An Unholy Alliance

New York Activists urge Cohen to cancel his concert in Israel

I always talk about Israeli pacifists and their inability to see the barriers they place on the Palestinian road to justice, dignity, and human rights. Today I’d like to talk about a much more appalling occurrence; Amnesty International supporting Leonard Cohen’s breach of the boycott of Israel.

The Leonard Cohen Myth
Personally, it’s hard for me to understand the disillusionment of pro-Palestinian Leonard Cohen fans. In the history of his involvement with Israel, Cohen has always sided with Israel, or made statements of officially taking no sides, when his side was rather obvious:

I don’t want to speak of wars or sides … Personal process is one thing, it’s blood, it’s the identification one feels with their roots and their origins. The militarism I practice as a person and a writer is another thing. … I don’t wish to speak about war.

In case I’m misconstruing my information, I’ll repeat the quote I’ve embedded on my front page and have, personally, had no choice but to live by:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmund Tutu)

In Cohen’s most recent history, he is consistent. He refuses to take a side, thus siding with the oppressor. Cohen has received a letter from many organizations (originated with PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel), asking him not to preform in Israel. As response, typically trying to balance out a situation in which balance is not there to be found, Cohen decided to preform for the Palestinian Prisoners‘ Club Society. The Society declined to entertain Cohen’s notions of equality:

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.

The Problem with the International Centrist

As if all this wasn’t enough, Cohen was dead-set on clearing his conscious:

All of the net proceeds from Leonard Cohen’s September 24 concert at Ramat Gan Stadium will be earmarked for a newly established fund to benefit Israeli and Palestinian organizations that are working toward conciliation…

The above quote is taken from non-other than the very-Zionist Jerusalem Post. Here’s another quote from the same article:

Attempting to maneuver through the barbed wire of both Israeli and US tax laws to enable the organizations to benefit from the concert, Kory realized that an intermediary neutral vehicle would be required to facilitate the financial funneling. He approached Amnesty International for advice, and the concept of a special fund was raised.

In other words, trooper Cohen maneuvered through the barbed wire with the assistance of the Amnesty International brigade. How poetic. How utterly embarrassing for Amnesty International to be portrayed favorably by the Jerusalem Post.

I understand big groups like Amnesty International have to be diplomatic and must exercise impartiality, and quite frankly I respect the ability to do so. However, being diplomatic doesn’t mean endorsing pseudo-diplomatic initiatives, especially when they are completely avoidable, as in the case of Leonard Cohen.

To refrain from repeating myself, here’s my own attempt at diplomacy, that I sent to Amnesty International (at the event of a response, I will update):

Hello Amnesty International,

I’m a big supporter of Amnesty International and a regular donation contributor. As an Israeli citizen- who opposes the occupation and violence wreaked by my government, army and countrymen on the Palestinian people, and supports the international movement to boycott Israel- I am appalled that Amnesty USA might break the boycott efforts. The international community has set the terms for the Palestinian struggle and rightfully made it clear that no violence will be tolerated. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has done a wonderful job in stating the terms of the BDS campaign- I don’t have to tell you what a huge commitment to a long-term strategy of non-violence that is. Terms which seem very fair and have been accepted around the world as the guidelines for this world-wide initiative.

When Leonard Cohen decided to come to Israel, PACBI made themselves clear, once again, that it is unacceptable, under the guidelines of a cultural boycott. As I’m sure you know, Cohen tried to appease PACBI by scheduling a show in Ramallah, which PACBI rejected. There is no need to be balanced in a situation that balance doesn’t occur. Had Cohen canceled in Israel he would have been making a meaningful statement and propelled the boycott movement by sheer power of his fame. Performing in both Israel and the Occupied Territories is a wishy-washy peace-faking statement, the kind that Israeli “peace” groups have been making, in order to stroke their own sensibilities, meanwhile marginalizing the other organizations (Palestinian, Israeli and International), who believe in the importance of keeping one’s stand, when it comes to the BDS initiative. “Peace” is a word that has lost all meaning in Israel, we demand human rights instead.

