Bono is almost equally well known as a charity worker as a singer. The latest beneficiaries of his generosity are war criminals and their wives.
On Tuesday, the U2 frontman gave up his lunch-time to keep Michelle Obama company on her trip to Dublin. Poor Michelle sees little of her husband on that day of the week: Barack spends it compiling a list of people he wants to have killed by drone strikes. The president was extra busy this particular Tuesday, attending a G8 summit in the north of Ireland and assuring other world leaders that he wouldn’t dream of reading their emails.
Having dined for Ireland, the ubiquitous Bono was spotted in Jerusalem that evening, wishing a happy 90th birthday to Shimon Peres. Admittedly, Bono’s message was delivered on a video screen. But he seems to have been there in spirit as he declared Peres “a great gift not only to Israel but to the entire world.”
Ever the diplomat, Bono did not dwell on the track record of this “great gift”: how Peres helped build up Israel’s arms industry, including its nuclear weapons capability; how he ordered the bombardment of Lebanon in 1996 (including the massacre of 102 civilians in Qana); how he has supported Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza; how he has honored soldiers who helped to kill Turkish peace activists in 2010.
It is a shame that Bono wasn’t able to make Peres’ bash. If he was there in person, he could have caught up with his old pals, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Bono regards these statesmen as unwavering champions of Africa’s poor.
Once more, the singer is prepared to overlook a few embarrassments in order to concentrate on the big picture. He doesn’t remind his audiences, for example, that while Blair was pledging to make poverty history as prime minister, he was simultaneously putting pressure on Tanzania to buy British weapons. It would be impolite to observe that the money involved could have been better spent on schools or clinics.
And, of course, Bono is too gentlemanly to draw attention to how Clinton’s campaign work on access to medicines has an ironic twist to it: back in 1998, Clinton destroyed a factory that manufactured medicines in Sudan. (Few of us recall that minor transgression, anyway: the mainstream media was preoccupied that year investigating what Clinton may have got up to with a White House intern.)
Bono has grown up a lot since the 1980s. His mullet has been replaced by a less unruly mane. And the idealist of his youth has morphed into a more shrewd do-gooder, the sort who admires how Bill Gates can dress up tax dodging as philanthropy.
Today, Bono seems happy to follow the “principle” of “constructive engagement” that Reagan advocated towards apartheid states (like Israel). And Bono had no qualms about taking part in Peres’ celebration, even though it was financed by Israel’s weapons manufacturers.
Not all fans of his music have matured in the same way. I am one of those who learned about Martin Luther King by listening to “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and Latin American death squads by listening to “Mothers of the Disappeared.” I am appalled that Bono — an Amnesty International “ambassador of conscience” — has love-bombed a mass murderer like Shimon Peres.
Lest I be accused of being heartless, I wouldn’t deprive anyone of a slice of cake or a glass of champagne on his or her 90th birthday. But in Shimon Peres’ case, I think they should be served to him in a prison cell.