Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Leonard Cohen, Please do sing in Israel

My sister comes home from the Leonard Cohen concert at the Point last week and tells me, "I have something that will interest you". She hands me a leaflet that members of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign were holding up outside the gig. The message aimed at Leonard Cohen was simple, it read please don't sing in Israel in large block capitals. The IPSC are urging the left leaning Cohen to abandon his planned concert in Tel Aviv next September.

On the other side of the leaflet the IPSC had a more detailed message for Cohen, the gist of it reads as follows.

Leonard Cohen, in your song Please don't pass me by you claim: I'm with the hunted, I'm with the maimed, I'm with the torn, I'm with the down. In the decades since then, Leonard Cohen, have you changed completely ? Are you now with those who hunt, those who maim, those who tear, those who put down ?

I am blind, but you can see, I was blinded totally - so please, don't pass me by.

In the decades since then Leonard Cohen, have you too been blinded ? Will you pass the hunted, maimed, torn Palestinians and sing in Tel Aviv ? Will you let your performance be exploited as propaganda by a state that disinherits the Palestinians, destroys their homes and their hopes, strips them of their rights, occupies their land, locks them without trial in hellish prisons, kills their wives, their husbands, their children ?

If you sing in Tel Aviv, Leonard Cohen, you will not be singing for the Palestinians in Gaza, a stone's throw away from where you sing, because these tortured, dispossessed people cannot leave their open air prisons to hear you sing. You will be passing them by, as if you were blind, blinded totally, although demonstrators on streets all over the world are striving to open your eyes.

Ok, let me try to explain what is wrong with this. Boycotts aimed at Israel will not affect their policies because they care far more about their security than they do their image. All boycotts will do, particularly a cultural boycott is isolate the Israeli people. At a time when dialogue between people is needed more than ever the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel PACBI would have us shun the entire Israeli nation, embittering them in the process and making them less likely to ever accept a peace deal that requires Israel to trust the international community. I went to Israel in 2004 to watch the boys in green take on Israel in a world cup qualifying match. I saw the Israeli people who do not want to be defined solely by the conflict. I saw a people that want to live a normal life. I saw fathers and sons attending a soccer match together. And I had some fascinating conversations with many Israelis about Judaism, Israeli history and politics. But if the IPSC had there way then none of this would of happened. That is why I say, Leonard Cohen, please do sing in Israel.

The thing that jumps out at me most from the contents of the leaflet is the claim that the people in Gaza cannot attend the concert. Of course they can't, Israel is at war with Gaza. However, Leonard Cohen being the all inclusive and enlightened man that he is did plan a sister concert in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Unbelievably the concert was cancelled by the Palestinian organisers under pressure from the PACBI who were angered at Cohen's decision not to abandon the Tel Aviv gig. So in these people's eyes playing a concert in both Israel and Palestine is still being too unfair to the Palestinians. I disagree, Leonard Cohen, please do sing in Israel.

The tone of the lecture is also interesting. Its like the IPSC and PACBI are offended that a left winger like Cohen is not as anti Israeli as they are. Well I have been saying this for ages. There is nothing incompatible with being a human rights activist, an environmentalist or a trade unionist and expressing admiration for aspects of the Israeli state. People may have problems with Israel as I do but it is a legitimate democratic state. It deserves a certain amount of respect. I have no problem with someone calling for a boycott of the Israeli state so long as they are consistent by calling for more intense boycotts of the scores of African and Arab states that butcher their own people on a far worse scale than anything the Israelis do in the occupied territories. Leonard Cohen knows this and this is why he will ignore the Israel bashers and go ahead with the Tel Aviv concert.

Here is some of the man himself, just cause I like him.


DT said...

Very interesting Tedser, and I was thinking as I was reading why doesn't he just play in post places which you went on to explain. Love some of his stuff too. Haunting Voice!

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks Damo

I'm a big fan too. Did you get to any of his Dublin concerts recently ?

DT said...

Unfortunatly I didn't. Livin in the sticks has limited my gig going. One of the things I miss about Dublin.

DT said...

Is Lenord an Israli Ted? Avi Cohen was Liverpools first ever Israli on a side football trivia note.