To find that Amnesty International might support this damaging endeavor is shocking, for me, but I take it you decided upon it with the best of intentions. Since I don’t expect you to understand the inner workings of the Israeli Center-Left and its psychological motives, I urge you to consider simple facts: Leonard Cohen preforming in Israel breaches the cultural boycott and normalizes the occupation. This is not something that should be supported by Amnesty International. It is morally wrong and diplomatically wrong. The boycott movement must stick to a standard of “no business as usual”, in order to be effective. I urge you to reconsider.

Awaiting your reply,
Tali Shapiro

What’s Wrong with Balance?
If some of you are wondering how donating the proceeds of the concert to both Israeli and Palestinian organizations is a “damaging endeavor”, here’s PACBI’s words:

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.

And some wonderful words from Irish composer and novelist Raymond Deane:

What could any reasonable person have against “programs for peace”?… 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.

In my words: I’ve long covered the problematic programs and people that dare call themselves “peacemakers”. I’m thought of as the extreme of the extreme, in Israel, but if asking for unconditional human rights is extreme, then I am a proud extremists. Many on the self-proclaimed Left are easy to spot, their key phrase is:

They deserve human rights/freedom/their own country, but…

This “but” is a fearful one, rooted in a deeply ingrained and denied racism. The people who say this are well aware of Israel’s crimes- past and present, and yet still afraid of what may happen, once we let the “two legged beasts” out of their cage, whether they call Palestinians that, or not. In my journey of discovering the truth behind Israel, I’ve realized some things are not negotiable. That is human rights and as a result, this boycott.


Learning from the Cohen/Amnesty Debacle

As the Zionist propaganda machine goes into overdrive, we may find new claims, resulting in the Cohen/Amnesty debacle. For now, Israelis are generally unaware of the international boycott against their state, already underway. Last time I observed any mention of this in the mainstream media was during Cast Lead, when Channel 10 aired the typically condescending and ignorant Before you boycott Israel! video. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this article in their archives.) Nothing more responsible than your main stream media instilling blind confidence in you, when an international boycott of your country is rapidly developing.

I can’t predict the creativity of the Zionist mind, but I’m expecting that when the boycott is finally made clear to Israelis, the first rebuttals will be that nothing is enough for those “demanding” Palestinians, and even when the “reasonable” and “unbiassed” offer to give a little to both sides is made, they still “demand the whole arm”. These kinds of underhanded remarks are exactly why I decided to document the Cohen/Amnesty incident.

There should be no questions as to what the boycott’s goals or guidelines are. Some areas are unclear to many, and these cases should be studied. But to those who are unclear, I direct you again to PACBI, who are the Palestinian voice on the issue of the boycott, and have articulated their terms thoroughly. When in doubt, contrast and compare your specific case to their statements. Implementing a boycott on Israel isn’t as hard as Zionist propaganda would like you to think. The best way to deal with the occupation army is to arm yourself with knowledge.

11 thoughts on “An Unholy Alliance”

  1. So, Leonard Cohen doesn’t abide by your and PACBI’s cultural boycott of Israel, and therefore he’s a betrayer and taking the side of Zionism. Evidenced, in addition, by a factual reference, given without the appropriate snide comment I suppose, by a right-wing Zionist daily newspaper. Excuse me, but outrage – over an entertainer no less – is not a sufficient basis for clear political program or strategy.

    There’s a logic in your argument that carries well beyond Israel’s borders. Since U.S. imperialism is arguably the most aggressive force for international domination, destruction and repression in the history of the world, dwarfing Israel by far, that makes anyone – you? – who attends a cultural event or buys a CD or DVD produced by an American company a collaborator. Even worse, anyone who owns – or has since WWII – owned a vehicle made by Ford or GM (or Chrysler) has actually been contributing politically to world oppression and racism at home, since these companies produce major hardware for the U.S. military and police forces (Japanese and Korean companies contribute too). Then there’s the airplanes we fly on… Etc., etc.

