You book some tour, receive some award, get an event invitation. “They love me! They really love me!” you think. Or maybe “Woah, cool! I always wanted to go to Murmansk!” All of a sudden, out of nowhere, you start getting letters from Arizona: “Dude, we’re trying to have a picket line here, you’re seriously treading on our turf! Boycott racism!” Panicked, you call your agent: “But I just wanted to make music!” Your agent, being payed to be in contact with the corporeal world tells you how it is: “We’ll have to loose some revenue, but let’s donate this concert’s proceeds to these people’s organizations!”, better yet “let’s buy activists off with free tickets!” Without much debate, you happily pack your bags and head off in your private airplane to the Congo. After all, what do you know about politics?
Inside the Mind of the Artist from an Activist’s Perspective
Many don’t yet know of the world-wide Palestinian lead movement to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Israel. Some of these people are artists, musicians, authors, painters, film makers, etc. I can imagine that more often than not, the request for a cultural boycott, really does surprise them. More often than not, the narrative of Palestinian oppression is new to them, not to mention the concept of a Palestinian People, to begin with.
Speaking as an activist for social change, I expect very little from the majority of over-payed, “celebrity” artists. In a reality where art has been commodified by the capitalist market, the line between individual and brand-name comminutes drastically. As an activist, I understand all too well that artists are trapped in a world where courageous truth-speaking could cost you that coveted success. I believe that the people who wrote the BDS guidelines have taken this into serious consideration. And although we, in the movement, share a dream of a world that not only doesn’t do “business as usual” with power, but also speaks truth to power, we have allowed a very wide margin for artists, who need time for a learning process, and can start with the basic act of civil disobedience: Not performing in Israel.
The case of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is different however. This international-mega-celebrity band managed to somehow ride the waves of catchy base funk tunes, and safely crossover from the subversive garage to the far off land of superstar status, all the while keeping their political integrity and continuing their act of speaking truth to power.
As an activist, who thought for the first 25 years of her life that she was going to be an artist when she grows up, I have serious (vegan)beef with artists who dance around in metaphors, because they’re too afraid to talk about the struggles of their time. One can’t say this about the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their songs are very straightforward, and no one can mistake when they speak about the Native American genocide, Anarchism and resistance, Police oppression, racism, America’s foreign policies, and drug addiction.
Red Hot Chiling Silence
In the past 4 months, I’ve taken a visible role in the campaign to get the Red Hot Chili Peppers to cancel their concert in Israel. A campaign which grew to almost 8000 signatures, more than a dozen letters from organizations around the globe, and managed to get support from other celebrities. Following the band closely, on their current world tour, we’ve seen that it goes beyond the music to support causes it believes in. Be it Treyvon Martin, Pussy Riot, or Captain Paul Watson, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, recognizing their public status, have made a conscious choice to raise awareness about something other than themselves.
Because of the band’s vocal stance against systems of oppression that breed racism, sexism, speciesism and brutally silence resistance, and because we know that they proudly support and are willing to act for the betterment of life of Palestinian refugees, it was surprising that they even booked a concert in Israel, to begin with. Let alone, that they have not cancelled, in spite of a whole campaign that was geared to back them up in this one simple act of solidarity with Palestinian victims of Israel’s apartheid policies and de-facto ethnic cleansing via brutal military occupation.
But all this has already been said. Now- after the Red Hot Chili Peppers have gone through with the act of entertaining the beneficiaries of apartheid, through a producer that has a special relationship with the colonizing apartheid government, and not protesting while the state of Israel uses them as a whitewashing mechanism, or a bullying tactic against a political minority it has outlawed– it’s time to talk about their chilling silence.
Throughout these 4 months, while vocalizing support for various worthy struggles, neither the band, nor their agents, have made one attempt to contact any one of their petitioners. Unlike other artists who don’t use anyone to coldly negotiate their connections with their audience, the Red Hot Chili Peppers did not make the commercial “mistake” of commenting on the issue so hotly at hand. For many fans, my-naive-self included, this act shattered the band’s image of easy-going accessibility, and the question still looms in my mind: How much money does one have to invest, to be able to afford to seem like one of the common people?
Are the Bodies in My Back Yard Bothering You?
As a woman who is active in fighting violence against women and gender-based discrimination in my community, there’s another aspect of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ silence, which chills me to the bone. Often when confronted, a man who has behaved in violent and sexist ways will just ignore his petitioners. Thinking that beyond degrading his victim, he may also erase her from existence, if he so chooses.
Now before anyone gets their feathers ruffled, I’m not calling the Red Hot Chili Peppers rapists or wife-beaters. To clarify: The band came here, despite very clear explanations of what role they will be playing in the local politics, and their moral obligations as a world-renowned brand-name, as well as American tax-paying citizens. They entertained a segregated audience, singing about “The Power of Equality”. They did it on the remains of an ethnically cleansed Palestinian village. They did it for money. They toured around in occupied territory, enjoying pillaged resources, accompanied by Israeli security personnel, and it didn’t occur to them to ask where their bodyguards got their professional experience and who’s paying their salary.
And while the general strategy for the band, dealing with this image crisis, was to ignore all notifications of human rights violations, perpetrated by the Israeli military regime, that the campaign updated by-the-hour for 4 months (including the day of their performance, which saw the so-called “Israeli Defense Forces” razing water tanks in Nablus, demolishing more Palestinian homes, bombing children in Gaza, enabling more settler violence, arresting and torturing more Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, and suppressing the right to free speech by means of terror); Chad Smith, the band’s drummer went further and blocked all twitter accounts that made an attempt to raise his awareness to what he was about to lend a hand to.
Wake up Motherfucker and Smell the Slime
As in many cases of calling out a person who behaves in a sexist manner, we take into account that gender violence and discrimination is so normalized in our culture, that the person perpetrating it isn’t even aware that that is what he has done. We give him the benefit of the doubt that that was not his intent. And since ignoring the existence of Palestinians and trampling their ability of obtaining liberation and self determination is so normalized in global culture and in U.S. culture in particular, the movement gives artists, that book Israel, the benefit of the doubt that trampling Palestinian human rights was not their intent. However, the more the movement grows, the more affective its campaigns, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that artists just had no idea.
I write this article not only for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I write this article as an appeal to the many other artists, who carelessly do business with apartheid and entertain its beneficiaries, as we speak. I write this article as the government of Israel, with the help of some music industry fat cat friends, steps up its efforts in branding Israel as a world-class cultural Mecca. As, in the past three years we’re seeing an influx of rock acts coming in, each a bigger brand name than the other, propelling Tel Aviv (a.k.a. “The Bubble”) to a top tourism destination, where foreigners can enjoy the spoils of colonialism in a vibrant environment.
I write this article as an opening shot to the flood of appeals that are due to come to artists who will decide to participate in the Lollapalooza festival that’s scheduled for the summer of 2013. The festival is sponsored by the Israel Tourism Ministry and facilitated by the Tel Aviv municipality. It will take place in the same Yarkon Park, where the moans of the dancing ghosts of Jarisha village were muffled by yesternight’s Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. Don’t say you didn’t know.