Elvis Costello and cultural boycotts of Israel:
Why he got it wrong, by David Horovitz

Published: 31 May 2010
Briefing Number 255

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Summary:    On 15 May 2010 British pop music icon Elvis Costello announced the cancellation of two planned concerts in Israel because of his concerns over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The cancellation prompted a response by Jerusalem Post editor David Horowitz.  This Briefing summarises Costello’s statement, and reproduces the response from Horowitz.  His article not only challenges Costello on the specifics.  He also provides a much wider rebuttal of the arguments of Israel’s detractors and cultural boycotters. And Horovitz outlines a mainstream Israeli viewpoint on the prospects for peace, and the obstacles. 

We have added links in the text to various Beyond Images Briefings which expand upon Horovitz’s arguments. And we have included paragraph headlines to make the article very user-friendly. The text itself is unchanged.  

Elvis Costello’s summer 2010 concerts in Israel, and the cancellation
Elvis Costello is a British pop music icon (see www.elviscostello.com). Many consider him one of the most influential performers of the last 30 years, though he lacks the ‘big name’ of other performers.

Costello was due to have performed two concerts in Israel, on 30 June and 1 July 2010.  

But on 15 May he announced that he was pulling out of the concerts.  In his statement Costello said that he had not taken the decision lightly, but only after “considerable contemplation”.  He commented that the concerts would be “a political act”, and that it is not possible to “look the other way”.  He said that he realised that there would be people in the audience who “deplore” Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians and the “intimidation and humiliation” which they suffer in the name of Israel’s “national security”.  Nevertheless he felt he must cancel.   

He commented that he had had “rewarding conversations” with members of Israel’s media, who had explained the “cultural scene” to him.  But he said that “as a matter of instinct and conscience” he must pull out.
Costello’s cancellation prompted a response by Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz, which appeared in the newspaper on 21 May (www.jpost.com).

We reprint Horowitz’s article below, in full.  He not only explains why he thinkgs Costello’s decision was wrong.  He also provides a wider rebuttal of the arguments of many of Israel’s detractors and those who advocate boycotts of the country. And he explains a mainstream Israeli viewpoint on core issues, including the peace process, the obstacles to peace, and the Gaza withdrawal.

We have added links to various Beyond Images Briefings in the text. And we have provided section headlines to make the article as user-friendly as possible.

David Horowitz article (Jerusalem Post, 21 May 2010 – www.jpost.com)

‘Your silence in Israel, Elvis, means you’re singing with the rejectionists now”   

I’m so disappointed in you, Elvis Costello, for confusing cause and effect.  I’m so disappointed in you for assuming that, if the Palestinians are suffering, which they are in Gaza, it is the fault of the Israelis, which it overwhelmingly is not.  I’m so surprised that, though you say you’ve agonised, you have evidently learnt so little before drawing your damaging and erroneous conclusions. In the words of a song you wrote way back in 1983, you have become “a silent partner in someone else’s mistake….”
We Israelis are not blind to suffering….

You purport to be worried that, had you gone ahead with the concerts you initially chosen to play here next month, others might have “assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent”.  You pulled out in ostensible protest at “conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security”.

We, especially those of us who have followed your endlessly explorative musical career down the decades, had though you were a wiser, more rigorous thinker than those comments suggest.  We had imagined, when you scheduled your concerts, that you were not naïve or superficial, uncurious or weak-willed.

We had assumed – especially when you told the Jerusalem Post just two weeks ago that “dialogue is essential” and criticised those who call for boycotts – that you had done more than read and watched distorted accounts of our reality in the more deplorable organs of the British media. 

Do you really think that we have no mind for the suffering of the innocent?  Are you truly persuaded that our national security concerns are spurious?  How irresponsible of you to duck the first-hand opportunity to have the record set straight.  Our loss; yours too.

We live in the face of terror, yet still care for the hardship of the innocent….

We here in Israel, as you ought to know, have been battered and bloodied through more than 62 years of relentless Arab attempts at our elimination.  We here, in Israel, have been subjected to a series of conventional wars, then years of ruthless terrorism and most recently to missile warfare against our civilians.  We here, in Israel, are now facing the threat of destruction by a nuclear Iran. We here, in Israel, are forced uniquely among the nations to defend our very sovereign legitimacy.

Yet we here, in Israel, nonetheless care profoundly about the suffering of the innocent – on both sides of this eminently solvable conflict.   We try to protect our people from the ruthlessness of our enemies. And we try, at unprecedented  lengths, that should shame other, less moral nations, to protect the people on the other side too (See Beyond Images Briefing 245 – statement of Colonel Richard Kemp to the UN Human Rights Council, October 2009).
In Gaza, it is worth adding, these are people who chose to elect, as their government, an organisation that openly seeks Israel’s destruction (see Hamas Charter – Beyond Images Briefing 165; and ‘We want all of Palestine….’ – Beyond Images Briefing 186).

Hamas is an organisation that sends men and women to their deaths as suicide bombers (see Beyond Images Briefing 78), that killed hundreds of its own people when seizing power three years ago (see Beyond Images Briefing 198) that deliberately places its population in harm’s way when waging war against us (see Beyond Images Briefing 233), and that glories in a despicable “kill and be killed” interpretation of Islam in which all non-believers must die and all believers can do nothing more godly than murder them.

The Palestinians cannot come to terms with Israel’s existence
We hope and pray and we press for normal relations with a Palestinian leadership that cannot bear to publicly acknowledge our historic right to live alongside them (for more on this see Beyond Images Briefing 227).  This leadership denies and ridicules our millennia of heritage here, and, even today, incites and indoctrinates its youngest children against us.

