The Music World Goes Anti-Israel - Part II

Is Elton John the only musician impervious to Palestinian propaganda?

[Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part series. Click the following for Part I and _Part III_.]

It has been observed that BDS groups, which seek the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of Israel to isolate it internationally, target artists with an interest in human rights. This is an aim for the early phase of this movement, from which it can gain a foothold. Peculiar then, that even before the boycott success of 2010, they decided to target Leonard Cohen, who has expressed his support for Israel publicly, and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. He is clearly one of the least likely to support a boycott. Yet he experienced considerably more pressure from pro-Palestinian groups than anyone else has thus far to cancel his 2009 show in Israel. Perhaps he was targeted being one of the most prominent Jewish musicians touring at this time. Maybe pro-Palestinians just fancied flexing their muscles to make Cohen an example to others. In an article by Raymond “defending Israel is like defending paedophilia” Deane, of the rather extreme Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), he states:

Plans to supplement this [concert in Tel Aviv] with a performance in Ramallah in the occupied Palestinian West Bank two days later may now have been abandoned. … we will be standing outside the venue each evening singing chants, distributing leaflets and Palestinian flags, and encouraging concert-goers to send Cohen the message: DON’T VISIT ISRAEL! This message has been heard at every concert in this tour, from New York City to Berlin. Last May at Radio City Music Hall a loud and colourful demonstration was held by ADALAH New York, a coalition of organisations including the National Council of Arab-Americans, and Jews Against the Occupation; on 2nd July Cohen’s concert at O2 World Berlin was picketed by EJJP (European Jews for a Just Peace), an unprecedented event in Germany. Jews have been noticeably prominent in this worldwide campaign to dissuade the singer from visiting Israel. In the UK, BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine) published an open letter signed by 4 Jewish academics who wrote: “You will perform for a public that by a very large majority had no qualms about its military forces’ onslaught on Gaza… You will perform in a state whose propaganda services will extract every ounce of mileage from your presence… And you are telling the Palestinians …that their suffering doesn’t matter.”

Here we see every venue and probably every concert was targeted. Whilst it is probable that few Israeli-hating Jews needed encouraging, there still appears to have been a strategy of wheeling out Jews to pressure Cohen, due to his strong connections with the faith, notwithstanding his race. For example, Deane mentions no less than four Jewish academics, as if this is the sum total of Jewish academia in Britain. Pro-Palestinians are continually trying to present an anti-Zionist authentically Jewish voice but it is unrepresentative of Jews generally. As is seen elsewhere with this movement, there is the absurd inference that performing in Israel means “you are telling the Palestinians… their suffering doesn’t matter.” This is an example of the idiocy often seen in academia (Jewish and otherwise), as is the notion Israeli “propaganda services will extract every ounce of mileage from your presence.” They certainly did not.

In Ramallah, PACBI, the Palestinian Association for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, wrote: “We consider your performance in Israel a form of complicity in its grave violations of international law and trampling on human rights principles.” Concerning the proposed Ramallah concert, PACBI added:

Such attempts at ‘balance’ not only immorally equate the oppressor with the oppressed, taking a neutral position on the oppression; they also are an insult to the Palestinian people, as they assume that we are naive enough to accept such token shows of ‘solidarity’ that are solely intended to cover up grave acts of collusion in whitewashing Israel’s crimes.

Dean closed the article with the call:

If Cohen sings in Tel Aviv, whether or not he “balances” it with a Ramallah concert, he will be within a stone’s throw of people who are suffering precisely such horrors because of the Israeli occupation. … We are calling on Cohen fans to influence their hero not to break the growing boycott campaign against Israeli apartheid.

So an unprecedented performance by a major artist in Ramallah would be an insult to the Palestinian people? Many would have thought it significant but it is deemed to be a mere “token” gesture of solidarity. They rejected the idea, insisting that Cohen should first cancel his Tel Aviv gig to be welcomed in Ramallah. According to PACBI’s own words, they do not desire a “neutral position” or “balance” but rather condemnation. Thus no sensible neutral evaluation of the facts is sufficient. As is common with extremists, there is no grey area, only black and white “with us or against us” posturing. Thus if Cohen performs in a non-political sphere in Israel, they view it with a comical melodramatic intensity as “collusion in whitewashing Israel’s crimes,” “complicity in its grave violations,” etc., etc.

Let us push a little more the extreme boycott logic that pro-Palestinians employ. If I knowingly buy an Israeli orange today, am I also complicit in the alleged crimes against the proud Palestinian people? Sounds absurd but it would appear so because I am funding “Israeli terror.” If Cohen is complicit in criminal activity, should he expect a knock on the door from Interpol? Will this artist have to share a cell at the Hague with Radovan Karadžić? Dean states: “He will be within a stone’s throw of people who are suffering precisely such horrors because of the Israeli occupation.” His stone throwing metaphor is apt but being clever strategists wouldn’t PACBI have taken the opportunity to “educate” an artist of renown about Palestinian suffering? Then again maybe he would have realised the notion of genuine suffering in the West Bank is a sham as they mainly have a superior quality of life to neighbouring states.

