Not much we can do about it, but Elvis Costello is right, and music isn’t just noise; a show at a certain site in the world may be seen as a statement that in this location, as far as the artist is concerned, everything is just fine: There are no qualms, human rights and dignity are strictly maintained, and the way to a better world starts right where the sound system is positioned.
I feel no anger towards artists who are unwilling to perform in Israel because they object to the ongoing occupation or to the methodical violation of Palestinian human rights under the occupation. I appreciate the honesty inherent in their personal obligation to a notion they support in words, and to their insistence to back it up with actions.
As opposed to the average zealous patriot, I will not “boycott them back,” also because I’m no longer in second grade, but mostly because Israel is indeed home to ongoing occupation and human rights are indeed methodically violated on a daily basis; regrettably, there is no single act by an artist or group of artists, or art consumers, that can change the situation despite the efforts and good will.
Better ways to protest
If there’s an infuriating aspect in the acts of Costello, Carlos Santana, and Gil Scott-Heron, it has to do with the decision to perform, only to call it off later. After all, the occupation and oppression did not start all of a sudden, exactly in the period between the start of ticket sales and the show, right? Those who wanted to know and protest and take pleasure in their own righteousness could have done it earlier. The occupation isn’t secret and the oppression was not under a gag order exactly when the contracts were signed and the artist forwarded a list of caprices to the hotel he was to stay at.
The belated discovery of the local reality shows that the boycotters-cancellers actually have no ongoing interest in the state of human rights around here, but rather, a momentary interest in a politically correct label. In simple language we can refer to this as “hypocrisy”, and it is possible and necessary to condemn the boycotters-cancellers for their limited opinionating.
I do not recall Costello calling off shows in the US and England when these states invaded Iraq and fired at everything in their way, both dictators and innocent civilians. I also did not hear Carlos Santana claiming that his guitar should not be working at the service of American occupation forces.
The boycotters-cancellers should be told that there are better and more sophisticated ways to express protest. For example, to perform here and charge full price for the tickets and later perform for free to a Palestinian audience. Or to donate the profits of the local show to political causes which the artists endorse. Or to speak up on stage, in Israel, and tell the audience explicitly what the artist thinks about the government’s policy and those who go along with it.
In my view, this would be a more courageous act than a belated boycott, and excellent proof that music is indeed more than just noise.