BDS: Noam Sheizaf teaches the “Israeli Left” the ABC of denial

The number of people who understood the deep perfidy also known as “the Israeli left” used to be small, and their ideas used to be taboo outside their miniscule publications. One of the salutary effects of BDS is that it helps clarify this perfidy and open the debate to a kind of political knowledge that is actually useful. Here is Noam Sheizaf, scolding the Israeli “Left” for its pathetic reaction to the (unconfirmed) cancellation of Gil Scott Heron’s performance. You will excuse me, but there is no way I can refer to that “left” in Israel without placing it in irreality quotes. To paraphrase, ten units of quotation marks the world received; nine were taken by Jerusalem and the rest of the world took one.

Noam Sheizaf, Our Song

A small commotion erupted this week among the public that appreciates black music in Israel upon learning that ground-breaking artist, poet and musician, Gil Scott Heron apparently canceled his Tel Aviv show for political reasons. There was no official statement. However, following protests of some of his pro-Palestinians fans during a show in London on the weekend, Scott Heron announced from the stage that he would not be coming to Israel. The show, planed for May 25, was removed from the line up on his site.

Scott Heron is a political man. He came out against US presidents, preached against nuclear energy, and asked the new generation of Hip-Hop artists to write meaningful lyrics rather than merely “put words to music”. His most famous piece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, is considered the anthem of alternative culture. I assume these and similar reasons made Scott Heron appeal to a couple of hundred Israelis. The only surprise is their ability to make a U-turn the moment that protest was directed at us.

In the last few days, Israelis who awaited the show in Tel Aviv filled Scott Heron’s website and facebook pages dedicated to the issue with angry comments. The arguments were of the type common to such occurrences: one shouldn’t mix music and politics (“music brings people together; politics pulls them apart”); one must distinguish between the government of Israel and the citizens; it is hypocrisy and double standards to boycott Israel when there are so many more horrible governments and deadlier regimes in the world.

Beyond the usual arguments, an offended tone sneaked in: “Why should we, music lovers, who love GSH also for the place we live in, should be blamed for the occupation or apartheid?” writes one Israeli on Facebook, and added elsewhere, “to cancel the show, it is to spit in the face of the leftists in the crowd.”

“In Israel there is a true music scene,” comments another Israeli on Scott Heron’s site. “for me, music represents peace and love, not war and hate. If you come to Israel you will see it with your own eyes”. Avi Pitshon wrote in Haaretz in relation to a similar incident, in which a few Israelis joined a call to the Pixies and Metalica to skip playing in Israel, “the radical left cannot hurt the powerful, those who shape policy, and is therefore trying to hit whoever is under the spotlight: music loving citizens.”

It seems that what hurts Pitshon and the other Israelis most is not the anti-Israeli stance of Scott Heron and others like him, but the choice to specifically boycott them, the public who is for peace, loves Soul and Hip-Hop, and sees itself more in touch with Detroit and Chicago than the Tomb of Rachel and Elkana. After all, the voice of these embittered music lovers didn’t rise when a pretty effective boycott was organized in the EU against produce from the settlements: the settlers are the bad guys in this story. But to boycott us, us who took part in three Peace Now demonstrations and two events commemorating Rabin? What is the world coming to?

The Israeli left (and yours truly included) is deeply longing to be part of some global communion. People here imagine themselves through American culture, Italian cuisine and French novels, as if we were born to a bourgeois family on the Left Bank and our life project is to confront the feelings of alienation inherent in human existence. Tel Aviv and its suburbs are arranged with their face towards the West and a wall separating their back from all the turmoil in the East: the settlers in the territories, the Ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem, and also these Palestinians. The occupation is such a boring and tedious story, the making of a stupid government and wicked right-wingers. Clearly, we are not part of this madness.

A worldview so detached leads to many disappointments. So we are shocked to discover that the Palestinians hate us just as much as the hate the right-wingers, we are insulted when the reception clerk in a Spanish hotel lets a curse out behind our back, and cannot understand why an old rapper, who has seen a few things in his life, would tell us that, on second thought, Tel Aviv doesn’t suit him right now. What the hell? We blow a fuse. What’s the connection between the Barbie Club and the territories? After all, they are at least a 20 minutes car ride away!

