Pet Shop Boys: Israel not like apartheid-era South Africa

By
June 18, 2013 19:26

Neil Tennant from British music duo defends decision to perform in Tel Aviv amid pressure from pro-Palestinian groups to cancel show.

3 minute read.



Neil Tennant (L) and Chris Lowe of Pet Shop Boys

Neil Tennant (L) and Chris Lowe of Pet Shop Boys. (photo credit:REUTERS/Johannes Eisele)

When you’re the most successful British musical duo in history, you tend to attract some attention. But this is the kind of interest that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe who make up the wildly successful techno/Britpop team the Pet Shop Boys could probably do without.

In the midst of a high-profile world tour ahead of the release of their 12th album, Electric, the group behind classic dance hits from the 1980s and ‘90s  like “West End Girls,” “It’s A Sin,”  and “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” are having to fend off a particularly aggressive campaign by pro-Palestinian groups to shame them into canceling their upcoming Tel Aviv show on Sunday at the Nokia Arena.

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Hot on the heels of the whole Alice Walker-Alicia Keys media fest, in which the Color of Purple author unsuccessfully called on the American R&B star to call off her July 4 show at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena, the anti-Israel campaign launched by one Britain-based group called Innovative Minds continued the attempt to portray Israel as an oppressive Apartheid state.

"Cancel your Tel Aviv concert. Stand with the oppressed - Open your eyes to the ugly reality of apartheid Israel," was the headline of  a poster prepared by the organization, which featured a picture of the Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, wearing glasses with the captions "1 child killed every three days" and "2 kids caged every day."

The poster was part of a demonstration that was planned to take place in London on Wednesday outside the British Film Institute during a screening of vintage film Battleship Potemkin in the presence of the duo, who composed a new soundtrack for the movie.

After the campaign went public this week, Tennant posted on his the band’s official website that no comparisons should be made between Israeli policy and apartheid in South Africa.

"I don't agree with this comparison of Israel to apartheid-era South Africa," Tennant wrote. "It's a caricature. Israel has (in my opinion) some crude and cruel policies based on defense; it also has universal suffrage and equality of rights for all its citizens, both Jewish and Arab… In apartheid-era South Africa, artists could only play to segregated audiences; in Israel anyone who buys a ticket can attend a concert."

Tennant should know what he’s talking about, as the Pet Shop Boys have performed in Israel twice before, in 1999 and 2009, to legions of fans. As one of the more active out-of-the closet acts in support of gay rights, Tennant and Lowe might also have been impressed by Israel’s vibrant LGBT community and generally gay-friendly society. Whatever the deciding factor, the show will go on Sunday.

Concert promoter Plug Production Generators issued a statement saying that the pressure on Pet Shop Boys to cancel their show was nothing new or unexpected.

“We're not taking it very seriously. The preparations for the show are underway and the band is very excited about visiting Israel," the statement said.

Same goes for the audience, who will get the chance to see the group on their first tour in four years. Always stylistic fashion plates, Tennant and Lowe have increasingly employed video and theatrics in their live performances and Sunday’s show will likely be a multi-media extravaganza.

While their music may sound frothy and innocuous, Pet Shop Boys are actually as subversive as any hardcore punk band. Described by the All-Music Guide as “postmodern ironists cloaked behind a veil of buoyantly melodic and lushly romantic synth pop confections,”  there’s a lot more going on than meets the ear. And based on Tennant’s  mostly positive defense of Israel against the would-be boycotters,  there’s also some substance away from the music as well.

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