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K-Pop World Festival: Fans criticise Israel's participation

Social media users call for boycott of annual event for promoting Israel's participation 'in the middle of a genocide'
Competitors from Cambodia perform at the 2019 edition of the K-Pop World Festival in South Korea, where contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre's biggest hits (AFP)

The promotion of a K-pop event taking place in Israel ahead of a state-sponsored festival in South Korea has sparked outrage and calls for boycott from fans of the genre, who are accusing Seoul of "artwashing genocide".  

The K-Pop World Festival, an annual Korean pop talent competition hosted by the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), is an initiative that utilises the popularity of Korean culture - commonly referred to as the "Korean wave" - to promote the country globally.

Korean embassies around the world are responsible for organising a preliminary regional round, and selected finalists then make their way to the stage in South Korea. The festival will take place in October, in the southern city of Changwon.

After the South Korean embassy in Israel started promoting tickets for the 15 July auditions, K-pop fans took to social media in anger and called for boycotts with the hashtags #KpopFestivalOutWithZionism and #NoToArtwashingInKpop.

"Artwashing in the middle of a genocide is a new fucking low, even for KBS. Participants and guest performers will never wash off this stain," posted one user on X, formerly Twitter, referring to the use of art and artists by groups to distract from or gloss over rights violations. 

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The event comes amid global anger over Israel’s continued military assault on the Gaza Strip, which has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom are civilians.

The figures are believed to be conservative. A letter published on Friday in the British medical journal The Lancet put the death toll at more than 186,000, emphasising that the official figures do not account for the thousands buried under the rubble or the mounting "indirect" deaths due to Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s food distribution, healthcare and sanitation systems.

"The South Korean government & KBS is now complicit in the genocide in Gaza being art washed by allowing Israeli settlers from the settler colony to have a spot in the K-Pop World Festival," posted another. "Do not remain silent about this."

"Allowing Israeli settlers to participate and perform on Korean national tv is one hell of a way to say you’re ok with genocide," another fan posted. "@kbsworldtv is now complicit with Israel's crimes & is allowing them to further push their agenda."

User ARMY4Palestine - an account run by pro-Palestinian fans of the wildly popular K-pop band BTS - also called for a boycott, sharing: "The settler colony is trying to artwash apartheid, genocide and their violations of Palestinian human rights again, as it is a big part of their propaganda strategy. 

"Cultural propaganda is a powerful tool, which is why cultural boycotts are important and necessary."

Middle East Eye has reached out to the South Korean embassy in Israel for comment.

Known for its catchy tunes, detailed choreography and vibrant visuals, K-pop has amassed tens of millions of fans from around the world, many of whom come together online to mobilise for various causes.

Since the start of Israel's war, a growing number of fans have been working to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians, fundraise for Gaza and pressure the industry to cut ties with pro-Israel figures.

Calls for the KBS to cut all ties with Israel appear to be the latest effort in this regard.

South Korea’s BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement criticised the K-pop audition in Israel, highlighting that holding such an event while Palestinians are suffering is inappropriate.

The account urged followers to file official complaints to Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassy in Israel. The account shared a sample text that concerned users could copy, which explains that Israel has been accused of war crimes and faces charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and cannot be invited to the K-pop festival "as if nothing happened".

"Palestinians are being burned alive and murdered in Israel, and you want to watch the genocide in real time and enjoy a K-pop festival with Israelis?" the account asked on X.

The account also drew attention to the fact that Palestinian K-pop fans in Gaza have been killed and that in previous years, fans from the Strip were unable to attend K-pop events due to Israel's 16-year land, air and sea blockade.

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