Letter from Kairos Palestine to Cape Town Opera

28 October 2010

Mr. Michael Williams
Managing Director
Cape Town Opera
Artscape Building
DF Malan Street
Cape Town

Dear Mr. Williams,

On behalf of Kairos Palestine - the authors of the “Moment of Truth,” document, which is Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a call for support in opposing it - I write to request that you rethink your decision to perform in Tel Aviv next month.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine continues to masquerade on the global stage as an enlightened, egalitarian, and cosmopolitan democracy, a charade sustained in part by performers’ willingness to visit Israel as if under neutral circumstances. Therefore, Kairos Palestine advocates against any and all performances that normalize the Israeli state and whitewash its injustices. However, the planned visit by the Cape Town Opera is particularly painful for us, given the hope that South Africa’s own national experience of institutionalized inequality would make the Cape Town Opera more attentive to ours.

Indeed, after reading your recent statement in response to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s letter, we are disappointed to see that this is not yet the case. You have argued that music can “build bridges” between people; you add that the opera house is “first and foremost an arts company that believes in promoting universally held human values through the medium of opera.”

Kairos Palestine finds this argument both opportunistic and ironic. How can the Cape Town Opera speak of “universally held human values” when those of justice, equality, human rights, and civil liberties are being systematically violated by the same Israeli state that sponsors the Tel Aviv Opera House? During the era of South African apartheid, would you have suggested that performing an opera before white, black, and homeland audiences truly served to build bridges between them? Most importantly, how can a bridge be built between justice and injustice?

In your letter, you also mentioned that your scheduled visit is the outcome of five years of negotiations. This statement troubles us as well. The fact that such “contractual agreements” were formulated without consulting Palestinian organizations - that, in other words, you chose to “negotiate” with Israel without acknowledging the consequences of your decision for Palestinians, or involving Palestinians in that decision - suggests to us that these conversations were not conducted in good faith. It is convenient to discuss art as an equalizing experience, but this theory rings hollow in a country so flagrantly predicated on inequality: to remain silent on the continual oppression of Palestinians is both negligent and morally inexcusable.

On behalf of Kairos Palestine, I hope you will reconsider the reasons for your visit - and thus reconsider the visit itself. I’d like to return, then, to the words of Archbishop Tutu as a reminder of what is at stake: “Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity, so it would be wrong for Cape Town Opera to perform in Israel. Cape Town Opera should postpone its proposed tour until both Israeli and Palestinian opera lovers of the region have equal opportunity and unfettered access to attend performances.”

Thank you for your time and attention. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like to discuss these matters further.

Sincerely yours,

Rifat Kassis
General Coordinator
Kairos Palestine