Israel 2012, The Question of a Nation: What Does Culture Have to Do with Politics? (Part 2)

December 25, 2012 § 5 Comments

Earlier this week, I found a message in my inbox by an Israeli, who’s a Jazz musician, who’s paying gig was canceled because of a successful BDS movement campaign to get Swedish Jazzist, Andreas Öberg, to cancel his gig in the Eilat Red Sea Jazz Festival. Usually, the extent of my response, when I get unsolicited mail from angry Israelis, is to take a screenshot and add it to my “Love Letters” albums on my Facebook profile. Call it an artistic form of exhibiting political repression, racism and sexism, if you will (but what does culture have to do with politics, I wonder…). This time, however, since we’re not talking about your typical angry Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, but someone who has lost a paying gig. I think it merits a response (even though, as I will argue below, I am actually not the address for cultural worker grievances).

You Don’t Know Me and I Don’t Know You

You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I saw that you published a post about your happiness about Andreas Öberg not coming to the country.

This is the opening line of the message that was sent to me in Hebrew.  And already there’s a flawed assumption that the specific cancellation of Andreas Öberg is the issue I’m so passionate about, and that I know nothing of the implications of this contextless, meaningless, and thus childish and spiteful campaign. Since it all doesn’t make any political sense, the only reasonable explanation to my happiness must be that I hold something personal against the sender of this message, whom I don’t know, but goes on to cordially introduce himself personally, professionally, economically and, yes, politically:

Note that my name is [I leave it out in respect to this person’s privacy, though I don’t do it wholeheartedly, politically speaking] and I’m the contrabass player who was suppose to provide accompaniment to Andreas in his performances in the country, that apart from the fact that playing is my job and that is my livelihood, it’s also a great privilege and an opportunity I was given with grace, being younger than the players that are usually taken for these kinds of gigs.

The above two short paragraphs outline very clearly what the dilemma may be. Though BDS does not aim at the individual, individuals may inherently find themselves effected. And indeed, I did not know this cultural worker and musician, and he does not know me. This fact may make it easier for me to say that had he taken the original steps to understand how- through the Red Sea Jazz Festival- his music is being used politically, in order to whitewash ethnic cleansing and protest it, he wouldn’t have lost his job in the first place. In fact, he may have never been hired to begin with. In fact, isn’t that what political repression is all about?

From Lone Victim to Collective Suffering

But this was where the grievance of a cultural worker and musician ended and became more overtly contextually politicized (not to mention personally invasive):

I’m happy that you’re satisfied with the fact that Andreas surrendered to the propaganda terror- whether yours, or other people’s, who’s opinions are similar to yours- and decided not to come to the country.
The way in which he was convinced not to come to the country is a way of intimidation, lies and the distortion of reality, a way of action that reminds of intimidation by belligerent, cowardly, and medievalist-thinking along history.

I’m happy that you’re satisfied of the economic losses that have effected the production and us the musicians, that this will show us…

I’d hate to stop the lyrically escalating narrative, but I must make a few notes:

  1. Apart from the fact that I’m a “terrorist” (or “terrorist sympathizer”), which slams us straight into the official state narrative of any Palestinian (or “Palestinian sympathizing”) effort to stop the military occupation from invading their lives, I also apparently rejoice at the suffering of others, while lying, distorting and intimidating, meanwhile measuring the size of my penis.
  2. I’d also like to note the oxymoronic way in which the Left is often referred to in Israel: “The fascist left”, or “the left dictatorship” and remind the cultural worker and musician that this parallel he’s drawing is erroneous at best, if not deliberately insidious, serving to demonize a marginalized minority, persecuted by the state on both the legal-constitutional front and the back alleyways of the executing leg of democracy. (I’ll leave it at that, and just point you to an article about liberal white men and their gracious generosity of allowing the indigenous and political minorities to speak.)
  3. The phrase “the country” must be at some point addressed, because it’s a common Israeli turn of phrase which is extremely indicative of how deeply rooted the occupation is in our culture, and because the cultural worker and musician it repeats throughout the whole message as an afterthought:
 Can the cultural worker and musician please point out to me the borders of said “country”? Can he reiterate a history of said “country” that does not neglect the ethnic cleansing of its indigenous population, a reality which he was born into, and that has positioned him with a specific set of privileges over the surviving indigenous population, including- for example- musicians?

But I’d like to continue the narrative that the cultural worker and musician is gradually, and not unintentionally, unfolding. So where were we?..

Who Profits from the Institutionalizing and Normalizing of the Occupation?

…I’m happy that you’re satisfied with the economic losses that have effected the production and us the musicians, that this will show us. The indeed small production company that was behind bringing him to the country must be responsible for the occupation and of course the people that won’t go to the concert will donate their money to hospitals in the country.

