The momentum of the Cultural Boycott proceeds apace.Today I learnt something knew. I have often asked those who oppose a boycott of Israel’s ‘cultural’ activities whether they would have boycotted Wilhelm Furtwanger and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1930’s on the grounds that culture and politics don’t mix, despite the evidence we now have that their trips abroad were sponsored by the Nazi state. The Israeli state makes no secret of its sponsorship of ‘Brand Israel’ artists. I have never received a satisfactory answer, since the only honest one would be ‘yes’ – just as we Zionists opposed the boycott of Nazi Germany so we oppose the boycott of Apartheid Israel.
But in fact 11 leading world musicians, led by Toscanini and Fritz Reiner did in fact do exactly that when they announced a boycott of all German cultural events. So it is extremely welcome that, after some hesitation, Stanley Jordan, a famous jazz musician, has decided to boycott Israel’s Jazz Festival held in Eilat.
It is also no surprise that it is Black American artists who are prominent amongst supporters of boycott. Although there are some white musicians, like Roger Waters who support the Boycott and groups like Santana have also cancalled gigs, there is a predominance of Black musicians like Stevie Wonder and now Stanley Jordan. There is no doubt that this is because of a shared experience of racism that most whist musicians like Paul Simon, Dylan or Elton John don’t understand or care about.
Below is a list of some of the most recent successes of the BDS Cultural Boycott movement and beneath that an article from Electronic Intifada.
SOME 2012 CULTURAL BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL SUCCESSESJanuary 2012: The acclaimed French writer, Jacques Ranciére, cancels plans to give public readings at Israel's Tel Aviv University.
February 2012: Grammy-winning jazz singer, Cassandra Wilson and singer-songwriter Cat Power (Chan Marshall) both publicly cancel their Israeli gigs. Wilson said in a statement: "As a human rights activist I identify with the cultural boycott of Israel."
March 2012: Thirty seven artists and actors, including Academy Award, Emmy and and Golden Globe winner Emma Thompson, write to the Shakespeare Globe Theater in London requesting it to withdraw its invitation to Israel's Habima theater. Locally, Durban based hip hop artist, Iain "Ewok" Robinson, releases a music track, "Freedom for us All", for the international "BDS Day of Action".
April 2012: Two Irish bands, Fullset and the Dervish respect the cultural boycott of Israel and cancel a series of their planned shows in Israel. The Dervish explained their position in a public statement: "At the time [that] we agreed to these performances we were unaware that there was a cultural boycott [against Israel] in place. We now feel that we do not wish to break this boycott".
May 2012: South African Nobel Prize Laureate, J.M. Coetzee, and Slumdog Millionaire author, Vikas Swarup, both turn down invites to Israel's International Writers Festival, Coetzee makes it clear that he will only participate "when the peace process goes forward."
June 2012: Pulitzer Prize winning author, Alice Walker, refuses the Israeli company, Yediot Books, from publishing her award-winning novel, The Color Purple (in the 1980s, when the ANC had called for a boycott against South Africa, Walker also refused Apartheid South Africa permission to screen the movie adaptation of her book).
July 2012: Reggae artist, Sizzla Kalonji, cancels his Israeli gig. Then, later in July, the Canadian-based band, the Three Little Birds, perform their music single "Apartheid" on Canadian national television.
August 2012: In violation of the Palestinian boycott-of-Israel-picket-line, the Edinburgh International Festival invites Israel's Batsheva dance company. Activists and protesters subsequently --and successfully-- disrupted several Batsheva performances. The protests against Israel's Batsheva remind us of the sports boycott protests and disruptions of the 1980s against Apartheid South Africa's rugby and cricket teams that attempted world tours in violation of the ANC's boycott.
September 2012: British theater director Peter Brook and the Bouffes du Nord theatre troop of France honor the call to boycott Israel, cancelling their planned performances for December at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv.
October 2012: Hip hop duo Rebel Diaz and Narcenio Hall boycott the two-day 2012 Creative Time Summit in Manhattan because of the summit’s partnership with an Israeli organization funded by the Israeli government.
November 2012: The Cape Town World Music Festival lands in deep water due to collaboration with and sponsorship from the Israeli Government. The Festival has to do without its headline main stage act when Pops Mohamed pulls out. Also in November, South African musicians Simphiwe Dana and Tumi Molekane (from Tumi and the Volume) tweet using their official Twitter accounts supporting the boycott of Israel.
