British charity War Child, which works with children affected by war, has announced a series of benefit concerts – one of which will be by indie band Ride, whose lead singer recently performed in Tel Aviv.
The series of benefit concerts, by bands including Duran Duran, Elbow and The Vaccines, as well as Ride, are billed as “Passport” shows. Rather than selling tickets, a minimum donation to the charity enters donors into a draw for entry to the limited-capacity, “intimate” gigs.
The launch publicity for the shows includes the wording:
All the money raised will support War Child’s vital work saving children from the brutal effects of war in areas including Syria, Iraq and Gaza. These stripped back, intimate shows will have a life-changing impact for thousands of vulnerable children.
War Child offers trauma counseling and other services, via local partners, for children in Gaza. Its fundraising, however, carefully avoids mentioning why Palestinian children are in need of support in the first place. In effect, the charity seems willing to use Gaza’s children to raise money, without daring to challenge the very state which kills, maims and traumatizes them.
A War Child fundraising appeal during the summer 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians (including hundreds of minors) stated that:
Children in Gaza are being directly targeted with rockets and bombs fired at schools, hospitals and populated civilian areas. They are witnessing the killing of their friends, parents and siblings. It’s enough to traumatize anyone for life; let alone a child. The latest UN report estimates that there are nearly 400,000 children in need of trauma counselling.
The charity’s information on its work in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, by contrast, openly states the names of the parties in those conflicts.
Supporters of Israel
Given the fact that children in Gaza only need such support because of Israeli aggression, this seems fundamentally inconsistent with the fact that Ride singer Mark Gardener played a solo gig under the billing of “Mark Gardener (Ride)” in Tel Aviv on 14 January this year. Since then Gardener has consistently defended his decision to take a pro-Israel stance.
Whilst in Israel, Gardener also gave an interview to the Israeli website Ynet which was headlined: “Mark Gardener: I don’t believe in boycotts, I’m here to play music.” In the article Gardener was quoted as saying that Tel Aviv would likely be his last solo gig before the band reformed, raising the possibility that the War Child show is primarily intended as publicity for the reunion.
In response to criticisms of his Israeli show, Gardener tweeted that “Some need to understand on here, I play music to the people without prejudice as people are mostly not their oppressive governing regimes.” In doing so, he betrays an ignorance both of the fact that the majority of Israelis serve in the armed forces and of the Israeli state’s use of the arts to promote itself worldwide.
Inquiries by journalists into War Child’s position on Ride’s other affiliations have been met by the claim that the charity is “politically neutral.”
Samir Eskanda, a London-based musician and contributor to an earlier War Child fundraising initiative, told The Electronic Intifada that an email he sent to the charity protesting their decision to work with Ride had received no response.
Eskanda also told the The Electronic Intifada in an email that War Child:
told me on the phone last week that they were considering pulling [the Ride concert] because of the contradiction between support for human rights and support for Israel. But they’ve apparently changed their minds.
Whitewashing Israel’s occupation
Gardener has also supported a number of Israeli whitewashing initiatives, in which culture has been manipulated to mask the state’s human rights abuses.
His January 2015 Israel visit included forging alliances with Heartbeat FM, a “coexistence” project explicitly condemned by Palestinian civil society for its efforts to deny the oppression and occupation which characterize daily life for Palestinians.
Heartbeat FM (in common with Gardener’s naive and destructive promotion of the idea that music is a non-political force which “brings people together” regardless of power imbalances) organizes “encounters” between Israeli and Palestinian youth, focused on playing music together. The group’s website acknowledges that it concentrates on work within Israel because of “a lack of staff capacity to obtain permits from the Israeli military.”
It does, however, mention that it works in H2, the area of the Palestinian city of Hebron most heavily occupied by Israel, where direct Israeli control has permitted many violent settlers to establish themselves and has brought about economic and political devastation for the local Palestinian community. Heartbeat staff, it appears, are able to work here because it equates to operating within a settlement environment.
Mark Gardener’s Israel visit was also promoted by American anti-boycott and whitewashing organisation Creative Community for Peace (CCFP). It praised Gardener on Twitter, saying that: “We greatly respect musicians who are dedicated to their fans. #Music can heal wounds & affect positive change” and “We in #Hollywood and thousands of others strongly oppose cultural boycotts,” and retweeted one fan claiming publicly that Gardener is “raising music above politics.” Gardener has also regularly retweeted CCFP’s support for his stance.
CCFP’s ties to the right-wing, pro-settler and Israeli hasbara organization StandWithUs have been well documented, along with its role as StandWithUs’ voice within the US creative sector. It was also reported recently that StandWithUs had signed a quarter-million-dollar deal with Benjamin Netanyahu’s own Prime Minister’s Office, under the terms of which it will disseminate Israeli propaganda – presumably through front groups such as CCFP.
In 2011, Artists Against Apartheid called upon all creatives to boycott CCFP, calling it a “complicit propaganda institution seeking to normalize Israeli apartheid” and pointing out that the group’s tactics rely on:
Capitalizing on ignorance, the CCFP proudly calls Israel “the only democracy in the region” surrounded by states known for their human rights violations, while offering no solutions to any human rights violations anywhere in the Middle East. Of course CCFP does not acknowledge the human rights violations being carried out daily by the Israeli state throughout Palestine-Israel.