As a huge supporter of the Who Profits project, that draws the economic links between seemingly civilian corporations that are in some form or another profiteering off of the existence of Israel’s military occupation and apartheid policies, I’d like to take a closer look at “the indeed small production company that was behind bringing [Öberg] to the country”. As I’ve written last week, while Israeli production companies aren’t directly making profit off of Israel’s military occupation, they do reap the rewards of its institutionalizing and normalizing. So while not fitting into the Who Profits criteria of profiteering, I still argue they have “everything to gain from the encroachment on civil liberties and freedom of speech”. This being the de-facto situation; As long as they don’t take a vocal and clear stand against the policies of the government, they are in fact acting within its framework of mechanisms of control that are largely geared at the controlling of the Palestinian population.
I’m actually not exactly sure to which of the companies involved in the production of the Red Sea Jazz Festival the cultural worker and musician was referring to, so I’ll just tackle any company or institution I can find that is related to the festival and to Öberg’s cancelled performance:

  1. The Yellow Submarine- is funded and sponsored by the The Jerusalem Foundation and the Jerusalem municipality, which hand in hand with settler organizations, are responsible for projects of ethnic cleansing of the Jerusalem area (more on this at another one of those trivial posts I make about how politics and culture actually do mix).
    I’d also like to note that the Yellow Submarine, with the above mentioned sponsorships, has officially taken a stance of unsubstantiated slander about the movement “using threats in order to get artists to boycott” (not a new tool in suppressing the Palestinian calls for solidarity from cultural workers around the globe), which in itself is encroachment of free speech, achieved by vilifying the very basic civil disobedience tool of boycott.
    I’d also argue that any form of suppressing this tool specifically is an encroachment on the very essence of a human right to choose. Under no circumstances should a person be forced to consume at the barrel of a gun (or the barrel of the law, or the barrel of governments and corporations that tie unholy knots behind closed doors, for that matter).
  2. It’d be also important to note that the festival is “initiated by Eilat city hall aid by Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Tourism, Eilat Sea Port, Eilat Hotel Association and various business sponsors” and on the Wikipedia page it’s mentioned that the festival “is run as a non-profit organization.” So if the profits are not actually lost by the “the indeed small production company”, I assume the loss is for Eilat city hall (that unlike Tel Aviv, and not for lack of trying, has yet to become the government’s number 1 tourist whitewash destination of choice), the Ministry of Culture (busying itself with silencing protestation over human rights violations), the Ministry of Tourism (busying itself with annexation of Palestinian land), Eilat Sea Port (a.k.a Eilat Port Company Ltd., owned by Papo Maritime Ltd. a.k.a the Nakash Bros of Jordache Enterprises, Inc. fame, who also happen to own 46% of El-Al; and Israel’s government/Israel Ports Development & Assets Company Ltd., the same government besieging Gaza port, not only closing down any means of trade, but one of the main venues of livelihood), Eilat Hotel Association (is really a classic case of governments scratching the tourism industry’s back for it’s nation branding. Though I expect nothing of them, my littleness of faith does not erase the state’s obligation to protect human rights by making sure that corporations respect human rights). 
Last but not least, much like Tel Aviv, Eilat is yet another monument to Israel’s original sin: The ethnic cleansing campaign of Palestine between the year of 1947-1948 (a.k.a “The Nakba”- “The Catastrophy”). It is crucial to remember that Eilat stands on what was once a village called Umm Rashrash, and the whole area was renamed after the military operation of ethnic cleansing, barefacedly named “Uvda” (as in “Fact”, as in “creating facts on the ground”), and that Israel’s Tourism Ministry has no qualms about using this name.
  3. Tying all of #2 together is the Eilat Municipal Tourism Company Ltd, which is basically the liquidating of municipality Director of Tourism offices and privatizing the basic functions of the municipality (not an unknown phenomena in Israel). I’m not exactly able to find the owners of the private company, but what I did find implicates “representatives of the Eilat municipality, business owners, tourism officials and public officials, and has the support of the Ministry of Tourism.” As someone who’s seen Brand Israel grow from a hair-brained market placement scheme to an intricate system of apartheid PR, I’m watching the Eilat space, and those Hoteliers at the Eilat Hotel Association.
  4. Talooy Ltd, Production Den Ltd, and Gov Productions Ltd may just be the “the indeed small production company” the cultural worker and musician was referring to. While the government, Eilat municipality, and private corporations are responsible for the facilitating of the huge whitewashing events, these 3 (hate to be picky, but that IS plural) quite obviously small production companies, which probably all together come down to under 5 people (As far as I could gather; Zion Mymon owner of Talooy LTD and Maya Levy a producer in the company; Miki Gov, the festival producer, of Gov Productions LTD, who is directly affiliated with both the other companies, who all share the same telephone number) are providing the service of middle-manning between the facilitators and the artists for the festival [1,2]. Not a feat that the government of Israel, the Eilat municipality, or other tourist-oriented corporations couldn’t handle themselves, but they chose to outsource, and these few individuals that got the job, may or may not know, what they are lending their hand to, and may or may not know that the minute they register as a corporation, they are obligated by international law to respect human rights by doing no harm.
    Unfortunately, these three “indeed small production compan[ies]”, did not research the violations practiced by their business partners, and as such are complicit in human rights violations. In direct response to the cultural worker and musician’s concerns about the company, it is very busy all year round for their services as producers for the bi-seasonal Red Sea Jazz Festival and other municipality musical endeavors. The companies actually don’t loose money when an artist cancels, unless it was stupid enough to sign a contract that stipulates they get paid per artist. (In which case, I’d advise they’d turn to their nearest workers union… or maybe they shouldn’t. Because the Israeli trade union, the Histadrut also took many active roles in Israel’s military occupation, apartheid policies, and ethnic cleansing.) However, the fact that they have neglected to fulfill their obligation of respecting human rights, may result in the boycotting of other projects they’re involved in, simply for their involvement and nothing more.

