Musicians welcome here

Israel was not and is not supposed to be a bunker.

Picnic Music Festival (photo credit: courtesy)
Picnic Music Festival
(photo credit: courtesy)
American indie rockers The Pixies are the latest in a series of musicians to have canceled concerts here.
In explaining the last-minute move, the Pixies’ announcement sidestepped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general and the Mavi Marmara interception in particular, asserting vaguely that “events beyond all our control have conspired against us.” British indie rockers Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System, who, like the Pixies, were slated to play at the two-day PicNic music festival being held at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds this week, had already backed out.
Comment: Make the boycott go up in Pixie dust
This is not an isolated phenomenon. Elvis Costello and Gil Scott-Heron, who, unlike the above-mentioned bands, made clear their dissatisfaction with the local political situation, both reneged on signed contracts to appear here in recent months. Carlos Santana’s decision not to come may or may not have been politically motivated.
And there is concern that additional artists, including U2, who had been rumored to be planning to come this summer, might skip.
These cancellations should be seen in the proper perspective.
Rod Stewart has promised that he will not be dissuaded from playing here, as has Costello’s wife, Diana Krall. Elton John, who is expected to draw tens of thousands to Ramat Gan Stadium and earn several million dollars, has not indicated any intention to change his plans. With Placebo headlining, the PicNic festival has gone ahead even without the absentees. Metallica, Rihanna and Joan Armatrading have all made Israel part of their recent concert tours.
Overall, indeed, more major acts are playing here than seldom, if ever, before. As a result of falling revenues from the sale of CDs (due to piracy and downloading on the Internet), concert tours have become a critical source of income for popular musicians. With per-capita GDP approaching $30,000 and an economy that was spared the worst ravages of the recent economic crisis, Israelis can afford to pay the high ticket prices that make a high-profile concert here a lucrative proposition. That’s why many bands that might not have considered coming to Israel in the past are now booking concerts; a few are also canceling.
THIS INCREASED opening of Israel to the wider international cultural scene is part of the realization of a quintessentially Zionist idea. The founding fathers of Israel hoped that by putting an end to centuries of wandering and exile amid anti-Semitic societies and establishing sovereignty in the historical homeland, our people could finally “normalize” Jewish existence by making themselves “reckoned among the nations.” The Tel Aviv area, the venue of many of the hottest concerts, is in many respects the epitome of this dream – Israel’s cultural center and an entrepreneurial hot-spot of economic innovation.
With more hi-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth, indeed, Israel’s ties to the world are an economic as well as a cultural lifeline.
It is precisely this “normalization” of Jewish existence that arouses the rancor of anti-Zionist BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) activists.
A case in point is the reaction of anti-Israel activists to Leonard Cohen’s Ramat Gan concert last summer, the proceeds of which were donated to Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives.
The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) attacked NGOs such as Amnesty International for initially daring to accept Cohen’s money, claiming his “concert in Israel contributes in normalizing Israeli occupation and colonization policies.” Amnesty subsequently pulled out. The Peres Center for Peace was blackballed.
In response to the recent rash of cancellations, commentators including Ma’ariv’s Menahem Ben and Yediot Aharonot’s Hanoch Daum have echoed Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat’s scathing dismissal of Costello, adopting a form of cognitive dissonance that can be boiled down to: “Who needs them anyway? We have our own bands.”
But this reaction is risible, bitter and goes against the Zionist ethos. The state of Israel was not and is not supposed to be a bunker, and it must not fall prey to the defeatist attitude that the world is out to get us and we had better raise the drawbridge. Quite the reverse: We must continue our quest for normalized relations and insist on the maintenance of the widest possible channels of communication with the rest of the world, for an open exchange of culture and commerce and all other aspects of interaction is central to defeating the efforts of those, like the BDS campaign, who seek to peddle false stereotypes about Israel. After all, what BDS activists fear most is that if artists like Costello do come to Israel, they might end up changing their views.