by Philip Ferguson
The Israeli state was built upon the dispossession of hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The Palestinians forced to flee the country at the sharp end of terror from the murderous repressive forces of the new exclusivist, Zionist state largely ended up as impoverished refugees in camps in Gaza, south Lebanon, the West Bank and other nearby areas.
It took several decades for them to recover and start to build their own politico-military movements to fight for their liberation, through the establishment of a democratic secular state covering the whole area of Palestine/Israel. This would be a state in which Palestinian, Jew, Christian, atheist and anyone else would have equal rights as citizens. The left-wing of the Palestinian movement, most especially the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, argued that such a liberated society would be a socialist one.
By contrast, the Israeli state has continued to be an exclusivist state, thoroughly enmeshed in the global imperialist system of oppressors. It denies any right of Palestinians to return to their homes within its borders. Those Palestinians who didn’t flee have consistently been treated as second-class citizens. Meanwhile anyone of Jewish descent can migrate to Israel and enjoy full rights of citizenship.
The existence of the exclusivist Israeli state also requires regular murderous assaults on Gaza and daily repression in the still-occupied West Bank. Moreover, the West Bank is subjected to continuing and growing Israeli settlements, preventing the formation of any real Palestinian state there and, needless to say, in complete violation of international law. (As Marxists, we don’t have much truck with international law; I mention this simply because the backers of Israel in the US and elsewhere claim to be upholders of the rule of law.)
While there is an important difference between Israel and South Africa – Israel isn’t built upon a mass of cheap Palestinian labour the way apartheid South Africa was on a cheap and vast pool of black labour and public facilities are not segregated along racialised lines – Israel is at least, possibly even more, murderously repressive of the Palestinians. Moreover, it actually removed the majority of the Palestinians from their homeland.
So Israel is the kind of country which, like South Africa during the apartheid era, progressive, ‘alternative’ and genuinely anti-establishment people would be campaigning against.
Gaga for the repressive state
One of the figures in music – I hesitate to call her a musician – who has built her image on being ‘cutting edge’ and ‘alternative’ is Stefani Germanotta, better known by her stage name of Lady Gaga. I’ve never been a fan, as she has always struck me as being highly derivative, unoriginal and a kind of (less-talented) version of Madonna. Something else she has in common with Madonna is being a fan and apologist for the viciously-repressive and racist Israeli state.
Gaga showed just how conventionally money-grubbing and non-alternative she is by playing in Israel last September and stating she “fucking loves” this repressive place. Her support for the Israeli state and its terrorism against the Palestinians subsequently inspired a group of students at New York University to organise on-campus support for Israel and opposition to Israeli Apartheid Awareness Week.
While Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank struggle to make ends meet and even find the basic necessities of survival, thanks to Israeli assaults and sieges, the airhead Gaga declares she “felt a beautiful energy” in Tel Aviv and “the world view of Israel is just not reality” (this after a day or two there, and having met no Palestinians). At her Tel Aviv gig the odious airhead declared, “Put your hands up and cheer for yourselves, you are strong, you are brave, you are confident, and I fucking love you, Israel.”
Well, since her fans in Israel were paying NIS1,450 – that’s about NZ$511! – to get a seat near the stage – I guess she would “love” them, even though she doesn’t actually know them personally.
Sun City boycott
During the apartheid period, one of the racist regime’s ploys to alleviate its international pariah status was to encourage musicians from elsewhere to play at the Sun City venue. In exchange for lending a hand to the apartheid system and making it look good, they were hugely rewarded financially. Among those who played Sun City were some people who really should have known better, like Tina Turner. Although Turner had experienced much racism and violence in her life, she was happy enough to take the money to pretend South Africa was not based on violence and racism against the black majority.
Today, folks like Gaga and Madonna, while being ‘outspoken’ around entirely safe issues, are helping prop up a state not only built on the dispossession of the Palestinians but continuing to dispossess Palestinians in the West Bank everyday, while blockading Gaza, one of the poorest areas of the world.