After all this massive influx of information, I’m sure no one remembers that deep social concern stated by the cultural worker and musician:

… of course the people that won’t go to the concert will donate their money to hospitals in the country.

So just a short word on that: The people who do go to the concert also don’t donate their money to hospitals in- the aforementioned unresolved phrase- “the country”. In fact, as we just established above, the people who do go to the concert are “donating” (if we’re to follow the “the festival is run as a non-profit organization” line) their money to the tourism industry, which is very happy to not protest the occupation, and even profit from its existence directly, or indirectly.

But What DOES Culture Have to Do with Politics?!

Our Don Quixote cultural worker and musician continues his noble quest for justice: “

I’m happy that you’re satisfied with the fact that yet another cultural event (not even a mainstream-ish and with no media echo!) has been canceled and that the dozens of people that were expecting to arrive and bought a ticket will stay home. This will definitely prove to everyone that at times like this it’s prohibited to be involved with culture, we need to sit in the dark and cry for the misfortunes of those around us.

So I think we’ve actually tackled how “mainstream-ish” this event actually is. How institutionalized  it is. The music may be alternative, I’ll give our musician that. And frankly, I’m a sucker for Jazz and fusion, and Andreas Öberg is fucking amazing, no respectable superlatives needed. But really that isn’t the point, is it? The point is that the government- the most mainstream-ish institution of them all, with the most power over people’s lives, with the help of private corporations are abusing this anti-institution form of expression and culture to oppress a whole population, under its jurisdiction (not “those around us”). But let me cry over the Andreas Öberg show that I missed, while my friends’ children are kidnapped from their beds at night by armed soldiers, imprisoned and tortured. Their “misfortunes”, which we have absolutely no responsibility for at all, are no reason to cry about. And definitely no reason to scrutinize our culture and the so-called “free market” holding it hostage in the service of ethnic cleansing.

I’m really happy about all this,
I want to go hand in hand with you Tali.
The anti-Zionist organizations have enlightened me Tali,
I don’t want to belong to it anymore.

Ok, I know. The cultural worker and musician isn’t REALLY joining the Palestinian liberation movement, his heart broken of what has become of his precious form of expression and art. He’s actually culture-jamming, here; Exercising that literary tool of sarcasm. And after he’s done failing to argue that culture is in fact separate from politics, he’ll now bring it home, with a wash of low-brow ranting, typical of the internet bullies I encounter a few times a week in my facebook inbox:

So if there’s no more room in these times for culture and leisure and indeed cultural activity in our country is a crime and a violation.
I ask you, please burn your TV, archive your Cinematheque subscription, sell your bead kit, in cafe’s ask ahead of time not to be served and in restaurants too, walk the streets with ear plugs and glasses that seal you off and just point you onwards. Please! Don’t allow yourself to be part of this stream of ignorance. Those same fools and idiots lacking education that don’t know that it’s prohibited to live here, and definitely not like this, it’s prohibited to enjoy oneself and to enrich the mind, for every child that is present in a play or a teenaged girl that goes to a concert for the first time does not know the price and it must never be known!

And they say the left are a bunch of elitists in an ivory tower! Maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Because it seems that every time I talk about the price, somebody wants to send me off to somewhere to be alone (or surrounded by rapists). But let’s not interrupt the passionate speech that found its way into my inbox:

It must never be known here, that culture is sanity, and that it’s the only thing left for us to deal with our loaded everyday.

