By Larry Gordon
If music artists understood that certain devious individuals and organizations were using them to administer doses of the new anti-Semitism, Israel would probably turn into a venue for continuous all-star rock ‘n’ roll performances. Yet that effort continues unabated, with old rockers like Roger Waters of Pink Floyd intoxicated with a virulent brand of Jew-hatred that is currently playing itself out as an anti-Israel, anti-Zionist campaign seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state and deny its veracity as a legitimate setting for rock ‘n’ roll bands to perform.
Some might feel that rock music has been or perhaps still is the elixir that paves the way for our morality-challenged society, but that position is certainly, if nothing else, subject to debate. Musicians and artists—whether you enjoy or listen to their music or not—are ambassadors at large of their trade. Music transcends boundaries and borders and frequently rises above the fray of the day.
So now, for those of you who follow these things, the Rolling Stones are playing what might be the greatest concert ever in Israel in early July. Their buddy, Mr. Waters, brought terrific pressure to bear in an effort to get them to cancel the concert for which they are reportedly being paid $4.5 million for one show. But you have to hand it to Mick Jagger and the boys (or the men, all in their 70s) for standing up against the pressure to participate in the international effort to besmirch Israel and further ostracize the Jewish state.
Sure, it is only a rock show in Tel Aviv in July, very distant from anything resembling the Israel we know and love that is centered around Jerusalem, the holy sites, the Kotel, Judea and Samaria, and so on. But out there in the rest of the world, this Rolling Stones thing in Tel Aviv is big. And as far as the BDS effort, this might be the biggest thing to come along in quite some time, and at the same time, a serious defeat for Israel’s naysayers and critics.
Rock ‘n’ roll performers, like movie stars, know how to garner attention for political causes that they attach themselves to. As a fan or connoisseur of the art some of them dispense, one would expect at the very least that they have some fundamental intellectual honesty to the positions they adapt and promote.
The item that served as the catalyst for this thought process was a full-page ad in the New York Times a few weeks ago advertising an Elvis Costello concert in New York City at the end of June. Earlier this year, as well as a few years ago, Costello was scheduled to perform in Israel, but in both instances canceled under pressure from pro-Palestinian groups. I believe that as supporters of what is right and just, as well as supporters of Israel, one would be right to deliberately not patronize those shows as a minimal way to communicate that this boycott idea can easily be turned into a two-way street.
The odd thing here is that we all are well aware that there is no freer or more open society in the Middle East, or perhaps even anywhere in the world, than Israel. To work to promote and label Israel as intolerant or prejudiced is the precise opposite of the reality and the resurgence of the “big lie” that worked for the Nazis during World War II.
The reality of the situation is not keeping musicians and/or other artists from performing in Israel; it is the perception and images painted by others who conjure up and present a corrupted and disjointed reality as real. This is why performers like Roger Waters and Elvis Costello take such hardened positions and are so active in making certain that others do not go to play in Israel.
Their fear is that once they are there, they will see for themselves that they were blatantly deceived. The finest case in point is Paul McCartney of Beatles fame who played a show last year in Tel Aviv. In an interview, McCartney said he was warned not to go because of the fashion in which Israel treats the Palestinians, and he added that he was warned that it was also dangerous to go there. McCartney told an interviewer that after all these years in the business, when he is told to stay away from a venue for some political reason, it tends to pique his curiosity and he becomes more interested in seeing what is going on for himself. Once in Israel, he said, he found the situation not to be anything resembling what he was told he would find. He said the people were friendly and the concert was outstanding. He added that as a Christian he was able to visit Bethlehem, something he always had wanted to do, and step into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher there.
“What can I tell you, 99% of the people are peace loving,” McCartney said, and it is only the small minority of terrorists who seek to disrupt the peacefulness of everyday life in Israel. The politically correct and perhaps popular thing from one perspective for McCartney would have been to join so many of his industry and refuse to perform in Israel as a protest.
So there are several things going on here simultaneously. The first is this dastardly effort to hurt one of the smallest countries on the globe—Israel. It does not have to be reiterated here what a spectacular democratic society Israel features for her people. The idea of promoting an impression that freedom and democracy in Israel is a cover or a façade for the oppression of another people has been consistently demonstrated as being a corrupted version of what is really going on in Israel.
But how can we argue with Roger Waters or Elvis Costello when we have a Secretary of State and even a President who subscribe to similar falsified notions? And that is without mentioning so-called pro-Israel groups like J Street who advocate for a divided Jerusalem and a shrunken Israel, thereby making whatever their vision of the Jewish state is additionally vulnerable.
Aside from the internecine conflicts and debates taking place within the country, Israel is quite a progressive place that has no problem handling the likes of the Stones, McCartney, and earlier this year, Rhianna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
That what these performers say and think about the political situation has any importance attached to it at all is because, here in the U.S. anyway, what famous people think and say is important regardless of whether or not they know what they are talking about.
And I suppose that this is as good a place as any for Roger Waters to enter the picture. Predictably, Waters has written on his Facebook page that some of his best friends and even relatives are Jews and he has no problem with them at all. He writes that two of his nieces are Jewish and that his father was a member of the U.S. forces that liberated several concentration camps following the Holocaust.
So what is it that bothers Waters so much about Jews having their own country in Israel? This perception of Israel stems, in my estimation, from something other than the trumped-up claims of Palestinian leadership. It is a matter that is penetratingly deeper and goes far back into history. It has to do in part with the Jewish rejection of Jesus and the continued Bible-based claim to our ancestral homeland.
No one I have read about, whether John Kerry or Elvis Costello, is about to admit that this is the true catalyst of whatever problems they have with reconciling the Jewish state. That Israel celebrates victory when McCartney or a group like the Rolling Stones plays there speaks volumes about the connection between holiness and the mundane. They are indeed opposites, but they also share a commonality inasmuch as they are extremes, one very high and the other not high at all. Somehow, when something is holy, it is the slightest, most minimal amount of the profane that can have a dramatic impact upon it.
I guess that until the world recognizes that distinct and unusual relationship, we have no choice but to jump on that bandwagon and cheer on the Rolling Stones as they play in early July in Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv. Until that time, we just might have to be satisfied with the sentiment that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find that you get what you need. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.