Saturday, 1 June 2013

HAIM: Please don't perform in Israel!

I'm probably what is called an active promoter in marketing speak. Anyone who has spent much time with me had probably heard about my love for Nando's chicken, ASICS footwear, Sydney FC, or various video games. Perhaps this is contradictory for a radical like me, but life is contradiction...

This is also the case when it comes to bands and musicians. I spend almost as much time on social media sharing videos or snatches of lyrics as I do my politics.

When I first heard HAIM songs playing on the radio, I was hooked straight away on their soaring, rhythmitic vocals and funk-folk-pop fused guitars which got more entrancing with each listen. I started sharing away with Falling.

Then, trawling through Wikipedia I discovered the band - three sisters, Danielle, Este and Alana Haim - have an Israeli father. A thought occured. And a quick google came up with the headline "We want to perform in Israel."

It would be completely inconsistent for me to not boycott a band's music once they've gone to perform in Israel, given my campaigning for BDS.

This was hard for me to do with Cut Copy, when I liked a couple of their singles after they got airtime on triple J; they refused to follow the lead of artists who respected the call like Carlos Santana, Massive Attack and Gil-Scott Heron and performed their concert in Israel on June 23, 2011.

Until I found this out I was going to go on a massive fan-boy bender of love for Haim, in a way that I haven't since first discovering the Jezabels when their first EP was just out in 2009.

Now, if I let myself do that I will only be setting myself up to have to boycott a favourite band whenever their wish to perform in Israel comes true.

The call for international artists to boycott Israel is part of a specific global campaign, called by Palestinians and following the example of South Africa. It's not just a question of the personal politics of the artists, but the concrete actions and their political ramifications.

The politics of BDS are certainly up for debate and there's no one Palestinian or international perspective on going about it, but for me, I don't want to pick and choose which parts I think are effective. Palestinian civil society has, for the first time since the 1980s, come together in a united way to try and rebuild their national movement behind the demands of BDS: tearing down the apartheid Wall in the West Bank; allowing the right of return for the refugees of 1948, 1967 and after; full legal equality for Palestinian (and all other) citizens of Israel.

And until the state of Israel implements those demands, all of which have been repeatedly called for by international legal bodies and the UN, then it deserves to be boycotted.

Alice Walker this week released an open letter calling on Alicia Keys to cancel her performance:

It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people. Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already. We changed our country fundamentally and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there....

Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel’, Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place...

Walker puts the case far more convincingly than I could. International artists performing in Israel is one part of a strategy of "re-legitimisation" for Israel, after the damage done by widespread media coverage of recent atrocities like the attacks on Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2009/10, the assault on the Mavi Marmara, the arbitrary detention of Palestinian footballers...

A counter argument was put to me through a friend on Facebook when I discovered HAIM's position:

But maybe consistency is impossible when not everything or everyone is so black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. Maybe you are allowed to like someone's art, even if you don't agree with 100% of their politics. Especially if their art isn't about their politics

Is it right to boycott a band for their opinions alone? They haven't yet booked a date, merely answered questions put to them by the Israeli press. This hardly falls under the guidelines of PACBI's call for boycott of artists, which is mostly focused on either cultural projects with connections with Israeli institutions, or calling on international artists who have booked dates in Israel to respect the boycott and cancel those events.

To me, the fact that the Israeli press is interested in talking to the sisters reflects the political dimension of their comments; at a time when public figures like Dustin Hoffman, Arundhati Roy and Steven Hawking are boycotting Israel, their comments are held up as a counter to BDS.

So when young international artists, Jewish or otherwise, state in the media they dream of performing in Israel and don't mention the context of the BDS campaign calling on artists not to, they are engaging in politics and sending a signal that the situation in Israel in Palestine is "normal" - and they should expect a political response.

But HAIM has the right to their opinions. Many people, probably including artists, writers and actors I like, have politics I disagree with. That doesn't stop me listening to their music, so it won't stop me with HAIM.

"Baby Haim" Alana did an interview with online magazine of young Jewish Americans "Jewcy", in which she spoke about visiting Israel:
We have to go to Israel for the occasional family wedding. There are some crazy Israeli weddings! I love Israel; I think it’s such a beautiful place. A lot of people think ‘Oh you go to Israel because you’re Jewish.’ I encourage my friends who aren’t Jewish to go to Israel because it’s such a beautiful place, and it’s such an important place. There’s so much history there, and it doesn’t matter what religion you are. I’ve always felt like a deep connection to the country. Especially living in LA, we don’t really have any history. Our history starts with Hollywood.

As individuals, the sisters have their own stories and histories, which I don't think it's my place to comment on. I too felt the weight of history when I visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jaffa; the history of these places echoes throughout western cultures. I would also encourage everyone to visit Israel & the Occupied Territories and see life there for themselves, as I did, and form their own opinions.

But for HAIM to perform in Israel sends an altogether different message; it's to take a side in that history, to give support to the settlers burning Palestinian crops, to sick children being refused access to a pool because they are Bedouin, to the policies of the current Israeli government.

So I'm not boycotting HAIM or calling on others to do so, since they haven't actually done anything for them to be boycotted yet. But my respect for BDS means I will have to boycott their music if they ever do fulfil that dream 

As someone who would love to be an active promoter, I'm calling on HAIM to take another look at what's really happening in Israel and Palestine and make a statement that they will respect the boycott call. Hopefully it won't be long before Apartheid is ended in Israel and all citizens of the region, regardless of race or religion, will be given their rights.

