Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamonn Gilmore has criticised supporters of a cultural boycott of Israel, who are accused of bullying the music group Dervish into abandoning an Israeli tour, as “totally unacceptable”. Justice Minister Alan Shatter had already accused Dervish’s critics of “cyber bullying”.
Dervish had pulled out the tour of Israel because of an “avalanche of negativity” and “venom” directed towards them on social media websites.
Mr Gilmore, who is also Tanaiste (deputy prime minister), said Irish artists should be free to decide for themselves whether they wished to engage with Israel.
While the Irish Government has a pro-Palestine stance on the conflict, “it is the right of others to take a contrary view”, he said, adding that he thought “efforts to harass artists with a view to intimidating them from exercising their freedom of choice in relation to engagement with Israel” were “completely unacceptable”.
Singer Cathy Jordan had said the band members were not politically minded and were only due to go on the three-date tour at the invitation of an Israeli friend and musician called Avshalom.
On the band’s Facebook page, she wrote: “In hindsight, it was very naive of me to think our motives would not be misunderstood and misrepresented.”
The group said they have opted out of the tour because they were unaware there was a unofficial boycott among Irish artists performing in Israel.
However, some artists have chosen to state publicly that they will not perform in Israel in protest at the treatment of the Palestinian people.
The Israeli Embassy in Dublin described the boycott as “cultural terror” and a “particular shame as culture is supposed to unite people”.
Cathy Jordan said on the band’s website: “Although I was aware of the concerns with our proposed visit to Israel, I wasn’t quite prepared for the extent of the venom directed at us.
“I deeply regret any upset caused by all of this. It was far from our intention to stir up all this anger and hatred, when the opposite was what was intended.”
The singer said that she would continue to attempt to make the world a better place through music. “I live in hope that one day love will conquer all,” she said.
Members of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign claimed they were responsible for forcing the band to call off the tour.
National co-ordinator Kevin Squires said the organisation had made the band aware of the cultural boycott and had directed its supporters to target its website, although he denied there was any “venom” directed towards it.
Dervish, however, had received strong support from Justice Minister Alan Shatter, a member of the Irish Jewish community, who accused their critics of “cyber bullying”. He told the Sunday Independent: “The Irish Palestinian Solidarity Group’s action in directing its members to ‘target’ the website of the musical group Dervish in order to intimidate the group into cancelling their planned concerts in Israel is nothing other than cyber bullying.”
Mr Gilmore asserted that he had been happy to attend the opening of the Israeli Film Festival last November, and said he had underlined on that occasion that the Government opposed the boycott campaign.
Irish artists have been prominent in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. The campaign started in August 2010 and, to date, 218 Irish artists have pledged not to perform in the country, including Damien Dempsey, Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny.
Composer Raymond Deane, the IPSC’s cultural liaison and boycott officer, said it was “lamentable that the Tánaiste would repeat such baseless accusations” and described his reply as a “slander”.
Dervish “received private approaches from very well-known colleagues in the traditional music world, pointing out the existence of the cultural boycott and the boycott pledge”, Deane said, pointing out that Dervish’s original statement cancelling the tour made no reference to online abuse.
“The torrent of intimidation came afterwards and came exclusively from Zionists, and from supporters of Israel.”
Deane added that Mr Shatter’s original statement, linking IPSC’s actions to the documents recovered from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, “should have testified to the absurdity of the [minister's] claim”.
Dervish and fellow Irish music group Fullset were scheduled to play three dates at the end of June in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Nahalal.