BDS-promoting Palestine Festival of Literature supported by British public funding.

Last December CiF Watch published an article about the Palestine Festival of Literature (or ‘PalFest’ as it is more frequently known), its origins and its connections to the Guardian. For those wishing to refresh their memories, the article is here

Unsurprisingly then, the Guardian’s culture section carried an article by Alison Flood on May 2nd about this year’s PalFest which is scheduled to begin this weekend in Ramallah, and then to travel to Gaza and Cairo. 

The May 5th event in Ramallah will feature, among others, Guardian employee Rachel Holmes and BBC World Service producer Bee Rowlatt. Among those appearing at the events in Gaza starting from May 6th will be PalFest founder and Guardian writer Ahdaf Soueif, Alaa Abd el-Fattah (who has also contributed to the Guardian and is Ahdaf Soueif’s nephew), Suad Amiry (whose books are available via the Guardian bookshop) and Selma Dabbagh, (who has also written for and been reviewed by the Guardian). 

The interesting parts of Flood’s article are these: (emphasis added) 

“PalFest, a festival of public events, student workshops and meetings with civil society leaders, is set to run from 5 to 9 May in Gaza, with an initial event in Ramallah on the 5 May and a finale in Cairo on the 11 May. Supported by organisations including Arts Council England and the British Council, with patrons including Chinua Achebe, Seamus Heaney and Philip Pullman, it endorses the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and states as its mission the reinvigoration of “cultural ties between Arab countries, ties that have been eroded for too long”. Soueif is its founding chair.”

“Dr Haidar Eid, a literature professor at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University, said the festival was “a sign of the growing solidarity across borders in our struggle against racism and oppression”.

“Intellectuals and writers played a key role in ending apartheid in South Africa; likewise, Arab cultural figures are visiting Gaza this year to show solidarity with Palestinian academics and artists in support for their call to increase the global BDS [Boycott Divestment and Sanctions] campaign against apartheid Israel,” he said. “On behalf of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, we deeply appreciate the Arab writers’ principled and consistent support for the Palestinian civil struggle for justice and peace in Palestine.” “

 The Arts Council England receives funding from the British government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport to the tune of £350 million after the recent cuts. It also enjoys further public financial support via National Lottery funding.

The British Council received £196 million in government grants via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2010-11. It is a registered charity and comes under UK embassy and Consular auspices. 

The BBC World Service (Bee Rowlatt’s employer) is also publicly funded, amongst others by DFID – the Department for International Development – and at present, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  

On the other hand, in 2008 the British Council’s CEO Martin Davidson said that:

The British Council is firmly opposed to an academic boycott of Israeli universities. Academic boycotts are bad in principle, and would be bad in this specific case… dialogue is unlikely to be sustained without exchange between academics and academic institutions…”   

And in 2009 the British Embassy in Israel claimed on behalf of the previous government that:

“The British government is opposed to any kind of boycott of Israel.”

So which is it? For boycotts or against? 

Unfortunately, the publicly-funded Arts Council made its stance more than clear last November when, in response to criticism of its funding of an event featuring proud anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon, it issued a statement saying:

“It is not the Arts Council’s role to dictate artistic policy to a funded organisation, or to restrict an artist from expressing their views. What our policies and procedures do ensure is that we fund a wide range of organisations and individuals who, collectively, present a diverse view of world society.”

It would, however be interesting to hear what the tax-paying British public thinks about the fact that organizations and government departments which it funds even in these difficult economic times see fit to support a project such as PalFest which openly declares its aims to be contrary those expressed at least by the former British government.

It would also be interesting to hear representatives of the FCO, DFID and DCMS explain their departments’ involvement – albeit indirectly – in promoting the aims of the BDS movement and PACBI, which rejects normalization of any kind and aspires to dismantle the Jewish State.  

Until they do, many may continue to think that ambivalent British government policies, actions and statements do much to contribute to the increasingly unpleasant atmosphere on the streets of the UK as well as undermining Britain’s stance as an honest broker in the Middle East. 


10 replies »

  1. The Arts Council England professes to “fund arts activities that engage people in England, or help artists and arts organisations carry out their work”. “Between 2008 and 2011 we invested £1.3 billion of regular funding in around 880 arts organisations across England” they say.

    Everything on their website points to the fact that, as their name suggests, they support projects … in England. I have scrolled through the first 3 pages of projects in their portfolio, and they are all … in England.