    Then there’s another obvious pitfall with your position vis a vis Palestine: a cultural boycott of Israel means that those entertainers who don’t support Israel’s policies can’t use their performances
    to present opposing views there. The result being that you tacitly support leaving the domestic field indefinitely to the Greater Israel folks and their Labor Zionist partners. Implicit here in this view is that all Israelis are reactionaries, not worth speaking to directly, much like those who argued that all Germans were Nazis. From that perspective, not only does terrorism as a political strategy follow, but in particular, mass terrorism against Israeli citizens, becomes justifiable.

    One of the things about these sorts of lib-rad moralist politics is how often at base they support one’s own imperialism. To wit, your direct support of Amnesty International. AI’s record of serving as lapdogs for U.S. and British imperialisms against regimes where capitalism has been (or was) overthrown, under the guise of defending human rights, is well documented. Your contribution to AI *is*, effectively, a more or less backhanded contribution to capitalist exploitation and oppression around the world, including those who support Zionist Israel. But that’s another discussion.

    As for Leonard Cohen – I don’t really like the guy as an entertainer or know or care much about his politics, but in light of the general political approach you and apparently PACBI take, his visit is really small potatoes.

    1. Excuse me, but outrage – over an entertainer no less – is not a sufficient basis for clear political program or strategy.

      Do you see it suggested anywhere in the article that it is?

      There’s a logic in your argument that carries well beyond Israel’s borders. Since U.S. imperialism is arguably the most aggressive force for international domination, destruction and repression in the history of the world, dwarfing Israel by far, that makes anyone – you? – who attends a cultural event or buys a CD or DVD produced by an American company a collaborator.

      That’s not logic, that’s idiocy. This is not a debate in the abstract. The BDS campaign is a practical strategy for global civil society to hold Israel to account in lieu of international accountability. Israel is vulnerable to such pressure, US is not. You choose tactics based on their likelihood of succcess, not on their capacity for delivering personal satisfaction. BDS works; pointless symbolic gestures don’t. Besides, one could also apply your logic to question the boycott of Apartheid South Africa.

      a cultural boycott of Israel means that those entertainers who don’t support Israel’s policies can’t use their performances to present opposing views there.

      Until now they did. What were the results?

      Implicit here in this view is that all Israelis are reactionaries, not worth speaking to directly, much like those who argued that all Germans were Nazis.

      No it isn’t. It doesn’t look like you are familiar with the terms of the boycott.

      One of the things about these sorts of lib-rad moralist politics is how often at base they support one’s own imperialism. To wit, your direct support of Amnesty International. AI’s record of serving as lapdogs for U.S. and British imperialisms against regimes where capitalism has been (or was) overthrown, under the guise of defending human rights, is well documented. Your contribution to AI *is*, effectively, a more or less backhanded contribution to capitalist exploitation and oppression around the world, including those who support Zionist Israel. But that’s another discussion.

      Yes, that’s another discussion.

      1. Boycotts start with outrage about some policies or actions. Moreover, if what’s going on and has been going on in Palestine for the past 60+ years doesn’t make your blood boil, there’s something wrong with you!

        In a sense, denial that outrage is underlying your piece is the problem: you think that a rational writing tone means you are thinking clearly, unimpeded by emotions such as anger and outrage. I don’t know your age, but I identify that sort of thinking with Me Generation ideology, although to be fair its roots actually derive from Carl Rogers’ “I’m OK, You’re OK” psycho-ideology.

        You say that this is not a debate in the abstract. That’s the refuge of moralist politics. Buying a car built by arms contractor Ford or going to a concert put on by performers who also “supported ‘our’ troops” by performing in Iraq or other U.S. bases is no less abstract either. What exactly is the difference, except that some organizations decided that there should be a boycott of Israel, knowing full well that if it were instead aimed directly at the U.S. or British governments, they wouldn’t get much support? BDS is the kind of boycott where it’s ok to buy stock in Ford or General Dynamics or anti union outfits like Ben & Jerry’s or Whole Foods, but just not Israeli companies.

