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Open letter to the Ottawa Jazz Festival

Janelle Monae performs at the 2012 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, June 23, 2012. Photo: Brian Goldschmied. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Dear Ottawa Jazz Festival management, (director@ottawajazzfestival.com)

Many citizens of Ottawa look forward to the Jazz Festival every summer. The festival brings exceptional artists and musicians from around the world to an appreciative audience, and celebrates music that has its roots in struggle and resistance.

However, this year we were disturbed to see that the festival has decided to partner with the Government of Israel, whose Embassy in Canada is a sponsor. It has been even advertised as a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Jewish state.

Because of the unhappy circumstances surrounding that event 70 years ago, which led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and even more in light of Israel’s grievous wounding of over 7,000 Palestinians in the last two months, we feel that we have to take a pass on this year’s event.

Our decision is in no way motivated by anti-Semitism. On the contrary, it disappoints us greatly because we know that the line-up includes many impressive Jewish-Israeli musicians whom we might have wanted to see and hear had they been invited as individuals rather than as part of an effort to promote the State of Israel.

Israel’s impressive cultural development cannot and should not obscure the fact that Israeli society has been built on the initial displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and its continuing repression of their attempts to be treated according to various UN resolutions.

If you plan to re-invite Israeli government sponsorship in the future, we would be thrilled to consider attending if and when Israel meets three basic democratic conditions:

1. If Israel ends its military occupation of the West Bank and ends the cruel blockade of Gaza.

2. If Israel gives full equality to ALL Israeli citizens without regard to religion and race.

3. If Israel agrees to work toward a just solution for the over five million Palestinian refugees who are stateless as a result of the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and villages in 1948 and 1967.

These three conditions are based on democratic principles of fairness, equality and justice for all. As settler Canadians who purport to engage in a process of reconciliation with Indigenous people, it is imperative that we apply these values to anti-colonial struggles everywhere. 

Until Israel meets these conditions, we will refrain from attending any event sponsored by the State of Israel including, unfortunately, the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Amy Kishek, Geneviève Nevin, Trevor Purvis and Bill Skidmore

Amy Kishek is a Palestinian-Canadian lawyer. Geneviève Nevin is a community organizer with Independent Jewish Voices Canada. Bill Skidmore and Trevor Purvis are on the faculty at Carleton University.

Photo: Brian Goldschmied. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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