Israeli rocker and occupation critic, Izhar Ashdot: Eric Burdon will play Israel with me

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Nitzani and Ashdot at Tel Aviv Beach, Vienna
Izhar Ashdot (right) and Yair Nitzani on Tel Aviv Beach in Vienna (yes, you read that correctly) shortly before meeting Eric Burdon to finalize the August 1 concert in Binyamina, Israel.  Illustration is a screen grab from Ashdot’s Facebook page.

According to a personal message I received yesterday (Sunday) from Izhar Ashdot, Eric Burdon will be performing in Israel despite reports that he had cancelled his scheduled appearance due to alleged threats from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists. Mondoweiss covered the reported cancellation, as well as the U.S. Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott statement denying that the BDS movement uses violent threats.

Ashdot is a founding member of the popular Israeli rock group Tislam.  He personally invited Burdon to appear with his group on stage on August 1 in an amphitheater in Binyamina, Israel.   Ashdot wrote me that Burdon would be arriving in Israel today (Monday) and quoted the British rock legend as telling him that, “… he will stand by his promise of two weeks ago: ‘I believe in everyone’s right to music, without connection his/her politics.’”  The Jerusalem Post reported that the legendary British rocker told Ashdot:

It’s impossible to prevent music. Everyone needs music and there’s no connection to current politics. Everyone has the right to be entertained.

Ironically, Ashdot recently recorded what I believe to be a most powerful and insightful anti-occupation song called “A Matter of Habit.”  As a result the singer was subjected to a barrage of hate-filled criticism and invective both in the Israeli press and on social media sites.  Annie Robbins covered the story and linked to the video of  “A Matter of Habit” here at Mondoweiss.

I sent the Israeli rocker Annie’s post via Asdot’s Facebook page.  I expressed admiration for his courage in answering the criticism of his song’s trenchant protest against the occupation and elucidation of the corrosive role of the military in its perpetuation.  But I also expressed my “disappointment” that he did not use the Burdon cancellation to address the evils of the occupation and how it isolates Israel from the world community. In addition, I recommended that he address the occupation at the concert which was scheduled to go forward without Burdon.

Ashdot did not take kindly to my suggestion.  The singer wrote, among other expressions of disagreement with the thoughts express in my message:

I am afraid that you miss the principal point. The song “A Matter of Habit” is the way in which Alona [the song’s lyricist and Izhar’s life partner] and I express ourselves in regard to the occupation and the damage that it causes our children. Burdon not coming to Israel disappoints me very much, but just as I am against the occupation, I am against boycotts. I, myself, have appeared more than once in the occupied territories, in front of settlers, they are part of my people and one day we must welcome them back without regard to their politics. [My translation, IG.]

I am for boycotts. I supported the grape boycott, the boycott of apartheid South Africa and I wholeheartedly support the boycott of apartheid Israel. I think saying everyone has a right to music and entertainment is a pretty weak excuse for avoiding dealing with the decision of whether or not to perform in Israel. I have never heard of the right to entertainment, but know that the right to self-determination and freedom from occupation is codified in international law.

I can understand how an Israeli performing artist must make peace with his audience and that a complete oeuvre of anti-occupation tunes would be a career killer in Israel. But the Burdon cancellation was at its root about the occupation, so for Tislam’s statement to not mention it just seems to me to indicate that Ashdot is neglecting the obvious. The implied conclusion from his avoidance is that the situation in the territories really is not that bad. But it is.

Maybe my calling out Izhar like this is unfair. Maybe performing a song like “A Matter of Habit” is more than anyone should expect from someone who lives in the belly of the beast. Still, not talking about the occupation but rather his personal disappointment in not being able to perform with Burdon, somehow makes me hear Ashdot’s protest against Israeli oppression differently.

I asked Ashdot if he would sing “A Matter of Habit” at Binyamina.  He did not address my query in his message. 

I hope the Israeli rocker will get the irony when Burdon sings, “We gotta get out of this place” in their joint performance.

Update: Notice of Burdon’s upcoming performance in Israel has just hit the Hebrew language press.

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