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Austin Groups Letter to SXSW

Attention: Katie King,

Marketing for SXSW Interactive

Dear Ms. King,

We are writing with serious concern about SXSW’s planned partnership this year with the Israeli government on events that are part of its political whitewashing campaign known as “Brand Israel.” We, a collection of human rights organizations in Austin and nationwide, urge SXSW to cancel all events sponsored by the Government of Israel through its Economic Mission to the U.S. Southern Region so as not to participate in this cynical attempt to undermine Palestinian human rights.

In 2005 the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiated “Brand Israel,” a $26 million-dollar campaign designed to market and showcase Israel as a technologically modern and culturally progressive nation to improve Israel's image abroad for political reasons. Brand Israel was launched following research indicating a decline in Israel’s reputation around the world, largely because of the widespread view that it violates international law and human rights principles in its treatment of Palestinians. Ido Aharoni, Head of “Brand Israel” and Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs 2007-2010, explained, “[We should reposition] Israel away from an image of a country in a state of war and conflict to a brand which represents positive values and ideals like ‘building the future,’ ‘vibrant diversity’ and ‘entrepreneurial zeal’ …. [We should shift the weight] from what Israel wants to say to what audiences abroad are interested in consuming.” The Reut Institute, an influential Israeli think tank, has stressed that Brand Israel should focus particularly on progressive “hubs” in the West, making Austin a perfect setting.  

By partnering with the Israeli government and providing a platform for this whitewashing campaign, SXSW will become a participant in it. We ask that SXSW cancel all events sponsored by the State of Israel’s Economic Mission to the U.S. Southern Region.  One example is the Core Conversation “Israel: Small Country, Big Ideas” on Sunday March 15. There is also an invitation only meet-up of Israeli companies and prospective U.S. venture capital funders.

Whitewashing Israel is particularly reprehensible in view of Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza this past summer during which more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, including more than 500 children. Three respected human rights organizations- Amnesty International, the Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem, and Physicians for Human Rights- have issued reports finding Israel guilty of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians during its 51-day bombardment.  Israel has continued unfettered settlement expansion and land confiscation, making a viable Palestinian state impossible. It continues to imprison Palestinians by using administrative detention laws that lack due process.

With the increase in worldwide outrage, Israel is more anxious than ever to use platforms like SXSW to rebrand itself. We urge you not to participate in any way and to follow the example of the 100 artists that recently declared they would not engage in business-as-usual with the Israeli government.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. We hope to hear from you by next Wednesday, February 25.

Thank you for your attention.


Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights
Austin Artists Against Apartheid
CodePink - Austin
Jewish Voice for Peace – Austin
Palestine Solidarity Committee – University of Texas at Austin
Women in Black – Austin
Pax Christi – Austin
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation