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).
The interesting thing about Israel is that its government and registered citizens have a wonky spatial perception, which feeds off itself: In Israel, you’re not in the state, the state is in you. Due to this cyclical perception, along with the “standard” “nation branding” (a marketing lie on to itself, and that sick capitalist perception of a state- a geographic territory with obligations and responsibilities towards its respective inhabitants- as a product which is on the market for sale), known as Brand Israel, much of Israel’s propaganda is based on the blurring of the lines between the individual and the state (and army).
As a BDS activist, whose main focus is cultural boycott, I’ve come up against a very common Israeli claim (individuals, small business, and government officials) that “culture has nothing to do with politics”. Most commonly it comes in the form of a puzzled “rhetorical” question: “What does culture have to do with politics?!” As if asking this question closes the discussion, because it’s so obvious that art, music, books, films, theater and dance are a pure form of entertainment that has no intellectual, political, anthropological value. As if cultural products aren’t bought and sold as commodities and status indicators.
Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd. in the Service of the State of Israel
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?
Celebrities embody a unique and very emblematic space in the capitalist system in which they are both human individuals and a brand name at the same time. They often endorse products and services they enjoy. Of course, one would be naive to assume that their enjoyment of these products and services and consequent endorsement is an organic process. Understanding the leveraging power of the celebrity status, corporations woo big name actors and musicians with thousands of dollars worth of sample gift baskets and free services, hoping the celebrity would tie their brand name with the corporation’s brand name.
The problem with this system, as is common with capitalism, is that in the majority of cases the celebrities don’t check the label, so to speak, and often endorse corporations which abuse the environment, animals and humans. As always, I’ll be tying this with the brand name that is no exception to capitalist brutality: Brand Israel.
Israel’s Tourism Industry and the American Celebrity
In May of this year a group of TV celebrities was brought to Israel via America’s Voices in Israel. The group included AnnaLynne McCord
One of Israel’s favorite selling points, in its campaign to rebrand itself and divert attention from its ongoing theft of Palestinian land by means of ethnic cleansing, military control and apartheid policies, is its claim to world leadership in medicine. The problem with this line of apartheid PR is, of course, the failure to mention the control the state of Israel has over the Palestinian healthcare system.
Captive Economy, a new report by Who Profits investigates the involvement of Israeli and multinational pharmaceutical industries in the occupation of Palestinian land.
rev·o·lu·tion noun \ˌre-və-ˈlü-shən\
a : a sudden, radical, or complete change
b : a fundamental change in political organization; especially : the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed
c : activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation
d : a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something : a change of paradigm <the Copernican revolution>
e : a changeover in use or preference especially in technology <the computer revolution> <the foreign car revolution>
Almost a year ago a wave of massive popular protests began within the state of Israel. Though my initial criticisms still stands, I’d like to add that over the past year, at least in the south of Tel Aviv, there’s a constant learning about egalitarian politics, co-ops and community projects. People are changing and that can’t be a bad thing. Still, on the Palestinian liberation front there’s little change. The protests have remained Jewish-centered and protesters are still hostile to the mere mention of Arabs (Palestinians are people from another country, of course).
Dr. White City and Mr. Tel Aviv
Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre seems to have a very formed opinion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Between the Palestinian-led organizations, the BDS National Committee and The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and my own little campaign on Facebook which continuously appealed to them among many others, it’s unfortunate that it never occurred to the band to try and contact the people who asked them not to play in Israel. I hate to write a post-performance letter [1,2,3,4,5], and some may ask what’s the point, but I truly believe that while it may be too late to get you to cancel, it’s it’s never too late to get you to understand. So one more time with feeling: A post-performance analysis and response to the statements of Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre [Hebrew].