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WOMAD: Marley to perform, Palestinian musicians banned

Written by: Nick G. on 9 March 2024


Photo: Asbjorn Kanck

Yesterday, members and supporters of the Australia Friends of Palestine Association picketed the entrance to the popular WOMAD music festival calling on audiences to boycott the performance by Ziggy Marley, son of the famous Rastafarian Bob Marley.

Their very vocal calls of "cease fire NOW" and "stop the genocide" rang out during the one and a half hour-long rally. Drivers of passing cars honked their horns in support. 

The AFOPA bookshop in Adelaide said that many with tickets to WOMAD had called at their shop to purchase pro-Palestinian t-shirts to wear to WOMAD.

Excuse to test new anti-protest laws.

The head of security bloke was in civvies walking around outside the entrance talking to people. He was hired direct by Womad whereas the security guards were contract security guards employed by SRS.

He said he had a specific contract with Womad and that the police were running the security show and applying/testing those new security laws that the Malinauskas Government rushed through after an Extinction Rebellion protest last year. The new Bill increased the financial penalties for obstruction of a public place 66 times, to a new fine of $50,000, and introduced a three month’s jail time. 

At one stage a police officer spoke to a Palestinian demonstrator who was walking on the pedestrian side of the two lane pathway on Frome Road. The other lane was for bicycles.

The Palestinian bloke had a placard about boycotting Ziggy Marley as he walked towards the city facing the Womad patrons who were coming from the city.

The Palestinian guy was told by the police he was obstructing the public.

The organisers of the protest AFOPA met with police prior to the protest and under some new law they were told they had to have no placards or flags within 50 metres of the entrance to the event. The police did not enforce this strictly as even the largest gathering of protesters on the western side of Frome Road were less than 50 metres from the entrance.

Why Marley?

Calls on WOMAD organisers to drop Marley from the program owing to his support for Israel and its armed forces, calls rejected by the organisers, had fuel added to the fire when the same organisers, at the last moment, withdrew their invitation for Jordanian-based Palestinian group 47SOUL.

Marley’s wife Orly Agai, is an Israeli of Iranian-Jewish descent. In Israel in 2011 for two concerts, Marley told the Zionist Israeli news agency Ynet: "The history of our connection to the roots of Israel, to David, Solomon, goes way before I met my wife. My father, my Rastafari culture, has a tight link to the Jewish culture. We have a strong connection from when I was a young boy and read the Bible, the Old Testament.” He told the agency that he “felt very close to Israel”.

In November 2018, Marley displayed that closeness when he joined US rapper Pharrel Williams on stage at the annual Friends of the Israel Defence Forces gala which raised US$60 million for the genocidal army.

Their audience included Israeli soldiers in uniform.

Although he claims his music sends a “message of justice, love, and peace for all people,” on October 20, 2023 Marley posted a picture of a raised hand, along with the words, “You know wha! There must be a better way. Free Gaza from Hamas.”

He also signed an open letter affirming his support of Israel amid the war with Hamas. 

The letter instructs Hollywood “to speak out forcefully against Hamas, to support Israel, to refrain from sharing misinformation about the war, and do whatever is in their power to urge the terrorist organisation to return the innocent hostages to their families”.

WOMAD director Ian Scobie tried to defend his decision to allow Marley to perform, saying that it was a lie that he had performed for the IDF and only promoted harmony in his songs. 

47SOUL a no-go

47SOUL, which had twice before performed at WOMAD, were to be banned, he said, because of the way feelings were running in the community at the moment, and his inability under those circumstances to be able to guarantee their safety. He added that they could perform in 2025 if they wanted to. This was a bullshit excuse, because anyone can see how feelings are running in the community at the moment.

47SOUL issued a statement on the withdrawal of their invitation to play:

"Having initially accepted the invitation, we were later informed that WOMADelaide took the decision to rescind 47SOUL's invite, citing doubts at being unable to present a 'suitably safe environment' for the artists and audiences at the festival due to community protests taking place in Australia," it said.

"We find this line of reasoning deeply problematic and disheartening as it feeds into the narrative of Palestinians being an inherent source of danger to others.

"At this critical time, the message of multiculturalism that WOMAD seeks to espouse, and its specific relevance to the events we are witnessing, could not be of greater importance."

British-Lebanese multi-genre music producer and DJ Saliah withdrew from WOMAD in protest, saying “I am of British-Lebanese heritage. Members of my family are currently suffering daily bombardment by the IOF (Israeli Occupation Force)  in Lebanon….WOMADelaide…refuses to provide a ‘safe’ platform for Palestinian artists and their allies at a time when amplifying our voices could not be more critical.”

Australian singer-songwriter Jen Cloher, who is part of Sunday’s WOMADelaide program and has vowed to donate any profits from that performance to 47SOUL and the Palestinian cause, lashed out at organisers’ claims the decision was based on safety.

Tunisian performer, Emel Mathlouthi performed last night, waving a Palestinian flag for a supportive audience.

Writers Week encourages discussion of Gaza conflict

In contrast to the deplorable decisions that have mired WOMAD in controversy, peaceful audiences of many hundreds of people listened with great interest to speakers on Palestinian and Israeli issues at the previous week’s Adelaide Writers Festival.

Avi Shlaim, whose Arab-Jewish family fled their Iraqi homeland after the First Arab-Israel War in 1948, described the discrimination his family faced from the   Ashkenazi Jews who had come to Israel from Europe. He had researched the circumstances of the large-scale migration of Jews from Iraq to Israel at that time, and had discovered “incontrovertible proof” that three of the five terrorist bombs directed at Iraq’s Jewish community had been planted by the Israelis themselves to induce a state of panic, forcing Iraq’s Jews to seek refuge in Israel. He explained why he rejected the “two-state solution” and now sought a singular secular and democratic state of Palestine. His book is Three Worlds: Memoirs of an  Arab-Jew.

Tareq Baconi serves as the president of the board of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He was listened to without interruption by more than 2,000 people at 8am as he outlined the origins of Hamas, its political ambitions and the reasons why it has the support of the people of Gaza. His book is Hamas Contained. 

Several hours later, another huge audience heard Israeli-born Ilan Pappé address the question of Israel and Palestine more broadly. The author of several books on the topic, he is best-known for his detailed study of the Zionist crime of ethnic cleansing that both pre-dated and continued through the Naqba. It was “a crime that needs to be confronted politically as well as morally”, he wrote in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. 

As a tale of two decisions, Adelaide Writers Week and WOMAD could not be further apart.

Further protests are planned at the latter.


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