The Red Hot Chili Peppers played at the Pic.Nic festival in Israel on September 10th 2012. Although the Red Hot Chili Peppers chose to play in Israel and ignore the Palestinian boycott call, the campaign calling for them to cancel has been very successful and is testament to the growing BDS movement.
From the time of learning of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ plans to play in Tel Aviv, members of the global BDS movement embarked on a campaign to reach out to the band, led as always by PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel). Thirteen groups wrote open letters to the band, over 7,300 people signed a petition asking them to cancel and over 1,200 people joined a Facebook page calling for same.
In early September, as a result of a strong campaign, Mashrou’ Leila cancelled their scheduled opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Lebanon.
There can be no doubt that the RHCP were aware of the campaign calling for them to stand with the Palestinian people and against apartheid. Indeed on Friday 7th September, Chad Smith (@RHCPchad) tweeted this: “In any city of any country we play..Our sole purpose is to uplift people thru our music. Nothing more. Nothing less ..that’s it.”
Numerous BDS campaigners tweeted to Chad Smith, as they had been doing for the entire campaign, to let him know that playing in Israel is never just about the music and appealing to him and his fellow band members not to cross the Palestinian picket line.
On Sunday 9th September, the Israeli government (@GPOIsrael) made the very case that the BDS movement always stresses, that it is not possible to separate music and politics, by tweeting: Boycott calls unlikely to cool Red Hot Chili Peppers’ first concert in Tel Aviv, Israel – Times of #Israel http://buff.ly/PTQWpv #music
That the RHCP not once either acknowledged the campaign or engaged with any of the organisations calling on them to cancel is a terrible indictment of them on a personal level and illustrates the poverty of their socially aware image. Calling for the freedom of Pussy Riot, while admirable and necessary, is not difficult – it is a very mainstream campaign, however, calling for the freedom of the Palestinian people takes courage, something they manifestly failed to display.
BDS continues to grow as a tactic to use pressure to hold Israel accountable to international law and to gain equal rights for the Palestinian people. In their summary report of the 7 year anniversary of BDS, the Boycott National Committees estimate that “the global reach of the BDS movement is maybe best highlighted by this year’s edition of the BDS Global Day of Action which took place in 23 countries and the fact that the 8th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) was organized this year on campuses in 202 cities across the world, causing near panic in the Israeli public diplomacy ministry, which scrambled 100 envoys to counter IAW around the world.”
Thus, while it is unfortunate that the RHCP chose to play apartheid Israel and not to join the growing list of artists who have taken the principled decision not to play today’s Sun City, the campaign has contributed to a growing awareness both of the BDS movement and of the reality that the Israeli state does take artists playing there as an endorsement of that state’s policies.
For the future we can hope that more and more artists join those who have refused to be used to whitewash apartheid, artists of conscience such as Faithless, Leftfield, Gorillaz, Klaxons, Roger Waters, Massive Attack, Gil Scott Heron, Santana, Pete Seeger, Pixies, Tindersticks, Elvis Costello, Ken Loach, Cat Power and many more who have refused to condone occupation, apartheid and war crimes.
BDS, it’s unstoppable!