Elvis Costello cancels concerts in Israel in protest at treatment of Palestinians

Singer says he acted on ‘conscience’, as he joins a list of performers who have boycotted Israel for political reasons

* Vikram Dodd, and Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem
* guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 18 May 2010 18.50 BST

Elvis Costello has cancelled two concerts he was scheduled to play in Israel in protest at its treatment of Palestinians.

Costello, one of the most gifted British songwriters of his generation, was due to play on 30 June and 1 July but says his “conscience” dictated that he pull out of the performances.

He joins a list of performers who have decided not to play in Israel, including Gil Scott-Heron and Santana.

On his website, Costello wrote: “Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.

“I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.

“I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.

“It is a matter of instinct and conscience.

“I cannot imagine receiving another invitation to perform in Israel, which is a matter of regret, but I can imagine a better time when I would not be writing this.

“With the hope for peace and understanding. Elvis Costello.”

Sarah Colborne, from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, welcomed the decision: “We are increasingly seeing artists taking a stand against allowing themselves to be used by the Israeli state to normalise their occupation and apartheid policies against Palestinians. Principled artists understood it was unacceptable to play under the apartheid South African regime in Sun City.”

Other artists have cancelled Israeli tours in recent months, including Santana and Gil Scott-Heron, who was also active in the anti-apartheid movement. In one song written to protest against the racist regime in South Africa, Scott-Heron wrote: “The first time I heard there was trouble in the Middle East, I thought they were talking about Pittsburgh.” Leonard Cohen played in Israel last year, despite a similar campaign from the boycott movement asking him to stay away.

“This is not boycotting the Jewish people, or the Israeli people, it is boycotting the occupation,” said Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian MP. “More and more people are convinced that something should be done and the peaceful and non-violent way to do it is by boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

It comes as Palestinian officials have begun a new effort to boycott products made in Israeli settlements. Last month Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a law banning Palestinians from working in settlements in the occupied territories and banning the sale of settlement goods, including fruit and vegetables. Hundreds of volunteers in the West Bank today distributed lists of 500 Israeli settlement products they want shoppers to boycott.

Israel’s culture and sports minister, Limor Livnat, criticised Costello. “An artist boycotting his fans in Israel is unworthy of performing here,” Livnat was quoted as saying by the Ynet news website.Israel itself has banned people from entering its territory because of their views about its actions. Israeli authorities prevented the Jewish American academic Noam Chomsky from entering the West Bank on Sunday to give a lecture at a Palestinian university near Ramallah. Chomsky was told that the Israeli authorities did not like his political views.

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