Techno music scene dives into the BDS debate

Posted: May 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

DJ and Producer Ewan Pearson: “Musicians are not ambassadors with carte blanche to go where we like as we’re spreading an implicit  message of love. Too damn easy.”

British DJ and Producer Ewan Pearson (photo: SHAREconference / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

British DJ and Producer Ewan Pearson (photo: SHAREconference / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Last March, following a gig he gave in a Tel Aviv club, JD Twitch of Optimo posted this Tweet:

Such warm people in Israel. Great times! Thought long & hard about going but so glad I did. Daniel Wang nails it -

The link is to a text by DJ Daniel Wang from Berlin, who wrote in 2004 a long personal article is support of performing in Tel Aviv. His basic argument was that “music transcends national borders.”

Ewan Pearson, another well-known British DJ and producer, immediately tweeted a reply to JD Twitch:

@JDTwitch not convinced by Wang. It’s not the place to discuss here, but I wonder what changed your mind. I still won’t / can’t go.

French DJ Joakim Bouaziz joined the debate:

@ewanpearson @JDTwitch I agree with JD. When you meet some of the people there, you’d quickly change your mind. Most don’t agree w/ the govt

To that Pearson answered:

@joakim_bouaziz @jdtwitch and solidarity with the Palestinians. Crude and frustrating as it is a boycott is the only way I can do anything.

If you follow Pearson’s Tweeter feed, you won’t be surprised by his position; he seems to be more well-informed and political than others in his field. Following the exchange, Pearson promised to explain his positions regarding Israel/Palestine in more detail. Last month, he published this article on Groove magazine (which led to another Twitter debate over Israel, this time with DJ Kirk Degiorgio). Pearson even cites Haaretz’s journalist Gidon Levy:

Groove Column: on not DJing in Israel (April 2011)

by Ewan Pearson on Sunday, 08 May 2011 at 14:33

A funny old day on Twitter. A quick message applauding Beatport’s donation of a day’s profits towards Japan’s relief effort is re-tweeted a hundred times. Simultaneously, I am arguing with friends about the ethics of DJing in Israel. When the earth buckles and the seas surge victims quickly have our sympathy. But with political disasters it’s much trickier to find a consensus. Some kinds of solidarity are easier than others.

I have always quietly turned gigs in Israel down, appalled by the accounts I’ve read of the Occupation, the mistreatment of its Palestinian population and recently the blockade on Gaza. The systematic manner in which one set of citizens is being de-humanised parallels the South African Apartheid era when I first heard music and political protest linked and became aware of musicians refusing to travel in order to draw attention to a political situation.

But music transcends politics doesn’t it? Not at all. If music is of and about the world it has to engage it. Musicians are not ambassadors with carte blanche to go where we like as we’re spreading an implicit  message of love. Too damn easy. Sometimes we have to say tougher and less palatable stuff, in this case that the actions of a purportedly democratic government in the name of a decent people are doing them massive harm, and the rest of us too as we sit idly by.

Art and politics at their best are about imagining yourself in someone else’s place, trying to feel what someone in quite different circumstances is experiencing. This is where solidarity comes from. I have more in common with a left-leaning cosmopolitan raver in Tel Aviv than a Palestinian in the occupied territories, but to go there and DJ is to say the status quo is fine, that it’s OK to forget about what’s happening for a moment. To paraphrase Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, it’s buying an alcoholic friend a bottle of scotch when you should be phoning AA.

House music’s most famous political message – that one day the oppressed will be emancipated and find the Promised Land – is derived from the Torah, from the laments of Jews exiled in Egypt and Babylon. Today it seems more appropriate to the plight of their Palestinian brothers and sisters. Until that’s no longer the case, I have to write stuff like this over playing records, smiling and telling everyone “It’s Alright”.

A couple of weeks ago, Pearson posted this article on his website, adding this paragraph, in which he expressed his full support of the BDS movement.

A note:

Above is the original text that was published in Groove magazine this month. I avoided referring to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement;  the campaign since 2005 to boycott cultural and academic exchange with Israel while the occupation and discrimination against Palestinians continues. This was a mistake. By doing so I suggested that the decision to go to Israel or not should be a matter of individual conscience, made on a personal basis in isolation. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be. The fact is that over 170 Palestinian civil organisations have joined together to call for this boycott as one of a number of non-violent methods of putting pressure on the the Israeli government and they have been joined in the campaign by many individuals, groups, unions, churches and peace advocates around the world. It is not about me deciding whether I should go to Israel or not, but rather whether I am going to listen to the wishes of the Palestinian people at a time when not nearly enough others are doing so. I hope it goes without saying that I long dearly for a time when this is no longer the case.