We wrenched every last Jew our of the Gaza Strip five years ago, dismantling three generations of a settlement enterprise that had made some of the planet’s most unpromising territory bloom (see Beyond Images Briefing 153). We did so in the faint, desperate hope that this might give us a respite from missile attack, that it might provide the Palestinians with the opportunity to begin building a peaceful, democratic state alongside us, and that it might convince the world of our readiness to pay almost any price short of national suicide for the prize of peace.  The hope proved empty.

In a series of diplomatic ventures in the two decades since the Palestinian leadership claimed to have shifted from armed struggle to coexistence, we have also offered to relinquish almost all of Judea and Samaria, the historic heartland of our nation, and we have only been rebuffed and terrorised. (On this see Beyond Images Briefing 21 – What did the Israelis offer at Camp David and Taba? and Beyond Images Briefing 225 on Olmert’s withdrawal plan in 2008)

What would happen if Israel laid down its arms? This would not bring peace

You criticise us for visiting intimidation, humiliation and worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.  Ask yourself, Elvis, if those many Palestinians who are unfortunately not civil, the Palestinian gunmen and bombers, put down their weapons, would tranquility prevail in our conflict? The answer, in case you have not quickly found it, is yes. Yes, tranquillity would prevail.

And ask yourself as well, Elvis, whether, if Israel put down its guns, if Israel took apart its West Bank security barrier, if Israel opened its border to Gaza and dismantled its national security apparatus, would peace flourish? Again, if the answer is not clear to you, let me tell you: it is no.  No, peace would not flourish. We would be slaughtered.

When did not control the territories, we did not have peace…..

We strive for peace for our own sake and for that of our neighbours. We have already relinquished most of the territory we captured in the 1967 war, a war that was designed to wipe us out (on the Six Day War see Beyond Images Briefing 103), even though it is self-evident that the territory we captured then is not the root of our neighbours’ hostility towards us. 

They have sought our elimination since 1967.  But they sought it, too, from 1948-1967 where there was no “occupation” and there were no settlements.  During those 19 years, rather than Israel holding East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Sinai and the Golan Heights, it was from those territories that our sliver of sovereign land was attacked.

Narrow Israel, vulnerable pre-1967 Israel, nine-mile-wide Israel, an Israel bordered by the Jordanian-controlled West Bank, the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip and the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights – that Israel also knew no peace. But most of us would go back to close to those indefensible borders, indeed most of us would do almost anything to partner the Palestinians to independent statehood, with just a single caveat: that the establishment of Palestine not come at the cost of the secure, viable existence of Israel.

It’s not a black and white conflict, Elvis….

Our conflict is not black and white, Elvis.  It is a mass of complexity.  We have extremists in our midst too. One of them murdered a prime minister of ours’ not too long ago.   Others would violently resist the rule of law if we came to evacuate them in a territorial concession in the cause of a peace accord. But our mainstream rejects and condemns our radicals; the Palestinian mainstream, appallingly, glorifies theirs.

There are heroes and villains on both sides.  The heroes are striving, every day, to marginalise the villains.  You haven’t helped (See Israeli Bedouin diplomat on the boycott of Israel - Beyond Images Briefing 241).

Look a little deeper into our situation – ignore the skewed vision of others

We expected more of you.  We thought you were a man of integrity and good conscience.  At the very least, we believed that you would want to find out for yourself.  You say that it would have been “quite impossible to simply look the other way”. That’s the last thing we would have wanted you to do.  You needed to come, and to look – rigorously and thoroughly – not to let others sell you their skewed vision.

You pulled out, you have written, because “there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act….”.  Indeed so.  In the case of playing in Israel, it may be interpreted as having the elementary courage to dig a little deeper, to look a little closer, to allow a little more intellectual honesty.

You have joined forces with those who seek to boycott Israel

Having your name deleted from a concert schedule is emphatically a political act as well.  In your case, an act of ignorance and cowardice.  You have capitulated to those who would deny Israel the capacity to convey its reality.  You have joined forces with those who seek, most deliberately, to impose journalistic and academic and artistic boycotts on Israel because they know that routine interaction plays into Israel’s hands.  They know that open communication punctures their lies and distortions.  They know that an honest narrative trumps their dishonest misrepresentations. They know that once you had visited, you would not be so easily fooled.

You are not helping innocent Palestinians with your action

I don’t know who you think you are helping, but it’s certainly not the innocent Palestinians with whom you claim to identify, the relative moderates who want our current fragile negotiations to bear fruit. The way to do your bit for them would have been to play in Ramallah as well as in Caesarea.  True, when Leonard Cohen offered to do just that last year, Palestinian rejectionists made sure he was thwarted.  Unlike you, however, he had the wisdom to go ahead with his Israel appearance and thus struck a small blow against those who oppose compromise and reconciliation, a small blow against the blind-alley rejectionism that you have foolishly chosen to empower.

As someone who takes your responsibilities seriously, you should reconsider
You say that you “hope it is possible to understand that I am not taking this decision lightly or so I may stand underneath any banner”.  Well, had you not decided to visit in the first place, you could indeed have kept yourself removed from our fraught debate and dispute.  But by saying yes and now saying no, you have indeed placed yourself beneath a banner.  In our struggle of moderate heroes and malevolent villains, your silence here leaves you singing with the villains. 

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll read this and reconsider. As someone who’s written so many such poignant songs, as someone who plainly takes your songwriter’s and performer’s responsibilities seriously, it’s the least you should do.

“My aim is true” you sang, half a lifetime ago, beautifully, in quite another context. “My aim is true”? No, Elvis, not this time it isn’t.

Some other key Beyond Images resources:  See Homepage / All Beyond Images Briefings / Boycott and Divestment Campaigning Against Israel