Someone once said that “punk rock is dead.” Alas, another nail in the coffin was hammered in on Tuesday, when punk rock legend and former frontman of the anti-imperialist, anti-corporate San Francisco-based band Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra, decided to go ahead with a planned gig in Tel Aviv despite pressure on him to respect and honor the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
Attempting to explain his (in)action to the public, Biafra posted this confusing letter to the facebook page of his band, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, and addressed it to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:
Believe me, the decision to play in Tel Aviv was not taken lightly by me or the band. We have been through weeks of intense ongoing debate and discussions, soul searching and research. We have met with two peace activists, one of whom is Palestinian and lives in Ramallah. Our thoughts at present are these:
1. The more we know about the many sides to this horrible conflict, the more we realize we don’t know.
2. It certainly appears that both the Israeli Left and the Palestinian Left are divided right down the middle as to whether this kind of a boycott is a good idea at all. It is nowhere near as solid or as unified as the boycott against apartheid South Africa. Setting foot in Israel does not automatically make us supporters of the Netanyahu regime or the policies we all oppose. Quite the opposite, in fact.
3. I agree with Peace activists who have said how important it is for someone like me to actually go there and see for myself what is really going on. Then, back home in America, I will be able to speak more knowledgeably from eyewitness experience, at a time when most Americans only get their information from dumbed down, censored corporate McNews. It was never our intention to play the gig, hang out at the beach, and go home. After the gig I am staying around for several days. Am I going to Palestine too? Absolutely.
We know this issue is so multifaceted and volatile that no matter what I or the band do, someone is going to be upset. Sort of the story of my life, in a way. I hope that by making this trip we can in some small way help bring down that goddamn wall.
For peace and justice,
My problems with Jello’s milquetoast justification for playing a gig in Tel Aviv are multi-fold. One, well, he’s playing a gig in Tel Aviv, which is something that so many artists, writers, and performers of conscience have refused to do on the basis that Palestinians — and plenty of Jewish-Israeli activists as well — have called for this international boycott which includes playing gigs in Israel.
Two, Jello says that he met with one Palestinian “peace activist” in Ramallah (but doesn’t name names) who apparently speaks on behalf of all Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, inside the state of Israel, and in the global diaspora. Jello then uses that kind of careless street cred to justify his action to break the boycott.
Three, he is plain wrong on his assertion that the boycott movement is “nowhere near as solid or as unified as the boycott against apartheid in South Africa.” Here’s why: the official Palestinian-led BDS call is not even six years old yet. In this short amount of time, however, thousands of boycott activists from Sydney to Chicago, Edinburgh to Johannesburg, have been instrumental in pressuring universities, corporations, local governments, labor and educational unions, musicians and artists to respect the boycott call. Moreover, Jello’s claim that this movement is not “solid” or “unified” enough to warrant paying attention to is just the very kind of misinformation that is being used by the Israeli government and its sympathizers when trying to discredit the incredible amount of victories that the BDS movement is claiming, every day.
That the Israeli government is warning its citizens and the international community that the BDS movement is a “strategic threat,” even a “potentially existential threat,” to the state, means that this nonviolent movement is highly effective and that the Israeli government is being put on notice by a worldwide community. Surely an unorganized, non-unified, un-solid movement would not elicit so much attention from Israeli policymakers.
I think it’s great that Jello Biafra wants to travel to Palestine-Israel to see for himself what’s really going on. More artists should. He unfortunately misunderstands the BDS call to not accept money to play a gig in Tel Aviv by saying that he believes he is being told not to “set foot in Israel.” The two ideas are diametrically opposed. Nowhere within the cultural boycott call does it say that the boycott applies to anyone visiting the state. Only if that person is accepting money to — for example — play a concert, or show a photographic exhibition, or give a speech, does the boycott apply.Finally — and forgive me, this rant is longer than I expected — if Jello Biafra really wants “to bring down that goddamn wall,” he should start by not entertaining an audience whose government is using US taxpayer money to build it, and instead take a cue from one of his old songs:
Any kind of real change / Takes more time and work / Than changing channels on a TV set (from Chickenshit Conformist, Bedtime for Democracy, 1986)