Over 100 people demonstrated in Toulouse on Friday, 22 June outside the Theatre Garonne, demanding the cancellation of the so-called “France-Israel season” and the cultural boycott of Israel, in line with the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. The theater hosted an dance event called “Tel Aviv Fever” as part of the season of events, and dozens of organizations throughout the city demanded its cancellation.
Coup Pour Coup 31, an anti-imperialist collective and a member organization of the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network was involved alongside the Campagne BDS Toulouse and many others in protesting the event, under the slogan “We do not dance with apartheid!” The campaign exposed the role of cultural projects like “Tel Aviv Fever” and the “France-Israel season” in attempting to put a pleasant face on the colonial, racist, apartheid reality of Israel.
Palestinians have called for a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions, including projects and events sponsored by the Israeli state and its propaganda campaigns. These are not mere cultural events, but a public attempt to hide ongoing Israeli crimes through promoting “Brand Israel” through art, culture and music. Far from being independent of the ongoing land confiscations, home demolitions, killings, siege and mass imprisonment, these projects are funded and supported by the Israeli colonial state apparatus.
In France, 80 artists signed a statement, including Annie Ernaux and Jean-Luc Godard, rejecting the “France-Israel season” and declaring that, “In solidarity with the Palestinians we refuse to be included in this showcase, we will not participate in the France-Israel season and we call not to participate in any form whatsoever.” Another statement, by academics and cultural workers, also demanded the cancellation of the “Season.” “Do not talk to us about ‘education’ or ‘ideas’ with a state that murdered more than 110 young freedom-loving people in a matter of weeks and injured or maimed more than 8,000. Send a clear signal to the Israeli government in publicly renouncing the ‘France-Israel 2018 season’.”
A heavy police presence dominated the scene and blocked demonstrators from approaching the theater gates, but their voices and chants could be heard even on the stage, according to observers. Meanwhile, the theater used private security, searched all of the spectators, used metal detectors and officials spoke of a “risk of attack.” Demonstrators wore shirts that appeared to be stained with blood, highlighting the horror of celebrating “Tel Aviv Fever” while occupation forces shoot Palestinians dead in Gaza as they participate in the Great Return March.
Prior to the evening, posters around the city had been stamped over with stickers stating “Cancelled: Due to support for Israeli occupation.” Graffiti on the riverbanks also demanded the cancellation of the event and an end to support for the culture of colonialism. The campaign received notice in local mainstream media, and Boris Baronne of Coup Pour Coup 31 appeared on France 3:
Palestinian dancers and artists joined the campaign against “Tel Aviv Fever;” the dabkeh troupe Sanabel in Gaza of the Palestinian Progressive Youth Union made a video calling for the cancellation of the event:
In addition, Mustafa Awad of Raj’een Dabkeh Group from Brussels, also made a video urging the cancellation of the event and solidarity with the Toulouse demonstration:
Local mainstream newspaper, Depeche du Midi, published an article denouncing the cultural boycott of Israel as an attack on artistic freedom, claiming that these artists are likely to be supporters of freedom of expression. The Toulouse BDS Campaign responded, noting that “the people mentioned are servants of the ruling system, draped in honors by the state and never having problems due to never voicing dissent. Their ‘opposition’ serves to whitewash Israel…their participation in an intergovernmental Franco-Israeli program to repair the image of Israel is the best proof of this. The BDS campaign is neither stupid nor unseeing. We denounce the propaganda operations of the French and Israeli states.”
At the event, Coup Pour Coup 31 had a statement about the protest and the boycott campaign:
“Tonight, we are here to say that we do not accept that the colonial, racist Israeli state is here to perform a propaganda operation to cover up its crimes! No, art is not neutral. The show “Tel Aviv Fever,” the Theatre Garonne and the Ballet du Capitole, through their participation in the France-Israel Season, are making themselves accomplices of Netanyahu, Macron, and their shabby propaganda campaign. They can label it “open-minded” or “apolitical,” but the facts remain clear.
“We, the anti-imperialist collective Coup Pour Coup 31, affirm clearly and precisely: theaters, dance groups, musical exhibitions and film teams that collaborate with the Israeli state are making themselves accomplices to crime, and must be denounced and boycotted! The cultural boycott is one of our weapons to confront colonialism and racism, along with the economic boycott, sports boycott and academic boycott. Let’s struggle everywhere aganst the normalization of relations with the Israeli state!
“We also support the Palestinian Resistance as it alone will free Palestine, all of Palestine, from the river to the sea! Finally, we would like to ancwer the dozens of Zionists who have for several weeks threatened our collective: We will never give up. Palestine will live, Palestine will win! (Palestine vivra, Palestine vaincra!)”