[Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three-part series. Click the following to read Part II and _Part III_.]
In the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla incident, a significant number of musicians have refused to perform in Israel. Performance withdrawals are attributed to changes of heart, scheduling issues, etc., but these moves are more likely to be driven by pro-Palestinian BDS campaigners, who are targeting artists aggressively in an effort to isolate Israel.
Prior to the flotilla incident, jazz performer Gil Scott-Heron gave in to pro-Palestinian pressure in April, and in January, Carlos Santana cancelled a performance reputedly due to pressure from anti-Israeli groups. Scott-Heron had his performance in London disrupted by pro-Palestinians who heckled him throughout to force him to cancel his Israeli performance. Pro-Palestinian pressure had been building on the Internet to make him cancel the date. Security was called, but Scott-Heron gave in to their demands on the concert stage, stating that he “hated war.” Fifty-plus boycott groups sent a letter to him stating, “You have chosen to stand on the right side of history” – a rather sinister thing to say.
Santana’s Israeli performance in early June, being promoted by the seemingly ill-fated Shuki Weiss, was to take place in a large soccer stadium in Jaffa. With excellent ticket sales, the addition of another show was being mooted until Santana’s management suddenly announced that the show would be put on hold for an unspecified period of time. They cited “unforeseen scheduling conflicts” despite other dates on the tour going ahead as normal. A senior member of Weiss’ production team stated that Carlos Santana had received messages telling him “’it’s better’ not to perform in Israel.” Such communications can easily be seen as threatening. The promoter added: “Our clarifications revealed that he received messages from anti-Israel figures who pressured him to cancel the performance. Of course, no one there claimed that any connection between these pressures and the show’s cancellation, but we are certain there is a very close connection.”
Heron and Santana are by no means unusual in organising concerts and then suddenly deciding to quit. Since the manufactured outrage over the Gaza flotilla incident, indie bands like The Pixies, Klaxons, and Gorillaz decided not to perform at Tel Aviv’s PiC.NiC Festival. The Pixies stated that “events beyond all our control” led to their withdrawal, but apparently the Israeli naval boarding of the flotilla affected the decision. This is a common theme in the statements of performers quitting Israel. In reality, pro-Palestinian campaigners probably got to them, especially with the surge of public outrage at the flotilla incident. Festival promoter Shuki Weiss issued a statement describing the decisions of these headlining bands as “a form of cultural terrorism which is targeting Israel and the arts worldwide.”
Elvis Costello’s cancellation a few weeks earlier was perhaps the most significant, as it garnered a lot of attention. On the 15th of May, Elvis Costello issued a statement where he wrote “It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel…” He asserted, “There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.” This assertion is absurd since his concert will principally be seen as a political act by extremists who try to politicise such shows in the first instance. Israel is a society that affords all citizens free speech. Many of those citizens are in fact enemies of the state who hold important influential positions in that society, one of the most famous examples being Ilan Pappe. A large, and in fact, rather worrying group of Israeli Jews side with the Palestinian movement, and their freedom of expression is not curtailed. Consequently, a performance in Israel need not be seen as advocacy.
I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security. I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation. Some will regard all of this an unknowable without personal experience but if these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way.
These sentiments are little more than a diplomatic fudge that doesn’t truly add up. He asserts as a matter of belief that many of the people attending the concert would not agree with Israeli policies. He acknowledges Palestinian terrorism: “violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.” Despite this balance, for some reason he still feels a need to address these issues in the concerts. The reason is far from clear, but grant him the benefit of the doubt. His fans will have to put up with a lecture on the opposing facets of this conflict, as if this is an issue they haven’t deeply reflected on themselves. Yet there is a twist: he claims it is an impossibility due to the complexity of the issue. However, rather than drop the lecture, he finds it “quite impossible to simply look the other way.” Ergo, he cancels the concerts. He added: “One must at least consider any rational argument that comes before the appeal of more desperate means.” Being a rather famous musician, he could of course have found other avenues to express himself. There is a popular left-wing anti-Zionist media in Israel, such as Haaretz, that would have given his opinions a lot of attention. Thus, it seems he summarily dismissed anti-boycott reasoning and went straight to the “desperate means.”
Costello wrote: “I cannot imagine receiving another invitation to perform in Israel, which is a matter of regret but I can imagine a better time when I would not be writing this. With the hope for peace and understanding.” Such empty diplomatic platitudes are an insult to the intelligence of his fans. Why would he regret not getting another invite to play in Israel when he refused to perform on this occasion, and in all probability, for the foreseeable future?