You are performing today, alongside some of my other favourite artists, at the "Sound of Change" concert to promote women's empowerment. That sends a fantastic signal to the world, that public profile can be used to promote change. To refuse to perform in Israel - or better still, to perform in Gaza, as Alice Walker called on Alicia Keys to do - will send a signal that people of all races, religions and backgrounds want justice in Palestine.


  1. Hey man
    Again I am enjoying reading your blogs.
    I just had a really interesting idea which could potentially work as a solution to your dilemma.
    You are saying the aim of BDS is to put pressure on Israeli citizens so they will force their government to better the situations of Palestinians, and hopefully reach some form of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

    A few years back I a saw John Butler Trio in Sydney, and they started the show by having a speaker talking about the threats of nuclear energy and John Howard's plan at the time to place them by the Queensland shores.
    the talk, the flyers and information that was given afterwards, was quite eye-opening for me, as I wasn't even aware of the dangers of it at the time, which the Tsunami in Japan emphasised in retrospect.

    So in that respect I do agree that musicians and artists do have quite a large influence, and political influence as well.
    Tell me what you think of my idea
    email Haim, and ask them that if they ever want to play in Israel, they should also schedule a show to the west bank. They should make the show in the west bank before the Israeli one. That will give them a chance to not only support Palestinian community and culture, but also face some of the issues Palestinians are having.
    Following this, when they will come to the show in Israel, they will start the show by retelling their experience to thousands of young Israelis, stating clearly and sharply the issues and problems Palestinians are facing, and why they think Israelis should be active about changing that reality.

    That way you won't only be supporting Palestinian organisations and society, but also having a more direct impact on Israeli society, which will inevitably be a part in any future peace agreement.

    Tell me what you think
    would love to write that email with you.

  2. Hi Tal, cheers for writing.

    It's an interesting proposal, but it would be extremely difficult to organise it in a way that doesn't violate the guidelines of PACBI I linked to in the piece. To quote:

    "International cultural workers who fail to heed the call for boycott and attempt to visit Palestinian institutions as a "balancing act" are assuming "parity between justice and injustice," which Nelson Mandela has warned against. Although visits to the occupied Palestinian territory by international supporters and advocates of Palestinian rights have always been viewed by Palestinians as a source of encouragement and inspiration, Palestinians increasingly believe that solidarity entails respecting the boycott call and not combining a visit to Palestinian institutions with visits to or attending conferences and other events at boycottable Israeli institutions. International visitors who insist on including Israeli cultural institutions in their itinerary, in violation of the boycott, should not expect to be welcome by Palestinian cultural institutions."


    (5) Event or project promotes false symmetry or “balance”

    Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote “balance” between the “two sides” in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the “conflict,” are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or “reconciliation between the two sides” without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice. All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless the Israeli side is explicitly supportive of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and unless the project/event is framed within the explicit context of joint opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott. Other factors that PACBI takes into consideration in evaluating such events and projects are the sources of funding, the design of the program, the objectives of the sponsoring organization(s), the participants, and similar relevant factors.

    Almost all of the events being organised by internationals in Israel fit within the 'Brand Israel' campaign to rebrand Israel and write the occupation out of the narrative. If HAIM were willing to perform at an independant event that challenged this (ie Rock Against Occupation, or perhaps something with a better title - there's a number of Israeli artists who would be willing to perform in such a way) then it wouldn't fall under the guidelines. But from my understanding this would mean a great deal of Israeli society would exclude themselves from the show...

  3. To follow up, reading Boycott From Within's page also provides a different way for artists to respect the boycott (having met with some of the activists in my time in Israel/Palestine, I remember discussing this with them as an option).

    "(9) Does the call ask foreign artists not to come here at all? What about politically supportive artists? Is there a way they can come here without violating the boycott?

    Foreign artists should refrain from participating in any events that are organized by mainstream institutions, and also in “ordinary” cultural events that are purely commercial. When in doubt, they should consult with the Boycott National Committee or the PACBI position on visits of International delegations and individuals to the OPT and Israel. Artists who come to participate in a political event in support of the Palestinians should be advised to perform in Palestinian towns and villages (in the 1948 area) and also in the occupied Palestinian territory. They should also be encouraged to make a clear statement with regard to their position, even at the risk of being denied entry by Israeli authorities. In general, no “business as usual” approach should be acceptable, even if artists are “for peace”."

  4. "They haven't yet booked a date, merely answered questions put to them by the Israeli press. This hardly falls under the guidelines of PACBI's call for boycott of artists, which is mostly focused on either cultural projects with connections with Israeli institutions, or calling on international artists who have booked dates in Israel to respect the boycott and cancel those events."

    Exactly. I don't think PACBI calls for a boycott of artists who have not honored the boycott against performing in Israel. I don't particularly want to push this thing in the direction of secondary and tertiary boycotts. I'm dealing with discomfort around this issue right at the moment while streaming the new album from Ayelet Rose Gottlieb (who has performed in Israel recently). That's how I ended up here. I can certainly understand if you decide to ditch HAIM (who I also like very much) based on their performing in Israel, but it doesn't seem to me to be required.

    1. I picked up a copy of "Days Are Gone" for Christmas and it's been on high rotation! Up until the second they announce a gig in Israel and could actually come under the call for boycott I'm going to be enjoying their art.