Palestinian BDS organization to Jello Biafra: Do not cross our picket line!

The Electronic Intifada recently reported that legendary punk rock musician Jello Biafra issued a public statement last week saying that he intends to play a planned gig in Tel Aviv despite the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, much to the dismay of international BDS activism groups and his fans.  

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) released an open letter on 12 June urging Biafra to reverse his decision, and admonished his plan to make a documentary film from his “visit,” saying that “Jello Biafra is going, first and foremost, to perform in Israel, and any attempt to learn on the side is merely to appease the many critics who have expressed their opinions publicly against Biafra’s ill-conceived decision.”

PACBI’s letter added:

We would encourage Palestinians to refrain from participating in this [film] project unless Jello Biafra cancels his boycott-bashing Israel show and organizes his trip in a private capacity to learn the facts. This documentary is billed as part of the band’s fact-finding tour, but as explained in the letter below, this tour is in no way a fact-finding mission.

The letter noted that Biafra had ignored PACBI’s original outreach email to him on 7 June, and continued:

Dear Jello Biafra,

We are writing from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) upon the suggestion of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK), who have been in touch with you. They had forwarded your thoughtful email to us and we felt it important to communicate with you to explain the position of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as to share with you how the great majority of Palestinian civil society (which stands solidly behind the BDS Call) views violations of our boycott guidelines as undermining our non-violent, morally-consistent struggle for justice, freedom and equality.

In a nutshell, our position is that if you are unaware of the full implications of your performance, or unaware of the details of the conflict, then it is important for you to cancel your performance first and then try to learn for yourselves. In light of the near consensus support for BDS among Palestinians and Israel’s relentless violations of Palestinian rights, going ahead with the show means you have already taken a position to cross our boycott picket line and lend your support to Israel’s oppression. Furthermore, your media reference to “extremists from both sides” seems to indicate your belief that the colonizers and the colonized should be treated symmetrically. As Archbishop Despond Tutu once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” 

By performing in Israel you may not be announcing support for the far right government of Netanyahu, true; but you would be lending your good name to be used by this government to make it sound like business as usual could go on despite its crimes.  Why else did the African National Congress, in its struggle against apartheid, ask all artists to entirely boycott South Africa and not to perform in Sun City, in particular?  Some of the artists that violated the South Africa boycott were certainly against apartheid, but by performing there they became complicit in perpetuating apartheid and undermining the struggle to end it.  By performing in Israel despite its egregious record of violating human rights and international law, similarly undermines our civil struggle to end these violations and reclaim our rights.



Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).