Punk fans’ open letter to Jello Biafra: Apartheid is not punk rock!

Following the recent move by punk rock legend and social justice activist Jello Biafra to buck the international boycott call and play a planned gig in Tel Aviv next month, fans have drafted an open letter and set up a petition to urge Biafra and his band, the Guantanamo School of Medicine, to reverse their decision.

The letter and petition were published today by the newly-formed coalition Punks Against Apartheid, a global, ad-hoc grouping that came together immediately to convince Biafra not to break the boycott, but also to help solidify links between the punk and Palestine solidarity communities.

Several days ago, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) also implored Biafra to respect the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

The Punks Against Apartheid petition — which can be signed here: http://punksagainstapartheid.com/2011/06/jello-biafra-petition/ — states: 

We, the undersigned, strongly urge Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine to cancel their gig in Tel Aviv. As people who have taken the music and words of Jello Biafra to heart, we believe that going forward and performing in Israel — in defiance of the Palestinian call for cultural boycott — would fly in the face of everything he has stood for.

… Jello, you didn’t play in apartheid South Africa. You pointedly turned down invitations to do so because the call had gone up from South Africans fighting for equality to boycott. And this, in aim, is no different: Archbishop Desmond Tutu himself has endorsed the cultural boycott, and if anyone knows what apartheid looks like — and how to resist it — it’s him!

If you don’t have the cash to go to Palestine to see for yourself, then don’t earn it in blood money! We will all help you go when the occasion arises. For now, we implore you, once again, to cancel your “Holiday in Tel Aviv!”

And their letter reads, in part:

Dear Jello,

We are fans of yours, people who have been influenced and inspired by your work. There’s no doubt that over the past thirty years, while so much of American culture has been inundated by cookie-cutter corporate pop, your words and music stood apart in calling out hypocrisy, corruption and oppression. Without that kind of commitment, it’s safe to say that honest, unflinching, politically-charged music wouldn’t look quite the way it does today.

Which is why we must strongly urge you to reconsider your decision for you and the Guantanamo School of Medicine to play your show in Tel Aviv on July 2nd. Sure, you may be sick of hearing it by now. Even a quick glance at your Facebook page will reveal tons of uproar around it. But understand, it’s because your work has meant just that much to so many people. If you play that show it will definitely leave a rather sick smirch right in the center of that work. It will send a message that when it’s really hard to do the right thing, solidarity can be thrown out the window. You’ve never been one to back down during those times, and there’s no reason to start now.

Over the past couple weeks you’ve engaged with many voices in the Palestine solidarity movement, in particular the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in the UK and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Without belaboring their arguments, it is worth admitting that your correspondence, while certainly reflecting the kind of humility and fair-mindedness you’ve always brought to your activism, is also inaccurate at many points, and we feel the need to correct these inaccuracies as fellow punks and activists.

Your assertion, for example that “both the Israeli Left and the Palestinian Left are divided” in their support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is at best an over-generalization. The Boycott Divestment Sanctions National Committee (BNC) is supported by all major labor union federations in Palestine, the Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition, the General Union of Palestinian Women, the Union of Palestinian Farmers, disability groups, religious organizations, refugee groups and more. 

As PACBI pointed out in their letter to you, “All the popular committees struggling against the wall are part of the BDS movement and have called on their supporters to respect our boycott guidelines.” In total over 170 Palestinian civil society groups have endorsed the BNC’s 2005 call for BDS. Author Omar Barghouti calls it “the largest coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations inside historic Palestine and in exile.”

Nor is it so marginal even among the Israeli left — and its support is growing. In fact, so recognized is the threat that BDS poses to Israel’s machinations that “delegitimization,” that is the diplomatic and economic isolation of Israel, has now become a common topic in mainstream Israeli politics.

… We know you don’t take this decision lightly, Jello. You have never been one to shrug off the crimes committed by the world’s powerful governments against ordinary people. But this is about a lot more than the crimes of Netanyahu or the occupation; it’s about what can put an end to them once and for all. At this crucial turning point for Palestine, now more than ever, it’s about solidarity.

Punks Against Apartheid




Tony Blair's sister in law recently converted to Islam and a known advocate for Palestinian rights. Does EI have any connections with her? I was just thinking if she could help reach these Punk rockers and the Napalm heavy metal band and make sure they recieve your letters. I honestly thought your letters were excellent and I don't normally get excited about these kinds of letter because they are so dry. But your letters were heartfelt, sincere and conveyed a sense of urgency. Thank you for your efforts. Do you have the information where we can also write to these groups? Emails? SnailMail?


This is lame. Who calls themselves punks any more??? Jello does his thing and you do yours. Send letters to the government not muscians.


Sending letters to Jello & his band seemed to work quite well, don't you think? So what do you think sending letters to Israeli government would've done? Well, maybe Israel wouldn't let him in the country knowing that he's against the apartheid but still...

Thank you Jello for boycotting Israel. Free Palestine!

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).