassy" citing Israel's policies against the Palestinians.  

"Israel [is to] be held to account for its policies towards the Palestinian people - policies which are now widely recognised as fitting the United Nations' definition of the crime against humanity of apartheid," they said, citing reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups that documented decades-long Israeli abuses against Palestinian civilians.

Among the letter's signatories were the actors Miriam Margolyes and Stephen Rea, the filmmakers Peter Kosminsky and Ken Loach, and the writers Ahdaf Soueif, China Mieville, Rachel Holmes and Pauline Melville.

Tai Shani, the Turner Prize co-winner and the acclaimed poet Benjamin Zephaniah also signed the letter. 

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They said that the event was "a cynical attempt to re-brand apartheid as diversity and military occupation as tolerance," adding that Jerusalem, an occupied city, "itself is the site of long-running oppression and violent military occupation as Israeli authorities seek to oust Indigenous Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and other areas.

'We doubt the Barbican would have partnered with the South African embassy during its apartheid era' 

- Artists' letter

"We doubt the Barbican would have partnered with the South African embassy during its apartheid era," they said.

The Barbican Centre is set to host a concert performed by the Jerusalem Orchestra East & West on Sunday, organised “in collaboration with the Embassy of Israel in the UK”. 

The Jerusalem Orchestra East & West is led by Tom Cohen, the artistic director and head conductor. In recent years it has performed folk songs from Morroco, Algeria, Turkey and most recently, the Arabian Gulf, as well as classic western songs. 

Cohen completed his military service as an "outstanding musician". He founded Israel Andalusian Orchestra, which later became Jerusalem Orchestra East & West.

In December, a new Israeli government was sworn in with influential far-right and ultra-Orthodox leaders holding senior ministerial positions. The government outlined settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories as one of its top priorities.

The artists' letter said: "The recent inauguration of Benjamin Netanyahu has brought unapologetic supremacists into government – the most racist, fundamentalist and homophobic in Israel's history."

A statement by the Barbican to The Guardian said that the centre is "looking forward to welcoming Jerusalem Orchestra East & West, a talented and diverse group of musicians who celebrate musical traditions from North Africa, the Middle East and Europe."

It added that the "artistic work that is presented internationally often receives support from national governments, and we acknowledge the support for this event from the embassy of Israel in the UK”.

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