Jello Biafra bucks international BDS call, will play show in Tel Aviv

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,

Jello Biafra

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)




I´m sorry to say it, but you seem to stir up your emotions without knowing the cause of the gig. My father linked this article to me (a 31 years old swedish punk bassist, who´s totally against the illegal occupation.) This is the reply I gave my father, who didn´t know anything about Jello, roughly translated from swedish to english through google translate (since it´s been a long evening at work and I had some beer and rum before I wrote this...and because I´m lazy at the moment): ""I understand him clearly. What the writer behind the article seems to have missed is who he is, where he came from and what he is looking for. Who is his audience? I can answer these questions quite easy. Jello is one of the few political activists from the old generation punk scene and an idealist. The gig is not about ignoring a boycott of Israel because of its anti-human policies. He is and has been throughout his adult years been a leftist activist and humanist. The he is looking to achieve is the he can make an impact on there. It is hardly Avigdor Lieberman he is there to play with his current band "Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine is there to reach out to, but rather to encourage Israeli activists in their struggle for equality, freedom and brotherhood in the area."
We have to remember, there´s actually a huge amount of Israelites who´s against the occupation. I recall a clip from a critical organisation that got thousands of israelis to demonstrate against what the israeli goverment handled the flottilla boat. So really, to whom do you think Jello is there to speak out to and support? Is it the ones who wants the wall or the ones who want´s to tear it down? It´s not Bill O´Reilly who´s going there. It´s not his audience. It´s this guy, and his audience:
I think Jello might be abit fluffy in his letter, but his reason is clear and honorable.


Well, I think he sounds like a scab who's breaking a picket line, and trying to justify it by telling protesters that he's only doing it so he can go in and give it to The Man.


Aw, common. The usage of spectrum analyze when mastering and mixing wasn´t really used on the punk scene back in 1980. I recon he there is later versions with Biafra and other bands like Soulfly where the audio is better.


Jello claims to have spoken to two peace activists in his letter. I have been a human rights activist for over 35 years in one form or another, and not one, I repeat, not one of my peers would or do consider the idea of Jello playing in apartheid Israel a good one. This is as detrimental to the BDS movement as it would have been if he'd played South Africa in the '80's, and it doesn't matter who his audience is, the event will be used as proganda by the Israeli government.


It´s great that you´ve been an human rights activist for so long. You should keep that up. But common. This one isn´t going there to earn money for a couple of gigs (let´s face it, the money he can get for playing at punk rock scenes in Tel Aviv won´t even cover the tickets there.The reason is states in his letter. Try to read it.


There does indeed appear to be Israelis willing to march in protest of the extremest colonizers, and carry placards, marching to ask Israel to return to the 1967 borders. The protest in Tel Aviv was notable. But it appears that what these marchers are really asking for is that Palestinians remain out of sight, in a ghetto defined by the "1967" borders. Removing ALL settlements is impossible, since some have existed since 1948. Only a small small minority of Israeli citizens are demanding full, equal rights for Palestinians. In fact, Israeli mainstream society is becoming more and more like the Jim Crowe era with discrimination in housing, marriage laws, and unequal education. Jello is planning to play a concert, in direct violation of the principles of BDS. He's shouting that BDS is not what he supports, he's likely to ally himself with the marching Israeli people who agree to boycott settlement products, but nevertheless feel they must keep Palestinians in their place: In a bantustan controlled by Israel.


The Israelis that decided to create settlements outside of Israel, without permission given by the Palestinians, knew full well that what they were doing was/is illegal. So, they must move out or arrange some kind of compromise with the Palestinians.

Also, from what I've seen, the Israelis are not nice to their Palestinian neighbours and they do allow their children to throw rocks at Palestinian children. This kind of disrespect is a terrible thing to see and many Palestinians just give up and move.

Israel claims that the Palestinians are dangerous aggressors but this becomes too obviously a lie when you see aggressive Israeli settlers taking over Palestine. If the Palestinians were dangerous to Israelis the Israelis couldn't just move in and take over as they do.

