use culture to normalize occupation

The Bradford Literature Festival is once again in the eye of the storm, this time due to its sponsorship by pro-Israel groups. This further highlights the importance of cultural spaces and the solidarity they can serve, writes Ibrahim Abul-Essad.

The Bradford Literature Festival must sever ties with pro-Israel sponsors, writes Ibrahim Abul-Essad. [GETTY]

The Bradford Literature Festival is an annual cultural event held during the months of June and July in Bradford, West Yorkshire. The festival aims to empower “diverse and marginalized voices” in the UK, by hosting live music, theater productions, talks and family events.

One has to wonder, then, why the backers of the Israeli army, as well as prominent settler organizations, would see fit to sponsor the festival?

Judging from the event’s website, it appears that there is a close connection between the festival and several prominent Zionist organizations. This is shocking, given the level of solidarity expressed specifically towards the Palestinian cause by the residents of Bradford, a city with a rich history, made up of radical legacies and proud achievements.

On the other hand, the news might not come as much of a surprise to some given that Syima Aslam, the founder of the Bradford Literature Festival, has already spoken at an event organized by B’nai Brith – a non-governmental organization deeply rooted in the machinations of the Israel lobby.

”The Bradford Literature Festival got into hot water with these overtures to the Israel lobby in the UK. The people of Bradford will not tolerate this kind of stealthy normalization and will do their best to resist Israel’s efforts to normalize its ongoing occupation of Palestine.

Founded in the United States in 1843, this international organization devotes its efforts to “supporting Israel”. He is a key member of the World Zionist Organization, which strives to promote “Zionism, the Zionist idea and the Zionist enterprise”.

In the past, B’nai Brith had submitted submissions co-authored by the “UK Lawyers for Israel” against “the so-called State of Palestine”. Additionally, within this pressure group there is an Office of International Affairs whose task is to “engage with British Foreign Office embassies on behalf of Israel”.

In other words, he is defending a state recently found guilty by Amnesty International of practicing apartheid against the Palestinian people.

The particular event organized by B’nai Brith which Aslam addressed on September 21, 2021 was titled “The History of Interreligious Dialogue through Culture, Art, Literature and Politics”. During this event, the concept of culture, in particular how it can be used as a tool to normalize relations with Israel, was discussed at length. Following this, the selected speakers then used the discussion as an opportunity to smear pro-Palestinian activism, brandishing such activity as “anti-Semitic”.

It should also be noted that Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, an employee of the Abraham Initiatives, spoke alongside Aslam at this event. One of the roles of the Abraham Initiatives is specifically to “increase synergy between British and Israeli bodies and agencies”. In other words, whitewash Israeli apartheid in Palestine.

In the past, the Bradford Literature Festival has been widely described and received as a Muslim-run South Asian affair. That said, some of the cultural partners listed in the program tell an interesting story.

According to the brochure published by the Bradford Literature Festival, there are several cultural partners relevant to the issue of Zionism: Jewish Renaissance, The Aspen Institute and Simon & Schuster.

The Jewish Renaissance has sponsored the Bradford Literature Festival since 2016. The president of the Jewish Renaissance Magazine is a businessman named David Dangoor. In the past, Dangoor has funded Zionist organizations such as the Henry Jackson Society, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, as well as the Jerusalem Foundation.

It should be noted that the latter organization continues to play a fundamental role in supporting the ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing within Palestinian communities in occupied East Jerusalem. Specifically, by building settlements that would only accommodate Israeli Jews arriving in the area. These settlements have been deemed illegal by the International Criminal Court.

Jewish Renaissance’s board also includes at least three senior figures from the Board of Deputies, the largest Jewish community organization in the UK. According to its 2020 Trustees Report, the Council of Deputies maintains “a close working relationship with the Israeli Embassy” to “strengthen ties with the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and the Israeli military.”

The Aspen Institute is a nonprofit organization closely associated with the Crown family, which raised funds for Friends of the IDF. In addition to that, Lester Crown is a board member of the Jerusalem Foundation.

In the past, the Aspen Institute has invited Ohad Zemet, the spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy, ​​to speak at several events. Separately, Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer, whose family shipping company was used by the Israeli secret service to carry out its assassination campaigns in Iran, is part of the Middle East Strategy Group’s honorary professorship at the Aspen Institute. .

Simon & Schuster publishing house, founded in 1924, is another cultural partner listed in the brochure published by the Bradford Literature Festival. They published the book Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth written by Noa Tishby, the Israeli government’s special envoy for combating anti-Semitism and delegitimizing Israel.

Last month, Noa Tishby oddly claims that the Palestinians had used the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian journalist who was murdered by an Israeli sniper on May 11, 2022, as an opportunity to “revolt and attack Israel”. This statement was released shortly after innocent pallbearers were brutally attacked by Israeli occupation forces while carrying his coffin.

In addition to all these cultural partnerships, it was also previously revealed that the Bradford Literature Festival had received funding from the Home Office. Specifically, from a counter-extremism program called “Building a Stronger Britain Together”.

Fears of another boycott of the Bradford Literature Festival due to this peculiar relationship have brought back memories of 2019, when at least six writers were due to appear, pulled out and staged an alternative event due to struggle funding against extremism.

Clearly, the Bradford Literature Festival got into hot water with these overtures to the Israel lobby in the UK. The people of Bradford will not tolerate this kind of stealthy normalization and will do their best to resist Israel’s efforts to normalize its ongoing occupation of Palestine.

The Bradford Literature Festival must regain its integrity by severing sponsorships with these prominent Zionist organizations, which are intent on whitewashing Israel’s crimes in Palestine.

Ibrahim is a UK-based Palestinian researcher and activist. He earned his MA in Middle Eastern Studies at Leiden University, specializing in the shaping of Palestine since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author’s employer.

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