Friday, 20 August 2010

Guest Post: Cultural Terrorism

What is culture? According to Wikipedia’s definition, it is the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc. Music is considered an art and is an important part of life for people of all races, ethnicities and religions. Let’s take the English as an example, they love their music and the hundreds of music festivals held all over England are often the highlight of their summer. Festivals such as Glastonbury and Hard Rock Calling often draw the biggest acts such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and other global superstars to play in front of hundreds of thousands of revellers. 

Popular artists and musicians go all over the world playing to audiences who might not understand their lyrics, yet can still sing along to every word and dance until they are ready to collapse. It is pure joy and excitement and no one should be denied the right to see their favourite musicians perform in their own countries because some outsiders don’t agree with the Government policies. 

Artists have played all over the world in countries that have been involved in unjust wars, genocides, serious human rights abuses, government corruption and more. In general the artists performing in those countries come and perform without any form of protest. The only notable press coverage will be of the artists at some famous landmark and a review of their concert the day after. The only criticism they will receive is the one based on their musical performance. 

But when it comes to Israel, the press coverage explodes. There are literally hundreds and maybe even thousands of protests letters, death threats and fatwa’s issued by Islamic Extremists and loud condemnation from various former foreign government members and public figures. Left wing and pro-Palestinian NGO’S scream out against the musician’s solidarity with the murderous occupying Israelis. These people obviously don’t subscribe to the music without boundaries theory. 

But surely if these artist’s can’t play in Israel, then what about other countries? North Korea? Iran? Iraq? Fair enough, I don’t see Britney Spears playing ‘Toxic’ in Tehran anytime soon. But surely no self respecting artist would play in America, Britain and the other EU countries who illegally invaded Iraq, murdered thousands of innocent civilians under the pretext of non existent weapons of mass distraction to invade a country and gain control of its vast oil reserves. No self respecting artist should play in Germany EVER, due to its past association with the evil Nazi’s who murdered millions of innocent people. How about communist Russia who even today commit espionage and acts of treason in so called friendly countries such as the US and the UK where they poisoned a dissident which led to his slow, painful death. Bosnia, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Australia, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria? I could go on forever. I don’t know a single country which hasn’t persecuted or murdered innocent people or had a Government completely free of corruption. 

My point is, none of these countries have clean hands yet thoroughly decent and morally correct musicians go and entertain audiences without batting an eyelid to the host nations policies on immigration or the middle-east peace process. 

Then why is Israel so different? Why should an artist be forced to make a statement on the Gaza blockade when he has no idea of why it is in place and simply wants to sing and perform for his adoring fans regardless of where they live? 

Because it’s Israel

The Palestinian intifada from 2000-2006 had already battered the cultural sector in Israel with most musicians deciding not to risk performing and even Israel’s international football team having to play ‘home’ matches in Cyprus while the media flooded the global view of Israel with images of suicide bombings and a huge warzone. 

Fortunately as the intifada finally subsided, the big performers started to come back and Israel was now back on the cultural map. In the last few years Paul McCartney, Madonna, Leonard Cohen, Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga have all performed in Israel

This brings me to the recent spate of cancellations by established artists as a direct result of the Turkish terrorist Flotilla and the incident aboard the ‘Mavi Marmara’.  

Summer 2010 had shaped up to be a big one with the likes of Placebo, Pixies, Rod Stewart, Gorilaz, Elton John and Elvis Costello all scheduled to perform, but once the Flotilla incident took place, the pressure on the musicians to cancel their performances grew to an intolerable level and they soon started dropping out like flies. 

Only a day after Rihanna played a sold out concert in Tel Aviv, the IDF was forced to board the Turkish ship ‘Mavi Marmara’ which was travelling to break the Gaza blockade under the ‘peace activist’ banner and had been infiltrated by trained terrorists who were preparing for violence. The IDF boarded without being properly equipped to fend off the lynch mob and beatings that awaited them and eventually had to resort to deadly force. Suddenly with the global press screaming “Israel murders innocent Aid workers in cold blood” (not exactly those words but a similar tone was used), it seemed that a few musicians suddenly remembered they had made a terrible mistake in booking gigs in Israel and how disappointed they were to be cancelling their performances. The main culprits include Elvis Costello, The Pixies, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart, Gil Scott-Heron, the Klaxons and Gorillaz. 