If you would like to read more about the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign then you can do so here:

I guess this won’t be the last word in this debate.


On this note, Gil Scott-Heron (“The Revolution will not be Televised”) passed away this weekend; this is what I wrote when he chose to cancel his Tel Aviv gig last year. And here is my post regarding Macy Gray’s decision to come here after all.

(h/t to music blogger Idit Frenkel)

Elvis Costello boycotting Israel, helps Israelis out of their state of denial

Posted: May 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: culture, In the News | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Elvis Costello, who cancelled his shows in Israel for political reasons, is extremely unpopular here these days. I’ve read several articles condemning him for this decision, and not one supporting him. Culture Minister Limor Livnat declared that “Costello is not worthy of performing here,” and many people commented that they would never listen to him again.

But check this out: while claiming that a more honest and effective move by Costello would have been to come here and express his opinions publicly, many commentators and writers also argued that Israel should end the occupation ASAP, or it stands the risk of facing many more such incidents.

Furthermore, Costello’s decision has been the talk of the day for many people  – I also had a ticket for his Tel Aviv gig – and even when people hated him, they had to think about the political issues and about their consequences, and especially on where they stand. Just like after Gil Scott-Heron had decided not to come here, in the past couple of days I saw friends who never discuss politics going into long debates on Facebook because of Costello. For a country that is in a constant state of denial regarding the occupation, this is no small thing.

So much for the ineffectiveness of the boycott.

Why the Israeli case against boycott is so weak

Posted: May 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Regarding the discussion we had here on Gil-Scott Heron’s decision to cancel his show in Tel Aviv, here are some wise words from Gidon Levy. The real boycott, argues Levy, is the one that Israel is leading against the Palestinians and their supporters:

… entry into Israel and the West Bank is being affected by the recent frenzy of [Israeli] boycotts. Anyone who is suspected of supporting the Palestinians or expressing concern for their lot is boycotted and expelled. This group includes a clown who came to organize a conference; a peace activist who was due to appear at a symposium; and scientists, artists and intellectuals who arouse suspicions that they back the Palestinian cause. This is a cultural and academic boycott on all counts, the type of boycott that we reject when it is used against us.

Yet the anti-boycott country’s list of boycotted parties does not end there. Even a Jewish-American organization like J Street, which defines itself as pro-Israel, has felt the long arm of the Israeli boycott. It is permissible to boycott J Street because it champions peace, but we can’t tolerate a boycott of products made in settlements that were built on usurped land. Denying a visiting professor entry into Gaza for an appearance at a university does not qualify as a boycott, but cutting off ties with Israeli institutions that provide fast-track degree programs for army officers and interrogators in the Shin Bet security service – people who are often viewed around the world as complicit in war crimes – is viewed as verboten.

Read the full article on Haaretz.

Gil Scott-Heron boycotts Tel Aviv, sends powerful message to Israelis

Posted: April 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »

This is a translation of my article regarding the cancellation of spoken words artist Gil-Scott Heron‘s gig in Tel Aviv. His show was scheduled for late May, but it was later removed from Scot-Heron’s site and though there was no official statement yet, it seems to have been canceled for political reasons.

The original Hebrew version of the article was posted Wednesday on the web magazine The Other.

scott heron

A small commotion erupted this week among the public that appreciates black music in Israel upon learning that ground-breaking artist, poet and musician, Gil Scott-Heron apparently canceled his Tel Aviv show for political reasons. There was no official statement; However, following protests of some of his pro-Palestinian fans during a show in London on the weekend, Scott-Heron announced from the stage that he would not be coming to Israel. The show, planed for May 25, was removed from the line up on his site.

Scott-Heron is a political man. He came out against US presidents, preached against nuclear energy, and asked the new generation of Hip-Hop artists to write meaningful lyrics rather than merely attach words to music. His most famous piece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, is considered the anthem of alternative culture. I assume these and similar reasons made Scott-Heron appeal to a couple of hundred Israelis. The only surprise is their ability to make a U-turn the moment that protest was directed at us.

In the last few days, Israelis who awaited the show in Tel Aviv filled Scott Heron’s website and Facebook pages dedicated to the issue with angry comments. The arguments were of the type common to such occurrences: one shouldn’t mix music and politics (“music brings people together; politics pulls them apart”); one must distinguish between the government of Israel and the citizens; it is hypocrisy and double standards to boycott Israel when there are so many more horrible governments and deadlier regimes in the world.

