Two months ago, Atlantic Monthly magazine writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a fantastic and worthwhile article titled “The Case For Reparations." His argument, which is essential reading, is profound and will make anyone rethink race in America—it had that impact on me. Coates eloquently reminds us that even in our progressive country circa 2014, racism is something that is still very problematic, and the repercussions from over 200 years of cruel oppression has been barely addressed. Millions upon millions of African Americans are suffering from sometimes latent and sometimes blatant racism. Yet, in spite of all of this, no one is asking whether musicians should play the United States, because that would be a crazy question, right?
Elsewhere, in US politics, immigration reform has become a hotbed of controversy.The urgent humanitarian situation in South Texas, where unaccompanied minors have been showing up by the tens of thousands from Central America, has impeded Obama from making plans to address some portion of the 11.5 million immigrants now in this country illegally. And while it seems fairly simple—let them come and we’ll take care of them—the questions remain; who will take care of them? How will we take care of them? With what money? What about jobs? Are we doing the 11.5 million immigrants in this country a service or a disservice by relegating them to off-the-books minimum wage manual labor jobs in which, many, could even argue has truly damaging implications for generations to come? Whatever your personal feelings on the matter, it’s irresponsible to be unadultertedly open armed to the literal millions. Yet, in spite of all of this, no one is asking whether musicians should play the United States, because..well, you get it.
Yesterday morning, the music blog Wondering Sound (full disclosure: I once wrote for its previous iteration eMusic’s blog) featured an article written by Rahawa Haile titled Should Musicians Play Tel Aviv? Haile asserts that musicians should…or shouldn’t perform in Israel—I’m undecided on the her conclusive recommendation because while she says implicitly that they shouldn’t boycott (“Despite all this, the question remains: Should musicians boycott Israel? I say no”), her article commends those that have boycotted Israel, and she also inadvertently (or purposefully. Again, unclear) compares a performance in Israel to one in Swaziland, Chechnya and for the audience of Gaddafi himself. The comparatives are offensive, misguided and severely problematic.
Before I get further into my own personal thoughts on Haile’s essay, let’s recap her’s first. The writer asserts that boycotting Israel is not necessarily an imperative because of the Israeli-Gaza conflict, it’s because of the rampant racism toward the African immigrants escaping into the country. Even though, later on, she confusingly references Massive Attack, Talib Kweli and Waka Flocka Flame’s pro-Palestinian stance as examples of artists expressing their sympathies correctly. But again, it’s not that this time. Haile focal point issue is the over 60,000 Africa and counting asylum seekers in Israel “the majority of whom are from Eritrea and Sudan, none were granted refugee status until media coverage resulted in harsh public criticism earlier this year and raised that number to two. To date, not a single Sudanese asylum seeker has been granted refugee status in Israel.” As if this were a responsibility of Israel. As if it didn’t have enough to worry about.
Though that’s not justification for a racism that, as Haile reports, is rampant according to a recent survey conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. 79% of the population believed that Ethiopians suffered from racist attitudes, and yes, this is terrible, if accurate. But what Haile inexplicably emits out of convenience is that 41% of Israelis also felt that the ultra-Orthodox suffered from racism as well, along with Sephardi Jews and Soviet Union immigrants. Moreover, the same study also found that “ 86.7% of respondents said they expected the education system to proactively and continuously educate youth against racism.” Unlike the United States, Israel feels there needs to be a dialogue.
"Once inside Israeli borders," Haile continues, "Assuming refugees have successfully navigated the known haven for human traffickers that is the Sinai desert — migrants transform from asylum seeker to “infiltrator,” a term previously reserved for Palestinians." It’s fairly irresponsible of the writer to imply that the human trafficking atrocities are being committed by Israel, but that’s what she does when she makes no mention of this horrific crime actually being perpetrated by Bedouins. This is a rather unforgivable omission.
Haile’s mistake with the Israel-Egypt fence which, yes, cost $416 million dollars to build is that it was not solely built as a deterrent to African asylum seekers, but as a means of bolstering security and self-defense against terrorism, Which brings me to a slight tangent (stick with me): some Israelis are a-holes. It’s true. I can’t deny it. There are a lot of really wonderful Israelis, but like most countries, there are hateful and terrible people there as well. So when you cite an attempted murder of an infant by a mentally unstable individual, racist comments from the unequivocally and ever shameful Donald Sterling, and a group of teenagers’ inexplicably poor decision to dress up as Ku Klux Klan members—a hate group that disliked Jews as much as blacks—I say that tragically racist crimes happen all over the world and, well, one attempted homicide doth not make an epidemic. Donald Sterling is a fool and he’s American so why give credence to his allegations? And I can provide you with thousands upon thousands of racist costumes worn in this great country of ours by fraternity brothers and sorority sisters on Halloween, and is there a boycott not to play those colleges and universities? So, should we punish a country for an unfortunate group of vocal a-holes? Even if they are hateful right wingers? Haile says no, but then again, I’m not sure if Haile means that.
