12 July 2009
PACBI has been heartened by the untiring efforts of BDS activists in the US and UK in organizing demonstrations and pickets at Leonard Cohen’s performances in advance of his planned concert in Tel Aviv later this summer. The call, “don’t Play Israel!” has been heard loud and clear.
After exhausting all attempts to convince Cohen to apply his avowed humanistic principles in a morally consistent way by refusing to entertain Israeli apartheid and whitewash its crimes, we called on all supporters of a just peace in our region to shun Cohen’s concerts and CDs and to protest his appearances everywhere. In an open letter to Cohen in May, we warned that we considered his performance in Israel a form of complicity in its grave violations of international law; we reminded him that by violating the Palestinian boycott against Israel he would bring back the ugly memory of artists who violated the boycott against apartheid South Africa and insisted to perform at Sun City, drawing condemnation and revulsion by people of conscience the world over .
We are now pleased to announce that we have received confirmation from the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club Society that they will not be hosting Leonard Cohen in Ramallah. A strong consensus has emerged among all parties concerned that Cohen is not welcome in Ramallah as long as he insists on performing in Tel Aviv, even though it had been claimed that Cohen would dedicate his concert in Palestine to the cause of Palestinian prisoners. Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel‘s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel.
PACBI has always rejected any attempt to “balance” concerts or other artistic events in Israel–conscious acts of complicity in Israel‘s violation of international law and human rights–with token events in the occupied Palestinian territory. Such attempts at “parity” not only immorally equate the oppressor with the oppressed, taking a neutral position on the oppression (thereby siding with the oppressor, as Desmond Tutu famously said); they also are an insult to the Palestinian people, as they assume that we are naive enough to accept such token shows of “solidarity” that are solely intended to cover up grave acts of collusion in whitewashing Israel‘s crimes. Those sincerely interested in defending Palestinian rights and taking a moral and courageous stance against the Israeli occupation and apartheid should not play Israel, period. That is the minimum form of solidarity Palestinian civil society has called for.
We feel that this is an occasion to reaffirm our position first articulated two years ago in relation to visits to the occupied Palestinian territory by artists, performers, and academics who wish to show solidarity with Palestinians while primarily coming to Israel to perform or participate in academic or artistic activities. As we noted then, Palestinians have always warmly welcomed solidarity visits by international visitors; however, most Palestinians firmly believe that such solidarity visits should not be used as an occasion to organize performances, film screenings or exhibits in mainstream Israeli venues or to give lectures at Israeli universities ; collaborate in any way with Israeli political, cultural or academic institutions; or participate in activities sponsored or supported — directly or indirectly — by the Israeli government or any of its agencies .
The Cohen team’s motives may not be so innocent, however. We believe that the plan for Cohen to perform for Palestinians is an effort to defuse the bad publicity and animated demonstrations by BDS activists at performance venues in several cities. Cohen’s managers probably felt that by adding a Ramallah gig at the last minute, they could deflate the growing protest and the PACBI call for boycott against the tour. While this is a reflection of the positive effect the boycott call has generated, it also shows that Tel Aviv is still on the tour agenda. More protests and more publicity about the boycott are needed, and this is why the demonstrations and pickets in London, Liverpool and elsewhere are so welcome.