Among the many musical acts scheduled to play Israel this summer, one seems to stand out both commercially and in terms of defying the boycott. Their appearance in Israel on June 8, 2016, gave us some insight into the relationship between musical genres and the willingness to support the boycott.
Rave-Rap act Die Antwoord, consisting of lyricists Ninja and Yolandi and DJ Hi-Tek, defy traditional definition. One could describe them as counterculture raver-rap, however, their sound and look was virtually unknown in the world music scene. This is perhaps due to their South African origin, which is atypical of major international music acts. The band describes a harsh dog-eat-cat reality of South African “street” counterculture, termed ZEF. Using an interchangeable hybrid of Afrikaans, English and Xhosa, Die Antwoord incorporates Afrikaans working-class culture with Cape Town “colored” esthetic. By doing so they create a post-racial manifesto, rubbing salt in the wound of racialized class inequities of post-apartheid white South Africa.
Who Defies the Boycott?
Israel’s concert roster for summer 2016 seems both abundant and diversified; however, looks can be deceiving. Many of the artists and bands are either “Golden Oldies” or returning acts that have already played Israel. Both these categories have proven less likely to support the boycott. “The Golden Oldies,” those with a glorious career that is mostly behind them, are less likely to be pressured by threats of future damage, whereas those who have played Israel in the past have effectively already rejected the boycott option. Boycott activists are cautious in their target selection and will not choose a battle they are likely to lose.
Brian Wilson, former vocalist for the Beach Boys, as well as well as veteran hard-rockers Foreigner, are good examples of the “Golden Oldie” category. Deep Purple and Elton John, who have both played Israel on multiple occasions, can actually be regarded as representatives of both categories. John’s support for Israel’s LGBT community also makes him an unlikely target for boycott attacks. Singer-songwriter Morrissey is also a returning act and is also a proponent of veganism who prohibits the sales of meat products at his shows. This agenda sits very well with the Israeli crowd, as Israel is considered the number two vegan country in the world (number one being India).
Another significant act to watch is Carlos Santana’s, scheduled for July 30. Born a Mexican national and receiving U.S. citizenship in 1965, Santana has long since been a supporter of immigrant and minority rights. In 2010, Santana gave in to pressure by the boycott movement and cancelled his scheduled show in Israel. Santana’s defiance of the current boycott pressure can be seen as a weakening of the cultural campaign. Lip service is often paid by the performers to mollify the protestors, such as this statement: “Carlos Santana is a citizen of the world and he plays his music and spreads his message of Love, Light & Peace wherever he goes,” said Santana manager Michael Vrionis. “Carlos believes the world should have no borders so he is not detoured or discouraged to play anywhere on this planet. We look forward to performing in Israel this summer.”
The cultural boycott constitutes a unique and crucial part in the development and operation of the overall boycott system. The campaign promoting boycott initiatives against Israel mostly stems from academia, the “initiator” of the process, proposing and debating various forms of action against the Jewish state. Once the idea was formulated and gathered a certain following among specific elites, there was a need to popularize the effort, proliferating it from the ivory tower to the masses and gathering popular support. This is the function of the cultural boycott, the “accelerator” of the process. In today’s superficial culture a word from an acclaimed celebrity or popular culture icon is likely to go further than that of an ideologue, professor or politician. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters has done more to promote the boycott movement than Steven Hawking, Cornell West or any UN resolution.
In the context of the boycott, Die Antwoord’s recent concert in Rishon Leziyon should be regarded as a landmark. The fact that a distinctly South African act chose to ignore the boycott reflects the ongoing discussion in the South African establishment regarding the support it should offer the Palestinian effort. This internal Black South African debate is being conducted between those who are willing to “lend” the Apartheid brand to the Palestinian struggle and those who regard the use of the term in the Palestinian context as an insult to those who suffered from it.
While South Africa is not the “engine” of the boycott, which is mostly located in Europe, South African support is crucial for providing moral legitimacy. The boycott manifesto itself references the South African model and the boycott that helped bring the Apartheid regime to an end. Equating the Israeli-Palestinian condition with Apartheid has allowed for a gross oversimplification, which in turn promotes a dangerous misunderstanding of the conflict. This distortion has allowed the would-be boycotters to color their campaign in clear and familiar terms that command automatic empathy and support from the well intentioned westerner.
As a rule, artists don’t care much for the boycott. Performing is their livelihood and boycotting is a counter-productive effort for them. For a brief period, the cultural boycott managed to make waves and bring about several high profile cancellations, but this tier of the boycott now seems to be losing momentum. As successful as the boycott Israel campaign has been, such campaigns are also time-dependent, and recent events have reshaped global priorities in a way that has not benefitted the Palestinians. If Die Antwoord, rising from the township ghettos of Cape Town, can afford to dismiss the boycott – everyone can.