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Morocco: Singer's Performance in Tel Aviv Ignites Debate on Israel's Cultural Boycott

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

Hindi Zahra is a young Moroccan singer. A talented self-taught multi-instrumentalist, the artist embraced success soon after the release of her debut album, Handmade, in 2009. Hailed by the critics as “the worthy successor to Billie Holiday”, she received prestigious prizes, the last of which in February 2011, when she won the Victoires de la Musique award for the best world music album.

Her success has led her on tour across the globe. Her sultry and intimate jazz style, often sung in English, mixing blues songs with Moroccan Berber melodies, has somehow managed to cross cultural barriers, attracting even larger audiences.

At least this was the case until last October, when it was revealed that the singer was scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv, Israel, on November 12, 2011.

A Moroccan woman in Tel Aviv

The Palestinian Campaign for Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel quickly published an open letter [fr] to the singer calling for the cancellation of her concert in Israel.

“We are surprised that you have agreed to provide entertainment to a society that practices occupation, racial discrimination, and ethnic cleansing […] while our refugees – the majority of our people! – Continue to be deprived from their inalienable right to return to their homes,” the letter reads.

To the dismay of the boycott campaigners, the concert was maintained as scheduled.

In an interview [fr] with the Moroccan press, Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or BDS) campaign, describes his disappointment at the decision of the artist to go on with her representation in Israel:

We were disappointed by [Hindi Zahra's] behavior. In her reply to us, there was a lot of hate. An Amazigh artist also tried to convince her, but she reacted very badly.

Chickens come home to roost

On Wednesday, December 14, the musical tour finally brought Hindi Zahra back home in Morocco for a concert in Casablanca, the country's most affluent and populous city.

On the Internet the controversy broke out when a group of activists, believed to be linked to the Moroccan chapter of the BDS Movement, published a call on Facebook asking people to join a sit-in outside the concert venue.

For some reason, the call was removed from Facebook a few hours later.

Blogger Ghali Bensouda published a screenshot (see bellow) of the call:

Screenshot of the sit-in call as published by Ghali Bensouda

[…] Will organize a protest […] against normalization with Israel and as a reminder that Moroccan people reject any form of normalization with the Zionists […]

Among netizens the reactions were split between those who supported the protesters, and those who, like Ghali Bensouda, saw in the protest the instrumentalisation by radical political factions of the youth-based February 20 movement, who has been leading the pro-democracy protests in the country for the last 10 odd months. He writes [fr]:

Je trouve cette décision [d'organiser un sit-in] STUPIDE ET RIDICULE.
D’abord, la chanteuse est libre de se produire là où elle veut et c’est son choix.
Deuxièmement, se produire en Israël ne veut pas dire cautionner la politique de ce pays à l’égard de la Palestine. […]
Troisièmement, cela montre clairement la main mise de certaines organisations sur le 20 février qui font de la question anti-sioniste un fond de commerce.

I find [the decision to organize a sit-in] stupid and ridiculous.
First, the singer is free to perform wherever she wants and were she chooses.
Second, performing in Israel does not mean endorsing the policy of that country with regard to Palestine. […]
Third, this [protest] clearly shows the grip that some organizations are having today on the February 20 movement, making the anti-Zionist issue the main agenda.

Ethel (@_nethels_) attended the concert and she posted pictures of the performance.

Hindi Zahra performing in Casablanca – picture poster on Yfrog by @_nethels_

In the meantime, outside of the concert venue, a number of protesters gathered chanting slogans like “Boycott Israel,” or “I don't recognize Israel,” as shown in the following video posted on YouTube by Kifachinfo:

More reactions followed on social networks. Hamza (@Hamsek) was unequivocal (fr):

[Hindi Zahra] est morte à Tel Aviv aux yeux de pas mal de monde…

Hindi Zahra has died in Tel Aviv in the eyes of a lot of people…

Blogger Yassir deplores the involvement of the February 20 movement. He writes [ar]:

عشرين فبراير حركة شعبية نادت و تنادي بإسقاط الفساد و تحقيق مجموعة من المطالب الاجتماعية […] لذا “فهبوطها” إلى هذا المستوى هو، بنظري، ضرب لمصداقية الحركة و انحراف عن أهدافها.
أمام الحركة طريق طويل و الاحتجاج على زهرة هندي لن يغير من واقع الأمر شيئا… هناك ما هو أهم !

February 20 is a popular movement that has been calling for the fight against corruption. It has been advocating for social reforms […]
The movement has belittled itself in my view [by endorsing this protest], harming its credibility and deviating from its goals.
To movement has still a long way to go. Protests against Hindi Zahra will not change anything … There are more important problems to deal with!

Journalist Fahd Yata, a notorious critic of February 20, has this to say [fr] about the protesters:

Les pseudo révolutionnaires du FEB 20, qui n'ont plus rien à faire depuis le 25 novembre [eléctions législatives], appellent au boycott d'Hindi Zahra. Des Fascistes!

February 20, pseudo revolutionaries, who, since November 25 [legislative elections] don't know what to do, have now called for the boycott of Hindi Zahra. Fascists!

Veteran human rights advocate, Samira Kinani, writes the following public note on Facebook in defense of the protesters [fr]:

des citoyenNes ont décidé de répondre présentsà un appel de bds
cette action qui sillonne l univers contre un régime raciste
un régime d apartheid un état voyou un état criminel..
des actions pacifiques visant à faire entendre une autre voix que celle des médias dominants
et c le tollé et ça utilise tout “femme” “amazigh” tout est bon pour essayer de discréditer une action somme tout symbolique

Citizens have decided to answer the call of BDS. It's a campaign conducted the world over against a racist regime, an Apartheid regime, a rogue and criminal State.
These actions are non violent and seek to offer an alternative voice, other than the one conveyed by the mainstream media.
And what are these protesters faced with? A public outcry. “A women”, “an Amazigh”… Everything is good to try to discredit a fundamentally symbolic protest.

***

The Palestinian issue has always been a unifying cause in Morocco and, arguably, still ranks high among the main issues Moroccans do care about. In 2009, Moroccans took to the streets in solidarity with the Palestinian people, following the Israeli deadly raid on the Gaza Strip. They marched in their millions, filling the streets of the capital Rabat. But the idea of a ​​boycott, although attractive to certain activists, may seem nebulous to some and is certainly divisive among netizens.

Whether you are for or against the boycott, says twitterati Samia, you should respect the right of artists to perform freely, and protesters to demonstrate non-violently. She tweets:

When Hindi Zahra performed in Israel, it was her right. When #feb20 [February 20 movement] protests against her, it's their right too. Now move on with your lives.
The cultural boycott of Israel has been going on for years. #feb20 is not doing anything controversial.

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

  • marina

    I really don’t understand why moroccans always make a big deal of this kind of happenings. Moroccans should stand behind their own people, because palestinians would do the same.
    I am so sick of people who want to stand for something that has nothing to do with them. As a moroccan abroad, i can say that i am really proud to see a moroccan amazigh or none-amazigh becoming an international artist.
    People! If palestinians where in your shoes, they wouldnt care less. They would stand with their people, and moroccans can go to hell. So WAKE UP!!!

  • marina no Moroccan would ever say so .

  • Pingback: مقاومة التطبيع مع الكيان الصهيوني: نماذج من | كنعان()

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