Siding with the oppressors: WOMAD defends Ziggy Marley, ‘uninvites’ Palestinian artists

Mar 12, 2024
A woman wears a mask with Palestine flag. Save gaza concept Image:iStock/ ninitta

Two significant acts invited to play WOMADelaide 2024 have been treated in vastly different ways in recent months by the Director, Ian Scobie.

One head-line act, renowned reggae singer/songwriter, Ziggy Marley, has faced strong calls to be cancelled due to his support of the apartheid state of Israeli, yet his inclusion was defended by WOMADelaide’ s management. The other act, world music favourites, Palestinian Jordanian group 47SOUL, were uninvited in November 2023 from the line up by Mr Scobie, who cited global tensions in the Middle East and as a consequence, his inability to provide a safe environment for artists and patrons at this event. In short, a strong supporter of the Zionist state currently committing genocide in Gaza is promoted and defended by WOMADelaide’s management while a Palestinian group representing the victims of this genocide is cancelled by the same management.

47SOUL celebrates Middle Eastern dance by combining Palestinian debka street music with electronic underground sounds. Audiences at WOMADelaide have great memories of their sets in 2016 and 2018 as their music inspired large numbers to dance together, a true symbol of the WOMAD spirit. As arts reviewer, Matthew Trainor, wrote in 2016:

47SOUL on Stage 2 delivered a high octane performance that blended hip hop with middle-eastern rhythms. It was a very engaging show, packed with grooves and audience interaction.

In a social media post on 7 March this year 47SOUL announced that, after initially accepting the invitation from Mr Scobie to perform at WOMADelaide 2024, they were informed a week later that WOMADelaide had decided to rescind this invitation. WOMADelaide management cited doubts about their ability to present a ‘suitably safe environment’ for artists and audiences at the festival due to community protests taking place in Australia. It should be noted that 47SOUL did not reveal this earlier as they were hoping Mr Scobie would have a change of heart and re-invite them.

47SOUL think that Mr Scobie’s line of reasoning is “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”.

Mr Scobie has been challenged about this decision and responded on ABC Radio Adelaide’s Afternoon Program with Jo Laverty on Thursday 7 March. He defended himself by saying; I have to say I have never in all of my years in programming international work seen this level of discord within our own community.

This extraordinary remark by Mr Scobie bears a closer look. Where was he in 2003 when tensions over the US War on Iraq were at their height? 100,000 South Australians took to the streets to protest. Also how did Mr Scobie manage to ignore the way Australian society was torn apart during the Covid years with daily incidents of violence between pro-lockdown and anti-lockdown factions?

Contrast this with the pro-Palestinian marches, rallies, protests, fund-raising activities, kite flying events and vigils which have been held on average every second day in Adelaide since mid-October. Despite a genocide occurring in front of our eyes and atrocities like the “flour massacres” where Palestinian parents were lured to food trucks to try and obtain food for their starving children and then gunned down by Israeli snipers, the movement has remained peaceful and calm.

And what exactly does this sentence from the same interview mean?

We really form the view that in the situation, having them (47Soul) perform would really not add to an environment at the festival that we felt confident could see them be presented safely and to be part of the festival that at that time be a cohesive part of the discussion rather than the way the debate seem to be going regarding the unfolding situation in the Middle East.

The first half of the sentence seems to imply 47SOULs safety would be at risk. Perhaps Mr Scobie feared Zionist thugs would attend WOMADelaide and beat up the Palestinian act. The second half seems to suggest that he believes 47SOUL could not be part of a cohesive discussion. In other words he is virtually accusing them of being a divisive force incapable of civilised discourse.

Meanwhile in November 2023, the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) became aware that Ziggy Marley, a headline act for WOMADelaide 2024, was not only a strong supporter of the apartheid state of Israel but also had signed a letter along with 700 Hollywood celebrities supporting Israel’s onslaught on Gaza. The letter was signed and made public on 12 October and lends support to the Zionist state as Israel takes the necessary steps to defend its citizens in the coming days and weeks. We all know what those necessary steps have been. Even at that early stage Israel had dropped a huge number of bombs on northern Gaza killing more than 1200 and displacing approximately 340,000.

Research also showed that Ziggy Marley had defied the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel and performed there on several occasions and also helped raise money for the Israeli Defence Forces. Even more problematic was Mr Marley’s acceptance in 2019 of what must be one of the most ironically titled awards ever, Ambassador for Peace, by the pro-Zionist Creative Community for Peace This role entails trying to destroy the Palestinians only hope at the negotiating table, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, in particular, cultural boycotts.

It may be true that WOMADelaide in the past could be proud of its history of supporting Palestinian voices and presenting Palestinian artists. But now, when it matters more than ever, when Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed and are the victims of a genocide, the director of WOMADelaide and his management team have made the choice to side with a representative of the oppressors.

I would suggest shame is a more appropriate emotion for their current decisions regarding WOMADelaide’s line up.

For more on this topic, P&I recommends:

WOMAD headliner Ziggy Marley raised $60 million for an IDF now committing genocide



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