Israel does not need Elvis Costello or Roger Waters to Rock
Sir Elton John has never claimed to be the outstanding political commentator of our time. Yet on June 17, 2010, during his concert performance in the Ramat Gan Tel Aviv stadium, he rebuked the hypocrisy, sanctimoniousness and bigotry of the boycotters of the State of Israel with his remark that “we don’t cherry-pick our conscience.” Elton John has refused to bow to pressure from anti-Israeli activists.
Elton John was aware of the real nature of the bigoted and biased boycotters with their violent rhetoric, their ignorance of political reality in the Middle East, and their threats against those who were willing to perform in Israel. He was aware that his fellow performer, Gil Scott-Heron was forced to cancel his concert in Israel as a result of boycotters picketing his concert in London. Even more, he was aware that Paul McCartney had received death threats when he announced he was going to perform in Israel.
It was evident that the boycotters, whether Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, some of the mainstream churches, Roger Waters who appears to be making a second career in pressuring others to avoid Israel, many in the American and European media, or in the American Studies Association, have no real affection for the Palestinian population or knowledge of the desire of Palestinians eager to destroy the State of Israel.
Irrespective of their views of the recent apparent alliance between the Fatah and Hamas factions among the Palestinians, and the much heralded moderation of “President” Mahmoud Abbas, it is useful for the boycotters to be aware of the real threat to peace. Abbas presided at the 6th Fatah Congress on August 13, 2009 that issued a menacing threat in Article 19 of its Declaration. For Fatah “the armed struggle is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease until the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated.”
More menacing are the activities and proclamations of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the military wing of Fatah. The Brigades, set up to begin military operations by Yasser Arafat in 2000 when he instigated the Second Intifada, has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. In one of its less belligerent statements, the Brigade on January 21, 2014 informed Israel “we will turn the beloved Gaza Strip into a graveyard for your soldiers, and we will turn Tel Aviv into a ball of fire.”
In a film, The Revolutionists of the Land, Fatah honors the legion of its “heroes.” Among these luminaries are the terrorist Abu Jihad, responsible for attacks that killed more than 125 Israelis, Abu Iyad, head of Black September that planned the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Dalal Mughrabi who led the Coastal Road Massacre in 1978 in which 37 were murdered, and the Dimona operation, the bus hijacking in 1988 in which 3 people were murdered.
The biased boycotters, especially those who speak of Israel as an “apartheid” state, may have been surprised even as they welcomed a festival organized by an Israel Arab student group, Watan (or Homeland) movement, in May 2014. The event was held in the auditorium of the Hebrew University where the Israeli Arabs are students. Since the university is located on Mount Scopus the students, who flew Palestinian flags, proclaimed they were “reclaiming occupied territories in Jerusalem,” as well as singing songs dedicated to Palestinian prisoners and martyrs. The students had already been told, on March 28, 2014, by the Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs that the Palestinian prisoners who had murdered Israelis were not criminals but were “an inseparable part of this national Palestinian movement and one of its authentic elements.”
As an incidental it would be enticing to know if the members of the ASA, Irish Teachers’ Union, and other academic bodies that called for a boycott of the Hebrew University and other Israeli educational establishments realized they were calling for boycott of an institution that the Palestinians regarded as part of Palestinian territory.
More important, the boycotters must be downcast because of the failure of their cultural boycott of Israel this summer. Some performers have succumbed to pressure by Palestinians and other groups and individuals to refrain from performing in Israel, but many more have taken part, or are planning to take part, in the cultural events there. Alice Walker must be devastated that Alicia Keys, whom she warned was putting “her soul in danger” if she performed in Israel, not only did not take her advice but that her body and soul are both in good shape. Oxfam International must be distressed that their discourtesy -- virtual boycott -- towards Scarlett Johansson has made her a bigger film star than ever in Hollywood.
When David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948 proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, he spoke that the new State was created “with trust in the Rock of Israel.”
He might have been delighted in the non-religious aspect of Rock, and pop music in general, as well as other cultural programs presented by foreigners in Israel in these summer months, especially during the 53rd Israeli Festival of May and June.
Without referring to the complete list of performers, an outline of some of the main musical rock, punk, and pop, performers might help the boycotters appreciate their failure. Among the more well known musical performers are Justin Timberlake, Neil Young, Lana Del Rey, Paul Anka, Backstreet Boys, The Prodigy, Passenger, Pixies, and Soundgarden, Gogol Bordello, and other rock and pop artists. They are following earlier visitors who have included Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Tom Jones, Rihanna, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The greatest attraction of course this summer has been the geriatric Rolling Stones who attracted more than 50,000 by their appearance in Tel Aviv’s Park Hayarkon on June 4, 2014. Mick Jagger and associates had been pressured from two sources: a number of organizations led by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; and by an open letter by Roger Waters and Nick Mason (both ex Pink Floyd). Jagger not only resisted this pressure, but even uttered some Hebrew words during his performance. The dubious success of the boycotters was that traffic jams were created throughout Tel Aviv because of the cars going to the concert.
Other participants in the Festival were the French film stars, Gérard Depardieu and Anouk Aimée, performing in a play “Love Letters”, the French star Fanny Ardant, the theatre group of Georgia performing Moliere’s “Tartuffe”, fato singers, ballet companies, choirs, and the virtuoso musicians involved in both classical music, the Bach B Minor Mass and in a Mozart festival, and in jazz recitals. The acrobatic group Cirque De Soleil is due to perform ten shows in August in Tel Aviv.
Everyone now realizes that the boycotters have little if any regard for the welfare of Palestinians or any real interest in peace in the Middle East, but simply persist in their biased condemnations of Israel. The question must now be asked, are the boycotters aware of their own cultural sacrifices? Already, they are boycotting the excellent Israeli wines from Golan, and not taking advantage of the beauty products of the Dead Sea. Now they are refusing to enjoy one of the most impressive cultural festivals in the world, a light from Israel unto the nations of the world. Surely they can’t all be masochists?
Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.