A group of world public figures, including US linguist Noam Chomsky and British film director Ken Loach, are publicly protesting against the Days of Jerusalem Festival, which is to be held within the Pilsen 2015 European City of Culture, claiming that it is being used to help legitimise Israel’s political strategy.
The Days of Jerusalem in Prague festival was established three years ago under the auspices of the Prague and Jerusalem municipalities and the festival’s first two editions passed without any major controversy. But plans to hold the festival in Pilsen this year, within the framework of European City of Culture events, has sparked a wave of criticism. At the end of April, a group of Czech activists, politicians and supporters of Palestine, including former foreign Minister Jan Kavan and former dissident Petr Uhl, wrote an open letter to the organizers, calling on them to cancel the event.
When they didn’t succeed, they decided to step up the pressure. On Thursday, they published an open letter addressed to the European Commission, parliament, and council, suggesting that the European Capital of Culture is helping legitimise the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.
Among the signatories are a number of respected cultural figures, such as Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, musician Roger Walters and history professor Shlomo Sand.
One of the organizers of the protest, Vojtěch Srnka, outlined the main arguments:
“The main reason is that Jerusalem was pronounced an international city by the international community, by the General Assembly of the United Nations. In 1980 Jerusalem was annexed by Israel. And the international community, namely the UN, does not recognize the annexation. However, the Israeli Government insists that Jerusalem is their capital city.
“The festival Days of Jerusalem is without any doubt introducing the city of Jerusalem as an Israeli city. We don’t agree with this, because it is contrary to international law and the European Union. When we take into account that the event is partly financed by the EU, it constitutes a big problem for us.”
The head of Pilsen European City of Culture, Jiří Suchánek, admits that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sensitive issue. However, he adds that Pilsen 2015 is not the organizer and emphasizes that the festival is a strictly apolitical event:
“I want to stress that we cannot combine politics and culture, we strictly divide these two things. Days of Jerusalem is a multi-genre festival focusing on different types of audiences and includes dance, music, visual arts, film and gastronomy and in no way can it be connected with politics. We are aware of the sensitivity of this topic and moreover we support the cooperation of both Jewish and Arab artists at this festival.”
But, according to Vojtěch Srnka, the Czech media, including Czech radio and Czech television, describe the festival as an introduction of Israeli culture. He also points out that the participation of Palestinian artists is not sufficient:
“I think last year the attendance of Palestinian artists was about four percent. However, Palestinians constitute some 43 percent of Jerusalem’s inhabitants. When we take into account that the Israeli Embassy in the Czech Republic is paying for this event, they will never want Jerusalem to be described both as Palestinian and Israeli.”
Meanwhile, the organizers of Days of Jerusalem in Prague and Pilsen insist that despite the controversies, they are ready to go ahead with the event, which is set to take place in Pilsen on June 19 and 20 and in Prague on June 22 and 23.
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