By Mairav Zonszein and Assaf Shatil
The American artist Chan Marshall, who goes by the name Cat Power, has just let her cat litter out of the box. By canceling her show in Tel Aviv at the last minute (it was scheduled for this Sunday, February 12) she has joined a group of musicians who are guided by hypocrisy, ignorance and vanity.
Any artist who books a show in Israel and starts selling tickets should know from the get-go that they have done so in a place that is and has been controversial for a long time. The situation hasn’t changed here in the last few months or years – so why did Cat Power book the show in the first place? Was she not aware just a few weeks ago of the ongoing Israeli military hold on Palestinians and its discriminatory policies? Was she not morally conscious then? If she cares so much about Palestinians, why didn’t she bother to check with them before booking the show? If she is so concerned with humanity, why wasn’t she aware of the BDS call then?
Her tweet from February 9, asking her fans to “find a show in Ramallah for the people of Palestine” just goes to show how little she knows or cares about the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, since they do not recognize the gesture of parallel shows in Israel and Palestine as some kind of “balance” or compensation but rather as simply furthering normalization with Israel. It also doesn’t say much for her supposed “indy” style that she tweeted a request to find her a place to play in Ramallah – if she really wanted to, she could just get directly in touch with Palestinians on the ground to set up a show. (She also obviously doesn’t really know a thing about Palestinian life here either, since many Palestinians wouldn’t be able to make it to or afford a show in Ramallah anyway.)
Many artists have come to perform here with the good will and intention to use their art as a means of changing Israeli public opinion and spreading the message of peace. However, this has been far from successful (not even with Roger Waters, who now supports BDS). On the contrary; High profile performances, such as your scheduled concert, have served the government’s agenda of whitewashing its war crimes and creating an image of Israel as a “modern state”, where celebrities come to perform and see the sights. In reality, some of the sights are situated on occupied land, and over 3 million people, including Palestinian fans of yours, cannot attend concerts in Tel Aviv, even though they are living under Israeli control, namely the occupation.
In one of her tweets explaining the cancellation of her show, Cat Power wrote: “Music is healing and it is not humane if all cannot have the choice, the right, to attend.” Indeed, many – not only Palestinians – do not have the choice or right to attend many shows in the world, primarily due to their socioeconomic standing. So maybe if that’s the case she should make her concerts heavily discounted to all those who cannot afford them or do not have the means to attend. And how about all the shows she plays in America? Why play there when its policy actively and passively supports the Israeli occupation, not to mention a slew of other human rights abuses in the world?
Irrespective of what one thinks of the call for a cultural boycott, which is not at issue here, artists who book shows and then cancel them are not bowing to any moral pressure – but rather to PR pressure. They know that appearing in Israel could hurt their ticket sales in many places in Europe and elsewhere, but they can afford to cancel one show in Tel Aviv and lose some Israeli fans – so why not feign the moral high ground?
As far as we know, Cat Power, The Pixies, Elvis Costello and others who have canceled shows in Israel due to the political situation are not in fact artists with any political agenda. It is doubtful that they suddenly decided to become activist musicians just before their scheduled shows in Israel. While those calling for boycott likely do not care why an artist cancels a show, there is no reason for anyone to admire the artists themselves as any more humane or scrupulous than before they cancelled their shows here.
Here’s an ode to Cat Power:
Assaf Shatil is a musician living in Jaffa.