Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Popping Off for Palestine
Concert promoter Shuki Weiss may truly believe that things are getting better for Israel's music scene after last year's string of cancellations and boycotts. That may very well change, though, and quite soon. Israel's nature as a colonial apartheid state is rather apparent at this point; just in the past few weeks, peaceful demonstrations in front of checkpoints were fired at, killing around a dozen, and Netanyahu came off like a bully in his address to US Congress. This past Jerusalem Day saw thousands of hard-right Israelis chant "may your village burn" as Israeli troops fired into the Golan Heights, killing 20. And all this before the Freedom Flotilla has even been launched.
It's in this context that Coldplay, obviously one of the biggest bands in the world, have caused such a ruckus by merely mentioning a song on their Facebook page. Last week they referred fans to the "Freedom for Palestine" single being released by OneWorld and featuring several other British artists. Note that Coldplay didn't even really endorse the single; they merely said "some of our friends are involved" in it. They aren't themselves involved in it, and they have yet to publicly boycott Israel.
Coldplay are, after all, one of the biggest bands in the world. Nobody can deny Chris Martin's ability to write an excellent pop hook, and that's certainly the main reason that they've attracted so many legions of fans over the past decade. But being such a massive draw for the music industry comes with a price. Independent-minded as Martin and company may be, their "activism" is hemmed in by the need for their label not to rock the boat. It's this that's lead the band to speak up for "fair trade" while remaining silent on protests against the IMF or G8. Same for Martin's rebuff of invitations to back the UK's Stop the War Coalition even as he speaks against the Iraq invasion. Given their position, this kind of tepid "advocacy" is about as much as Coldplay can muster.
That, of course, didn't stop scads of websites and pages springing up calling for supporters of Israel to boycott Coldplay. The site Act for Israel posted a blurb that read "We urge you to educate Coldplay on Palestinian incitement and violence, and why Palestinians have NEVER accepted a peace deal. We also urge you to boycott Coldplay (if you ACTUALLY buy their music)." The amount of inaccuracy in a mere two sentences is impressive enough, but then there's the kind of blatant anti-Arab, Islamophobic rant posted on the Boycott Coldplay Facebook page:
"Thank you coldplay and keep supporting... :) ... keep supporting those who's torturing and killing GAYS... keep supprting those who arrest torture and kill BLOGGERS for posting a comment on the internet... keep supporting those who stone woman for witch craft/ idoltery/ insulting Islam... keep support those who oppress other minorities like Christians... That is the proof that HUMAN RIGHTS is not the issue here..."
Apparently, this kind of fear-mongering worked. Two days ago, Coldplay removed the link to "Freedom for Palestine" without explanation. There are a couple lessons here: 1.) defenders of the inhumane project in Israel are well organized and most certainly able to bring pressure to bear, even as the credibility of their state wanes, and 2.) artists and musicians will only take a stand and defend it when they have the room to do so. That's true no matter how right the cause is. To be perfectly blunt, that's where the movement comes in.