Now it is important to mention that most artists who come to perform in Israel are  often on the receiving end of wave after wave of loud protest and pressure from pro-Palestinian and left wing NGO’s. An artist has the right to choose where not to perform on the pretense of not being seen to take sides in a political conflict as it may alienate fans and result in a loss of popularity. 

Fortunately some artists are already established and well past fan protest. Paul McCartney faced uproar but did his best to appease everyone and went on to play his show. Let’s run through the recent notable performers or no shows in Israel

Class Acts: 

Madonna: Faced protests and death threats and responded by wrapping herself In an Israel flag onstage and wowing a huge crowd in Tel Aviv. 

Paul McCartney: Also faced calls to cancel his gig. Instead visited Israel and the West Bank and called his concert ‘Friendship First’ with a message for peace. 

Editors: Resisted calls to cancel after festival headliners Gorilaz and Pixies pulled out.

Lead Singer Tom Smith, posted on the Editors forum:

"When Pixies cancelled their headlining performance at PicNic we talked long and hard about if it was the "right thing" for us to still go or not, as we did when we initially got the offer for the show all those months ago.  "But the simple fact is we do not believe that playing a show in a country is an endorsement of its government. For example, our shows in Northern America during the Bush administration did not mean we were comfortable with the invasion of Iraq.

"Tonight we played one of the most memorable shows of our career, 1004 people singing their hearts out, 1004 people who hope for peace and resolve wherever the troubles may be, be it on the door step or the other side of the world. Thank you for tonight Tel Aviv, we hope to see you again soon."

Leonard Cohen: After being pressured to pull his concert in Tel Aviv, Cohen announced a second one in Ramallah which was then cancelled due to protest from a pro-Palestinian group called “the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel” (PACBI). Cohen also stated that all proceeds from both gigs would go towards a Israeli-Palestinian charity to help victims on both sides.

"There are a lot of people who don't want us here and anything done here invites controversy," Cohen's manager, Robert Kory, told The Associated Press. "But we believe freedom of speech is very, very important." More

Cohen played a huge gig in Tel Aviv to over 50,000 people and as quoted by self professed middle-east cynic Yonat Frilling, Fox News Middle East Producer:

“You sang, and 50,000 people prayed with you, embracing and holding their loved ones. You sang, we prayed, and all my cynicism washed away. For one moment, I thought, I felt, this could be possible. Your songs have always been about letting go and giving things up, but last night we all had trouble obeying your preaching. We all wished that the night would never end. That you would sing for us forever. Rarely one or some have an experience that changes their lives even for a mere second - last night you did it for all of us - Israeli, Palestinian, Middle Eastern. Thank you, Mr. Cohen.”

Rihanna: Played to over 10,000 people in Tel Aviv the day before the Flotilla Incident. The concert organizers launched a massive volunteer campaign to enable thousands of young volunteers to be eligible for free tickets. Rihanna held a press conference at the "Kfir" Scouts center in Tel Aviv where she helped paint the building's walls, took part in the creation of a wall painting and posed for photos with the young volunteers. Most of the press conference was devoted to the volunteering project, with Rihanna expressing her delight over the success of the campaign.

"It was really unique the way they put this show together where the kids actually had to do something positive," she told Reuters. "It wasn't like they could buy a ticket - they had to work and put in four hours of community service." She said her time in Israel was an "amazing, amazing experience."  

Reporters were not permitted to ask Rihanna any questions about the peace process.

Metallica: Excerpt from a letter by ‘BOYCOTT!’ calling on Metallica not to perform in Israel.

“Dear Metallica, 

We are Jews and Palestinians, Israeli citizens, who enjoy your music and respect your ideas about justice. Due to the prolonged Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people; and, in the hope of contributing to the growing effort to pressure Israel and its privileged Jewish citizens to comply with universal human rights and principles - we write to you today, urging you to postpone indefinitely your planned gig in Israel.”  

Metallica played a barnstorming set at Ramat Gan Stadium and not one word was mentioned about middle-east politics apart from a nice greeting by the guitarist Kirk Hammett. 

Placebo: Lebanese activists attempted to get a Placebo concert cancelled the day before they were due to perform in Lebanon because they played in Israel right after the Flotilla incident occurred. "You are not welcome in Lebanon," Lebanese writer, Samah Idriss said at a news conference in Beirut.

Placebo had already arrived in Lebanon where singer Brian Molko announced his "endorsement" of Israel in an interview. The interviewer asked if it was important to have Israel's endorsement these days, to which Molko quipped: "Yeah, if you want to go sailing."

