A Cultural Boycott of Israel? Play Another Tune

Jello Biafra might have a crazy name but he is the voice of sanity when it comes to confronting the increasingly influential cultural boycott against Israel

Jello Biafra might have a crazy name but he is the voice of sanity when it comes to confronting the increasingly influential cultural boycott against Israel.

Mr Biafra is the frontman of the legendary punk outfit The Dead Kennedys and his ideological credentials, musical and political, are impeccably radical.

An anarchist who advocates direct action and pranksterism, he has now done a fine job exposing the absurdities of the anti-Zionists cultural boycott that has already recruited to its ranks the likes of Elvis Costello, the Pixies, The Klaxons, Roger Waters, Faithless, Gorillaz, and many others.

Jello Biafra, who was set to play in Tel Aviv for the first time on July 2 2011 with his band the Guantanamo School of Medicine, cancelled the gig following an intense boycott campaign, orchestrated from London by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

However, Biafra, refusing to let himself be a political puppet or be intimidated by the latest Facebook hate-fest, promised he would still travel to Israel "to check things out myself" and delivered a furious broadside against the boycotters.

"What about the people on the same side of the human rights fence as we are, who now don't get to see us play?" asked the punk star. "Should they be boycotted too?

"I've been doing this long enough to know better than buy into hard-line absolutes such as playing in Israel automatically supports apartheid or Israel's government. That threat is ridiculous."

He condemned the way in which discussion about playing in Israel had descended into a "childish bickerfest" from both Palestinian and Israeli groups.

He added: "I can't back anyone whose real goal or fantasy is a country ethnically cleansed of Jews or anyone else, where people who think for themselves or talk to the wrong person are automatically a sellout."

"Speaking personally, I currently favour two democratic states in the admittedly naive hope that in our lifetime they can somehow evolve into one."

Jello accurately identifies the key falsehoods of the boycott movement. It has lazily recycled a job-lot of anti-apartheid slogans and re-hashed them to skim over the excruciating complexities of Israel-Palestine conflict and, for bad measure, chucked in a bucketful of mouldy anti-imperialist tropes. Indeed, the boycotters act like toddlers trying to get a round block into square hole, jamming it in hard even though it obviously doesn't fit, and not caring what mess they make in the process.

Sadly, the cultural boycott targets all Israelis not the injustice of specific Israeli governments' policies.

Yet, only the 'wipe Israel off the face of the earth' brigade can deny that for every settler nut-job there is an Israeli human rights activist, civil liberties lawyer or campaigning journalist. Even hard line Palestinian nationalists will quietly admit that Israel's democracy, and the rule of law, is an exemplar for the Palestinian state-in-the-making.

Meanwhile, who will be the bulwark against Israel's drift towards Serbian-style nationalism? Chris Martin from Coldplay? Who will defend the Israeli-Arab minority from racist rabbis or protest against the Kafkaesque web of Israeli Army checkpoints that entangle Palestinian West Bankers? Maxi Jazz from Faithless?

There is a vibrant archipelago of hope and dissent dappling Israel society that takes in the creative arts, the universities, an independent judiciary, a free press, a plethora of courageous NGOs, a progressive political legacy and a truly universal health system.

It should not be abandoned and boycotted but nurtured and bolstered by anyone who truly cares about peace and justice for all.


From the obituary of Arthur Goldreich, South African-Israeli freedom fighter:

Nelson Mandela, the guerrilla commander-in-chief, discussed tactics with Goldreich, explaining in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, that "Arthur had fought with the Palmach, the military wing of the Jewish National Movement in Palestine. He was knowledgable about guerrilla warfare and helped fill in many gaps in my understanding."

After a dramatic escape from an apartheid prison Goldreich returned to Israel, becoming a professor at the Bezalel academy of arts and design... He later spoke out firmly against the brutality and inhumanity imposed on the people of occupied Palestine.

Need I say more?


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