Guest Post by Alison Avigayil Ramer and Ronnie Gross
As a result of several international musicians cancelling their concerts in Israel, due to political pressures, Israeli singer-songwriter Geva Alon held a free concert in solidarity with music lovers at the Barby club in Tel Aviv Thursday night. He was accompanied by several Israeli musicians — most notably Alma Zohar, Eran Tzur, Yael Deckelbaum and Ninet Tayeb.
While only a few international musicians have decided to cancel their concerts in Israel — most notably Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, The Pixies and Devendra Banhart — the recent cancellations have caused many Israeli musicians and music fans to grapple with the intersection of politics, culture and boycott at home.
According to Geva Alon, the point of the concert was to give something back to music fans who were disappointed by cancellations. He also held tickets to Elvis Costello and the Pixies, and was supposed to open for Devendra Banhart at the Barby, the same night that the solidarity concert was eventually held. Politics, Alon has mentioned, is beside the point. “I wanted to give something back to the music fans, who were disappointed by the cancellations, just as I was … boost people’s morale,” he said in an interview after the performance.
In keeping with the a-political tone of the event, Shaul Mizrahi, the manager of the Barby, said onstage, “I’ve heard people say this is a right-winged initiative. We are neither left nor right – this has nothing to do with politics.”
Regarding to Devendra Banhart’s cancellation, musician Ninet Tayeb said in an interview, “I too thought, like many others, that he [Banhart] is above all politics and religion… why should you mix politics – the dirtiest thing on earth, with music – the purest thing?”
Other musicians acknowledged the political situation in Israel, citing it as a reason that music is so essential to Israelis. “You don’t make art where everything is good – you make art where everything is shit,” said musician Alma Zohar.
Several attendees of the concert had bought tickets to concerts that had been cancelled. Many of them argued that cancelling concerts is not an effective way to change the political situation in Israel, nor is it the right way to share the musicians’ opinions about the conflict with the public.
“Of course I have empathy for people in Gaza, but this isn’t political … We crave for music and culture here. Only in the past few years did international artists start coming to Israel – we want and need them here,” said Vered Sustiel, office manager at Geva Alon’s booking agency. She argued that it wasn’t fair that music fans be “punished”, declaring the fans are not connected to the Israeli government’s political policies.
Itamar Shelach, 25, from Tel Aviv noted the difference between cultural and economic boycotts. “Divesting from companies directly involved in the occupation, or boycotting goods from the settlements could be effective and legitimate, but a cultural boycott is not.”
Others attendees defended Israel’s actions. “[The international musicians] don’t live here — they don’t understand… Israel has given Palestinians so much …but they [the Palestinians] chose Hamas democratically,” said Tirtzah Elmaliach, who had to make do with refunds to her tickets for Santana, Costello, and The Pixies. “Either way, we will survive, even if the whole world is against us,” she said.
But not all the attendees had the same opinions about the cancellations. Tuval Klein, who also attended the concert said, “I have a different political opinions than most people in Israel, who think that [internationals] criticize Israel because they hate Jews. This is not the case – they [the internationals] criticize Israel because they don’t agree with Israel’s policy.”
The cancellations, what Israelis now commonly refer to as the “cultural boycott”, have been thoroughly discussed in Israeli press. Many pieces that have appeared in Israeli papers, online media and social networks, have supported the cancellations, citing them as a possible incentive for Israel’s political policies to change.
Yoana Gonen, from the Coalition of Women for Peace, voiced her support of the international musicians’ decisions to cancel due to Israel’s current political situation. “I hope that the BDS movement will succeed [...] If this international momentum is lost, maybe we all will be doomed to more decades of occupation, siege, poverty, bombings and separation,” wrote Gonen in a Facebook note that evoked massive feedback. “And maybe, [we] should all take a deep breath and stop blaming the artists who refuse to come here and the activists who wrote to them [...] and start crossing [our] fingers in hopes that this movement will succeed.”
Other publications have supported the cancellations as well as raised hope for a change in the political atmosphere within the Israeli public. A piece by Rogel Alpher, published in newspaper Ha’ir Tel Aviv was named, “The Pixies and Elvis Costello are right. We are the problem.” Alpher wrote, “Cultural terrorism? I’m for it […] it finally stimulates political thought that has disappeared from the Israeli public for too long, it takes out the apathy that has taken us over […] Cultural terrorism is a good thing: nobody dies from it. It’s effective. It works […] until now, leftists didn’t go out into the streets to demonstrate, to act […] now leftists will rise to fight for their right to be part of this world…”
A piece by Udi Hirsch that appeared on the online paper Walla!, ended on a more pessimist note, “…Israel’s governments over the past years […] have done everything to terminally crush our illusions, and turn Israel into a leprous country […] thanks to them [the governments], the next [international] artist won’t let us wait nervously until the very last minute: he just won’t come to begin with.”