Well, maybe this will teach the petty bureaucrats at the Israeli Interior Ministry a lesson. After lecturing him for four hours on the errors of his ways in criticizing Israel and telling him what he could or should do to be allowed admittance, they sent Prof. Noam Chomsky packing back to Amman. Later, Israeli PR flacks attempted to backtrack by lying and claiming it was all a clerical error by a desk jockey the Allenby Bridge. Still later, they offered to allow him back into the West Bank (which isn’t Israel last I checked, even by Israel’s standards, so why should they even be determining who enters Palestinian territory?). When Chomsky inquired about whether this was a bona fide official guarantee of entry he discovered it wasn’t. Israel is just playing games.
But Chomsky, not to be played the fool, has delightfully one-upped them all. He’s going to deliver his Bir Zeit lecture via video conference from Amman and it will be telecast live on Al Jazeera. That way it will reach an audience thousands of times larger than the original lecture would have. Since Al Jazeera is available in Israel, perhaps even Israeli citizens will be able to watch him take apart the hypocrisy and brustishness of Israeli policy and Occupation.
This is the problem with Israeli policy and with all authoritarian regimes (which the Occupation certainly is). It thinks of the short term benefit, not the long term. It thinks of tactics instead of strategies. It puts a finger in the dyke but does nothing to preserve the ecosystem itself.
On a related note, Haaretz columnist Brad Burston has written a typically eloquent, soul-searching cri de coeur about the ugly rise of fascism inside Israel. Lest my right-wing readers jump on Burston as a typically left-wing commentator, this is simply untrue. Burston made aliyah decades ago and joined Kibbutz Gezer, where I myself visited when I studied in Israel. He has impeccable credentials as a liberal Zionist. So for him to be writing so openly using such strong language should tell us that the canary is singing in the coal mine that is Israeli “democracy.” Israel is a nation under threat. Even perhaps a nation beginning to implode under our very eyes from the heap of self-contradictions under which it labors.
I was delighted to read that Elvis Costello, a performer I admire greatly, has cancelled his Israel performances on his upcoming tour. He wrote a remarkably sensitive, balanced account of his decision which acknowledges that the decision is morally conflicted but had to be made nevertheless:
It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel on the 30th of June and the 1st of July.
One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament.
Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.
…If these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way.
…I am not taking this decision lightly or so I may stand beneath any banner, nor is it one in which I imagine myself to possess any unique or eternal truth.
It is a matter of instinct and conscience.
…Sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static and so an end to it.
I cannot imagine receiving another invitation to perform in Israel, which is a matter of regret but I can imagine a better time when I would not be writing this.
With the hope for peace and understanding. Elvis Costello
Haaretz notes that Santana and Gil Scott Heron have also joined in the protest by cancelling their own performances. I hope other performers will read Costello’s nuanced, humble and carefully articulated statement in full. It gives them much to ponder. I too want to make clear that I do not support such a decision as a means of harming Israelis, especially those who share a critique of Occupation. This is a political act, not one of petty vindictiveness. Of course, many Israelis will mistakenly take it as the latter. This is not an act that ultimately seeks harm to Israel or God forbid, it’s destruction. It is a moral statement that tells Israel that the rest of the world will no longer sit idly by. That if Israel wishes to continue down this road, a price will be paid in isolation. And that when Israel ends Occupation, then that price will be redeemed and Israel’s status will be restored.
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- Costello cancels concerts in Israel (guardian.co.uk)