Resigning from Cohen and Amnesty

Activists leafletting a Leonard Cohen concert in Liverpool
Activists leafletting a Leonard Cohen concert in Liverpool

Renowned Irish composer and novelist Raymond Deane on the reasons why he has chosen to resign from Amnesty International. We encourage readers to follow Deane’s example.

When I first – and belatedly – began fretting about human rights and political injustice in the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf War, I joined Amnesty International and started writing letters and cards to political prisoners and to a variety of Embassies.

Although I was subsequently drawn deeply into activism of a more explicitly political nature – particularly on the Israel/Palestine issue – I retained my Amnesty membership out of residual respect for the organisation, but also because I wished to be in a position to say “as an Amnesty member myself, I completely disagree with the organisation’s stance on…” (fill in the dots as appropriate).

On 30th July I read the “Open Letter to Amnesty International” from 10 admirable organisations involved in seeking justice for the Palestinian people, ranging from PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) through the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign to the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. This letter was prompted by Amnesty’s decision to sponsor “a new fund that will whitewash the money raised at [Leonard] Cohen’s concert in Israel by using it to finance programs for ‘peace.'”

What could any reasonable person have against “programs for peace”? Well, one answer is that these include the Peres Center for Peace, described by the Israeli paper Ha’aretz as a “patronizing and colonial” organization that trains “the Palestinian population to accept its inferiority and… to guarantee the ethnic superiority of the Jews”, and the Israel Discount Bank, which has branches in three illegal Jewish settlements and hence functions in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Another answer is even simpler: Leonard Cohen should heed the call from the oppressed Palestinian people not to perform in Israel until that state dismantles its apartheid structures and complies with international law and international humanitarian law, ends the occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territories, and concedes the inalienable Palestinian right of return. By assisting Cohen in his ruse to bypass this boycott, Amnesty International is in fact taking a political stance, in violation of the premise of political neutrality with which it so regularly justifies its failure to side unambiguously with the oppressed. Amnesty is telling us: resistance is futile, the voice of the oppressed is irrelevant, international humanitarian law is a luxury.

I was one of the organizers of the protests held outside Leonard Cohen’s four recent Dublin concerts (19th, 20th, 22nd, 23d July) in which we called upon the singer not to perform in Tel Aviv, using the text of his 1960s classic “Please don’t pass me by” to deliver a demand for solidarity and engagement with the Palestinian people and against their oppressor, the Zionist Israeli state.

I used to be a Cohen fan. Should Cohen continue with his plan to perform in Israel on 24th September next, I shall consign my Cohen albums to the charity shop, although I’ll do so with considerable grief and disillusionment. It is with similar feelings that today I have sent the following message to the Irish branch of Amnesty International:

To whom it conferns: I am terminating my membership of Amnesty. The last straw has been Amnesty’s decision to support a cynical scheme dreamt up by Leonard Cohen’s PR department to whitewash the fact that he is ignoring the call from Palestinian civil society to respect the cultural boycott of Israel. While I respect Amnesty’s policy of not supporting particular political positions and not itself participating in boycott campaigns, on this occasion it is actively supporting actions that undermine a boycott campaign supported by the Palestinians themselves, and doing so by lending support to Israeli organisations the raison d’etre of which is to seek “conciliation” without an end to oppression.

Sincerely – Raymond Deane.

12 thoughts on “Resigning from Cohen and Amnesty”

  1. This is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Deane is peeved that Amnesty International is not complying perfectly with his notion of cultural boycotts of Israel and is now ready to demean all that Amnesty has done for political prisoners and human rights over decades. Deane’s actions are the very DEFINITION of why one must count to ten, take a deep breath, then sleep on the matter before doing something stupid. Please don’t recommend that others follow his example.

  2. The state department has also done a lot about political prisoners and human rights, when it involves official enemies like the former Soviet Union, Burma or China. AI, unlike the DoS, however is not an agency of a state, it has responsibility to act on behalf of the oppressed regardless of the political alignment of their oppressors. And when it does not, then, thankfully, unlike the DoS it can be held accountable. And Deane has chosen the perfect means for doing this.

    (Since Deane mentioned Gulf ’91, let me also remind readers that the war was actually enabled by Amnesty International which published the bogus propaganda about Iraqi soldiers throwing babies out of incubators without verifying the story in its annual report. This report was subsequently cited by Bush and others to justify the war against Iraq).

