Music group strikes sour note on fund

By Jessica Elgot, March 11, 2011
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Pro-Palestinian campaigners are planning to disrupt a conference on Israeli music at SOAS which they say is "endorsed by the Israeli government" - although the organisers have in fact rejected Israeli funding.

Organisers turned down a grant from the British Israeli Arts Training Scheme, after deciding they did not want political connections with the conference.

Activists from Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG), British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) and the Boycott Israel Network (BIN) called for a boycott of "Arts Musics of Israel", organised by the Jewish Music Institute, which is based at SOAS.

LSE emeritus professor Jonathan Rosenhead of BRICUP said: "If the organisers do not dissociate themselves from official Israeli sponsorship and refuse any funding from the Israeli state, we will be protesting outside the event - and perhaps inside it too."

But JMI director Geraldine Auerbach said no money had been received from the Israeli government, and a £1,500 grant from BI ARTS had been turned down. "There is no Israeli funding at all. We decided that in the current climate that funding should come from individual donations.

"This is not a political conference; it is an academic one, about music. It seemed more appropriate to have funding from donors, although we are very grateful for the offer, and have asked them to defer the sponsorship. The Israeli Embassy in the UK is only promoting the event, not sponsoring it."

At a union meeting in January, SOAS students passed a motion calling on the university to cancel the event. It said: "SOAS has no place participating in or facilitating a conference that is affiliated with official Israeli state institutions."

Alan Aziz, director of the Zionist Federation, said: "I think that it is an utter disgrace that music events such as this at SOAS attract such negative attention from people who clearly don't understand the complexities of the situation in Israel.

"It is even sadder when an organisation like JMI feels forced to reject or defer a grant due to harassment".

    Last updated: 10:53am, March 11 2011