I graduated from law school two weeks ago. Last Tuesday, I decided to take the evening away from boring bar prep outlines and write a few lines of poetry. I have sorely neglected my writing for a few months as I focus on transitioning from student to grown up but the lines needed to come out. So I sat in a pizza parlor in Los Angeles near where I live, ordered some food and put my pen in my hand. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks, because I’ve spent so much time listening to his music, reading his words, watching him perform. Maybe it was just my mind, I thought, but there was no mistaking that black hat, he was wearing exactly what he wears on stage, and then I heard him speak. Oh gosh.
The legendary singer-songwriter and poet, Leonard Cohen, had walked into the pizzeria. I knew I had to approach him, because he is not just a writer whose work I’ve learned and grown from, but because there is some unfinished business between Leonard and me. A year and a half ago, he made the decision to play a concert in Tel Aviv only months after the Israeli government perpetrated a horror on the people of Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. According to B’tselem, the Israeli human rights group, 1,389 Palestinians were killed, 789 of whom did not take part in hostilities. This all happened in the context of Israel’s ongoing military occupation and settlement of Palestinian land, which has rendered the Palestinians second class citizens in the country their ancestors built. The Israel Discount Bank, which according to Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace is deeply involved in Israel’s settlement building enterprise, co-sponsored Cohen’s concert.
Despite my disappointment, I understand where Leonard Cohen is coming from. Artists want their work heard far and wide and don’t want politics to get between them and their audiences. And coming to terms with Israel’s perpetuation of Palestinian suffering wasn’t easy for me as I’m sure it’s not easy for Cohen. Speaking it aloud felt like I was betraying my own. I worried that I was helping those who wanted to demonize Israelis if I acknowledged Israel’s crimes publicly. What I found when I became involved in the struggle against the occupation, however, is that Israelis march side by side with Palestinians every weekend to protest the confiscation of Palestinian land. Israelis also play an important role in undermining those who profit off of Palestinian suffering. The BDS movement embodies co-existence and peace, because it is made up of Palestinians, Israelis and people around the world working together to stop those who would profit off of suffering and war. When an artist chooses to support the boycott, he or she makes a strong statement that bolsters these unpopular voices for change.