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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tipping point: When boycotting Israel carries no downside

There have been rumors and urban legends (mostly unfounded, as it turns out) over the past few decades of various musical artists making public announcements that they don't want a particular religious or ethnic group to buy their albums or attend their concerts.

On the face this kind of alleged behavior is fairly easy to debunk since it would be the height of stupidity on the part of any artist to deliberately alienate a group of potential album/ticket buyers.  Think about it... with downloading, file sharing and various other forms of piracy, even the most successful artists are feeling the pinch.

At very worst, if someone truly felt antipathy for a given group, the conventions of political correctness would  demand that they be circumspect about where and when they gave voice to their feelings.

So when an artist comes out on so public a forum as their own web site and makes a statement that not only supports the boycott of a group, but announces his/her participation in said boycott... well, you have to assume that they have done the math and decided that either indulging their hatred outweighs the potential economic downside, or that their position is so mainstream as to carry little or no potential danger to - and might even enhance - their career.

Such is the case of British singer/songwriter Elvis Costello who recently canceled two scheduled concerts in Israel with the following statement on his web site:

It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel on the 30th of June and the 1st of July.

...

There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.

I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.

...

I hope it is possible to understand that I am not taking this decision lightly or so I may stand beneath any banner, nor is it one in which I imagine myself to possess any unique or eternal truth.

It is a matter of instinct and conscience.

It has been necessary to dial out the falsehoods of propaganda, the double game and hysterical language of politics, the vanity and self-righteousness of public communiqués from cranks in order to eventually sift through my own conflicted thoughts.

I have come to the following conclusions.

One must at least consider any rational argument that comes before the appeal of more desperate means.

Sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static and so an end to it.

I cannot imagine receiving another invitation to perform in Israel, which is a matter of regret but I can imagine a better time when I would not be writing this.

With the hope for peace and understanding. Elvis Costello

The truth is, by deliberately taking this decision in so public a manner (as opposed to not scheduling any concerts in the first place), Mr. Costello is indeed taking a place beneath a particular banner. 

By playing a concert in any country, an artist is not assumed to support all policies of that country's government.  But by actively participating in the boycott of a country, little doubt remains as to the artist's loyalties.

Not only has Elvis Costello not "dialed out the falsehoods of propaganda", but he seems to have firmly embraced them.  He has subscribed to the intransigent Arab narrative of senseless absolutism, and embraced the prevailing anti-Semitism that fashionably masquerades in his country (and around the world) as anti-Zionism.

In truth, by joining and publicly endorsing the boycott of Israel, this artist has thrown in his lot with the anti--democratic, anti-woman, jihadist movement that seeks the subjugation and eventual destruction of not only my country... but his own.

I used to think that it was counter-productive to demand that people choose sides.  I naively thought that thoughtful people could hold nuanced views about the myriad issues within this regional conflict; deploring the excesses and omissions of both sides in any conflict.  But so long as those who seek my destruction demand and receive such exclusive loyalty, I feel I have no choice but to demand the same so that I can finally know who will support me in the coming time of need.

Simply put, I now feel that you are either with Israel or against us.  No matter how he has tried to make it seem otherwise, Elvis Costello has chosen sides.  Have you?

Posted by David Bogner on May 20, 2010 | Permalink

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This is what I don't understand the most: how is not putting on a show in Israel effectively boycotting or making a stand against the Israeli state? All it does is make Costello fans suffer and offers no real political action. What's the point? I'm guessing since he's against Israel he was also against Bush, but, judging by his tour schedule, he doesn't seem to have stopped touring the U.S. from 2001-2009.

Posted by: Vicki | May 20, 2010 3:30:57 PM

Yeah, Elvis Costello. Whatever. I'll be at the Metallica concert on Saturday night; they're still coming, and they eat Costello for breakfast.

Posted by: ADDeRabbi | May 20, 2010 3:39:14 PM

"So when an artist comes out on so public a forum as their own web site and makes a statement....their position is so mainstream as to carry little or no potential danger to - and might even enhance - their career."

Unless those artists are the Dixie Chicks.


With Israel.

Posted by: Karl Newman | May 20, 2010 4:08:31 PM

You mean people still pay to see him?

Substituting "Mentally Defective" for "Watching the Detectives" fits really well.

Posted by: chairwoman | May 20, 2010 4:55:36 PM

Sanctimonious and pompous. His British roots are showing. Now I can add him to the ever growing list of entertainers that I choose to boycott.

Also, with Israel

Posted by: Lisa | May 20, 2010 5:19:31 PM

Lisa, he's ethnically Irish, and he lives in the USA.

With Israel.

Posted by: chairwoman | May 20, 2010 5:45:19 PM

My error, sorry.
What about Annie Lennox and Alan Rickman?

Posted by: Lisa | May 20, 2010 6:20:34 PM

Who? Costello? Lou? What happened to Abbot?

Anyway, there's only one Elvis and it ain't Costello!

Albert Einstein said, "Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity and I'm not sure about the universe" Sums up Mr Costello, I think.

I'm with Israel and to show your support, go to Trep's last post and donate to cold drinks!

Posted by: Ken | May 20, 2010 7:07:35 PM

Annie Lennox - Scot. Formerly married to an Israeli artist.

Alan Rickman, born in London, Welsh mother, Irish father.

Posted by: chairwoman | May 20, 2010 7:44:36 PM

I'll be at the Metallica concert on Saturday night;

It will be a much better show than Elvis could ever do- but such is life. I do wonder, how much influence does Costello have. Are we helping his "cause" by talking about it.

Posted by: Jack | May 20, 2010 8:49:55 PM

Standing right with you!

