Students surprised acts dropped from Middle East Hip-Hop event
Students say they were taken aback to hear that a week meant to bring Middle Eastern cultures together has actually highlighted the conflicts between them.
Universal Beatz removed an Israeli and two Palestinian hip-hop artists from the roster of performers for its Middle Eastern Hip-Hop Week.
Organizers cut the performers following protests over the inclusion of Marvin Casey, a St. Louis native who converted to Judaism and immigrated to Israel.
“I think it is too bad that something that was supposed to bring people together …turned political and ended up causing more conflict,” sophomore Lizzie White said.
According to Universal Beatz member Nick Wilbar, the goal of Middle Eastern Hip-Hop week was to connect students on the Washington University campus with the Middle East. The group wanted both Middle Eastern communities and the St. Louis community represented in the event.
“I think that all different perspectives should be allowed to be represented regardless of background,” junior Rebecca Salisbury said.
The conflict began when one of the event’s sponsor’s, the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), discovered that the Israeli performer was affiliated with Jewish Agency for Israel—an organization that helps American Jews immigrate to Israel—and threatened to withdraw its support.
PSC officials said that the Jewish Agency for Israel prevents non-Jews—Palestinians in particular—from being able to live freely in Israel, and that including Casey in the event would signify the University’s supporting what they consider the “Apartheid” taking place in Israel.
“We felt we needed to speak out against Casey’s participation,” PSC representative Sandra Tamari said. “We felt he was acting as an official of the Israeli state and would therefore fall under the boycott guidelines.”
“It’s not about not agreeing with Marvin [Casey] as a human being,” said Anna Baltzer, another representative from the PSC. “It’s about providing a platform for an institution promoting the discrimination of a race.”
In a press release sent out last Thursday, The Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis and St. Louis Hillel at Washington University condemned the proposed boycott.
“Boycotts oversimplify the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict to a myopic view which ignores Israeli policies and efforts to promote negotiations and improve the situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” wrote Jacqueline Levey, Hillel CEO and Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council. “Boycotts stifle creative and constructive efforts to promote dialogue, peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, which was the goal of the U.S.-Mideast Hip-Hop Exchange Week.”
When two of the Palestinian performers, known as BiRD and Sharif “The Truth,” threatened to drop out of the event if Casey was included, the organizers decided to rescind the invitations to all three performers.
At this point, the PSC officially withdrew its support for the event.
Nicole Lopez, Universal Beatz president, expressed her frustration due to the controversy.
“We know there’s a lot of political debate in the Middle East, but we were trying to approach these politics from a more alternative perspective and shift the focus from politics,” Lopez said. “I think it just shows the need for stuff like this to happen.”
Lopez said that while the group regrets dropping any of the performers, it was put in a difficult, lose-lose situation, and the decision was made to preserve the group’s neutrality.
“Were we complying with a boycott? No, we were trying to save our event,” Lopez said. “The whole point of the event was to bring two sides together, not support one side or another.”
Salisbury agreed that by rescinding the invitations, Universal Beatz made a move to avoid conflict.
“In some ways it shows that they are not able to show both perspectives, but it also shows that they are trying to avoid this type of conflict and trying to discourage this type of conflict,” Salisbury said.
Universal Beatz is a hip-hop group created earlier this year by senior Nicole Lopez after her semester abroad in Jordan last year.
The hip-hop week received funding from SU Treasury and the College of Arts & Sciences.