Two days ago, as I was sipping my black coffee first thing in the morning, I read about some left-wing activists who are trying to persuade the Red Hot Chili Peppers to cancel their performance in “occupied Palestine.”
I also read the adjacent article, which was about right-wing activists calling to boycott Ahinoam Nini’s shows all over Israel for participating in an alternate Memorial Day ceremony with both Israelis and Palestinians.
Like the perfect spice, these messages from the left and the right top off the cholent I’ve had cooking since 2001, when the Chili Peppers canceled their first scheduled visit to Israel. Since then, several activist saw “that it was good,” and continued their undertaking, now reaching Elvis Costello, the Pixies, Santana, Gil Scott-Heron and others.
These artists signed contracts and agreed on a performance date, the producers rented auditoriums, PR and commercial products and called the elated crowd of fans to purchase tickets. Right after this, the boycott armies ambushed the artists and intimidated them, until they finally called it off. The fans were sent home with no show, and to add to their humiliation – were given the runabout when trying to get credit and refunds.
This drives me mad. Did these artists think they were going to perform on the quiet islands of Seychelles? Or in New Zealand? And if they had already scheduled the show and made their fans happy, then why cancel at the last minute? Just because a few people messed with their mind? There were those who showed up despite getting letters and threats, gave a great performance and went home. And that’s how it should be.
An artist who truly surpassed himself is the undisputed king, Roger Waters – he performed, made the schlep to Kerem Shalom, as if it would make any difference to anyone, cut out the coupon, and in the end he made sure to preach that artists should boycott Israel. What you would call “Hast thou performed and also boycotted?” What a genius.
But let’s leave sarcasm out of this. I found only one righteous person in modern Sodom – he calls himself Leonard Cohen. When Cohen embarked on his global concert tour in 2009 and the name “Tel Aviv” was displayed in the concert program, the boycott armies immediately arose and ambushed their next target.
Other groups even demonstrated outside Cohen’s shows in Belfast, New York and Spain. Cohen, who I have always regarded as the best poet of the past century in practice and as the High Priest of the modern Temple in utopia, put in some thought and did something original.
Cohen was always involved in Israeli reality. In the ’70s, he came here and played for soldiers at the front; and in recent years he hasn’t spared any criticism of the policies of the State of Israel. Cohen carried out the performance as planned, marked by the slogan “Conciliation, Tolerance and Peace,” and donated the proceeds to the fund that supports bereaved families both on the Israeli and Palestinian side.
This act was so wise, creative and effective that the parties who had asked him to cancel the concert were suddenly presented with their own absurdness. After all, art is universal, and so should the intention, the feat and result of creative thinking be, aspiring to please everyone.
Boycotts are known to be low and hopeless acts, which were rarely resorted to even in the olden days.
And what is the connection between a boycott and art anyway? If an actor plays Hamlet, and now he is boycotting Ariel, who does he think he is when he decides that Hamlet has an opinion against Ariel? And I am speaking as one who respects and values freedom of speech, the right to choose and every artist’s right to act according to his or her conscience.
I still think we’ve gone a little overboard with this trend.
I don’t agree with the policies of every country in the world, and I am also quite critical of things that happen in my country. I too, as Orphaned Land’s vocalist, as an Israeli, receive petitions to boycott Turkey, for instance. The requests come from Armenians, Kurds and also Israelis. But we are above politics, we can bond and unite, why should we mess with cancellations and boycotts? Boycotting a country or people is pure nonsense.
And who’s to say that the audience at my concert in progressive New York doesn’t include different variations of the scum of the earth? Where does the whole business end? My band has dozens of fans in Arab countries and in Iran. It is known that in these undemocratic states there is a problem with human rights and freedom of speech. In our case, it is the other way around: we would be happy to perform there, but the local authorities are boycotting us.
In Iran, rock music is outlawed altogether. If only there was a way, I would go on foot to perform there – because artists should perform everywhere, since it is through direct contact with their audiences that they can make a difference. Artists have the privilege of being among the few who can be liked by two people who are each other’s enemies. Artists have a status and stance that are incomparable.
And therefore, I would be eager to perform and project harmony in the places ruled by disharmony.
I’ll conclude with a short story – Mercedes Sosa, may she rest in peace, was a political singer. She was active in Argentina in the ’70s, under the generals’ rule. One evening, when she was on the stage in the middle of a lively show, soldiers arrived at the scene. They took her off the stage and arrested her, along with the entire audience.
Afterwards, she was forbidden to continue singing in her own country, which led her to a journey in exile and ironically, she embarked on an all-embracing career, and the awareness to her country’s policies grew. Sosa sang the following words stiffly, the moment before her arrest: “When the singer is silent, life is silent. Because life, life itself is a song.”
The writer is the soloist of the Israeli metal band Orphaned Land, which performs all over the world, and has a strong fan base in Arab countries and in Turkey. He is currently writing his debut book Tango between God and Satan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
This article originally appeared in Hebrew on mako.co.il.