The Music World Goes Anti-Israel

I finally got around to reading a series of articles—open in my browser for sometime now—on international artists [not] performing in Israel. And in an attempt to post a balanced piece I read a bunch more. It seems to me that there is simply no decision made in, around or about Israel and the West Bank that isn’t political, intentionally or otherwise. Here’s a rundown of the past couple of months and the long list of high-profile artists that have, consciously or not, become political pawns, for one side or the other.

The latest spate in cultural boycotts of Israel have been linked by some to the flotilla incident, in which Israeli military engaged with a fleet of aid vessels, carrying supplies to Gaza. Footage (below) captured and smuggled out of Israel, by a New York-based documentary filmmaker raises serious questions about the use of “proportionate force” by the Israeli military, against the fleet dubbed ‘the Gaza Freedom flotilla’.

Since the incident, Pro-Palestinian Activist groups have campaigned hard for international artists, slated for Summer performances in Israel, to cancel/boycott. Some articles like this one hosted by pro-Israeli blog FrontPage.com seem destined to be one-sided. However, they, along with other Israeli media, make some fair points.

The well-publicised cancellation of Elvis Costello’s appearances was labeled by some Israeli press as hypocritical and, after reading Costello’s statement, their reasoning is clear. Despite insinuating an apolitical stance, Costello’s cancelation and ensuing statement were, by their nature and delivery, charged with political intent.

The promoter for the Costello shows, Alive Productions posted this in reply:

“Back in February, when you confirmed the performances in Israel, you were surely aware of the situation in the Middle East, and the existing long conflict between the two nations with different wants and dreams. You are probably familiar with the history and the global reality that we in Israel are confronted with…”

Statements issued by other bands, like The Pixies, walked a finer diplomatic line. And some tried to sit on the fence. But as Leonard Cohen found out, choosing to perform in Israel and the West Bank, means making enemies in both.

Prior to Cohen’s scheduled performance in the West Bank, The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel told the Guardian:

“Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel’s colonial apartheid by performing in Israel.”

The official reasons for canceling vary, but the following bands have all canceled performances in Israel since the flotilla incident: Elvis Costello, The Pixies, Klaxons, Gorillaz.

The history of the cultural boycott on Israel hasn’t been limited to musicians. Rob Harris cites other well-known celebrities like Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, David Byrne (formerly of Talking Heads), Harry Belafonte, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, and [surprisingly] John Pilger as signatories on a letter responding to the Toronto Film Festival’s decision to include Tel Aviv as a theme of interest, stating, “Intentionally or not [the festival] has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.”

However, perhaps the most balanced explanation of the boycott campaign was offered by Independent Palestinian MP, Mustafa Barghouti, who told the Guardian:

“This is not boycotting the Jewish people, or the Israeli people, it is boycotting the occupation. More and more people are convinced that something should be done and the peaceful and non-violent way to do it is by boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

A number of artists including Metallica, Elton John, Kool and the Gang, Rod Stewart, Placebo, Editors, Rhianna, and Diana Krall (Costello’s wife) have not cancelled shows.

The final word goes to Melbourne Film Festival Chief Executive, Richard Moore, who echoes my personal stance, stating, “We will not participate in a boycott against the State of Israel, just as we would not contemplate boycotting films from China or other nations involved in difficult long-standing historical disputes.”

I’m very interested in learning more about the on-going situation in Gaza and its affect on entertainment and indie culture, both at a local level and internationally. Please post your thoughts.

[image credit]

  • Rob

    It is important to attempt to understand both sides in a conflict and to write a balanced article like the above but that is different to balancing out truth when one side is evidently more correct than the other.

    The effort to boycott is not an effort to find peace. Rather it is an effort to further delegitimise the Israeli State. Leonard Cohen didn’t make any enemies on the pro-Israel side by being willing to perform in Ramallah. Many on the pro-boycott side advocate a one-state solution even more extreme than the PA! The extremism, fabrications and hate mongering is to be found prinicpally on the pro-Palestinian side.

    The event was designed for propaganda and went ahead despite repeated offers by Israel to transfer the aid. The deaths were milked for all they was worth for propaganda. Ann Wright, a retired U.S. Colonel and member of Code Pink, accused the IDF of the “murder”. She claimed she was an eyewitness to the raid on board the Mavi Mariner. This raised a few eyebrows as she was a passenger on another ship a distance away, in the depth of night. She later admitted in an interview with IMRA that she didn’t actually see the clash.

    This is a link to the documentary about the incident that the BBC did a few months after it occurred http://blog.z-word.com/2010/08/bbc-panorama-the-story-of-the-mavi-marmara/ – Ken O’Keefe, an ex-US marine who became an Irish and Palestinian citizen, was on the Mavi Mariner. He admitted that he had helped prepare certain passengers to violently resist the prospective IDF boarding party, and then took part

    No one asks why violence only occurred on one ship out of six. The captain of the Mariner attested to the violent intent of certain members of the crew. The IHH are listed as terrorist alligned in several countries.

    This http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e131.htm is a summary of an account of last year’s Gaza flotilla incident by a Turkish journalist Şefik Dinç how was present on the Mavi Marmara, where 9 IHH activists/terrorists were killed and smuggled pictures back to Turkey. The account follows the IHH narrative but does expose the contradictions he witnessed so it has merit. Its taken from his book ‘Bloodstained Mavi Marmara’. It’s a joke that despite all the publicity about ‘humanitarian aid’, the Mavi Marmara carried no aid. Also, the Irish ship Challenger One carried no aid or expired medicines etc. Previously they brought useful cargoes like 5,000 balloons to lift the spirits in Gaza!

    Now another insane effort to demonise the State of Israel is coming. It is perfectly legitimate to express support for Palestinianism but the pro-Palestinian movement has turned into a bona fide hate movement.