It's time to get the USA to keep out of any peace negotiations with Israel. They are cruelly one sided in their thinking and proud of it.


Common. Stick to the subject. This is not about the f*cked up way Israel´s been acting toward palestinians with razing palestinian homes and such. This is about playing in Israel. Don´t get me wrong, but the so called principles of BDS might work for the every day person. But for an artist and an anarchist, it´s utter BS. Going there is taking the fight against the Israeli regim on their own territory. To rally those who oppose the madness.


Shame on you for supporting the Palestinian genocide. It will not be forgotten.


Try to read his letter again and try once more. With feeling.


I was a huge fan of Jello, the Dead Kennedy's and many of his other projects through the 90's. Unfortunately he has been going down hill for a long time. He's a rich corporate rock star who ripped off his former band mates (who are also total sell outs) and bands on his label Alternative Tentacles. Personally I believe that this decision is motivated by money not any desire to talk to Israelis. His letter doesn't even make sense. It's very sad to see a childhood hero stoop so low.


That´s just so single minded. First of all, the beef with Dead Kennedy´s is something you should read more about.
Then, if it was for the money. Let´s see. A cheap ticket from NY to Tel Aviv costs about 1372 US dollars. Hotel not included. Now. I don´t know the setting with Guantanamo bay school of medicin, but it´s at least one guitar, a drummer and a bassist. This means a total cost of about 5.500 US dollars it you travel really cheap. If you were to include the cost for the stay, it´s much more. How much money do you think you can get from the punk scene in Tel Aviv? Be honest.


More than you'd get from the punk scene in the West Bank or Gaza that's for sure. You may be right though, it's probably is just his massive ego. I have sympathy for him not wanting to sell his song to Levi's but he still ripped them off and he's still ripping bands on his label off. Being a boss will corrupt anyone. DKs and Jello are nothing but a pathetic parody of their young selves. And why would I spend any more time reading about washed up rock stars who scab on BDS? Nostalgia? "If you love god burn a church."


First of all, there is no notation of more than one gig there. This means that there is no income to count on except for this one gig. This one gig will bring limited amount of cash, since the punk scene in Tel Aviv isn´t really enough for what it cost to get there and stay there. The income from it won´t be greater than the expenses for the tickets.

His beef with DK-members is actually more complicated than Israel-Palestine problem. You should try to research it. A somewhat objective article on the matter was posted on


This is a very good article, and a good quote from the appropriately tited song.

Here is my comments on Jello's justifications:

1. As complex as the details of the conflict are, the bottom line is quite simple.

2. I have never met anyone in the Palestinian left who opposes the BDS. Funny how he met a single Palestinian "peace activist" and knows the inner-thoughts of the Palestinian left. As for the Israeli left, it really is divided in the middle. Between the Zionists and non-Zionists.

3. Yes it is very important to go there. But go on a mission of solidarity and research. There is no BDS against foreigners visiting Palestine to see the reality with their own eyes. But there is a cultural boycott, and crossing it is no different than crossing any other picket line.


So, it may not be for the money. He's probably going there just because he likes performing. He's a performer. There's no need to start calculating the ticket prices and travel expenses.

The point is, even if he has a belief that his performance is going to help bring down the wall or end the occupation, .... he is completely deluded. I felt the same way about Saul Williams. I've been a fan of both of them for years, but was so disgusted by their decisions.

Such absolute meglomania and delusions of grandeur to think that your performance is going ot end the occupation. Especially when you admit to not knowing much about the conflict. As if Israelis, who are brought up on the Zionist Narrative are going to let some ill-informed punk rocker (famous or not) lecture them about their country between songs.

Yeah thanks Jello. Thanks for damaging the hard work Palestinian and International Activists and Artists have put in to try end oppression, because you cant seem to realise the earth doesn't revolve around you.


