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Jello Biafra caves to pressure, cancels Tel Aviv gig

Jello Biafra

After weeks of sustained pressure by boycott campaigners and his own fans in organizations like Punks Against Apartheid, famed rocker Jello Biafra on June 29 announced in a message posted to his Facebook page that he is canceling his scheduled July 2 gig in Tel Aviv. In some face-saving verbiage, Jello writes:

This does not mean I or anyone else in the band are endorsing or joining lockstep with the boycott of all things Israel. I am going to Israel and Palestine to check things out myself and may yet conclude that playing for people in the belly of the beast was the right thing to do in the first place.

Visiting Israel and the West Bank to "check things out for himself" without breaking the boycott by performing is exactly what campaigners had asked him to do, and we applaud his decision, even if it comes grudgingly. Jello continues:

Our intention in going was that we thought we could do some good , speaking truth to power, fans and impressionable young minds in a way that most bands don't. What about the people on the same side of the human rights fence we are who now don't get to see us play? Should they be boycotted too? What about the even larger atrocities of the Bush regime and by extension Obama? Should we turn off our mouths of anger and boycott our own country too?

Except the "people on the same side of the human rights fence" in Israel—in groups like Anarchists Against the Wall—were urging Jello not to come! And the notion that there is a double standard because there isn't a boycott against the planet's last remaining superpower, which controls more than a quarter of the total world economy (making a boycott meaningless and faintly impossible), is a complete red herring. More from Jello:

We tried again and came close to landing a Ramallah show, but again, we needed to be better prepared. How fair is it to the organizers to demand a full-on rock show on a few days' notice with a type of music they may not be familiar with? More importantly, how much are we really doing for Palestinian rights if people there don't seem interested in our kind of music at all? 

Electronic Intifada calls this quip "quite racist," rejoining:

No, Jello. People are interested in your music "there." I happen to know quite a few Palestinian punk rock fans. What they’re not interested in is you deciding to take money to play a gig in Tel Aviv, therefore breaking the BDS call. That’s the big issue. 

Jello Biafra may not understand the basic foundation of what's at the heart of the boycott movement. But at least he won't entertain an audience in Tel Aviv. 

Principle, for the moment, prevails.


Boycott Gigs In Israel vs. Boycott of Israelis in Empire(s)

A performer\political aspirant like Jello Biafra is pressured to drop a gig in Tel Aviv to honor a boycott. As with Leonard Cohen who offered to perform in Palestinian Authority territory, services not wanted. What about the other end of the boycott? Barring Israeli academics and research projects from UK and EU and US campuses? Barring Israeli artists from performing outside of Israel, not enough the 20+ Arab states plus many Islamic states bar Israeli performers. Now check out one of the hottest and most welcomed performers in World Music today, Omar Suleiman of Syria (not the former Egyptian Military Chief) Will there be a campaign to boycott a Syrian artist who because he is from a Socialist country, routinely received the backing of the Assad regime to advance his career? How about all the artists and academics from Syria and the many states ruled by those like the Syrian Baath Party that has since the mid 1970's stripped its indigenous Qurdish population of citizenship and passports making them prisoners of a state that doesn't recognize them?
Do all Amazigh (Berber) artists refuse to perform in the post-colonial countries like Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, and Mali that they fled due to the Arabization of North African regimes which outlawed the native Amazigh language of Tamazight and its regional variants, native names couldn't be registered for newborns, had to be Koranic Arabic, etc as Bill, you who has so well given voice to the voiceless know? Anarchists can stake out the purest positions on earth, but if there is no political footing for such purity, you've taken no position. Blacklist Jello Biafra & L. Cohen gigging in Tel Aviv when Ramallah doesn't want 'em. Will you also blacklist Bjork for recording with Omar Suleiman (who keeps mum on the Assad regime) and add all those marvelous Amazigh musicians like Idir, Souad Massi, Lounes Ait Menguellet, Karim Ziad, even an Amazigh activist diva like Raissa Fatima Tabaamrant because she's been gigging in Morocco way longer than the fairly recent laws legalizing her native language? Blacklist the whole world then except pure Anarchists, victims and victimizers, alternative journalists and those who've spoken truth to power...

When the Berbers call a boycott, we can talk about honoring it

With all due respect, bringing up hypothetical boycotts that do not exist is the reddest of herrings. When the Berbers call for a boycott of Algeria or the Kurds call for a boycott of Syria, we can discuss honoring it. Until then, it is rather disingenuous to use the non-existence of boycotts that have not been called by the oppressed to delegitimize one that HAS been called by the oppressed.

Syria is far from a "socialist" country. The Ba'ath Party is "socialist" in name only. More a nepotistic kleptocracy.

Of course, your refusal to

Of course, your refusal to call for a boycott of any state besides Israel is not at all a red herring. It is an illustration of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of your movement. You're small-minded and small-time, and your boycott does bubkus to help Palestinians and lots to justify antisemitism in the Arab world.

What 'justifies' antisemitism in the Arab world is Israel!

Of course, nothing really 'justifies' any form of racism, but the main thing that justifies anti-Jewish racism in the minds of millions of Arabs is the criminal behavior of a state that pretends to be 'the state of the Jewish people' and the fervent support of that state by organizations around the world that claim to represent Jewish communities.

The support of BDS, and of Palestinian rights in general, by people of Jewish ethnicity, including Bill Weinberg and this writer, who rarely agree on anything, certainly does not reinforce either traditional antisemitism or any variant of anti-Jewish racism among Arabs.

Absurd response

Did the lack of a boycott against Reagan America mean that the South Africa boycott of the '80s was illegitimate?

Are there any other nations where the oppressed people have called for a boycott, as was the case in South Africa a generation ago and Occupied Palestine today?

When the Tibetans call for a boycott of China or the Kurds call for a boycott of Turkey, we will consider their case. Meanwhile, this argument is indeed a red herring.

How does the Israel boycott "justify antisemitism in the Arab world"? You might want to make an argument to back up this serious charge.

I eagerly await your response.

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