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A letter to artists contemplating support for the BDS movement

The occupation has been around long enough for you to decide on whether or not to perform in Israel

Dear artists worldwide, famous and less famous,

I’m writing to you in light of Macy Gray’s decision to perform in Israel, despite pressure from BDS activists to cancel. I’m glad she asked her fans to express their opinions on her Facebook page. But I do have my issues with the way the whole thing was handled.

Some of you guys are really talented. Some of you a bit less. But all of you are pretty smart people, and you’re entitled to your opinion. Which is why I’m writing you this letter.

If you think BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) is the way to go to end the occupation – fine (I don’t agree, but fine). It’s a very legitimate standpoint, and I believe it’s fair to support it, if you wish.

But if you do, I have a request: Please decide on supporting BDS before you book a concert. As far as I know, the global BDS movement does not call for this type of action: booking concerts and then cancelling them as a way to harass fans. This sort of “punishment” is unnecessary, and makes you lose the fans you do have here.

Just a bit of history: Israel has been occupying the West Bank and Gaza for over 43 years. That’s a very long time. In fact, I think it’s just about long enough for most of you to already have an opinion about the matter. Also, I think I’ve even seen the story in the headlines, once or twice. Even in some major newspapers.

There’s really nothing wrong, in my opinion, for you to put up a message on your website, your Myspace page or whatever, that you support BDS and therefore will not even consider booking a concert in Israel. That’s fair play. That way, you don’t have to even go through the whole booking, cancelling and apologizing stuff.

I’m just sayin’…



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    1. Shelly

      Just heard on the radio that the world famous tenor Jose Carreras (“the other one”) is going to perform in Israel. It got me thinking. Why is it that renowned classical and jazz vocalists and musicians, who also have opinions, who also have to sell CDs, decide not to punish the collective populace in this country? Why are the cancellations made by the rock stars whose audiences are usually the innocent victims of this government’s policies.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Artist who perform in Israel are cynically used by the government as a fig leaf, while those who join the boycott inspire millions of Palestinians with the hope that non-violent struggle can eventually bring freedom.
      As an Israeli, I find BDS the most hopeful form of struggle, along with the non-violent demonstrations in Bi’lin, Al-Masara, Al-Arakeeb, Budrus and other places.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Akin

      (1) Santana is *not* talented. And a lot of rock stars are not *pretty smart*. They may possess a certain native cunning, perhaps, but not smarts. But that’s my opinion

      (2) I think everyone is sick of the bloody rigmarole that takes place every bloody time

      (3) Shelly from the last comment hits the spot perfectly. Classical musicians – and to a lesser extent, jazz musicians – perform in Israel without worrying about boycotts etc because their audience demographic, on the whole is less inclined to go BDS-ing than the demographic that would favour Vanessa whatshername or Gil Scott Heron (consider the philosophical dichotomy, for instance, between Elvis Costello and Diana Krall – Mrs Elvis Costello, for instance). This may sound cynical, but I rather think that the bank balance is the bottom line. I do think that most pop stars have their heads stuck up their own bottoms, but even so, it would have to be wedged in pretty firmly for them to claim not to have heard about the Palestinian issue before receiving an open letter from the BDS campaign,

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    4. @Shir – the issue of BDS can be debated to great lengths. But in this post, I was criticizing artists for forming their opinions after they “get the show on the road”. I mean, it’s not like the occupation is a mystery they just heard about yesterday. Nobody sprang it on them.

      @Akin – I think your first comment about Santana might make a few people a tad angry.
      Otherwise, I agree with you.

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    5. Shelly,
      The “innocent victims” who are paying , say, 300 NIS to see Carreras at the Tel-Aviv Opera may also be the “innocent victims” who are paying (or would pay) 300 NIS to see Vanessa Paradis at the Tel Aviv Opera.

      funny (or not), when we look at the broader picture: In the recent decades, how many pop stars have joined big political/human-rights campaigns? and now, please count, how many classical musicians have done that?

      So who really “have their heads stuck up their own bottoms” when it comes to recognizing apartheid?

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    6. eddie

      The writer is not even correct in his allegations. Israel is not in Gaza, and does not occupy it. The small number of settlements were removed.
      Next, the land known as West Bank was “occupied” by Jordan in 1948, and Gaza was taken by Egypt. However, The PLO were then trying to destroy the 1948 border israel, as was Egypt and Syria.
      Jerusalem – including “east” was majority Jewish population for 150 years. The Jews were ethnically cleansed by the Jordanian army, and synagogues and houses were destroyed, when they occupied the west bank. There were no calls by the left or human rights organisations then to protect the Jews.
      And the comparison to S. Africa is not correct either. Except, perhaps, that arab entiltement to the land of Israel is only through illegal conquest of variosu sultans, including the Ottoman empire, whereas Jewish/Israelite entitlement is through religous and historical rights, as well as recorded acquisition of the land by Abraham 4000 years ago, eg Hebron.
      If you wish to boycott Israeli good, that is your right, just as Israelis can boycott costello or danish bacon. It doesn’t help the palestinians one iota, and the real issues are to re house the refugees, which needs cooperation between Arabs and Israelis,a nd the world community.

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    7. sh

      Roger Waters protested against the occupation best. He changed the performance venue to Neveh Shalom.

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    8. SH,

      The Israeli BDS group always likes to mention the Waters example. It is a *bad* example.

      Registering your peace and human rights sentiments is not enough. Waters has made no lasting anti-apartheid impact with his concert. Did you see droves of young Israelis go to Bilin on the Fridays following the concert? Did you see mea-culpa debates on prime time Israeli TV?

