Jello Biafra cancels Tel Aviv show (but no reason to celebrate)

Here’s Jello’s full statement, issued yesterday. There is reason to celebrate, yet. Jello made clear that he had not canceled indefinitely and he may yet decide to play in Tel-Aviv. We sincerely hope that this is not the case Here it is:

“Dear Friends,

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine are not going through with the July 2 date in Tel Aviv. This does not mean I or anyone else in the band are endorsing or joining lockstep with the boycott of all things Israel.

I am going to Israel and Palestine to check things out myself and may yet conclude that playing for people in the belly of the beast was the right thing to do in the first place.

The toll and stress on the band members and myself has been huge, both logistically and as a matter of conscience. I can’t drag anyone any further into rough waters without being better prepared than some of us thought we were. A responsible leader does not go, ‘Hey, check out the storm at the top of Mount Everest. Let’s go up anyway just in case we don’t die.’ Some members are angry with me for this decision, let alone how long it took me. I don’t blame them.

It would have been so easy to quietly pass on the gig out of fear someone might get upset, and no one would have been the wiser. We could have flown under the radar, left the date off our tour postings and not bothered with a statement, but how honest is that?

Our intention in going was that we thought we could do some good , speaking truth to power, fans and impressionable young minds in a way that most bands don’t. What about the people on the same side of the human rights fence we are who now don’t get to see us play? Should they be boycotted too? What about the even larger atrocities of the Bush regime and by extension Obama? Should we turn off our mouths of anger and boycott our own country too?

We tried again and came close to landing a Ramallah show, but again, we needed to be better prepared. How fair is it to the organizers to demand a full-on rock show on a few days’ notice with a type of music they may not be familiar with? More importantly, how much are we really doing for Palestinian rights if people there don’t seem interested in our kind of music at all?

I’ve been doing this long enough to know better than buy into hardline absolutes such as playing in Israel automatically supports apartheid or Israel’s government. That threat is ridiculous. I know far more about this issue than some people think I do, and I am not a poodle for Hasbara, Peace Now, BDS or anyone else.

The first people contacting us went out of their way to be diplomatic and communicate how they felt. Then our Facebook page went from eye-opening and educational to a childish bickerfest between a handful of people, to the point where we had to try something else just to reclaim our own Facebook page.

As the gloves came off, unfortunately so did some of the masks. Calling anyone speaking up for Palestinian rights a ‘terrorist’ is dumb. So are the blanket condemnations of everyone who happens to be Israeli that seem to be coming from the ‘drive all the Jews into the sea’ crowd. I also even got an invitation from a self-proclaimed fan to ‘come meet the Israeli right’ and see the settlements through their eyes, complete with a wine-tasting party. Whew!

Whoever started now admits it was aimed solely at one person – me. It is obvious that not everyone signing the petition has any idea who I am, or knows anything about punk, possibly the majority. The last time I looked I could only find three names of people I actually knew. Some made it clear that I will be on their bad list no matter what I do because I dared to even think of playing in Israel.

I can’t back anyone whose real goal or fantasy is a country ethnically cleansed of Jews or anyone else. Where people who think for themselves or talk to the wrong person are automatically a sell out. Speaking personally, I currently favor two democratic states in the admittedly naive hope that in our lifetime they can somehow evolve into one. Where race or religion does not matter because people have learned to work with each other.

I think back to last year when JBGSM played in Serbia. The locals we spent time with were not monsters, and filled me in on how they risked their necks for years opposing and demonstrating against Milosevic and were not down with ethnic cleansing at all. But they weren’t too happy about being bombed by NATO for over 2 months straight either, and showed the ruined buildings to prove it.

I also heard comments like, ‘The Croats killed my grandfather in World War II. I can’t forget that…’ and ‘There’s another war coming soon. I can feel it.’ The most I could do from the stage is say that I do not know what I would do if the Croats or Serbs killed my grandfather, or a suicide bomber or occupying army killed my child. But I would hope I would be one of those people who could somehow say, ‘Can’t we have some peace?’ The audience seemed to appreciate that.

The next day I laid out my thoughts and emotions to the person giving me a ride in Slovenia. She turned ice cold and said, ‘Maybe next time you should play in Bosnia.’ Good point. The nightmare continues.

Rise Above,

Jello Biafra”

I’m really glad that Jello decided he needed to visit the region before making his decision. It’s a respectable decision. But I think that his letter reflects some naïveté. A couple of point s I’d like to make:

1. “Our intention in going was that we thought we could do some good , speaking truth to power, fans and impressionable young minds in a way that most bands don’t.”

-역시 (that’s what I thought) and this is why I stressed that I don’t think the man is a sellout. There is a genuine concern and desire to make a difference. What I do think, and what I mentioned in the initial post, is that Jello somehow views his presence on stage as far more powerful and conducive to ending Israeli Apartheid Colonization and Occupation than an International Movement endorsed and called for by over 170 Palestinian Political Parties, Trade Unions and Organizations representing Palestinians from all walks of life.

Jello also brought up the issue of Israeli fans who would be affected if he chose to observe the boycott:

2. “What about the people on the same side of the human rights fence we are who now don’t get to see us play?”

-If by being ‘on the right side of the human rights fence’ you mean they value peoples human rights over their own amusement, then they shouldn’t mind too much. If they’re posers who pay lip service to human rights but aren’t prepared to make sacrifices for it, then hey… I don’t think they’re on the right side of the fence.

I also take issue with the last few paragraphs concerning Jello’s gig in Serbia. If this is meant as an analogy, it is simply a terrible one. Israel’s continued Occupation of Palestine and its non-compliance with International Law is a present and ongoing event. Last year, when Jello played in Serbia, there was no ongoing occupation or Apartheid, neither was there a call for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of the country by any group there. Jello is comparing ongoing occupation, and apartheid in Palestine with ethnic grievances resulting from a past (and yes horrific) conflict. He is not doing himself any favors in convincing us that he is at all knowledgeable of the situation in Palestine or the BDS Movement.

Rise Above…. but not so high you can’t see the facts on the ground,

Tom Claro (PPS)