Joy Harjo Performs at Tel Aviv University in Face of Anti-Israeli Boycott
American Indian writer and musician Joy Harjo stood firm in her decision to perform at Tel Aviv University in Israel on Monday despite being urged to boycott in support of those protesting the country’s continuing bombardment of Palestinians.
Harjo, of Cherokee descent and a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, landed in Tel Aviv for a December 10 performance she had booked months earlier to find letters and entreaties from colleagues and friends to decided to go honor the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. But she went ahead anyway.
“I will perform at the university as I promised, to an audience that will include Palestinian students,” she wrote on her blog just hours before being scheduled to take the stage. “The students have written in support of me being here. I will let the words and music speak for that place beyond those who would hurt and destroy for retribution, or to be right. It is my hope that my choice will generate discussion and understanding for many paths to justice.”
When she booked the lecture months ago upon being invited, Harjo said, she was unaware of the boycott. She said she actually shared the concerns of her fellow artists and scholars but felt that to boycott would implicate all Israelis just as she had been implicated as an American many years ago—and hated for it—when she spoke in Durban during the Gulf War.
“I feel that same atmosphere of censure now in the ultimatum that I am being given to boycott,” she wrote. “I admire and respect the scholars and artists who have backed the boycott. I stand with their principles, but they will not see it that way.”
Indeed, if their communications beforehand were any indication, they did not.
“Joy is a valued friend and colleague, but I disagree with her decision to go to Tel Aviv to perform. I regret not reaching out to her sooner in this regard, which might have changed her mind,” Robert Warrior, director of American Indian studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told the Palestinian news website The Electronic Intifada.
A petition circulated via Change.org collected at least 2,000 signatures urging her to cancel the performance. “Joy Harjo, it is not too late to cancel!” it stated. Among those who wrote to her personally was Native Hawaiian activist J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, a member of the advisory board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel who has also written for ICTMN on the topic.
But Harjo, whose memoir Crazy Brave was published this year, stood firm.
“I didn't know about the boycott until it was too late,” she wrote on her facebook page. “My trip was posted here for a month. A person made it their campaign to question my integrity and notify others without speaking with me. I am a Mvskoke person living on occupied lands. I am in support of human rights. My music and poetry take me into the world to speak and sing a compassion that is still beyond me. I am learning yet. Mvto cehacares.”
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