February 22, 2011
We are members of an Israeli group called BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS call from within which supports the Palestinian call for boycott divestment and sanctions against Israel. Together with our Palestinian partners we are calling on artists to respect the request coming from occupied Palestine and not perform in Israel until Palestinians’ most basic human rights are respected1.
Just like with Sun City in the 1980's, the fact of the matter is that performing in Israel these days carries a very particular message. As an Israeli government official recently explained it: “We support culture specifically so that people will see the humane values of Israel“. Realizing that increasing numbers of people associate Israel with cruel occupation and injustice, the Israeli government is attempting to use art to “re-brand” Israel as a pluralistic place of art and culture. Lacking any substantive policies, re-branding has been one of its major efforts in recent years2. If such re-branding is successful, Western society will not know or care that Israel has just killed over a thousand Gazans and that the UN fact finding mission suspects its leaders of war crimes3. Those values of Israel which its government will have you look away from translate into the continued imposition of a cruel siege on millions of people and the murder in international waters of peace activists who attempted to deliver relief by ship4.
As we write this, Israel continues to systematically drive its own Palestinian citizens off their lands, keep a population of millions under martial-law in the West Bank, and impose an illegal blockade on Gaza. In a recent article regarding UK band Faithless' decision to cancel their show in Israel, Faithless member, Dave Randall, wrote that "bands, including Faithless, have been visiting Israel and singing about peace and unity for more than a decade. The situation for the Palestinians has only got worse during that period". Indeed legal segregation exists in Israel as a matter of course. To take just one example: inter-religious marriages are restricted. The fact that Israel still enjoys a liberal image despite that speaks only to the hollowness of the concept of Israel as the West's democratic outpost in the Middle East.
Many artists have found this too much to stomach. From Elvis Costello to the Pixies Brian Eno and Roger Waters, they have refused to perform in Israel so that their performance may not be taken as a vote of support for Israeli policies. The representatives of hundreds of Palestinian organizations representing all segments of Palestinian society have made their position clear5: to playing in Israel will be a betrayal just as much as it will be seen by the Israeli government as a vote of support. Musicians who might have thought otherwise were welcomed to their Tel Aviv shows with large Israeli flags6. In such a situation, even the best intended gestures are overshadowed by the context in which they are made. Elvis Costello has perhaps said it best:
...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.7
If ever there was such an occasion, it is now. Please respect the call of Palestinians living under occupation or in exile and take a stand for justice in the Middle East.
On behalf of
Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from within