Lebanese activists demanded that concert organizer Jihad al-Murr cancel the Placebo gig and reimburse all ticketholders. But Murr pointed out that most bands performing in Lebanon, which remains technically in a state of war with its southern neighbor, had also performed in Israel.

"Placebo has entered Lebanese territory legally and with the knowledge and consent of General Security," Murr told AFP. "This is music, a concert, and has nothing to do with politics," he added. "Shall we boycott every minister, official or artist that has ever visited Israel? That's ridiculous."

Elton John: The Pressure came from a group of British academics who called on Elton John to cancel his performance in Israel. "Political or not political, when you stand up on that stage in Tel Aviv, you line yourself up with a racist state," the British Committee for Universities of Palestine wrote in an open letter to John on Monday. "Do you want to give them the satisfaction? Please don't go.

Elton John gave this response at his concert: "Shalom, we are so happy to be back here! Ain't nothing gonna stop us from coming, baby," spouted John with a pumped fist in the air. "Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That's what we do. We don't cherry-pick our conscience."

The Pixies: "The decision was not reached easily, and we all know well the Israeli fans have been waiting for this visit for far too long.”We'd like to extend our deepest apologies to the fans, but events beyond all our control have conspired against us. We can only hope for better days, in which we will finally present the long awaited visit of the Pixies in Israel."


Santana: After the Israel date was booked we had the comment from Sanatana’s people, “We look forward to performing in the many historic places that Santana has long wanted to return to," said Michael Vrionis, CEO of Santana Management.

The following open letter to the musician Santana was issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on 19 January 2010:

“We call upon you, as a prominent and influential artist, and, more importantly, as a well-known activist on issues of social justice and equality, not to perform in Israel, a state that maintains a cruel system of occupation, colonization and apartheid against the Palestinian people and has been widely accused by UN experts and leading human rights organizations of committing war crimes and grave violations of human rights.” More.

Costello released this statement after cancelling: "It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel on the 30th of June and the 1st of July.

"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 hope it is possible to understand that I am not taking this decision lightly or so I may stand beneath any banner, nor is it one in which I imagine myself to possess any unique or eternal truth.

But two weeks earlier he said: “I know from the experience of a friend who is from Israel and from people who have worked there that there is a difference of opinion there among Israelis regarding their government’s policies. It seems to me that dialogue is essential. I don’t presume to think that my performance is going to be part of the process,” 

“The people who call for a boycott of Israel own the narrow view that performing there must be about profit and endorsing the hawkish policy of the government. It’s like never appearing in the US because you didn’t like Bush’s policies or boycotting England because of Margaret Thatcher.” Full Interview

The Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System: Without any official statement and the proximity of the cancellations to the Flotilla incident, it seems that the decision was made to avoid being seen taking Israel’s side if they were to go ahead with their gigs. This reeks of hypocrisy as canceling means automatically aligning themselves with the left wing boycott movement. They could have stood firm and gone the same route of Leonard Cohen and donated the proceeds to Israel-Palestinian charities, but it seems they thought that cutting their losses would be wiser.

Gill Scott Heron: Bombarded with protests and disruptions from the ‘Gil Scott Heron Boycott Israel Campaign’ during his Royal Festival Hall performance, Heron decided to announce the cancellation of his concert in Israel. He obviously succumbed to pressure, but this wasn’t a huge surprise considering his association with the cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa and membership of ‘United Artist Against Apartheid’ in the 1980s.

Said he would only play in Israel “when everyone is welcome there”. I didn’t realise anyone wasn’t welcome in Israel, apart from terrorists?

Devandra Berhart: Pulled out three hours before he was due on stage in Tel Aviv. Only a week before he had told the Jerusalem post how much he loved Israel and was excited about playing again. Also admitted that pressure from left wing groups was the reason for the cancellation.

From his website:  Posted on Mon, 06/14/2010 - 10:49pm: “We love the land and people of Israel, and have been looking forward to our third show there with unimaginable anticipation. Unfortunately, we tried to make it clear that we were coming to share a human and not a political message but it seems that we are being used to support views that are not our own. We will be overjoyed to return to Israel on the day that our presence is perceived and reported on as a cultural event and not a political one. We truly hope that day comes soon. Devendr, Greg, Noah, Luckey, Andy”.

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