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June 2012

Strike Off the Band

The folk group Dervish play traditional Irish music all over the world. In mid-April, the cultural terrorism began over their proposed gig in Israel, where they've played for years.

Here are typical early Facebook posts: "Have you forgotten your history, Occupation, persecution, genocide ... Are you really going to shame our Nation and those that died for our freedom by playing in Israel?"; "Make a stand for human rights, please say no to Israel's whitewashing of its brutal abuses."

On April 27, an open letter from the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) begged Dervish to cancel their trip and thus inter alia save the members of FullSet, their supporting band, "from the infamy of breaching the Palestinian cultural boycott so early in their career".

The letter was signed by the indefatigable Raymond Deane, the IPSC's cultural liaison officer, a composer who since 1986 has been a member of Aosdána, a state-subsidised organisation of creative artists under the aegis of the Irish Arts Council, and who receives €17,180 annually. Since mid-2010 he has been persuading Irish artists to sign a pledge "in response to the call from Palestinian civil society for a cultural boycott of Israel".

Irish musicians are tightly-knit and unsurprisingly dominate the list of more than 200 signatories. On Facebook, Deane and allies pushed messages about the "rogue" Israeli state's use of artists for propaganda. Three days later Dervish announced they had not realised there was a cultural boycott, and didn't wish to break it. Deane posted: "Dervish — I salute you for this courageous and morally correct decision. You will now be subject to massive defamation from Zionists and their fellow-travellers — you should see this as proof that you have made the correct decision, because it will reveal to you the viciousness and mendacity of Israel's apologists."

There followed hundreds of posts in which anti-Zionists spewed venom (sample: "Israel is the quintessential world bully and mafia hit man") and, for the most part, pro-Israelis lamented that Dervish would not play in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. The band's singer posted that "to promote love and peace in the world, I would go anywhere", but the "avalanche of negativity" had made it impossible to make the trip. This produced hundreds more warring posts. The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, who is Jewish, complains of cultural fascism, and is denounced as a Zionist fifth columnist. The culture war runs and runs.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry views Ireland as the most hostile country in the EU. Take a bow, Dr Raymond Deane.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards