Saturday, 22 January 2011

Macy Grey: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

In the last few days, the popular singer/songwriter Macy Grey started a furious debate by asking a question on her FaceBook fan page. The question related to whether she should go to Israel to perform or not. Also within the question was a statement in which she described the way Israel treats the Palestinians as 'disgusting' amounting to 'Apartheid' (spelled with a capital 'A').

At the time of this writing she has confirmed her attendance. But it's still worth discussing as the issues arise with every celebrity visiting Israel and are much more than simply being about music.

A visit and a performance in Israel, so the activists imply, would be to ignore - and even accept - Israel's position in the conflict. This may not be true on the part of the artist, but this is how the political activists hope the recipients of these messages will perceive the campaign.
However, even though Grey is critical of Israel, at the same time her instincts show her to be thoughtful and not easily manipulated: in the same statement she quite astutely asks:
"I don[']t know how my NOT going changes anything"
Indeed, her doubts are perfectly legitimate. It does not and will not change anything since the conflict, aside from the physical issues on the ground, is all about who is justified and unjustified. In a very real sense, for the moment the debate over the Israel/Palestine conflict is the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The Campaign

The lobbying of Macy Grey did not start with her question, it started when it became public knowledge that she wanted to perform in Israel. And Grey's experience is certainly not unique. Any celebrity wanting to perform in Israel can expect to be the target of a well planned campaign by political activists, thought out well in advance.

The BDS (Boycotts Divestment Sanctions) movement is a group of organisations based in Ramallah, West Bank, and endorsed by the PA (Palestinian Authority). Since a new law was passed in Israel, NGOs (non governmental organisation) must now provide information as to their sources of funding. In a recent investigation by NGO Monitor, shows the use aid from Europe (Holland, to be precise) intended for the Palestinian people, to fund its activities.

One of the highest profile groups of these is the online magazine Electronic Intifada. It has been key in disseminating articles which include accusations of genocide by the Israelis, apartheid, Holocaust Denial, that Jews living in the West Bank is illegal, that checkpoints are a source of humiliation to the Palestinians, that Israel's security wall is unjust etc. Most likely all the issues quoted in the activists campaign against Macy Grey. All of the issues raised are contained with the arguments surrounding the publication of former US president Jimmy Carter's book 'Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid'.

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid

With the publication of Carter's book, there were mass walkouts from Carter's own 'Carter Center' by professors and diplomats who had been with the ex-president during his meetings to secure peace deals in the Middle East. Overall, they objected to his approach as well as his incorrect use of terms, language, incorrect maps and so on.

In one particular example, the former president contested Dennis Ross, a Middle East Envoy and senior advisor to the State Dept as well as 4 US presidents (including Barak Obama); the meeting, Ross points out, in which he was present, but Carter was not.

The debate over Carter's book even provoked a response from Bill Clinton, who had not only attended the peace negotiations Carter talks about, he mediated them. Clinton remarked of Carter's book simply: "... it's not factually accurate and it's not fair."

For those wishing to read more, CAMERA (the Comittee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) has compiled a list of summaries to various critiques of Carter's book, as well as articles by those having left the Carter Center explaining why. For those who prefer paper to a pixels however, there is CAMERA's publication with much the same content.

Operation Cast Lead

If there is one other issue activists will cite as being 'proof' of Israeli war crimes, it is Israel's military operation from Dec 2008 to Jan 2009 called Operation Cast Lead.

The operation was launched in response to 8 years and 12,000 rocket attacks by Hamas, categorised by the European Union and the US State Dept as a terrorist organisation. The rocket attacks in question mainly targeted and devastated the town Sderot next to Gaza, where Hamas rule with an iron fist.

Following the operation, a UN investigation into the conflict was launched, headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, a South African Jew and self-declared anti-Apartheid activist.

The Goldstone report was published and found Israel guilty of war crimes; the political activists went into overdrive.

However, no sooner had the report been approved at the UN, did things start to unravel.

On the 28th Oct 2009, in an interview with Aljazeera, the secretary general of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) stated that they had commissioned the Goldstone Report, thus giving Israel's claim that the report was biased, some merit. The OIC contains several member states in the Islamic world who not only fund al Qaeda, but created it, and many of its off-shoot organisations.

Second, was the grave revelation of Judge Richard Goldstone and some of the sentences he passed during the Apartheid in south Africa. The judge was found to have sentenced dozens of black people to death by hanging. Goldstone's response was that he was 'obligated to uphold the laws of the land'. Jewish professor of law at Harvard university, Alan Dershowitz, retorted 'That's what Mengele [SS officer and Nazi physician] said'.

Lastly, and specifically related to the war crimes findings against Israel, was how the Goldstone Commission decided to investigate specific incidents. What came to light was that far from the Goldstone Comission conducting a criminal, fact finding investigation, incidents of alleged war crimes were recommended by Israeli human rights organisations. The Goldstone Commission then went to the relevant people and places (presumably under the watch of Hamas) and carried out their search for the facts. 

However, far from Israeli human rights organisations being impartial, they have a history of controversy and unfounded claims of human rights abuses by Israel. Just this year, these same human rights organisations to have been shown to be funded by the same countries that commissioned the report; the same countries with ties to the terrorists Israel was defending itself against.

In addition to the above cases, the flotilla incident in 2010, in which Israel is accused of mounting a 'peace activist' boat in international waters illegally, and killing 9 Turkish terrorists seems certain to admonish Israel of any wrong doing.


So what does this actually say about the situation? Certainly, innocent civilians have died. No one denies this. But unlike Turks denying the Armenian Genocide, in Israel there is no proof. What there is evidence of is conflict, and fierce debate as to who is to blame for the deaths. This is a tragic and seemingly unsolvable dispute over land, with the 'leadership' of one side (the Palestinian) attempting to blame Israel for the suffering it has been complicit in creating due to the misuse of aid (among many other things).

Certainly, conflict is unpleasant. But to use powerful terms with devastating consequences, to attempt to hide behind women and children in a conflict you have provoked and then attempt to profit from this by laying blame on your enemy is the very definition of 'disgusting'.

In 2010 alone, there were performances by several well known artists including Elton John, Rod Stewart, Metallica, Ozzy Ozborne, Rihanna and others. It's also interesting to note that the Iraqi musician, Ismail Fadel, also performed there.

One artist boycotting Israel has no effect on Israel at all. And to be perfectly blunt, one Macy Grey, one hundred, or no Macy Grey's performing in Israel will not have an effect.

Who performs in Israel doesn't matter. The point is these artists are important because their names are brands. In the sub-culture of which music fan likes whatever band, what a leader of a particular band does, is a statement and an endorsement. These artists are being used in an attempt to sell an idea.

The powerful terms applied to Israel have consequences. When applied incorrectly they cease to become criticism and become defamation (as well as abuse to genuine victims of Apartheid etc). It stops being debate, which is healthy and democratic, and starts becoming part of the effort on behalf of a Middle Eastern dictatorship to destroy one sovereign nation, by an enemy that has no limits about what they're willing to do to achieve their aims.

The BDS movement, therefore, is a campaign to focus attention away from those guilty of exactly the things they accuse Israel of doing.

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