To the credit of the Israeli Right one should say that it is much more consistent and well argued. From the Right’s perspective, these conflicts with the world are the price for our clinging to parts of our historical homeland and our survival in a hostile region. The Right doesn’t try to evade taking responsibility for sitting on top of Palestinians, and if someone, whether Obama or Scott Heron, doesn’t like it, there is no choice but to bite the bullet.

In contrast, “the enlightened camp” is busy with the endless theatrical performance of their moral difficulties, a performance whose purpose is to create a barrier between them and all those action for which they refuse to take responsibility. Thus, when the order arrives, the leftist climbs into the tank without a second thought, but later he will do an anguished film about it for the Canne festival. Thus the obsessive persecution of settlers. Thus Tel Aviv behaves as if it were a Mediterranean suburb of London while in a spitting distance from it eastward and southward lies an immense jail holding millions of people without rights for over half a century.

The self-pity tops itself with the absurd claim that the cancellation will benefit the occupation, because they would discourage those most in favor of two states for two people. As if the role the world is to caress Tel Aviv’s residents’ back until they draw the courage and convince the right, to please stop building villas on the hills of Samaria and abstain from kicking Palestinians out of their houses in East Jerusalem. Beyond the fact that this method has been completely discredited by history–it doesn’t even convince the left itself anymore–the theory doesn’t hold water: excited or depressed, these thousands of peace and love and music lovers do not show up in Bil’in or Sheikh Jarrakh, whereas the few dozens of human rights activists who do show up are begging the world for a little international pressure to save Israel from itself.

A few years ago, the dynamics of Roger Walters (ex Pink Floyd) visit recalls somewhat the current case. Walters didn’t boycott, but he said a few words about peace and ending the occupation. A few of the “enlightened camp” ordered him to focus on the guitar and stop lecturing us. There is something really strange about our ability to sing about another brick in the wall while forgetting about the miserable falahin whose fields are behind our wall. (As it is hard to understand Israelis who return from Berlin with “an original stone from the wall” when the local version stands for free in our living room.) Considering the deep disconnect between the Israelis and the protest anthems that they are humming, it seems that the elderly Scott Heron did us a favor for reminding us that in a place where pregnant women give birth at checkpoints and people are locked in their houses even music doesn’t cross borders.

The Alternative Magazine, 28 April 2004

A couple of my own comments.

Sheizaf has still to get over the idea that the proper goal of the struggle is “to save Israel from itself.” Encore un effort, les amis! Let go of that deadly shibboleth!

He is also a little unsharp on the phenomenology of hatred when he asserts that Palestinians hate all Israelis alike. We hate those whose very existence threatens our cherished self-image much more than those who have done us harm. And nothing threatens our cherished self-image more than those whom we ourselves have harmed. That is why Israelis hate Palestinians: because the Nakba threatens Israel’s status as the state of the deserving victims; Another reason is that the existence of Palestinians undermine the European Jewish fantasy, to which Sheizaf refers, of sitting in Montmartre sipping a noisette and thinking about existentialism while avoiding one’s existence. While these kinds of generalizations are risky, as of course you will find hatred in Palestine as you will find every other human feeling, the most common reaction of Palestinians to Israelis in my opinion is one of utter bafflement. That bafflement is consistent with the strange fact that advanced moral corruption, and that makes it unique as a human experience–only chronic stupidity comes close–can only be experienced from the outside, since lack of self-awareness is a fundamental ingredient in it. It is the utter bafflement that Hannah Arendt experienced listening to Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Thanks to BDS, the stench of the decomposing corpse of the “Israeli left” is reaching the nostrils of an ever widening public. To those who say BDS is “spitting in the face of the Israeli peace camp” and “hurting the most progressive elements of israeli society,” the answer is yes, that is one reason BDS is such a good strategy, because it hits those most deeply in denial.

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