Costello added in an interview with the Jerusalem Post: “It seems to me that dialogue is essential [regarding political opinion in Israel]. I don’t presume to think that my performance is going to be part of the process.” In effect he is advising Israeli’s to talk more, presumably about achieving peace, but in the meantime he chooses not to lead by example. He chooses boycott; adding to a campaign that singles out Israel for derision. Alive Productions, which was promoting Costello’s concerts, stated:
It is impossible to understand how your participation in a music concert, that is totally apolitical, can be interpreted as a political act. However, there can be no doubt that cancelling a performance for political reasons, and refusing to perform in Israel, can only be interpreted as a very strong political statement.
The act is demonising to Israel which is far from conducive to dialogue since it adds to the notion the world is hostile to Israel.
According to journalist Nathan Guttman, a senior executive in the music industry asserted these recent events are just the start of a new trend of avoiding Israel, if not necessarily due to political beliefs. The executive said he had approached over fifteen performers in recent months with offers to put on concerts in Israel. They all rejected the idea despite the offer of very substantial remuneration for their efforts.
Then there are the attempts to boycott Israeli performers as well. The Eurovision song contest was held in Norway this year. The Norwegian pro-Palestine Committee demonstrated outside the arena holding the event since Israel had reached the finals. A statement from the organisation said: “We want to close Euro Song for Israel. They are not welcome. We will request the European Euro Song TV-consortium to boycott nations that indulge in occupation and apartheid.”
Of course music is only one aspect of the cultural boycott. In September 2009, pro-Palestinian artists and actors at the Toronto Film Festival attempted a very public boycott. In a letter signed by 1,000 luminaries to the management of the event, which some call “The Toronto Declaration,” well-known figures like Jane Fonda, Danny Glover (friend of Mel “Jews cause all the wars” Gibson), David Byrne (formerly of Talking Heads), Harry Belafonte, Julie Christie, Viggo Mortensen, Wallace Shawn, Alice Walker, Eve Ensler, and old reliables like Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, and John Pilger, protested the selection of Tel Aviv as a theme of interest with a series of films. The letter stated, “Intentionally or not [the festival] has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.” Protesting about Tel Aviv, which was a city built by Jewish settlers on land with little prior occupation, was remarkable in itself since it is unrelated to the Israeli presence in the West Bank which is the typical bone of contention. Astonishingly, the letter compares Tel Aviv with Apartheid Era Cape Town and Johannesburg. As some commentators pointed out, the protest calls into question Israel’s very existence as it characterises a city unconnected to contested post-1967 regions as illegitimate.
A statement criticising the Toronto protest as an attempt to blacklist Israeli filmmakers was endorsed by people like David Cronenberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen, Natalie Portman, and Lisa Kudrow. Hollywood producer, Tom Barad, in a letter of response to the Toronto Declaration stated: “Israel is not immune to criticism. Israelis, and especially Israeli filmmakers, often are the government’s most ardent critics. But their interests lie in making their nation a better place, not making it disappear.” He added: “Israel has more film schools per capita than any country in the world, where both Jewish and Arab students can learn and study. These are the last persons you should want to silence.”
Filmmakers and actors tend to be more politicised than musicians and typically possess strong left-wing values. Thus, many are antagonistic to Israel. Numerous filmmakers pull their films from festivals in protest. British director Ken Loach has been particularly active in this respect, calling for a cultural boycott of Israel. Loach wrote: “From the beginning, Israel and its supporters have attacked their critics as anti-Semites or racists. It is a tactic to undermine rational debate.” Interesting that he denies the many instances of shocking pro-Palestinian anti-Semitism. Absurdly enough in July 2009, he withdrew one of his films from the Melbourne International Film Festival in protest after Tel Aviv provided airfare for filmmaker Tatia Rosenthal. It is an interesting insight into the extremism of his opinions since he withdrew over a paltry sum of money for one or two plane tickets. Many nations provide some level of funding to aid filmmakers, so singling out Israeli funding as propagandistic is yet another example of obscene pro-Palestinian double-standards.
Loach claimed in a rather paranoid fashion: “Tel Aviv sponsors various international film festivals with the intention to open the way for Israeli films.” How stupid does he think we are? Obviously Israeli films have been shown aplenty at film festivals for decades. Richard Moore, the festival chief executive said: “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.” An Australian MP, Michael Danby, said, “Israelis and Australians have always had a lot in common, including contempt for the irritating British penchant for claiming cultural superiority.”
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