He's got a great track record for intelligent use of his fame and popularity. I withhold judgement until we see what he does with this gig. There is more than one way to register dissent and just because BDS has it's way doesn't make it THE way. That said, I will be watching what jello does with this opportunity.


At last someone here with his feet on the ground and who can understand the actual issue. Most commentators here seems to be stuck in a box where the only way to do things are their way. I´m also curious to see what happends.


The standard reply to any call for action to limit Israeli racists, illegal, and inhumane policies against the Palestinians, is to claim the issues are complex. Well, they are not. Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe described the situation as a straightforward case of colonization and ethnic cleansing. This was the Zionist aim from the beginning and continues today.This is consistent with the facts. Read the review of his book:

If Jello and anyone else is in doubt of or is unaware of the racists, discriminatory polices of Israel, please read reports from the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. The summary can be found here: http://liverpoolfriendsofpales....
Read the even more racists new discriminatory laws here:
Or for more general information, read the facts here:
Once you read these sources, please ask Jello Biafra to reconsider his decision to visit, or add your comments to his website:
His cancellation will add to the world wide message that Israel’s apartheid policies and brutal occupation and settlement of Palestine are not acceptable.


First of all, I want to thank you since you´re actually present some kind of argumentation, which most commentators here seem to have forgotten to do. But here´s the thing. The arguments here seem to be focused on tactics on how to handle this damned blockade from the israeli goverment. As stated earlier in one of my entries, Jello isn´t plausible going there to rally Liebermann fans. He haven´t been there and want to experience the situation on his own (according to what´s said in his letter), get there himself to see what he can make out of the situation and find ways for himself to further influence the opinion. It´s not taking the stand for the nightmare the Israeli goverment has brought on the palestinian people. Rather a way to take his part of the battle to "enemies" ground.


Of the artist who can create art and make political statements where they are really needed. Roger Water, Pixies, Gil Scott Heron and a growing list of extremely respected artist. Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana... the list goes on, Coldplay, Faithless... Have put it down, drawn the line and showed they are not afraid to put their necks on the line. They have gained so much respect worldwide due to this...

Copy paste from wikipedia says that "In March 2011, Haaretz reported that many artists, academics and celebrities have supported and participated in the cultural boycotting of Israel.[28] Artists who have voiced support for the campaign or cancelled appearances in Israel citing political reasons include musicians Elvis Costello[29], Brian Eno[30], Gil Scott Heron[31], Pete Seeger[28], The Pixies[29], Roger Waters[29][28], writers Eduardo Galeano and Arundhati Roy[32], filmmakers Ken Loach[33] and Jean-Luc Godard.[34] Artists who have voiced oppposition to the campaign include writers Umberto Eco[35], Ian McEwan[35], film makers Joel and Ethan Coen,[36] Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore[37] and musicians John Lydon[38], Shaggy[39], Gaston Dalmau[40], Joe Bonamassa[41] and Gene Simmons.[28] Many musicians such as Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Metalica, Madonna and Paul McCartney have chosen to perform in Israel in recent years.[35] Bob Dylan has announced that he will perform in Israel in June 2011,[42] with Rickie Lee Jones joining him as well.[43] Also scheduled to perform in Israel during the summer of 2011 are Paul Anka[44], Duran Duran[45] and Jane's Addiction.[46]"

There you have it. Be in the ranks of ashton kucher Jello.


Ok, I got respect for some of these people you mention, but common "Be in the ranks of Ashton Kutcher"? That can´t be taken seriously. The thing is, what most people here seem to have missed is that he is not going there just to do gig or in any way show any kind of support of the israeli occupation, quite the opposite. He is going there to give the occupants his middle finger on their own territory, which he explains at http://www.alternativetentacle.... That takes more guts than what those you mentioning who´s just boycotting Israel. To boycott against a nation as an artist is just the same as sitting on your ass and say "I won´t go there". Going there to rally against a regime on their own playground is a way to take action.

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).