        As for the academic boycott, even anti-Zionist liberals Juan Cole and Noam Chomsky have pointed out that BDS’ boycott of Israeli academics is not only counterproductive, but at base, reactionary.

        “Until now they did. What were the results?” Because speaking directly to the Israeli population hasn’t brought about the desired results, it should be banned? What about boycotting the American and British products and population, too? That would at least be consistent. The political idea of treating Israelis as no longer worth talking to does have a logic, though. And, no matter how well you mean, and I assume you do, it’s the same underlying logic used to justify mass terrorism, including 9-11. Think about it.

        To come at that from a different angle, the politics of these sorts of boycotts are the politics of impotence before outrage, those trying to look strong and look like they are “doing something,” when in fact they have little power to effect the situation at all. That’s why liberals in America and Britain flock to such boycotts, especially when the real battle is being fought on someone else’s turf. And, in desperation, that’s why some of those who are directly oppressed but can’t find an effective way to change the situation quickly, turn to boycotts as well. When those don’t work, and they rarely do, patience runs out and then they have a choice: rethink the whole political approach entirely, or turn to the next logical step of outrage and impotence: terrorism as a political strategy.

        I suggest something else to think about. The current BDS campaign is roughly modeled on the South African one, which succeeded in the long run in helping create an imperialist neo-colony, with blacks formally free (“democracy”) and horribly exploited and oppressed (with no little thanks to Nelson Mandela). With Israel, the situation is many times more difficult. The Zionist-theocratic regime has slowly continued to create its own expanded apartheid state and could care less about Palestinian rights. After all, unlike S.A., Israel has a large and ever-expanding base population, backed by American Jews.

        A boycott Israel campaign is really an attempt to get the western imperialist governments to change their policies toward Israel and the Palestinians, . Toward what end? That’s not clear at all. A look at BDS’s site and BNS’s campaign call contains nothing but vague platitudes. Nothing about rolling the borders back to the Green Line and the return and redistribution all land. Nothing about the right of both peoples to exist and the right of national self-determination. Nothing about compensation. In fact, not even anything about getting Israeli troops out of all occupied territories.

        Current U.S. policy under the Obama administration, as under Clinton and Bush, is aimed at creating what amounts to a Palestinian bantustan, and not even a geographically contiguous one (!). Clearly, BDS, under the guise of building a broad-based coalition that can draw in Democratic and Republican leaders, as well as some section of American Jews, toward this form of “Palestinian statehood,” has no intention of challenging that. That’s why BDS and the boycott deserve nothing but political contempt.

        1. question to romath: ok. Apparently you have an enormous contempt for the boycott and the losers that support such a desperate affair and you seem to think we should either boycott everybody or nobody for matters of consistency… So what do you suggest exactly? What do you think should be done?

          1. Very fair question. First, about your assumption re my views. I have *political* contempt for the boycott and boycott strategies. The idea that opposition to the boycott means contempt for the individuals that support it (“losers”) is part of the problem, indirectly part of what drives boycott thinking, what I refer to as Me Generation ideology. But that’s another discussion – and, in my view, a heck of a lot more interesting and crucial one in the long run.

            My suggestion is to put to the side your (presumed) belief that these sorts of matters can be resolved by or under capitalism. Read about capitalism, including the revolutionaries who wrote about it and opposed it, about their experiences before and after revolutionary change (including their failures), and take a look at those who currently oppose it in favor of a collectivist political solution. Then make your own judgments. I wish there were some simpler or more immediately palatable or mainstream suggestion to make than that, but I’m afraid that’s the way it is. Wish you well.