But beyond the usual arguments, an offended tone sneaked in: “Why should we, music lovers, who love GSH also because of the place we live in, should be blamed for the occupation or apartheid?” writes one Israeli on Facebook, and added elsewhere, “to cancel the show, it is to spit in the face of the leftists in the crowd.”

“In Israel there is a true music scene,” comments another Israeli on Scott Heron’s site. “For me, music represents peace and love, not war and hate. If you come to Israel you will see it with your own eyes”. Avi Pitshon wrote in Haaretz in relation to a similar incident, in which a few Israelis joined a call to the Pixies and Metallica to skip playing in Israel, “the radical left cannot hurt the powerful, those who shape policy, and is therefore trying to hit whoever is under the spotlight: music loving citizens.”

It seems that what hurts Pitshon and the other Israelis most is not the anti-Israeli stance of Scott Heron and others like him, but the choice to specifically boycott them, the public who is for peace, loves Soul and Hip-Hop, and sees itself more in touch with Detroit and Chicago than the Tomb of Rachel and Elkana. After all, the voice of these embittered music lovers didn’t rise when a pretty effective boycott was organized in the EU against produce from the settlements: the settlers are the bad guys in this story. But to boycott us, us who took part in three Peace Now demonstrations and two events commemorating Rabin? What is the world coming to?

The Israeli left (and yours truly included) is deeply longing to be part of some global communion. People here imagine themselves through American culture, Italian cuisine and French novels, as if we were born to a bourgeois family on Paris’ Left Bank and our life project is to confront the feelings of alienation inherent in human existence. Tel Aviv and its suburbs are arranged with their face towards the West and a wall separating their back from all the turmoil in the East: the settlers in the territories, the Ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem, and also these Palestinians. The occupation is such a boring and tedious story, the making of a stupid government and wicked right-wingers. Clearly, we are not part of this madness.

A worldview so detached leads to many disappointments. So we are shocked to discover that the Palestinians hate us just as much as the hate the right-wingers, we are insulted when the reception clerk in a Spanish hotel lets a curse out behind our back, and cannot understand why an old rapper, who has seen a few things in his life, would tell us that, on second thought, Tel Aviv doesn’t suit him right now. What the hell? We blow a fuse. What’s the connection between the Barbie Club and the territories? After all, they are at least a 20 minutes car ride away!

To the credit of the Israeli Right one should say that it is much more consistent and well argued. From the Right’s perspective, these conflicts with the world are the price for our clinging to parts of our historical homeland and our survival in a hostile region. The Right doesn’t try to evade taking responsibility for sitting on top of Palestinians, and if someone, whether Obama or Scott Heron, doesn’t like it, there is no choice but to bite the bullet.

In contrast, “the enlightened camp” is busy with the endless theatrical performance of their moral difficulties, whose real purpose is to create a barrier between them and all those action for which they refuse to take responsibility. Thus, when the order arrives, the leftist climbs into the tank without a second thought, but later he will do an anguished film about it for the Cannes festival. Thus the obsessive persecution of settlers. Thus Tel Aviv behaves as if it were a Mediterranean suburb of London while in a spitting distance from it eastward and southward lies an immense jail holding millions of people without rights for over half a century.

The self-pity tops itself with the absurd claim that such cancellations will benefit the occupation, because they would discourage those most in favor of two states solution. As if the role the world is to caress Tel Aviv’s residents’ back until they draw the courage and convince the right, to please stop building villas on the hills of Samaria and abstain from kicking Palestinians out of their houses in East Jerusalem. Beyond the fact that this method has been completely discredited by history–the Israeli Left doesn’t even convince itself anymore–the theory doesn’t hold water: excited or depressed, these thousands of peace and love and music lovers do not show up in Bil’in or Sheikh Jarrah, whereas the few dozens of human rights activists who do go there are begging the world for a little international pressure to save Israel from itself.

A few years ago, the dynamics surrounding Roger Waters (ex Pink Floyd) visit’s to Israel recalls somewhat the current case. Waters didn’t boycott, but he said a few words about peace and ending the occupation. Immediately, a few of the “enlightened camp” ordered him to focus on the guitar and stop lecturing us. There is something really bizarre with our ability to sing about another brick in the wall while forgetting about the miserable Farmers whose fields are behind our wall. (As it is hard to understand Israelis who return from Berlin with “an original stone from the wall” when the improved local version stands for free in our living room.) Considering the deep disconnect between the Israelis and the protest anthems that they are humming, it seems that Scott-Heron did us a favor by reminding us that in a place where pregnant women give birth at checkpoints and people are locked in their houses, even music doesn’t cross borders.