December 2012: Music legend, Stevie Wonder, cancels his scheduled performance at a benefit gala for the Israeli military. Finally, also in December, Roger Waters, front-man and founder of Pink Floyd, addresses the United Nations on the issue of Palestine and the international boycott of Israel. Waters said: "[The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel campaign] aims to bring non-violent economic pressure to bear on Israel to force an end to its violations, an end to [Israel's] occupation and apartheid...and an end to Palestinian citizens of Israel being required to live as second class citizens, discriminated against on racial grounds, and subject to different laws than their Jewish compatriots."
|Stanley Jordan announces his withdrawal from Israeli Jazz Festival|
It appears that the movement for a cultural boycott of Israel can claim another victory. On Saturday (5 January) guitarist Stanley Jordan announced he will not be performing at the winter installment of Israel’s Red Sea Jazz Festival. In a brief statement on his Facebook page, Jordan said: "My performance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival has been cancelled. I apologize for any inconvenience to anyone." Jordan, an acclaimed and innovative guitarist, had been billed as a headliner at the festival.
The outpouring of gratitude has been substantial. A lengthy stream of comments thanked Jordan for standing with human rights and against occupation, recognizing that for a working artist to pull out of a show is not an easy decision. Anyone who has had the displeasure of wading through the cesspool of racism and abuse that hardcore Zionists are wont to leave on even vaguely pro-Palestinian Facebook pages can surely appreciate the love and positivity that’s been shown to Jordan.
The Red Sea Jazz Festival — which takes place twice a year — has previously been one of the cultural events that the Israeli state could rely on to go off without a hitch (and yes, it is the actual state we’re talking about here; RSJF is backed by several government ministries). Held in the resort town of Eilat on the coast of the Red Sea, the jazz festival has normally been adequate in filling its role in distracting from the realities of Israeli apartheid. Jazz, after all, is a multi-racial art form, and any state that hosts jazz festivals can’t possibly be racist, right?
That changed after the New Orleans street jazz troupe Tuba Skinny cancelled in 2011. The cancellation was last minute, and drummed up a good amount of publicity for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, particularly when the group released a statement explaining its actions. This past summer, as hundreds of Sudanese refugees were rounded up and deported, they were held at a detention center not too far from Eilat itself, which surely poked a few more holes in the city’s idyllic veneer.
More broadly, Israel is obviously facing a serious political fallout from Operation Pillar of Cloud — its eight-day offensive against Gaza in November. Though its international backers continue to support Israel’s occupation and apartheid regime, its continual slide into racist barbarity surely puts the tipping point in its credibility not too far off. Indeed, some think that it’s already arrived. Either way, it’s getting harder and harder to pull off the kinds of cultural events that have always been used to paint Israeli society as the beacon of cultural tolerance amid a sea of savagery.Credit is also due to the sustained and patient campaigning on the part of boycott activists attempting to convince Jordan to cancel. And that is what makes this case rather unique. The use of Facebook to campaign for an artist, speaker or a musician to cancel a performance or appearance in Israel is nothing new in our age. What stands out is the way that Stanley Jordan himself used it to come to the decision to cancel.
Several messages and pleas had already been sent to Jordan requesting he cancel, but on 24 December, he made a rather unexpected move, posting the following statement on his Facebook page:I’ve received several messages from people requesting that I cancel my performance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel. I promised a detailed response, so here it is. I would like to start a dialog right here to discuss this topic. Next to global warming, the Middle East conflict is the biggest issue of our time, and it’s too important for black-and-white responses that ignore the nuances. And we truly need an open dialog with a spirit of mutual compassion for everyone involved. For my part, I want to use my talents and energies in the best possible way for the cause of peace. This purpose is deeply ingrained in my soul’s code, and I’ve known it since childhood. So the only remaining question is: how can I best accomplish this goal? I invite you all to weigh in. I’d like to start the discussion by recommending a wonderful book called Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East by Rabbi Michael Lerner. I’ve been reading a lot on this topic but this book stands out for me because it resonates with my own feelings. I encourage everyone to read it as background for our discussion. And please keep your comments clean and respectful. Let’s model the type of dialog that will eventually lead to a solution.As an aside, Michael Lerner isn’t exactly a steadfast ally of the Palestinian cause. The former Berkeley radical has spoken out against Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and the treatment of the Palestinians, but like many liberals he has also equivocated greatly, defending the basic tenets of Zionism and refusing to support boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
RefreshingNonetheless, Jordan’s move — opening it up for a frank discussion on why artists should support cultural boycott movements — was refreshing. It provided an opportunity for activists to make a clear case for BDS and even perhaps expose the arguments to a sliver of people who had never heard them before. It also worked, evidently.