In the 1980s a campaign began, spearheaded by Steve van Zandt, of Bruce Springsteen’s band, to build up a boycott of Sun City. It became progressively harder for money-grubbing musicians to play there as a result. Today, a few musicians, like Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame, are trying to do the same in relation to Israel. Waters has supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement since it began and has been trying to discourage fellow musicians from playing in Israel.
The usual ‘defence’ offered by musicians going to Israel is one that many of us from the days of the anti-apartheid movement are familiar with. Back then, people acting as enablers of apartheid would justify playing sport or performing musically there by claiming “sport and political don’t mix” and “music knows no frontiers”. This sort of rationale was totally spurious because sport in South Africa was permeated with politics, not least because apartheid kept white and black sportspeople apart. The same with music.
Dionne Warwick on the wonders of Israel
A couple of days ago another enabler of the continuing oppression of the Palestinians, Dionne Warwick, lashed out at Waters and declared her love for the racist state. After Lauryn Hill cancelled performing in Israel, Warwick was reported in the Jerusalem Post as telling the paper, ““art has no boundaries” and that she “would never fall victim to the hard pressures of Roger Waters, from Pink Floyd, or other political people who have their views on politics in Israel”.
In response to questions from the paper, she further stated she was no stranger to Israel, and has visited the country several times. “I always enjoy the wonderful audiences that Israel brings out! I think of the colorful people and the beautiful scenery.”
Perhaps Warwick should visit Gaza and the remaining Palestinian areas in the West Bank and see what “beautiful scenery” her beloved Israel has created there through decades of occupation, land-stealing and settler vandalism of Palestinian land, and horrendous Israeli state bombing campaigns, the most recent of which left well over 2,000 Palestinians dead in Gaza over seven weeks in which they rained down bombs on schools, hospitals, churches and homes.
Then again, for Warwick, the Palestinians seem to be completely invisible.
Dionne Warwick playing in Israel, however, comes as no surprise. She has form. As Roger Waters noted in a response to her Jerusalem Post statements, “you crossed the picket line to play Sun City at the height of the anti-apartheid movement.” So black South Africans, and their oppression under apartheid, were also invisible to Warwick.
Roger Waters also noted, “It strikes me as deeply disingenuous of Ms. Warwick to try to cast herself as a potential victim here. The victims are the occupied people of Palestine with no right to vote and the unequal Palestinian citizens of Israel, including Bedouin Israeli citizens of the village of al-Araqib, which has now been bulldozed 83 times by order of the Israeli government.”
Art, boundaries, empathy
And in response to her self-serving pretentious bullshit about “art knows no boundaries”, Waters declared,“art does know boundaries. In fact, it is an absolute responsibility of artists to stand up for human rights – social, political and religious – on behalf of all our brothers and sisters who are being oppressed, whoever and wherever they may be on the surface of this small planet.”
However, he also appealed to her on a more personalised level: “Dionne, I am of your generation. I remember the road to Montgomery, I remember Selma, I remember the struggles against the Jim Crow laws here. Sadly, we are still fighting those battles, whether here in the USA in Ferguson or Baltimore, or in Gaza or the Negev, wherever the oppressed need us to raise our voices unafraid. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, our brothers and sisters, until true equality and justice are won.”
But it looks like Warwick doesn’t give a shit about the oppression of blacks in the United States either. She’s part of the wealthy elite now and her mindset is the same as the white bourgeoisie. Class trumps race, again.
Waters is to be applauded for his stand on Israel; it is certainly in stark contrast to the likes of Madonna and Gaga and now Dionne Warwick. It’s good to have artists of integrity. People who stand up to be counted on basic principles and who therefore support campaigns such as BDS.
Solidarity with the struggle for emancipation
While BDS is an important part of the struggle against the Israeli state, there is another, even more important, aspect to the issue of the oppression of the Palestinians. That is linking ourselves with the Palestinians’ own struggle for self-emancipation.
We need to be wary about substituting ourselves and our concerns, however well-intentioned, for the Palestinians’ own liberation struggle.
As well as BDS, we need the most progressive elements of the working class and left to build a movement that is specifically in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and, particularly, with its most progressive sections, like the PFLP. That is why, on Redline, we quite prominently feature statements by and articles about the PFLP.
For a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle