Coming out against the Israeli government’s recent move to ply Hollywood’s best and brightest with luxury vacation packages to the holy land, UK singer and ambient music innovator Brian Eno has encouraged Oscar nominees and other stars to decline, given the country’s human rights violations and their direct affect on Palestine.
I have joined many others, including Oscar nominees Mark Rylance and Asif Kapadia, five-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh, and director Ken Loach in pledging to accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights. Our hope is that other artists will follow suit and take a stand for Palestinian human rights, as so many cultural figures did in the struggle against South African apartheid.
Eno’s invitation follows news that this year’s Oscars swag bags will include five-star luxury trips to Israel for every nominee in the main acting and directing categories at the 88th Annual Academy Awards. Describing the offer as a strategic move by the Brand Israel campaign to obscure the country’s human rights violations related to the forcible takeover of Palestinian land and any subsequent conflicts, Eno says the vacation packages are a major distraction. He offers a detailed explanation of his stance and the fraught policy that has continually eroded relations between Israelis and Palestinians in a recent commentary published by Salon.
For decades, the UN has been condemning the forcible takeover of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers who, backed by an enormous army, government subsidies and the United States, have flooded in from Moscow, London, Brooklyn, Cape Town and elsewhere. It’s a familiar story: The Europeans who settled America did the same to the Native Americans, and the British did it to the Aboriginal Australians. In both cases we turned the victims into the problem: America had a redskin problem. Australia had an abbo problem. But what they both had, in reality, was a settlerproblem. And what Israel has is a settler problem.
What’s more, during Israel’s creation, more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in fear and made refugees to make space for a Jewish state. After the horrors of World War II, it’s understandable that many Jews saw Israel as a place of safety in a hostile world. But what about those 750,000 refugees and their families? Nearly seven decades later, they still aren’t allowed back to their homes. In the midst of Europe’s greatest refugee crisis ever, it’s worth remembering that Palestinians still make up the largest refugee population in the world.
The Israeli government has attempted to detract from this harsh reality over the years through its “Brand Israel” campaign, which is aimed at using artists, among others, to obscure its human rights violations — whether by paying performers handsomely to play in Israel or by otherwise associating our “brands” with brand Israel.
When expressing his hopes for the Oscar nominees’ swag bag trips, Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said: “These are the most senior people in the film industry in Hollywood and leading opinion-formers who we are interested in hosting.” This is the same government official who supports the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.
But there’s a “peace process” going on, isn’t there? The problem is it doesn’t resolve anything and it isn’t intended to resolve anything. It provides cover for the Israeli government to continue annexing land, fragmenting the remaining territory further so that a Palestinian state — the purported aim of the process — becomes unattainable. Every day, whether there’s a “peace process” going on or not, the Palestinians are having their land taken from them.