  3. I read this yesterday on the Combatants for Peace Facebook page.

    Great news! Combatants for Peace is to be a recipient of proceeds from Leonard Cohen’s Tel Aviv benefit concert on September 24th. Titled “A Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace“, all proceeds will go towards a newly-established foundation to benefit Israeli and Palestinian organizations working for reconciliation, including Combatants for Peace.

  4. Well written… and an upstanding stance to take. It is truly outrageous that Amnesty International would even touch any money coming out of this concert considering the involvement of Israel Discount Bank (branches in settlements and funding settlements?), the Peres Center for Peace (“Peace”? We’ve all figured out by now that Shimon Peres is no peace activist by any stretch of the imagination…), etc…

  5. Amnesty is too lenient with israel, like western government in general. This in spite of a very damning rapport about israel’s latest little war in Gaza.

  6. I will not get into the Amnesty situation because I am of mixed opinions regarding their work. For a long time they have done some pretty remarkable stuff. I have a zero tolerance regarding what they are doing that in any way supports Israel. However, there are other places where they do good work that is dangerous and must be done. I don’t think my opinion either way is worth much on this issue.

    BUT LEONARD! He has been part of the fabric of my soul since the 1960’s! One of the enduring legends who never failed to move me to tears and ecstasy at th same time.

    When I heard about his playing in Israel I realized there was a good chance that I would lose him as a friend in my life. He is Jewish and no matter how you put it, despite his lifestyle, once a Jew always a Jew. Look at Bob Dylan, a member of Chabad Lubovitch now, complete with that little box on his forehead!

    Leonard is Canadian. I am sorry to say but my country was just praised by Avignor Lieberman as one of Israel’s best and most stalwart friends. Disgusting, mortifying. However, Leonard may be as Canadian as many others in my once great country.

    He needs money due to thefts etc. He is getting very old and is not so brave as once he was.

    I prayed, but even then I had a feeling I should be listening to his tunes with great appreciation because they would soon be anathema to me. During my growth over the years I have had to take stands on many of my favourites, due to total disillusionment over one thing or another. When it came to the Beatles, I was despondent for days.

    The only ones I never lost it for were assassinated. So Leonard will be put into the same mental compartment that houses Bono, MeCartney, the Stones, and almost everyone else. Getting inured to it ….

  7. ‘Leonard Cohen should heed the call from the oppressed Palestinian people not to perform in Israel until that state dismantles its apartheid structures and complies with international law and international humanitarian law, ends the occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territories, and concedes the inalienable Palestinian right of return’ – I agree with this statement Raymond and I am yet another disappointed Leonard Cohen fan.

  8. Another problem is Amnesty (and Human Rights Watch) sticking to the false principle of ‘balance’. This means that Hamas or Hizbullah rockets are seen as equally blameworthy as the Israeli blitzkrieg. I disagree, and not just for reasons of proportionality. The violence of the oppressed is not the same as the violence of the oppressor. We have to take a side if we are going to be moral agents.

  9. First Amnesty and now Combatants for Peace! Combatants for Peace does may not have a formal position in favor of the boycott of Israel (which is too bad), but it is extremely upsetting that they have decidided to undermine a specific call from a wide range of Palestinian organizations and individuals by helping to whitewash this event. This decision will no doubt hurt their reputation and their work with Palestinians, but they still have time to back out. Please let them know what you think.

  10. I felt certain Cohen would cancel his Israel concert. We all know that the one we grew to love over all those years isn’t THIS one. I don’t know how on earth anyone can disown music packed with so much of one’s own life all around it, living in our brain cells as it does, but must face that he has grown old and has abdicated world-saving, humanity-loving, growing into the spirit who wrote those songs and poems. If he is still lucid on his death bed, he will be filling with regret over this… if he goes through with it.

    As for Amnesty International, it happens to every single activist organization that grows big enough to be taken seriously by the establishment. It outright never fails. The perks for falling back to sleep are just too hard to pass up when you have a taste of mainstream respectability. This ought to be the realization that moves the masses to act… but realizing it and keeping it lit in the mind seem beyond the ken of most people.

    All too easily altruism turns into nothing more than the politics of lifestyle, or identity politics… which is to say, it ceases being anything approximating altruism, becomes only ego and its multifarious excuses and rationalizations… becomes thin air… poisoned thin air….

    Very depressing, all this, very, very depressing.

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