    Is PalFest … in England? What on Earth (if this article is true) are the Arts Council … England doing funding an event in Gaza and the West Bank that has nothing whatsoever to do with … England?

  2. Could we be witnessing more examples of entryism, so beloved of the Islamist- and Palestinian-supporting/Israel-hating terminally politically confused?

    This is the favourite weapon of political nonentities like the Green Party, who use accusations of it against “Zionists” in attempts to get them slung out but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s widely used elsewhere too – I firmly believe that it lives and thrives in the foetid bigotry swamp of UNISON and other trades unions.

    Nothing would surprise me – I have long ago lost faith in the capability of any government body or political party to resist such manipulation.

  3. I thought the most interesting part of Flood’s puff-piece was her inadvertent – I assume – admission that enthusiasm for Palfest and Gaza is not felt as keenly in Egypt as it is Great Britain:

    Egyptian authors, bloggers, journalists and revolutionaries are calling on their government to issue permits for them to enter Gaza and participate in the Palestine festival of literature, which is scheduled to start on Saturday in the embattled territory.

    Although PalFest, a travelling festival established in 2008, has tried to reach Gaza in the past, it has never been successful. This year it applied to the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs on 18 April for 43 travel permits for writers and artists to enter through the Rafah crossing from Egypt. Organisers say they were told it could take up to 10 days to process the permits, but they have yet to be issued.

    The truth about Gaza, Palfest, Palestine, and the Palestinians is that they are only of importance to the Arab countries and Iran as a distraction and figleaf to cover up the inadequacies and miseries of those countries, whose rulers, in fact, could not care less about the Palestinians.

  4. Dr. Eid, professor of literature at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University says that the festival is “a sign of the growing solidarity across borders in our struggle against racism and oppression?” Wow! That sure sounds good!
    And, apparently all he needs to do is to mouth these meaningless words and the gullible are frothing at the mouth to get on board.

    But of course that’s what Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood,( or Bund?), in Egypt have in common: They “struggle against racism and oppression,” and support artistic expression. Yeah, they’re into individual human freedom and dignity. It’s just oozing from every pore. : O

    • The solidarity across Gaza’s southern border seems dubious at best …. in fact, I suspect that more Gazans enter Israel legally (for medical treatment) than enter Egypt legally for whatever reason.

    • Dr Eid is doing what people like him do best and, like Comical Ali, lying through his teeth and believing his own lies.

      Am I alone in hoping that these idiots will soon be overdrawn at the world’s sympathy bank?

  5. The Arabs and Muslims have 98.5% of the land in the Mideast.
    Israel has a whopping 1.5%
    Even 98.5% isn’t enough for the Arabs and Muslims.

  6. Well, I think the public should start writing letters to their MPs to raise the issue that in this time of austerity and cuts we can’t afford to plunge public funds into events that go against the government’s expressed position and unfairly single out one country for a boycott. Frankly, I think it’s an outrage that while we’re laying off frontline public workers, we throw away taxpayers’ money on a junket for Palestinian writers in Gaza (who will also most probably come into contact and provide material support to Hamas, a terrorist organization proscribed in the UK).

  7. I wonder if any of the people attending this ‘Pal fest’ will be raising the fact that the Egyptian ruling council, despite the myriad problems facing Egypt, has authorised the censorship of the National Film Archive, allowing a team of Muslim ‘experts’ to remove all sequences showing women, and of men and women together, deemed by them inappropriate. Bearing in mind most or all of these films have almost certainly been seen in cinemas in Egypt at some time, it shows where Egypt is heading on a cultural level.

    The Guardian ran naive Cif articles last year suggesting that with the overthrow of Mubarak we would see a renascent arts scene flourishing in Egypt such as had existed in Cairo in the past (i.e. in the days of King Farouk).

    The Arts Council of England surely has no mandate to donate a large sum of its tax-payers’ funding to this ‘festival’ in Gaza. Imagine the outcry if it donated similar money to a Jewish or Israeli literary festival, even if it was in England.

  8. “It would, however be interesting to hear what the tax-paying British public thinks……”

    The tax-paying British public hasn’t got a clue about this – or any other – funding directed to the Palestinians. What it factually and accurately knows about the I/P conflict wouldn’t fill a single page in a tiny notebook.

    Incidentally, isn’t there a *humanitarian crisis* of epic proportions and unending duration going on in Gaza? Odd, then, to find literature and arts festivals amid this oppression and calamity.