      The boycott has at least achieved the latter consequence, to some extent, and it’s only just begun.

      Waters was here a year ago, on an anti-apartheid visit. He did NOT perform in Israel. It seems that he drew the right conclusion.

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    9. ANDREW

      a) Ami: Interesting piece, but I’m disappointed that you cite “43 years of occupation” as if the oppression of Palestinians by Zionists hasn’t lasted since the 1940s. Additionally, I’m sure many artists don’t realize what’s going on until they’ve booked – and then they receive letters… and begin to think about things (isn’t that obvious?). I don’t think they say “Hey, let me book a concert in Israel and then have a public debate about boycott that will likely threaten my success as an artist and my backing by major corporations and PR firms…”

      b) SH (and Ofer): Roger Waters has announced he will not play in Israel again until the wall comes down… http://www.artistsagainstapartheid.org/?p=427

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    10. Phil

      Eddie …

      The Bible is not a real-estate contract

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    11. LIAD

      while i don’t think that the artists who consider coming and performing in israel are dumb, i think that your line of expectations of them is too high. most of these artists, smart or not, politically-conscious or not, come to israel as a mixture of promoting their business and appeasing their fans, same as they do anywhere else in the world. it would be unreasonable to ask artists to be up to date with the local politics of every place in which their concerts are scheduled. many of them don’t get fully educated about such issues until their shows are scheduled, at which point their fans, or people from the boycott movement, come and share some facts with them about what’s going on in the region. i don’t understand, from the artists’ perspective, what’s so wrong about being open-minded to getting more information and changing your mind based on that. it surely beats coming to israel totally uneducated, seeing how things are over there and regretting that you came in the first place. look at devendra banhart, who performed in israel before, booked another and changed his mind only after receiving more information about the current situation, and made a statement about it. look at one of the members of faithless, who came and played israel, and wrote to macy gray in order to persuade her not to do the same. it looks like he regretted his own decision to perform.

      from the perspective of the boycott supporters, i also have to disagree with you. every time an artist schedules a performance and cancels, it makes the news and rouses a discussion around the topic of bds. in comparison, artists who already have a pre-made decision to boycott israel and don’t schedule shows there in the first place arouse no discussion surrounding the topic of bds in the israeli media. you can say, therefore, that from a pro-boycott perspective, it’s much more effective to schedule shows and cancel them than to not schedule shows at all.

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    12. Liad – thanks for your comment.
      I disagree. You are right, singers can’t be expected to know what goes on in each country. But taking into consideration the duration and the exposure that the occupation gets – I believe that your point isn’t valid. That would be like saying artists had no idea about apartheid in SA.
      As for your second point: it’s true that it’s more effective – but that would mean that the artist is interested in BDS, which would mean they are also politically conscious – which I believe is not their true reason for cancelling in most cases. I believe their reasoning is egoistic and financial. Money makes the world go round, I think they could care less if Palestinians are occupied or not…

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    13. tamir

      I lived in the USA for 18 years, in Philly for 10 and Jax, FL for 8, until 2008. As an enthusiastic ex-Israeli, I can assure you, Mar Kaufman, that the view of the occupation Americans receive from the US media is hardly commensurate with your assumptions and easily departs from reality to a significant extent, making it entirely unreasonable to expect US entertainers to have any grasp of the severity of conditions under which Palestinians “live” and the callousness with which the Israeli populace generally “tolerates” the apartheid state their government imposes with flouting impunity upon their Arab victims. I can’t speak for entertainers outside the USA because I don’t know of the exposure they have to the truth of the occupation. But US artists certainly receive a version of the truth that is acceptable to western interests. No news of peaceful demonstrators being shot to death and beaten for simply holding a sign. No news of Gaza being demolished with daisy-cutters, cluster bombs and white phosphorous. No coverage of Palestinian children being used as human shields on the front of IDF jeeps doing patrol through Hebron and Jenin. None of the stuff that would easily convince an entertainer that their audience is tantamount to 1942 Berlin groupies who’s government is brutally annihilating countless innocents across the border in Poland. What they do see, however, are stories distorted to make it seem as though Israel is constantly under attack form a barrage of missiles hitting countless Israeli cities, suicide bombers blowing restaurants and buses daily and endless reports of Hamas unleashing their Jihad on an Israeli military barely holding its own.

      But there is another good reason artists should take various forms of BDS seriously. They’re not only playing to an audience that is unwittingly supporting the occupation, but they’re also playing in a country that boasts its pioneering foray into the business of terrorism:

      “I had no choice. I had to fight. I had to take arms that way. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a free state as I’ve got it today” – Yosef Magnius

      “In scenes eerily reminiscent of NY 55 years later, the Jerusalem bomb was the beginning of terrorism as a media event – designed to capture the world’s attention.”

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    14. Tamir

      Is it really important to request that once they book their events, under such circumstances and pre such illuminations, that these artists go ahead with the show even if they come to the realization that they were apriori victims of propaganda? Aren’t there more important things to ask of artists than to diligently sort through all the bullshit that comes from the media before they make a decision?

      But if I can offer any assistance to those artists, they could certainly benefit from reading more articles on 972mag.com, watching webnews from outlets like democracynow.org or therealnews.com, and even RT.com and aljazeera.com. But for Allah’s sake, stay away from the US News. It will only cause Israeli journalists more frustration, right? of course right.

      Reply to Comment

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