I’d just like to note the use of the phrases “times like this” and “these times”. I don’t know what state of emergency the cultural worker and musician is referring to, or who’s “loaded everyday”, but if he’s referring to the last 65 years of ongoing ethnic cleansing, manifesting every day with torture, arbitrary arrest, land theft, house demolitions, checkpoints, bombings, border patrol and constant military presence and infiltrations right in your home: Then as a feminist- I say there’s always room for culture. As an anarchist- I don’t subscribe to “western”, capitalist notions of “leisure”. As a beneficiary of apartheid, involved in dismantling the system that’s affording me privileges at the expense of another race/religion- I invite you to explore the existence of culture in what indeed seems to be a dark place and time. But let us not delay before the final point is driven home:

So thank you! You and pro-Palestinian organizations that you’ve managed to kick sanity off of the agenda.
Thank you [plural] for turning yet another totally non political thing to something completely political.
Thank you [plural] for taking from me, the last person who’d mix politics with art exactly because of the endangering of the issues the livelihood.

[full name]

So in case that last sentence wasn’t completely clear: I and pro-Palestinian organizations have taken something unspecified (I assume that I can refer back to the first paragraph and understand it to be “livelihood” and “a great privilege and an opportunity”) from this cultural worker and musician. The reason he doesn’t mix his politics with art is because it would cost him his livelihood. I actually made this point of political repression (which is a violation of human rights) after reading the first paragraph, so I’m very happy we agree on who’s at fault here. However, I have a feeling that this cultural worker and musician’s specific politics won’t hurt his livelihood. In fact, judging from this totally-non-political-statement he sent me, I believe he has a bright future as a cultural ambassador for the State of Israel.
I had a feeling that my original post from last week is only an opener for the issue I’m discussing, and that it should probably titled “part 1”. For clarity’s sake, the issue is: The separation which Israel (the state) and Israeli’s (registered citizens of this state) make between the concepts of culture and politics. The purpose which this separation serves and the political reality which it creates.

What we find in “Part 1” is that the political reality is circular; While the state and its citizens make a very focused effort to separate “politics” and “culture” (without any effort being made to define the terms), they become indistinguishable from one another. The state is its citizens and the citizens are the state. Unfortunately, this isn’t some theoretical essay about democracy (or communism, for that matter), it’s a very real situation in which persons perceive themselves as an abstract political entity, and they endow this entity with guns and various mechanisms of licenses to kill, and they do it by depoliticizing themselves. Depoliticizeation being the ultimate capitalist political tool of opression.

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§ 5 Responses to Israel 2012, The Question of a Nation: What Does Culture Have to Do with Politics? (Part 2)

  • Saad Khatib says:

    outstanding analysis of the BDS/anti-BDS insinuations and intricacies

  • pabelmont says:

    Great article.

    One thing, though. Anti-Israel BDS (as I understand it) does not aim only at Israeli targets which directly profit from occupation (or settlements) but at all Israeli institutions; not only at Israeli citizens who favor settlements and occupation, but at all Israeli citizens.

    The hope of BDS is not so much that Israeli people and groups will join the anti-settlement bandwagon out of feelings of loving-kindness (though that would be welcome and would not require BDS!) but that they will FEEL THE COSTS of world disapproval and be moved out of self-interest to use their democratic power to move their government to end the occupation or roll-back the settlements.

    Therefore I do not see that it matters very much if this particular bass-player (my brother-in-law was a Palestinian-born NYC jazz bassist!) loses a “gig” or not, independent of his feelings or even his doings w.r.t. occupation and settlements. The BDS pressure must continue in a broad-based way until Israel changes direction sufficiently.

    Israel does not shy away from causing the Palestinians pain — inside Israel, in OPTs, in exile — and no Israeli should be heard to argue that the use of economic pain is unfair whilst Israel continues on its bestial path.

    I’d like the bass-player to think about THAT: comparing his pain to that of Palestinians and ask him if he feels that Israelis should be excused PAIN while still imposing it on others after 45 years (really after 64 years).

  • [...] well that it is a part of the mechanism of apartheid (I guess this link bears repeating as well http://pulsemedia.org/2012/12/25/israel-2012-the-question-of-a-nation-what-does-culture-have-to-do-w…). Now I’ve been at this for a long time, I understand that in reality, while very [...]

  • Ellen Lauy says:

    A thorough and moving response to the kind fo whining we get from Israeli ‘apologists’ about how the BDS movement takes away their rihts, etd. People should keep this article for reference when dealing with the zionist propaganda machine, which often takes this tone outsidee of Israel..where most people would se the abusridity of it instantly.

  • [...] (pour avoir plus de détails sur l’agencement du festival et ses liens avec les entreprises, voir cet article). Son post n’ayant montré vraiment aucune considération, je pense que nous, mouvement BDS, [...]

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