Amnesty International had agreed to manage a fund created from the proceeds of Cohen’s concert in Israel which would be used to benefit Israeli and Palestinian groups. Proceeds from the sale of the 47,000 Tel Aviv tickets would go into a fund to be used by Israeli and Palestinian groups to provide health services for children, bringing together former Israeli and Palestinian fighters, and also families bereaved due to the conflict. An excellent idea but the pro-Palestinians weren’t happy. There was a huge international outcry over Amnesty’s involvement in the fund. Various forms of pressure, including a campaign of one thousand letters to Amnesty, called for their withdrawal from the fund. Amnesty International, which is also hostile to Israel, didn’t really need much persuading. Within a month it withdrew its involvement (August 2009) and refused to be involved with any group that benefits from the concert’s proceeds. Omar Barghouti, a leading light of PACBI (the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) stated:

We welcome Amnesty International’s withdrawal from this ill-conceived project which is clearly intended to whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and human rights. By abandoning the Leonard Cohen project in Tel Aviv, Amnesty International has dealt Cohen and his public relations team a severe blow, denying them the cover of the organization’s prestige and respectability.

Recently, the spotlight of the boycott movement was on Elton John, who was scheduled to perform in June at Tel Aviv. Pressure was brought to bear to prevent his planned Israeli performance. A group called The British Committee for Universities of Palestine wrote him an open letter featuring the usual child killing libel: “You line yourself up with a racist state. Do you want to give them the satisfaction? Please don’t go…You may say you’re not a political person, but does an army dropping white phosphorus on a school building full of children demand a political response?” Another public example is a popular and rather vicious video called “Hey Elton,” which can be found on the Internet. Evidently a lot of effort was put into the piece, which features a song using music based on some of Elton John’s hits, and lyrics modified for pro-Palestinian content. The clip features all the usual suspects of pro-Palestinian propaganda along with some puerile word-play on Elton’s lyrics, such as rhyming candle in the wind with, “Seems to us you lived your life like an ostrich in the sand.”

The “Hey Elton” clip was made by Canadian director John Greyson, who also teaches at York University and is a member of the increasingly notorious “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.” Last year he withdrew a film from the Toronto International Film Festival, and was the main individual behind the anti-Israeli “Toronto Declaration.” He went on to write a letter advocating an international boycott of the 2010 Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, attaching the names of Jane Fonda and James Cameron without consent, and falsely giving the impression he represented York University.

Many have referred to the absurdity of homosexuals condemning Israel while supporting “Ham-bullah,” Islamicist organisations that often violently oppress homosexuals, and are known to have executed some. Such groups are funded by Iran which punishes homosexuality through imprisonment and corporal punishment, and has executed a large number for the act. To avoid further persecution, many of these people are thus pressured to go through life threatening transgender operations, which are deemed a solution to homosexuality by the Iranian state. Despite such obvious issues, a new conspiracy theory has developed amongst pro-Palestinian activists: the rather offensive notion Israel is trying to “brainwash” homosexuals into supporting the state as a tolerant society, in contrast to surrounding Islamic societies. According to this biased article from anti-Israeli rag The Guardian which overemphasises anti-gay incidents in Israel: “This “pinkwashing,” as it is now commonly termed in activist circles, has currency beyond Israeli gay groups.”

In keeping with this view the clip claims that Netanyahu is using gay tourism as part of a pro-Israel campaign. The video states, “Bibi and his government are using gay tourism as part of their campaign to re-brand Israel,” and shows a few fairly nondescript images of homosexual events that would be quite common in any Western democracy. With an image of Netanyahu, the song continues: “He’s got a rainbow gun, its lots of fun, you know he loves to stroke it til it wanks, B… B… B… Bibi and his tanks.” This is surprisingly base, ugly material, even by the lowly standards of Palestinian advocacy. Feminist Phyllis Chesler, described the compulsive hatred that some direct against Israel as having an eroticised element. If this point is given a more literal interpretation, the use of masturbatory thematically homoerotic imagery is significant. Then the blunt command: “Don’t let Bibi use you as his gay Band-Aid – cancel!”

Towards the end of the video the line: “We’ve got to fight for all human rights” appears. This sentiment could of course be turned back on these pro-Palestinians who only attack Israel whilst almost always ignoring far greater humanitarian issues. The lyric, “Time to answer PACBI’s call” indicates the origins of the music video are with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, the leading boycott NGO. Almost in an advisory capacity, the text on the video then goes on to state “If you cancel, Sugar Bear, you’ll probably be called an anti-Semite,” the standard pre-emptive stance by Israeli-bashers to deflect concern over their extremism. Latterly, the video refers to Santana having respected the boycott, as well as a number of the musicians mentioned above.

Despite the boycott pressures, Elton John showed his support for the people of Israel during a performance in Tel Aviv at Ramat Gan stadium on June the 17th. He asked artists who had cancelled their performances in the country to put aside their political allegiances to unite people through music: “Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.” He said to the crowd, numbering some 50,000 Israeli’s: “Shalom, we are so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothing gonna stop us from coming, baby.”