Joy Harjo (Photo: Wikipedia)

Joy Harjo Performs at Tel Aviv University in Face of Anti-Israeli Boycott

December 10, 2012

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 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.”

More on American Indian support of Palestinians:

Memorializing the Indian Removal Act of 1830

Siege Against Gaza; Support the Freedom Flotilla!




Submitted by Anonymous on

reat courage to stand up against all odds to do what you promise to a group of musicians at Tel Vivi...go tell your story by music. Don't be like everyone else that breaks promises to each other & students...I commend you.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I do not understand why Natives would boycott Israel when Natives and Jews have everything in common. Like the Native Americans, the Jews were displaced from their land, but after 2000 years, they have finally returned to it. The Jews returning to Israel should give Native hope that they, too, will one day reclaim their land.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Ms. Harjo has sent the wrong signal. She has harmed the cause seeking justice, liberation and dignity of the beleaguered Palestinians, those in the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories (including Gaza, still occupied...) and those tormented by discrimination in Israel. Her appearance in Tel Aviv indeed signaled acquiescence in Apartheid, Zionist style. Sad....

Submitted by Anonymous on

Good for her. Its about time that a Native American stared opposition in the face. By asking Ms. Harjo to boycott - in effect, the same people were asking her to censor the voice of Native America - specifically, that of Native American women. How many Palestinians and Jewish people have stood up for the rights of Native Americans in America? How many can say that they have not trampled on sacred land that once belonged to Native Americans? EVERY nation on the earth has violated Native Americans by setting foot in America and making it their homeland. To ask Ms. Harjo to quell her voice is an injustice to Native Americans in itself! As a Native American woman, I take offense. This war that rages on in the middle east is not our war. Ms. Harjo was invited to relay the plight of Native American women in America - to share our triumphs and sorrows through her poetry and music. The only people who have harmed "the cause" of justice in the middle east are the same people who see no wrong in attacking an Indigenous woman for carrying her voice to the far reaches of the earth. Obviously, there are attempts to keep that same voice from the crevices of hell where the devious and cowardly lie. Shame on Mr. Warrior for not relaying information correctly to Ms. Harjo. From the time her performance was announced, there was AMPLE time to relay the boycott to her - to be FAIR in allowing her to determine whether she should take up the cause or not. The article that was written proclaiming that her so called "Native American peers" were in an uproar against Ms. Harjo is false. Since when is a Mexican and Hawaiian poet considered "Native American?" Ms. Harjo has the backing of many Native American writers and artists here in America. Ask a Native American what WE think about Ms. Harjo's courage and strength. And for those of you who are NOT Native American posting on this thread, take your anti-Native American sentiment elsewhere. Perhaps you can drag your crosses back to your caves and resurrect someone else to persecute. It seems that you people are pretty good at doing that with your own people.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I trust Joy Harjo's wisdom in how she is working with this issue. If something she gives illumination to even one person that is a victory.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Jews ARE Natives. And the state of Israel is proof that Natives don't have to be underdogs. The false antagonism between Jews and other Indigenous Peoples is a myth fostered by those who profit by it.

Submitted by Anonymous on

There is a strong connection between Natives and Palestinians. Israeli government, not the Jewish religion, an important distinction here, should not be perpetuating 'Manifest Destiny' against Palestinians who already lived in this land. Joy Harjo is just getting caught up in a very complex situation. We really can't single her out at the last minute. A concerted effort to communicate with Native entertainers about these concerns needs to happen apart from one concert.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I do not see the connection so clearly. Israel has invaded Palestine, thrown whole families and communities out of their own homes, homes those people have owned since biblical times on land they are native to and illegally razed those homes and supplanted them with settlements, leaving the Palestinians confined to an embattled and permanently blockaded reservation. Israel ignored and undermined many attempts at treaties when Palestine had a government and leader willing to work with them, and now blames the more embittered government that has inevitably followed for their consistent failure in that. Israel makes a grave moral mistake in cultivating a treaty-free endless war with Palestine. Without that, their only remaining option for peace is genocide. Harjo has her own choices to make in this. I am not thrilled with the choice she seems to have made. Nothing against Israel itself, but this is a bad course of action, one that is resulting in the loss of many families lives

Submitted by Anonymous on

Joy had contractual obligations that wouldn't allow her to break them. Now that ICT has decided not to report all the facts, you have lost credability with me and many others. This is not the NDN way!

Submitted by Anonymous on

There are many paths to justice and peace in Palestine, Israel and the world. Joy Harjo chose one path and Sarah Schulman chose another. In some ways I am certain that their paths converge because they have the same goals: justice and peace for all.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Well, I do not want to judge Joy. She seemed torn after knowing more about the facts. The fact is Israel's government likes using Native Americans and musicians as a fig leaf for its oppressive policies, to have a nice cover while it ethnic cleanses the indigenous inhabitants. Israel exploits the resources of the West Bank and doesn't give anything to the Palestinians. A person can be born in France or the Ukraine and be Jewish and benefit from those resources, but not the Palestinians born there. I wish Joy Harjo read more about the situation before going. Yes, she could have been told about the boycott, but she could have learned of how the people were being treated down there; it's not a secret anyway.

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