What’s So Funny ‘Bout Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: Elvis Costello’s Beautiful Message and more
By Jesse Bacon
, I was a little young to get Elvis Costello, as opposed to the Pixies. He was well on his way to the iconic status, vaguely sterotypical rabbi look, dorky glasses and angst that made him a kind of hipster patriarch and unfortuantely led to a cameo in the hideous would-be 80’s epic 200 Cigarettes. But I was always amazed at how much yearning he worked into pop songs, made them carry an emotional weight more akin to the classical music he also recorded.
Well, now he has perfectly demonstrated how one can use eloquence to illuminate, instead of to obscure. In a refreshingly straightforward piece, he has described why he answered the call not to play in Israel. While other musicians such as Gil Scott-Heron, Roger Waters, and Carlos Santana have also honored the boycott I don’t believe anyone has said why so directly or effectively. Here it is.
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.
One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament.
Then 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 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.
Some will regard all of this an unknowable without personal experience but if these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way.
I offer my sincere apologies for any disappointment to the advance ticket holders as well as to the organizers.
My thanks also go to the members of the Israeli media with whom I had most rewarding and illuminating conversations. They may regard these exchanges as a waste of their time but they were of great value and help to me in gaining an appreciation of the cultural scene.
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 Jewish Holiday Shavuot, which begins tonight, commemorates the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is the very epitome of revelation from on high. But this holiday, revelation is not from a mountaintop. It is cumulative, from a thousand different places.. It is cumulative, dare I say it, open source.
And what have we learned? We have learned that Israeli Democracy is being withdrawn bit by bit, even from its Jewish citizens. As if we are watching the tape of Sinai in reverse, with the law being taken away, one person at a time, back into a dusty tablet, and then eventually out of reach.
But we also have learned that the crowd is not taking this quietly. In the best tradition of complaint, people are demanding it back. Starting with the Palestinian people at the very back, out of sight in prison cells, under guard towers,beneath gag orders, menaced by midnight raids, and in the shadow of the Wall.
Thier truths are spreading to their allies in Israel and around the world all the way to the University of Berkeley and beyond. People are demanding the manna be shared equally just as it was in the bible story. Here we see the tape on fast forward, as the process of coming out for democracy accelerates, blooms, and spreads. Everyone a Sinai. What will you do when it reaches you?