Jello Biafra ~versus~ BDS

Update (June 30) : The gig has been cancelled. A statement on the withdrawal is below.

Update : Appeal to Jello Biafra: Do not cross our picket line, June 12, 2011: “The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) sent an appeal to Jello Biafra on 7 June 2011, but its receipt was never acknowledged. In light of the public conversation around Biafra’s performance in Tel Aviv, PACBI has decided to publicize its appeal to him to cancel his ill-conceived show.”

Jello Biafra (and the Guantanamo School of Medicine) has decided not to join the BDS campaign and is playing a gig in Tel Aviv on July 2. In response to criticism, he wrote the following letter to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign explaining why the band has decided to play and posted it on the band’s FaceBook page (where it has generated a good deal of debate).

Thank you for your letter. 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 [p]eace 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.

You may remember the BDS campaign from such moments as the December 2010 decision by Marrickville Council to endorse it and then in April of this year to rescind its decision (on the basis that it ‘cost too much’ to implement).

A few points:

1. Like other conflicts–and campaigns intended in some way to address them–Jello is right to note that the issue is complex.

2. I don’t know if “the Israeli Left and the Palestinian Left are divided right down the middle” on the campaign, but: a list of those who’ve endorsed the campaign is available via the BDS site; assuming a position on the campaign on this basis is problematic; certainly, leading figures in the anti-apartheid movement endorse the campaign.

3. The BDS campaign–especially its ‘Cultural’ component–does not, on my reading, call on artists, musicians and intellectuals not to visit Israel, but rather not to perform there. If correct, Jello remains at liberty to set foot in the country, and to investigate its conditions.

Otherwise, British blogger Bob from Brockley, as well as being a big fan of Uncle Noam, has boatloads of debate on Israel/Palestine, and reckons that “The boycott, divestment, sanctions idea has zero chance of contributing positively to peace or justice in Palestine; its only role is to give liberals an outlet for their moral ejaculations and to engrave in indelible letters the idea that Israel is the last word in evil”.

See also : Anarchists Against the Wall | ‘Israeli anarchism: Statist dilemmas and the dynamics of joint struggle’, Uri Gordon, Anarchist Studies, Vol.15, No.1 (February 2003) [PDF].


About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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3 Responses to Jello Biafra ~versus~ BDS

  1. Jack Crow says:

    The problem with Bob is that he finds anti-semitism in everything.

  2. Andrew says:

    Regarding #3, your reading of the cultural boycott, the PACBI campaign specifically calls for the boycott of complicit Israeli institutions. Performances within Palestine-Israel, when framed in the specific context of resisting the Israel’s crimes of apartheid and colonialism and denial of Palestinian rights would be “anti-apartheid events”, and thus not subject to boycott. Please see the AAA declaration and PACBI’s guidelines. I believe visits are encouraged to build awareness, but not required to support the boycott while doing one’s own research.

  3. @ndy says:

    Statement from Jello Biafra Wednesday June 29 2011
    by Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine on Thursday, 30 June 2011 at 00:33

    Dear Friends,

    Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine are not going through with the July 2 date in Tel Aviv. This does not mean I or anyone else in the band are endorsing or joining lockstep with the boycott of all things Israel.

    I am going to Israel and Palestine to check things out myself and may yet conclude that playing for people in the belly of the beast was the right thing to do in the first place.

    The toll and stress on the band members and myself has been huge, both logistically and as a matter of conscience. I can’t drag anyone any further into rough waters without being better prepared than some of us thought we were. A responsible leader does not go, ‘Hey, check out the storm at the top of Mount Everest. Let’s go up anyway just in case we don’t die.’ Some members are angry with me for this decision, let alone how long it took me. I don’t blame them.

    It would have been so easy to quietly pass on the gig out of fear someone might get upset, and no one would have been the wiser. We could have flown under the radar, left the date off our tour postings and not bothered with a statement, but how honest is that?

    Our intention in going was that we thought we could do some good , speaking truth to power, fans and impressionable young minds in a way that most bands don’t. What about the people on the same side of the human rights fence we are who now don’t get to see us play? Should they be boycotted too? What about the even larger atrocities of the Bush regime and by extension Obama? Should we turn off our mouths of anger and boycott our own country too?

    We tried again and came close to landing a Ramallah show, but again, we needed to be better prepared. How fair is it to the organizers to demand a full-on rock show on a few days’ notice with a type of music they may not be familiar with? More importantly, how much are we really doing for Palestinian rights if people there don’t seem interested in our kind of music at all?

    I’ve been doing this long enough to know better than buy into hardline absolutes such as playing in Israel automatically supports apartheid or Israel’s government. That threat is ridiculous. I know far more about this issue than some people think I do, and I am not a poodle for Hasbara, Peace Now, BDS or anyone else.

    The first people contacting us went out of their way to be diplomatic and communicate how they felt. Then our Facebook page went from eye-opening and educational to a childish bickerfest between a handful of people, to the point where we had to try something else just to reclaim our own Facebook page.

    As the gloves came off, unfortunately so did some of the masks. Calling anyone speaking up for Palestinian rights a ‘terrorist’ is dumb. So are the blanket condemnations of everyone who happens to be Israeli that seem to be coming from the ‘drive all the Jews into the sea’ crowd. I also even got an invitation from a self-proclaimed fan to ‘come meet the Israeli right’ and see the settlements through their eyes, complete with a wine-tasting party. Whew!

    Whoever started now admits it was aimed solely at one person – me. It is obvious that not everyone signing the petition has any idea who I am, or knows anything about punk, possibly the majority. The last time I looked I could only find three names of people I actually knew. Some made it clear that I will be on their bad list no matter what I do because I dared to even think of playing in Israel.

    I can’t back anyone whose real goal or fantasy is a country ethnically cleansed of Jews or anyone else. Where people who think for themselves or talk to the wrong person are automatically a sell out. Speaking personally, I currently favor two democratic states in the admittedly naive hope that in our lifetime they can somehow evolve into one. Where race or religion does not matter because people have learned to work with each other.

    I think back to last year when JBGSM played in Serbia. The locals we spent time with were not monsters, and filled me in on how they risked their necks for years opposing and demonstrating against Milosevic and were not down with ethnic cleansing at all. But they weren’t too happy about being bombed by NATO for over 2 months straight either, and showed the ruined buildings to prove it.

    I also heard comments like, ‘The Croats killed my grandfather in World War II. I can’t forget that…’ and ‘There’s another war coming soon. I can feel it.’ The most I could do from the stage is say that I do not know what I would do if the Croats or Serbs killed my grandfather, or a suicide bomber or occupying army killed my child. But I would hope I would be one of those people who could somehow say, ‘Can’t we have some peace?’ The audience seemed to appreciate that.

    The next day I laid out my thoughts and emotions to the person giving me a ride in Slovenia. She turned ice cold and said, ‘Maybe next time you should play in Bosnia.’ Good point. The nightmare continues.

    Rise Above,

    Jello Biafra

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