Israel’s first Irish dancing competition (feis) is currently the subject of a major effort calling for the event to be canceled as part of the cultural boycott of Israel.
The feis, set to take part this August in Tel Aviv, is organized by The Carey Academy Israel, a new branch of the highly successful Carey Academy in Birmingham, England. Performances of Riverdance in Israel led to an up-growth of interest in Irish dancing in Israel.
The announcement of the feis has seen a major backlash, especially on social media, as supporters of Palestine protest Irish dance being performed in the country that many Irish, from academics to musicians, are boycotting.
An online petition, established by Amanda Crawford in Dublin on behalf of the Irish Palestinian Activists Collective, has already collected almost 1,700 signatures.
The Activists Collective call on the organizers, The Carey Academy; the adjudicators, Seamus and Aine O’Sé from Dublin; the advertised musician, Anthony Davis; and the Irish dance governing body, An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha, as well as all Irish dancers who were traveling to take part, to rethink their participation in the event.
Under the hashtag #dontdanceforisrael, individuals throughout Ireland are calling on those involved in the feis to cancel the competitions and to support “the appeal of the Palestinian people to Boycott, Divest and Sanction, BDS, the Apartheid state of Israel.”
In an open letter to the organizers, the Collective appeals to them not to stand “on the wrong side of history. Don’t Dance for Israel. Don’t Shame Our Name.”
In response to the petition, The Carey School released a statement that the holding of the feis in Tel Aviv has nothing to do with politics but with the appreciation of Irish culture amongst those who wished to learn more.
“There are good and evil people everywhere in the world,” the statement reads.
“Running a feis in Israel does not mean we support or are involved with the Israeli government or any extremist groups in any way shape or form.
The Collective, however, strongly disagrees with the holding of the Feis.
“In 1948, the state of Israel was established by methodically dispossessing and ethnically cleansing more than 750,000 native Palestinian people in order to create an exclusivist Jewish state,” they state.
“To this day, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees, currently exceeding more than 7 million people, their internationally recognized right to return to their homes.”
The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) are also supporters of the Palestinian civil society call for a cultural boycott of Israel and have been promoting the petition online.
A spokesperson for the IPSC told IrishCentral: “We strongly encourage international Irish dancers, musicians, teachers and fans not to attend the Israeli Feis.
“Whatever the intentions of those participating, the Israeli state has made it clear that it sees cultural events like this a propaganda tool to whitewash, or in this case 'greenwash', its apartheid policies, its brutal military occupation, and its regular attacks on the people of Palestine such as last summer's slaughter in Gaza which left more than 2,200 people dead, including over 500 children."
Although Palestine is not currently recognized by the Irish government, the Irish Senate last October passed a motion calling on the Government to recognize the State, with 31 of the house’s 60 Senators signing the motion.
In December, a similar motion was proposed in the Irish parliament (Dáil) by Sinn Féin and passed through. At the time, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan stated that he would “advance matters further” as “achieving and recognizing a Palestinian State has always been the objective of the Irish Government.”
Government Ministers and Senators from all four of Ireland’s biggest political parties have supported the move, taking part in a campaign earlier this year to push for immediate recognition of the State which saw billboards and bus advertisements putting pressure on the government to take more action.
The IPSC also highlighted the manner in which the Palestinian traditions were being treated in Israel and spoke of others involved in Irish traditional music and dance who have joined the boycott of Israel.
"Palestinian culture, including Palestine’s famed Dabke step-dance, is a frequent target of the Israeli state,” the spokesperson said, “whether it is manifested in the killing or imprisonment of poets, dancers, musicians, actors, directors and writers, the banning of literature festivals, or the suppression of Palestinian historical narratives.
“As with South African apartheid in the last century, every cultural event staged within Israel that is attended or promoted by international cultural figures or organisations necessarily plays a part in helping to normalise crimes and violations of cultural and human rights perpetrated by the state.
"That culture and the fight against this oppression are inextricably linked is recognised by the more than 500 Irish creative and performing artists that have already signed up to the Irish Artists’ Pledge to Boycott Israel, including musicians like Donal Lunny, Frances Black, Andy Irvine, Sharon Shannon, Damien Dempsey, Róisín Elsafty and Paul Brady, and Irish dancers like Colin Dunne, Declan McHale and Seosamh O Neachtain.
“In 2011 the renowned artist Robert Ballagh, set designer for Riverdance and endorser of the boycott, refused to join the Riverdance tour in Israel and instead donated his royalties to the Irish Ship to Gaza,” the concluded.
“We are very proud of our Irish culture and dance and are excited to see that it has spread throughout the entire world and that people everywhere want to celebrate Irish culture," the Carey Academy also stated. "Why should we starve these people of their enjoyment of Irish dance just because they live in a country whose politics we do not agree with?”
The Carey Academy continue to say that they hope to build respect amongst people of different backgrounds through Irish dance, by making the art form available to all.
“War crimes and atrocities are happening all over the world and maybe Irish dancing and this feis will ease the pain and suffering of some of the good people that live in these countries that have NOTHING to do with these war crimes,” it says.
“It is not about politics, it is about bringing together people of different backgrounds, teaching them to respect each other no matter of their race, religion etc and thus create understanding, not drawing more lines in the sand. Irish dance, as well as any art form should not be limited to any particular group of people but available to anyone willing to learn.
“We are dancing for peace and friendship, not for politics,” the statement concludes.
Anthony Davis, from Birmingham, England, was originally advertised as the musician who would play for the competitions. When contacted by IrishCentral, he confirmed that, due to other commitments, he will no longer be participating in the feis.
The first Israeli feis is set to continue on August 15, hosting an Irish dance championship for solo and group dancers. The championship is organized under the Israeli branch of Carey Academy run by Pavel Kolesov and Marina Frumkin and opened earlier this year following a successful opening of a branch in Russia in 2012.
The original Carey Academy was established in Birmingham, England by John Carey, the first “English” Irish dancer to join the original Riverdance show at just 17 years old and a previous understudy to Michael Flatley in Lord of the Dance.
Should The Carey Academy call off the First Israeli Feis? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.