Giving some love to the cultural boycott

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On Monday evening, Jethro Tull performed in Jerusalem with Shlomo Gronich as guest keyboardist. Gronich played riffs from Israel’s national anthem, the Hatikvah. Front man, Ian Anderson’s decision to play in the apartheid state was taken in spite of urgent calls for him heed the boycott call. It is clear from his interview with the Jerusalem Post that he was contacted by both pro- and anti-boycotters, but he used the opportunity to call the Palestinian boycott call “irritating and shallow,” and to join the chorus of contempt for Elvis Costello, although curiously he was keen to emphasise that his decision was also based on maintaining his ‘reputation’ for not cancelling shows unless he is ill. From his statement on the band’s official website in June 2010, we learned that he made up his "own mind in light of available facts, with my own experience and a sense of personal ethics.” That must be why he approached former British PM and the Middle East envoy of the risible Quartet, Tony Blair, for advice on which ‘co-existence’ charities he should donate his fee to for performing in Israel. Anderson’s good will is accepted unquestioningly by the Post who are triumphant with the headline: ‘Jethro Tull donates to co-existence’. Other apologists busy celebrating on a Jethro Tull internet discussion site: "The Jethro Tull Board proudly wishes a "yosha koach" to Jethro Tull for not yielding to the intense pressure, intimidation and lies of the Israel-bashing crowd. We are sure that Ian and the boys will receive unsurpassed love and gratitude from an audience, and from a nation…"

Ian got more than love; he got up-close and intimate with the Occupation. In 2008, Jethro Tull’s famed guest keyboardist, Shlomo Gronich, performed for the settlers in Silwan. As reported by Gush Shalom in the lead up to the concert, "Gronich, who in the past presented himself prominently in the country and abroad as a “peace seeker” and even held joint performances with Arab artists, is now due to give a free performance at the “City of David” settler enclave at the heart of Silwan Village, in an event honouring the American millionaire and settler patron Irwin Moskowitz, in the framework of celebrating the anniversary of the occupation of Palestinian East Jerusalem and its annexation to Israel (“Jerusalem Day”, June 2)." Anderson had told the Post reporter that his donations “don’t make me feel particularly good or saintly, it was just one of those things you do, from time to time, like most people in my position,” he said. 

Other artists ‘in his position’ are giving some real love, however: UK band Faithless’s simple and witty statement sends out a message of support for the Palestinian call to boycott Israel: "…this short note is for all fans and family of the band in Israel. It’s fair to say that for 14 years we’ve been promoting goodwill, trust and harmony all around the world in our own small (but very loud!) way. Ok. We’ve been asked to do some shows this summer in your country and, with the heaviest of hearts, I have regretfully declined the invitation. While human beings are being wilfully denied not just their rights but their NEEDS for their children and grandparents and themselves, I feel deeply that I should not be sending even tacit signals that this is either ‘normal’ or ‘ok’"

Today, Thursday 12 August, in Dublin, is the launch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) pledge, signed by over 130 Irish creative and performing artists, to boycott Israel:

In response to the call from Palestinian civil society for a cultural boycott of Israel, we pledge not to avail of any invitation to perform or exhibit in Israel, nor to accept any funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.

In the words of IPSC Cultural Boycott Officer Dr. Raymond Deane, "These artists are aware of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s statement in 2005 that “We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and…do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.” On Wednesday PACBI released a statement on the historical significance on this pledge, which represents "a ground breaking strategy in supporting Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice…. Regardless of intentions, [an artistic] act is a conscious form of complicity that is manipulated by Israel in its frantic efforts to whitewash its persistent violations of international law and Palestinian rights."

There is no need for ‘saintly’ artists – a category Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson disingenuously implies he might fit into after his flirtation with ‘Reverend’ Blair; just individuals that are willing to wise-up to the shameless exploitation of their art.

Eleanor Kilroy is an artist and BDS activist living in London.

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