  2. Ever since the governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel have joined the cohorts of U.S. and U.K. funding online ‘message control’ the antics of the ‘101st Fighting Keyboarders’ have steadily advanced in intensity and lessened response time.
    In 2006 Ha’aretz alerted us to Oval Office influence peddling in the Knesset and U.S. dollars flowing to radical right-wing extremists : who suddenly grew powerful.
    Rather follows the experience of U.S. support for tyrants worldwide.
    Israelis are among the best information sources for data on the systematic extermination of Palestinians – who are not ‘Arabs’ but a mishmash of peoples, religions and cultures who happened to be driven from their homes into barbed wire enclosures.
    Today their access to the necessities of life – especially water – is dwindling fast.
    I’m sure you will put criticism of your love for those who have popularized yet ‘justified’ destruction of peoples’ life support in proper perspective.

  3. In order to breach a boycott, there must be a boycott in the first place. Leonard Cohen isn’t breaching the boycott on Israel, since it doesn’t exist (the boycott, not Israel). Only a fringe calls for BDS. Look at all the other artists who have come to Israel lately and who are scheduled to come in addition to Cohen: Madonna, Depeche Mode, The Petshop Boys, and others. Warren Buffet and other businessmen are investing in Israel.

    Of all these people, why is it Leonard Cohen that seems to be taking the most heat?

  4. When I was a teenager a joke that did the rounds was the one about Cohen records being music you either put on after a party in order to make everyone finally leave-on a par with your mum getting the hoover out and taking the cover off the budgie cage-or you put him on as the culmination of some Jimmy Jones-type mass-suicide pact!

    In the light of the latter option-who says Cohen shouldn’t do the gig in the satanist statelet?

    The thought of the nasty little Rothschild fiefdom disappearing up its own arse in a fit of mass depression isn’t that unedifying,is it?

    Bring it on,Leonard!

  5. romath,
    I couldn’t care less for Leonard Cohen’s personal politics, that was a clarification aimed at all the pro-boycotters I’ve heard in the past month, who seemed to be surprised at Cohen’s actions. These are north Americans- the majority of my readers, at the blog, where this article was posted. My outrage (which is quite obviously not in denial by any stretch of the imagination) is aimed at Amnesty International. I’m not surprised that they may do this, but I AM outraged. The reason being that it was avoidable for them. They needn’t have to get involved in the Cohen issue, and quite frankly it would have kept them out of politics, where they belong, instead of throwing them in to its deep cesspool of an end.

    As for the logic spanning beyond Israel, I feel you’re absolutely right, and as an individual, I do my best to keep my money out of the grubby hands of problematic companies. I am, however, very realistic about this and very aware of the fact that our corporate environment doesn’t really afford me the possibility to do no evil. Nevertheless, I try. And that should also cover why I may choose to generally support Amnesty International. Just because the world isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fix it and let it burn. (now, who’s the radical?)

    On the point of performers who oppose Israel. We’ve recently had a visit from Naomi Klein. Her book, The Shock Doctrine, has been translated to Hebrew and will be sold in Israel, by an Israeli publishing company. At face value, one of the most vocal leaders of the boycott movement has just breached the boycott (those of you unconvinced of its existence should learn to use Google). However all you need to do is research into this specific “book tour”, and you’ll find that
    Klein consulted BDS international throughout all her actions.
    The Israeli publishing house is one dedicated to the translation of Palestinian prose and poetry.
    All her touring stops were Palestinian cities, towns and villages, within both Israel proper and the Occupied territories.
    Both PACBI (in case you didn’t understand, that’s a coalition of 171 groups and associations of Palestinians, not some radical, demanding fringe, which I’m aligning myself with) and BDS International supported Klein in her actions, understanding that a boycott can be employed intelligently and tactically, as well as strategically.
    Being part of the movement which is supporting a boycott from within Israel, I must stress, that there has been Israeli calls for justice, since 1967, but they have been silenced, marginalized and persecuted. The sad truth is that the majority of Israelis are, in fact, Zionists, and as the Palestinian call is a non-violent, organized call for compliance with international law, I think it’s fair to say that the time for negotiation is behind us. A boycott, leaves the door open to compliance. Once Israel finally complies with international law, the world, will be ready to listen. I also believe that it’s quite clear from this paragraph that “mass terrorism against Israeli citizens, becomes justifiable” is demagogy.

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