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | May 20, 2010 9:59:03 PM

With.

I remember the words of Martin Niemoller...

Jim

Posted by: Jim Smith | May 20, 2010 11:08:36 PM

I expected better of you. You omitted the following from your post, a segment of Costello's release immediately following his paragraph about the dissenters who would be in his audience:

"I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation."

Granted, his release is still heavily titled towards one side, but that doesn't make your omission of Costello's half-hearted attempt at even-handedness any less irresponsible.

Posted by: Bryan | May 21, 2010 9:48:48 AM

I would boycott mister Costello's art, except that I'm too much of an old fart to actually ever have listened to any of it. Or bought any of it for friends.
Kinda repulsed by his entire musical era. Ick, poo.

On the other hand, I think I'll listen to some Ofra Haza and Naomi Shemer this afternoon.
I never tire of Y shel Z.

Posted by: At The back of the Hill | May 21, 2010 11:32:01 PM

Never liked him anyway. I quite agree with you on this one Trep.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | May 23, 2010 1:08:54 AM

His wife, Diana Krall, is scheduled to perform in Israel in August. I wonder if she will.

Posted by: zee | May 23, 2010 6:17:06 AM

Vicki ... It won't hurt us financially (as is the goal of most boycotts), it is meant to be a public slap in the face... a move which will enhance his standing both financially, and in the opinion of the rest of the world.

ADDeRabbi ... While I smiled at your comment I have to point out that there is no connection. There is no master ledger that gets balanced by one artist boycotting us and another going ahead with their concert series. The net result is a loss of one concert series.

Karl Newman... That was just bad timing on their part. :-)

chairwoman... Yes, and I want to be clear; I won't slam him as an artist because of his asinine politics. I enjoyed his music and will miss it now that he has turned against Israel.

Lisa... That's the spirit.

Ken... Thanks for the plug. :-)

Jack ... We're neither helping nor hurting it by talking about it. However, by refusing to ignore such insults and attacks, we can get a clearer sense of who is with us and who against us.

Kiwi Noa... As if there was ever a question. :-)

Jim Smith... Yes, but in this case we're not in denial about who is coming for us... they are already gathered against us and the battle lines drawn. I just want people to start taking note of where the lines are.

Bryan... I hold myself to a much higher standard than you ever could. I linked to the entire statement and clearly indicated where I had omitted text. The sentence you so dearly wanted me to include was a weak, token statement that was written in so general a fashion as to cause the casual reader to question who he was talking about. He had no trouble naming Israel as the villain which oppresses and humiliates Palestinians. Why, do you suppose, he suddenly started using vague, euphemistic language when referring to the murderous excesses of the Palestinians? It is because he used that sentence to downplay the seriousness of their deeds. And for those who actually understood what he was talking about in that sentence, it was akin to saying, "I denounce all forms of violence, but I can understand how the Palestinians could come to use it...". In other words, the very vagueness and weakness of his statement invalidates the very premise on which it was built.

At The back of the Hill ... Yes, he's more my wife's generation than mine... but I have to admit I did like some of his music.

Ilana-Davita ... I'm pleased to hear it. :-)

zee... Her relative lack of public recognition makes whatever she decided irrelevant.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 23, 2010 11:32:21 AM

According to her website, Diana Krall's concert in Ra'anana will go on as planned. There was a statement up almost seconds after Costello's came out.

And David! Diana Krall is hugely popular! Not to the level of her husband, to be sure, so I see what you're saying - if she had cancelled her concert independent of whatever Costello did, there'd be very little publicity about it.

Since Lisa mentioned Alan Rickman, whom I positively ADORE, I had to google him+Israel. I'm gutted, I had no idea he was behind that stupid play. He may be a fabulous actor, but he's no longer on my adoration list. Too bad.

Posted by: Alissa | May 23, 2010 4:59:35 PM

Oh, well - excuse me while I burn my two Elvis Costello CD's. Yes, I did like his music. C'est la guerre.

I'll reserve judgement on Diana Krall, who comes across as classier than E.C. could ever hope to be. I hope she ditches the jerk.

Posted by: psachya | May 23, 2010 6:11:16 PM

Oh, I should add: "burn" as in flames, not a CD burner.

And BTW - contrast Costello's actions with that of Paul McCartney last year, who toured Israel despite personal threats. We should know who our friends are, too.

Posted by: psachya | May 23, 2010 6:16:47 PM

yeah. "for." next question.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | May 25, 2010 8:35:07 AM

I'm speaking as someone who's been a longtime Costello fan. Unlike others, I'm not going to bag Costello's music. Just because he's taken a weak, wishy-washy, poorly informed stance doesn't mean he's not written great music over the years.

As is generally stated here, though, I now believe him to be a sad little human being, following a fashionable pro-Palestinian cause, devoid of any moral foundation. This is even more disappointing than hearing Tom Waits' crappy "Road To Peace". It's a song with weak-kneed pretensions of even-handedness, but reserving vitriol for Israel in a passive-aggressive fashion.

With Israel.

Posted by: Moish | Jun 10, 2010 7:57:10 AM

Today's post linked to this one. To answer Vicki's question, now that The Pixies have canceled their concert, we are seeing the term "cultural boycott."

Posted by: b. | Jun 13, 2010 10:53:14 PM

It's remarkable that someone in show business (among the most propaganda driven human endeavors) cannot see through the concerted Muslim/Arab propaganda that pretends to care about the Palestinians. Costello is a talented singer. I used to call him and intelligent singer but he's either an idiot or cynically trying to appeal to the bigger audience.

Posted by: Henri | Jul 3, 2010 3:41:50 AM

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