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SXSW - Say NO to Apartheid

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To the organizers of SXSW 2015,

As musicians, artists, and performers based in Austin, TX, we are writing to you today to express our deep concern about the use of our city's largest creative festival as a tool for the whitewashing of war crimes and human rights violations by an apartheid state.

The Israeli government has a long-standing history of distracting the global community from their atrocious human rights violations by presenting themselves as champions of progressive culture and modern technology. In 2005, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched "Brand Israel", a $26 million dollar whitewashing campaign to improve Israel's image abroad. After the Gaza massacre in the winter of 2008-2009, Israel decided to allot an extra $2 million towards "cultural and information diplomacy" - using artists, authors, and performers to project a false image of a culturally diverse and progressive nation, while taking the spotlight off of Israel's continuing annexation and occupation of Palestinian land, and its oppression and persecution of the Palestinian people. Israel's former Deputy Director General for Cultural Affairs, Arye Mekel, was quoted as saying, "We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits... This way you show Israel's prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war."

In an effort to counter this propaganda and inform the global public about the ugly truth that lies behind Israel's "prettier face," Palestinian civil society has called for a cultural boycott since 2005, as part of the larger Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, modeled on the non-violent movement that helped overturn Apartheid in South Africa.

The BDS movement has been gaining ground rapidly, as academic institutions, businesses, and artists around the world are joining in to lend their support. This has only led to an increase in Israeli efforts to re brand themselves, most recently targeting international "hubs" of resistance (i.e., progressive cities such as Austin) for their propaganda to paint Israel as a "high-tech haven for environmental technologies and high culture". This year, Israel's presence in the SXSW Interactive Festival is more significant than ever - after killing over 2,100 Palestinians and committing heinous war crimes in the summer of 2014 alone, Israel is anxious to step up its whitewashing game, with the Government of Israel's Economic Mission to the US Southern Region hosting several events and positioning Israel to shine as the hottest new "Startup Nation".

As Austin artists and community members, we ask that our city and our festival not be used as a platform for the whitewashing of war crimes, human rights violations, and apartheid.We ask you to raise your voice with us and artists such as Roger Waters, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, John Williams, Bono, Bjork, Pete Seeger, and 1,000s more across the world,and we ask that SXSW honor the call for a cultural and economic boycott by canceling all events sponsored by or affiliated with the government of Israel.

For nearly two decades now, SXSW has been a mecca for artistry and innovation, and has held true to its goals of nurturing creativity and revolutionary thinking. We ask you not to sully this platform by allowing it to be used as a propaganda tool for a brutally oppressive regime. Say NO to apartheid!

In solidarity,
Austin Artists Against Apartheid

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