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.