WE NEED TO CHECK – Defining Apartheid

Sometimes you hear a word or a phrase]that just resonates, it encapsulates your thoughts or how you’re feeling. That happened to me this morning – the expression is: “We need to check” and it floored me.

After months of being asked by different groups from within and outside Palestine not to play apartheid Israel, after letters, tweets, Facebook pages – serious appeals to their conscience, The Jesus and Mary Chain played the first of their two gigs in Tel Aviv last night.  They crossed the Palestinian picket line, they broke the boycott.

This morning before work, I saw a translation of an interview  Jim Reid from the JAMC did with Israeli Channel 2. The interview was full of the usual platitudes that those who choose cash over conscience use to try to justify their performing in Israel. (Sometimes I think I prefer the total Israel lovers, at least they’re up front about having no problem with apartheid)

Reid said: “The world is a fucked up place. I don’t like Israel’s governments, but I play to people in Israel, not to governments.” Now this one annoys the shit out of me.  With the exception of occasional performances for some megalomaniac ruler  (and the Royal Variety Show), bands don’t usually rock out on stage for a load of ministers and mps   It also completely misses the point of cultural boycotts, they will never be called for by the oppressing government and they will likely not be supported by the group which benefits from the apartheid situation – they are called for by those whose freedom and rights are breached and they are the people that need solidarity.

He said he doesn’t think that Israel is like South Africa, and if he did he wouldn’t be there. Well Israel is, in many ways, worse than South Africa, so where does that leave Jim? Floundering in his own contradictions is where.

When asked by the Israeli journalist whether the Jesus and Mary Chain had been told not to play,  Reid said: “We were told not to come. The truth is that I would like to know whether Palestinians can also buy tickets to our shows in Israel.”  Well, if you are asking whether your audience might be segregated, it seems to me that you do indeed think it is very much like South Africa. And  if you think that might be the case, then you really  have no business playing there.  Unless, of course, you don’t mind segregation.

It was the response that got me though, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all day. It’s the starkness,  the utter soullessness of it. The journalist, schooled in hasbara though they might be,  hadn’t even bothered to rehearse a lie, it was probably the first time the thought of Palestinians actually being at the gig even occurred.

Jim Reid: “The truth is that I would like to know whether Palestinians can also buy tickets to our shows in Israel.”
Israeli journalist: “We need to check.”

WE NEED TO CHECK.  So simple, so utterly telling. Sometimes a few words sideswipe you, they knock you for six, and they also perfectly encapsulate a reality. These words do that for me. They say nothing but apartheid. Nothing more, nothing less.

WE NEED TO CHECK.

Well, artists don’t need to check before they play Israel, they are told the  truth before they go, and those who ignore it have no business asking that question.

It’s too late, you should have checked.

I am updating this post today to include interaction between Mark Crozer  from the Jesus and Mary Chain and myself on the band’s official Facebook page, initiated by him after I posted this there.

Mark Crozer Zoe, as you are so willing to question the moral viewpoint of this band I would like to ask you some questions in turn: Where do you buy your clothes? What about your groceries? Do you drive a car? Do you fly? Do you ride a bicycle even? Do you eat meat? Do you own any plastic goods? Who do you work for? What kind of device do you use to type your Facebook messages? Do you use electricity? Can you morally account for your own actions and the decisions you make each day in your life? What I am getting at (in my own facetious way) is that unless you are living as a hermit, making your own clothes, not buying oil or oil-based products, not buying into anything that causes any harm to another human being or to this planet and its ecosystem in any way then you do not have the right to criticize other people. It’s as simple as that. I know that the way the Israeli government treats the Palestinian people is often reprehensible. But then what about the UK government and the US government (just to name a couple…) They decided, unilaterally, to begin a war in Iraq with no real evidence that Iraq had any involvement in the terrorist acts of 9/11. My fellow countrymen have caused the deaths of hundreds, probably thousands of innocent people around the world… So should I as a British citizen living in the USA boycott myself because I don’t agree with what my government has done in my name? No. Because it’s ridiculous and impossible to live a blameless life as a human being unless you live in a hole in the ground. I’m glad I went to Israel because it gave me the chance to meet Israeli people, Jewish Israelis I mean, who are vehemently opposed to what their government is doing. I would say that the majority of Israeli Jesus and Mary Chain fans would say they feel the same. So, how would the band deciding to boycott a couple of low-key punk rock club shows help the Palestinian situation in any way? We gave no endorsement to the Israeli government. We did nothing but play some rock n roll songs to a bunch of people who have very likely not voted for or sanctioned what their government is doing to the Palestinian people. And do you really think the Israel government gives a damn about a bunch of rock bands coming to Tel Aviv? They would probably prefer us not to bring our secular noise to their country anyway as it might just open up a few more minds to a world outside the one they live in. So that alone is more reason to go. PS – I should point out that these rants and raves are my own opinions and not necessarily those of anyone else connected with The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Me: Rob, they played for apartheid, as the artists who played Sun City did.
Mark thanks for your reply but you miss the point of human rights campaigning. People do not take on every ethical issue on the planet simultaneously, that would panic us into inaction. However, we should of course live with as little damage to each other, to animals and to the planet as possible, we should do no harm.
In this case you were asked not to play by the Palestinian people, you chose to ignore their voices and now you are telling me that you are glad that you did cross their picket line and that you met Israelis who do not endorse their government. Of course, you were also asked by Israelis who support their Palestinian sisters’ and brothers’ struggle by supporting the boycott call, they asked you not to play too.
With respect, while the UK and US governments are responsible for war, colonialism, atrocities and mass slaughter, the people of the US and the UK have NOT called for a boycott so your point doesn’t stand. If you play in Birmingham for example, it is not to a segregated audience, there aren’t 1.6 million people being held in an open air prison just down the road, there is no apartheid wall snaking by the venue, there aren’t myriad checkpoints on the way there, there aren’t “whites only” roads.
Many of these arguments were also rehearsed by those who broke the boycott of South Africa. They didn’t wash then either.
You were asked not to play, you never addressed these calls or responded to the correspondence or made a statement – you just played and now you are trying to justify it.
Yes, I really do think the Israeli govt gives a damn about rock bands playing there, that’s why they put so much work into countering the cultural boycott. Indeed, the Israeli foreign ministry has stated that it “sees no difference between propaganda and culture.” Israel has been imposing a cultural boycott on Palestinians for 64 years. By playing, whether overtly or not, you endorsed that government. The Israeli govt is constantly crowing about the bands that play there, you’ve joined the list.
The fact that you asked about whether you would be playing to a segregated audience before the gigs says everything. That the journalist couldn’t answer is utterly telling. If you are asking, you shouldn’t be playing.
Did you meet any Palestinians at the gig?
Israel subjects the Palestinian people to apartheid, war crimes, occupation, ethnic cleansing; it isn’t “often reprehensible” treatment, it is always reprehensible treatment. You were informed about this but chose to ignore it, as a JAMC fan I am so disappointed, as a supporter of Palestinian rights, I am disgusted.
No-one asked you to live a blameless life, they asked you not to cross the Palestinian picket line. You crossed it.

