Submitted by Stephanie Westbrook
On Sunday, March 18, 2012, at the Cortoons Festival of Rome, a group of 20 activists of the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel requested, and were granted by the organizers, the possibility to speak prior to the presentation by Hanan Kaminski, director of the school of animation of the Bezalel Academy of Jerusalem.
The festival took place just meters away from the monument commemorating Rachel Corrie, a US activist killed in Gaza on March 16, 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home.
The BDS activists informed the audience that the participation of Bezalel, with the sponsorship and financial support of the Israeli Embassy in Italy, represents one of many attempts by Israel to use culture to rebrand its image and divert attention from policies of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
In 2005, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit of Israel's Foreign Ministry stated: "We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and we do not differentiate between propaganda and culture."
Artists who accept funding from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs are required to sign a contract which states that the artist "is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel."
The activists condemned the use of art to cover the crimes of Israel, reminding the audience that the Israeli Embassy, representing the Government of Israel, also "sponsored" the recent Israeli airstrikes in Gaza that killed 28 Palestinians and wounded 80, the demolition of 24,000 Palestinian homes, the detention without charge of more than 300 Palestinian political prisoners, the Apartheid Wall and illegal settlements, the confiscation of Palestinian land and the over 1,400 civilians killed in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, including 500 children.
The words of the activists were greeted with warm applause from the audience and several people left the theater along with the activists.
The Palestinian appeal for BDS calls for a boycott of Israeli businesses as well as its cultural and academic institutions until Israel complies with international law and human rights.
In solidarity with the Palestinian people. Without their freedom we will never be free.