Christian McBride, Please Support Justice, Don’t Play Your Double Bass for Israel

Christian McBride
McBride on Bass leads the tribute he wrote to Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Juilliard in 2009. Palestinian citizens of Israel face a growing system of Apartheid within Israel’s borders, with laws and policies that deny them the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people’s daily lives. In many ways this system strikingly resembles Jim Crow and apartheid South Africa.
Dear Christian McBride,

We are asking you to take a moment to learn about the cultural boycott of apartheid Israel. We hope you will be persuaded to choose to honour the boycott call, and refrain from playing your double bass in apartheid Israel, until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine determined last fall in Cape Town, South Africa, that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid.[1] Palestinian jazz fans, in the occupied West Bank and particularly those in besieged Gaza, will not be allowed to attend your concert. Many people are unaware that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal and unlawful military occupation. In the West Bank, Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks. All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans. In Gaza, Palestinians have been subjected to a criminal and immoral siege since 2006. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also musical instruments from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison [2].

It is not unusual for jazz artists to refuse to play in front of the segregated audiences at the Red Sea Jazz Festival. In 2011, Eddie Palmieri [3] and Jason Moran [4] both quietly cancelled their gigs. Tuba Skinny cancelled, stating … when we agreed to play the festival we were not aware that it was largely state sponsored, or that people on the other side of the wall would be denied entry.[5]

You can learn about the wall they were referring to in this video:

In April, Cassandra Wilson graciously bowed out of headlining an Israeli woman’s festival that would have ignored the suffering of Palestinian women and honoured only Israeli women. Wilson said “I identify with the cultural boycott of Israel.” [6]

Roger Waters recently wrote:

Where governments refuse to act people must, with whatever peaceful means are at their disposal. For me this means declaring an intention to stand in solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government’s policies, by joining the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel. This is [however] a plea to my colleagues in the music industry, and also to artists in other disciplines, to join this cultural boycott. Artists were right to refuse to play in South Africa’s Sun City resort until apartheid fell and white people and black people enjoyed equal rights. And we are right to refuse to play in Israel.[7]

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has this view:

I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid.[8]

“International Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against the Apartheid regime, combined with the mass struggle inside South Africa, led to our victory … Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity, so it would be wrong … to perform in Israel“.[9]

Today, due to the boycott call and its international magnitude, it is impossible for any international artist to play in Israel in a political vacuum. Your performance will be interpreted, especially by supporters of Israel, as an endorsement.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said, in 2005 that “We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and…do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.”[10]

The Red Sea Jazz Festival’s top sponsors are the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport as well as the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.

We urge you learn about the boycott, especially by reading the article Educators can’t stay silent about Israeli apartheid by J. K?haulani Kauanui, Robin D.G. Kelley, Bill V. Mullen, Nikhil Pal Singh and Neferti Tadiar. These courageous professors stated:

We refuse to be silent or passive in the face of gross violations of principles of universal human rights that both Israel and the US publicly purport to uphold. As was the case with the US removal of tribal nations, the US South under anti-black “Jim Crow” laws, or South Africa under apartheid, Palestine today is the measure of the meaning and value of human rights in our time.[11]

Learn about why Alice Walker supports the boycott by reading Interview with Alice Walker after She Declines to Publish with Israeli Publisher. Walker writes:

When I was in the West Bank it was shocking to see the apartheid wall, which is immense and forbidding. And to realize that it’s purpose is not only to enforce segregation between Palestinians and Israelis but that it also steals huge amounts of Palestinian land. Land Palestinian farmers need to work in order to feed their families. I sat with a family of four and watched a huge Volvo digging machine dig the deep trench directly in front of their drive that the wall will be placed in. The noise was deafening and the vibrations shook the small house. The children, two young boys, will have to cross three check points each morning to go to school. The youngest boy had been severely beaten the week before our arrival by an Israeli soldier and was still so frightened he hid during most of our visit.[12]

The boycott is about turning away from the policy of appeasement of the oppressor and instead, standing in solidarity with the oppressed. By cancelling your two planned performances at the Red Sea Jazz festival (July 31 and August 1), you would be helping greatly to stop this unjust apartheid which denies Palestinians their basic rights. Boycotts were effective in stopping South African apartheid, and they can also work to stop Israeli apartheid.

Warmest Regards,

Don’t Play Apartheid Israel

We are a group, of 850 members, representing many nations around the globe, who believe that it is essential for musicians & other artists to heed the call of the PACBI, and join in the boycott of Israel. This is essential in order to work towards justice for the Palestinian people under occupation, and also in refugee camps and in the diaspora throughout the world.


[1] Russell Tribunal on Palestine Findings of the South Africa Session
In its most recent session in Cape Town, South Africa, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine concluded that, “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid.”
[2] BBC Guide: Gaza Under Blockage
[3]Latin Jazz Great Eddie Palmieri: Thank You for Cancelling Israel Performance
[4]Jazz Musician Jason Moran Cancels Concert in Apartheid Israel
[5] Tuba Skinny speaks out on cancellation of show at Red Sea Festival
[6] Singer Cassandra Wilson cancels Israel show: “I identify with the cultural boycott of Israel”
[7] Tear down this Israeli wall
I want the music industry to support Palestinians’ rights and oppose this inhumane barrier
[8] Divesting from Injustice
[9] Tutu urges Cape Town Opera to call off Israel tour
[11] Educators can’t stay silent about Israeli apartheid
[12] Interview with Alice Walker after She Declines to Publish with Israeli Publisher