Mark Crozer: Zoe, we had a guest Palestinian singing with us on Friday night.

For the record, I am sure that many of those in favour of the boycott think that people like me, people like The Jesus and Mary Chain, choose to play somewhere like Israel to make an easy buck. This is not true. I earn less money as an independent musician than I would if I worked a full-time job in a supermarket. I do it because I love playing music and want to share my music with anybody who wants to listen. Again, I am speaking here from my own point of view but I am 100% certain that The Jesus and Mary Chain, Jim and William Reid, would never play anywhere purely to take people’s hard-earned money. In 2007 the band was offered a gig in the US to play at a private function for a very substantial sum of money and they turned it down.

I have one final thing to say on this for now. Zoe, I have no gripe against you because you are standing up for something you believe in. I don’t think you’re approaching this the right way though but that’s just my opinion. A call for a boycott only seeks to divide further when what is needed is unification. If anybody wants to make a real difference and help the people of Palestine then I suggest supporting The Amos Trust (http://www.amostrust.org/projects/index.php?pageNo=48) or a similar organization. I am not a Christian but I believe that they do good work in bringing together people from all faiths and all walks of life in Israel and Palestine in a non-aggressive way. I intend to make a donation to them as I have done before. If anyone wants to help the Palestinians then I urge you do to the same thing.

Me: Mark, while you might think your intentions are good, the fact remains that you ignored the Palestinian boycott call. It is not up to you, or me or anyone but them to decide how best they resist apartheid – it is arrogant to do so. Your comment on boycott dividing people, is frankly, nonsense. In the apartheid state the people ARE divided, that’s the point. So you can talk about the music til you’re blue in the face, the fact is you crossed the Palestinian picket line, you ignored their voices, you think you know better and now you are trying to justify it.

Me: Mark, you do realise that the Amos Trust supports BDS and therefore you giving them money conflicts with your performing in apartheid Israel and crossing the Palestinian picket line?
“We support Palestinians in their non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression. We endorse their call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action.”

Mark Crozer Listen… I feel like we’re going round in circles here. I am perfectly entitled to support an organization who generally stands for something I believe in. I don’t have to believe in or support everything they say to think they are doing something good in this fucked up world of ours. And you should be happy that I’m expressing support for such an agency no? Maybe it’s a contradiction but, in case you hadn’t noticed, I am a human being not a machine.

Me: I don’t get the machine comment. I am not happy you broke the boycott Mark and I am confused about your support for an organisation when you breach its principles – that’s a contradiction alright. You are, of course, entitled to support any organisation you want. I am also entitled to call out the discrepancies in your statements.
The world is indeed fucked up, it would be less so if people took real stands of solidarity, instead of stepping over picket lines.
When South Africans called for a boycott, they weren’t interested in musicians thinking they knew better than them and telling them ‘it’s ok, I didn’t play for the government’. They wanted people to take a real stand, do something serious, bypass platitudes and be honest. The Palestinian call is the same, it’s a real shame you chose to ignore it.

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