My name is Todd and I’m a 30 year old New Zealand Maori doctor in mental health, normally based in Wellington. I’m also a fellow musician and a supporter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli Apartheid.
Listening and playing music is a kind of sacrament. I’m sure you will agree with me on its beautiful potency. My Dad is a singer and as a kid would drag me to country music contests and his Roy Orbison gigs. I developed a deep love for music and its transcendent capacity.
But our mutual love for music and its creative expression cannot be blind to that which is destructive and opposed to creation.
I am writing to politely ask you not to play your wonderful music in Tel Aviv.
If you are willing to heed the urgent plea from Palestinian civil society – a collection of unions, women’s groups, NGOs, humanitarian agencies and charities – and support the BDS movement, you would send a powerful message of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Israel explicitly relies upon culture to normalise and validate it’s image – it is an explicit part of its ‘hasbara’, or cultural public relations. This is reflected in the fact that Israeli artists are often only given grants on the understanding they support the occupation, or refrain from criticism.
The freedom of Palestinian artists is obviously creatively and physically restricted, but you can see that many artists in Israel are themselves not free – they must implicitly support the political situation, one ever more dominated by extremist and racist right-wing ideology.
As New Zealanders we can be an important part of this conversation. Israel is a colonial-settler society, just like us. We have much to do to address ethnic disparities in our own backyard, but we have travelled this painful road too. Our advice and solidarity needn’t be a provocation, indeed it should be delivered in the spirit of friendship.
If you were to stand with the oppressed it would be a powerful recognition of not just Palestinian rights, but the rights of the victims of colonial-settler societies everywhere, including New Zealand.
I can understand how it may feel inappropriate or a hindrance to be pulled from the artistic world into the maelstrom of politics. Personally, my belief is that an artist’s final and ultimate loyalty is to creation itself and not always to society. I suspect this is also part of the reasoning of those who ignored the plea and played in Tel Aviv. On one level they don’t believe matters related to human rights and injustice sit above the need to create and express their art. They also fall victim to the idea that their creative act can bridge the political divide – that there will be some ‘kumbaya’ moment.
Sadly, they forget that creation is a loving act and a process of construction. Art does have its splintering qualities of course – rearrangement, dissection, apposition – but in the end what is produced is a new relationship – a binding of things together. If you allow your art to be hijacked in the service of an agenda based upon destruction and erasure (both metaphorical and literal) then you betray creation. In that role you stop being an artist, and what you express stops being art.
I fear that playing in Tel Aviv risks diminishing the integrity and quality of your art. It makes it into the means to the hateful ends of another. It ceases to be about expression, individual revelation and love. Love is at the core of any meaningful aesthetic experience. I don’t have the slightest doubt that love is what you will seek to impart in Tel Aviv. But it is a sad perversity that ultimately you will be doing so in the service of hate.
I’d be the first to own up that the problems of this world can easily overwhelm our optimistic energies towards their correction. This can cause us to turn from them. One person can only do so much. That is why solidarity is the well-spring of change. Amnesty International articulates this beautifully – we must not “scream at the darkness”, we must “light a candle”. The Palestinian people and the BDS movement is not asking you to take too much of this issue on your shoulders, nor to do anything more than the average person can do.
We are just asking you to light your candle. It is a testament to your creativity and personality that it would burn very bright indeed – taking us one step closer to illuminating the darkness.
Best wishes and in solidarity
Dr. Todd Smith