To Jello Biafra : Please Don’t Play Apartheid Israel

After several decades, it seems my path and Jello’s are diverging – despite denials, he’s spinning off to Israel to wallpaper over the apartheid crimes of the regime with his life work. Yes, I’m taking this personally. I’ve revelled in his songs for their abrupt condemnation of imperialism, its accomplices and crimes since the early 80s. His music was part of a fabulous repertoire which punctuated the critical strikes and struggle to reclaim the right to march from the police state of Joh Bjelke Petersen in Queensland Uber Alles, and the anti- apartheid campaign to liberate South Africa. Our community radio station, the legendary 4ZZZ, suffused our lives with punk.

While not so popular at paid gigs outside the city, the success and appeal of political songs by the likes of Jello, Chris Bailey of The Saints, The Clash and other punk innovators helped to inspire me to keep writing and performing them whenever I could.

Now, Jello’s ambivalence to BDS, the principled non-violent tactic of resistance chosen by Palestinians, impacts me like losing a best friend who after a lifetime of feigning solidarity, reveals they always secretly despised your politics.

As a child, one of my first records was an album of a musical revue from apartheid South Africa called ‘Wait a Minim!’. The songs hedge about the cruel regime in veiled, satiric terms, because the government imprisoned its critics on the notorious Robben Island. Nelson Mandela along with countless others – musicians, playwrights, actors, activists and authors – were banished to that miserable hellhole for years. Many thousands of Palestinian political prisoners too are incarcerated in Israeli dungeons since they dare to exercise their legal right under international law to resist the illegal Israeli occupation. These are the people, including 217 children, whom Jello betrays most heinously by disrespecting the Palestinian BDS call. Awaiting their freedom are mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children and family who are prevented often by Israel from visiting them, sometimes for many years. And there’s more treachery.

Palestinian people are relegated by the Israeli regime to the sub-human status of ‘demographic threat’. Through the deliverance of their birthright by imperial schemers into the hands of northern european invaders who will not countenance their return though it is guaranteed by international law, refugees are locked outside their ancestral domains. Their kin who avoided slaughter or expulsion from 1947 onward and who remain with their descendants in the Occupied Territories endure segregation, checkpoints, lack of basic rights, brutal military incursions, bombardments, blockades, harassment, exploitation, home demolitions, water and land theft and more. They share the fate of being born ‘children of a lesser god’ with Palestinians residing over the apartheid wall in the usurped state itself, under the thrall of a contemptuous, expansionist regime masquerading as did white South Africa as a democracy, impelled by discriminatory majority rule. While the real Israeli left supports universal human rights and BDS, the faux left staggers under a fatal cognitive dissonance which cannot resolve the contradiction of equal rights for all with the Zionist compulsion for a racist ethno-religious state.

I’ve gigged in very diverse places, from large civic venues to tiny dance halls way out west, played pub punk and rock, classical, gypsy, blues, soul, latin and cocktail jazz. Yet I can’t imagine playing a gig against the express wishes of Aboriginal people, to be used as a poster child to benefit the delusional racism of several past gerrymandered, authoritarian regimes and acolytes which held sway over and discriminated against Australian indigenous people by virtue of the white settler colonial majority. I have seen firsthand what covert and overt racism means in the name of ‘peace’ for people of colour.

At this time, the refrain of Palestinian people subsisting under the boot crescendoes and cries for justice – that song is the roots of the blues and so too, punk. International musicians can be a powerful force for change by respecting Palestinian civil society’s call for boycott. Then the Palestinian song demanding justice, freedom and equal rights for all can be heard loud and strong.


Related Links

Jello Biafra cancels his Tel Aviv gig
Another day, Another Appeal!
Peace Now Collaborates With Lieberman
Jello Biafra pulls out of Israel concert “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.”
Jello’s conclusions recorded in his diary after visiting Israel :

I will not perform in Israel unless it is a pro-human rights, anti-occupation event, that does not violate the spirit of the boycott. Each musician, artist, etc. must decide this for themselves.

Jello Biafra’s ‘Ultimate Third Rail’: Why the Outspoken SF Punk Rocker Abandoned Plans to Play in Israel

UPDATE 28/2/12

Jello’s diary at Alternate Tentacles is truncated for an article at Al Jazeera. Where and what threats did Jello receive from BDS supporters? Not on his wall.

UPDATE 25217

From Boots Riley of The Coup in June 2011:

Well, let me see. I don’t know what my history with punk rock is. I love The Clash. There are a few bands that I think would be called punk that I would think fall into that. My cousin Lauren has a band called New Earth Creeps. That’s a punk band.

My first history of punk rock was given to me on a three hour drive from an airport in Alabama to Tuscaloosa. I was trapped in a van with Jello Biafra. I said I don’t know much about punk rock. For three hours, he started talking about punk from the mid 60s to the 2000s. That was an experience. That being said, if youâ??ve talked to Jello, he takes a hardline on certain bands. He didn’t like The Clash because they were on a major label. He’s a character. When he told me about Bad Brains, a lot of the groups he told me about, was the first time hearing about them. I listened to them later. “Bad Brains were good but blah blah blah and people stopped liking them.”

Now Jello is crossing the international picket line of the boycott, from the movement in Israel. He’s going to play in Israel while there is a boycott which is the same as playing Sun City. Knowing him and how hardline he is on people, on whether or not they stick to the script, that shocked me. I called him and left some messages.*

It’s not about keeping something from the people. Do boycotts work to force states to do something? The answer is, “if they are big enough they do.” The whole thing with Jelloâ?¦ by having Jello Biafra, someone who is a self proclaimed radicalâ?¦even Jello Biafra went! He’s performing there, not just going there. The boycott is against performing, not visiting. He not only doesn’t choose a side, he strikes a blow against the boycott movement. Before Jello decided to go there, even Coldplay was down the boycott. Coldplay but not Jello Biafra! Is Coldplay or Elvis Costello proving himself to be more punk rock than Jello? That’s a sad day.

I think that neither hip hop nor punk rock is in of itself radical or against the state. I think hip hop can support the status quo and so can punk rock. People get in an aesthetic that make themselves feel rebelliousâ?¦ just like rock and roll. Just like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were rebellious. But Mick Jagger can have tea with the Queen. Johnny Lydon, is on commercials. So is Iggy Pop. I think a lot of times people give themselves a pass as if they are punk rock.. people do that in hip hop too.

Itâ??s fine to be individual and find your own way. But if your individuality is actually going against a group of folks who have come together to be able to change the world, then you are on the side of the government, on the side of the capitalist- not just standing by and observing.