Now back to the fence. First off, it’s unsettling to me how many references in Haile’s article are sourced from Haaretz, a paper known to many in Israel as "fueling anti-Israel bias," for "damaging the truth," and a news outlet determined to be the conscience of Israel rather than report the news objectively, but let’s say, hypothetically, that Haaretz is the only news source and therefore, a bastion of truth. It’s possible that the Interior Minister of Israel said most of the migrants from Africa are engaged in criminal actions, but then again, Haaretz doesn’t quote him. Just the portion of his statement that says “whoever is considered a refugee, and there are few, can stay. One cannot forsake the security of Israelis.” However, if these allegations were true and possibly taken out of context, Minister Yishai’s alleged comments came after four Eritrean asylum seekers were arrested in Tel Aviv in connection with the rape of a 19-year-old woman. See, there’s an overwhelming concern in Israel that the Eritrean and Sudanese refugees are significantly and culturally different, coming from a land where customs and culture a different, where there is rampant gender inequality, where victimization is a common practice, where there is little understanding, if any at all, of Judaism. And in a small country like Israel, where resources are invested primarily in maintaining an existence and a safe haven in this tumultuous world, assimilating 60,000+ refugees is a genuine concern, and not unquestionably a responsibility of Israel’s.
Here’s a larger question, though: why do these refugees want to come to Israel even in the first place? What could refugees from a predominantly Islamic republic want from the Jewish state? Is it because Israel is a democracy? Perhaps it’s because the presumption is that of all the places in the region, Israel would be the most open-armed area in the region? Is that presumptuous? Does that mean that Israel should extend a red carpet out to thousands upon thousands of refugees while its dealing with survival? I have a great deal of pity and sympathy for the Eritreans and the Sudanese, because many of these asylum seekers are victims of horrific ordeals like rape, torture and having been trafficked from Sudan to Egypt before escaping to Israel across the Sinai desert. However, the influx of African migrants has sparked tensions in Israel, with locals blaming them for rising crime levels and altering the Jewish identity of some areas. All of the aforementioned is ignored by Haile, because it is easy to blame Israel for something that is seemingly black and white. This is anything but.
Of all the things I’ve read of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, why is it that this article warranted such a detailed response on my personal Tumblr page (which had its last entry was in March )? Aside from the biased one-sided allegations (incidentally, while Haile reports it as fact, she never mentions that the Ethiopian birth control report, only reported by Haartez, was never substantiated), aside from the simplistic and broad generalizations (Haile says Israel will give Uganda and Rwanda discounts on weapons for taking refugees off their hands, but has no source for Rwanda and links back Uganda to Vice, whose only source is—you guessed—Haaretz), and aside from misguided attempt in empathizing with truly victimized people too late after the fact (where’s the protest for the Eritreans, one of the most horribly persecuted people?) , it’s because I’m embarrassed.
On the one hand, I can’t attribute “Should Musicians Play Tel Aviv?” as objective journalism because it has so many profound flaws. But just the fact that there are some—no matter how many or how few—racist Israelis, pains me, as we should know more than anyone what it feels like to be a refugee and how it feels to be hated. Projecting that on anyone is inexcusable and intolerable. Israeli leadership should and will speak out against it because ideally Israel is a land of morals. This is not to say, though, that it’s required to open the floodgates to 60,000 today, and perhaps hundreds of thousands refugees tomorrow. But even more embarrassing, for the author, is that according to a recent ADL survey, Europe’s Jews are paying the price for the continent’s inability to effectively integrate its influx of immigrants, and, for example, the banlieues of Paris, or the neighborhoods of many North African immigrants, are hotbeds of anti-Semitism with 80-87 percent found to be bona fide anti-Semites. Isn’t that something worth considering when they’re moving into Israel? Moreover, in Gaza, 93%, or 1,900,000 people individuals harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, Greece, 63%, France, 37% (or 18,000,000) and Hungary at 41%, or 3.4 million individuals. Why is it that there has been little-to-no concern over the world’s outspoken anti-Semtism? Why is there no pressure on the aforementioned countries to reign in the burgeoning hate of right wingers and Jihadists?
The point I’m making here is that the world is fraught with hate for Jews—this is undeniable—and the state of Israel was founded, as you all know, as a place for Jews to feel secure, a place to call our own. There are many who may project their disdain for organized religion and impose our progressive separation of Church and State on it (as if that was a thing here) like that should be an example for all lands to practice. And so, when you consider that Israel was founded as a place for Jews to be Jews without concern of persecution, there is something fundamental and principled at stake here—in the Cliff Notes version, you can say Israel has a problem with Sudanese and Eritrean refugees, but with the heady, more complex approach, you have to consider how a massive influx of North African refugees could impact on the Israel as an idea, as a state, as a Jewish homeland. The alternative may be inconvenient to us—i.e., what do we do then? How do we help these refugees? Where can they go?—but holding Israel accountable for their integration is both simplistic and problematic.
In the meantime, some musicians have in fact cancelled their performances and some have even tweeted in support of Palestine (although I wouldn’t exactly quantify Rihanna and French Montana as Middle East experts so maybe using them as examples is a disservice to your argument), and right now Massive Attack is on tour projecting the casualty numbers in the Middle East conflict like it was a football score that needed to be evened out ("Palestinians, 405. Israeli DEAD 18”), but consider this: nearly three decades ago, Paul Simon recorded Graceland in South Africa despite a cultural boycott of the land. Simon, according to guitarist Steven Van Zandt, believed Mandela to be a Communist and a danger to the world. And then in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the album, we all know how that turned out. Hindsight is 20/20. Maybe time gives us perspective.