A week after posting the initial invitation for a debate, Jordan commented again:
Our discussion revealed a crisis whose depth was even far greater than I had known, and I felt compelled to help. Like many others, I am deeply dedicated to the cause of world peace, and this situation goes against everything anyone with a heart could ever condone. However, after much consideration I concluded that the best way I could serve the cause would be to do my performance as scheduled, but separately organize an event in a major city in the United States to raise funds and awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people.Another several hundred comments followed, in a thread that went on for the next week at least. Notably absent was the deluge of hard Zionist trolling that one might expect in such threads. Instead, Jordan revealed days later that such anti-boycott campaigners had actually been messaging him directly — an odd move.
Again, the conversation was remarkably and uncharacteristically civil, which likely had much to do with the notable absence of those trolling for hasbara (Israeli state propaganda). One can only speculate as to why the abusers weren’t out in such full force; perhaps the political climate is starting to demoralize a segment of them. One can hope. In any event, it made for a fruitful discussion. As was written at The Palestine Chronicle:
The absence of (overt) trolling allowed for an exemplary demonstration of what well-informed, dedicated BDS advocates can do with a thread if they are not constantly fending off accounts spouting Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs talking points. The result was passionate, well-reasoned and forceful advocacy for the Palestinian cause from a diverse group of people on several continents, many of whom were unconnected with one another or had just become Facebook friends as a result of the virtual encounter.The Palestine Chronicle also joined in the debate, publishing an open letter by Rima Merriman where she took to task several of Jordan’s arguments. Jordan’s basic stance is one that we’ve all heard before: that art and music have the power to transform consciousness, and therefore cultural boycotts are counterproductive because they shut down that potential. His concession that he would organize some kind of fundraiser for the Palestinian people was essentially a red herring. Indeed, all of Jordan’s responses after his post at the beginning of January proceeded from this contradictory starting point that because artists can maybe "change consciousness" and affect people on a spiritual level, they have no political role to play.
This is, of course, a fallacy. If for no other reason than it makes the tacit admission that Israelis are deserving of the spiritual nutrition brought by art but Palestinians (who are prevented from attending almost all Israeli cultural events) aren’t. And, as many BDS supporters have pointed out, also flagrantly contradicts Jordan’s own support for those who refused to play Sun City in the fight against South African apartheid.
VictoryAfter four more days of sustained pressure on Facebook and other online avenues, though, something must have convinced Jordan. His statement of cancellation may have been terse, and it obviously would be much more preferable for him to release something longer, allowing for more in-depth reasoning to come out, but it still represents a big victory. One of Israel’s most surefire means of cultural propaganda has had a headlining act pull out, and only a couple weeks before the actual event to boot.
What’s more, the actual process of convincing Jordan to cancel is profoundly informative — if for no other reason than it was an example of people using Facebook for something other than sniping at each other. It was, if one might excuse a slightly pretentious term, an example of real cultural democracy. An artist — flawed though he may be — actually takes the time to ask what his fans think. And this is where it gets really novel: he listens to them. In a world where we’re taught to put the artist on a pedestal (an ethos that Jordan has admittedly absorbed), there was finally a sign that perhaps there’s a bit more innate parity between artist and audience than might initially meet the eye.
I’m reminded of the words of the late jazz great Max Roach, a tireless campaigner for racial justice in the US and South Africa, as well as one of the most thrilling composers and drummers to sit behind a kit: "Jazz is a very democratic musical form. It comes out of a communal experience. We take our respective instruments and collectively create a thing of beauty."
It may have taken some prodding, and may require still more, but in the meantime we can say that Jordan did Roach’s words justice.