Adventures in Israel

I just got back from Israel (well, actually I’m on the coach using the free wifi – will the wonders of the modern age never cease?). It was a fascinating trip, and one worthy of comment for a number of reasons, some more obvious than others.

First, the trip. I was asked to go over by Nadav, a friend of a friend who used to live in London and has started booking punk shows in his home country. Having never been before, I jumped at the offer (more detail later). I flew in last Thursday, after going through a seriously impressive security routine at the check-in desk at Heathrow. Israel, on arrival, is hot, dusty and mostly coastal from what I saw – not unlike Florida, much of the time in the places I went. I played two shows – Tel Aviv and Haifa – and had a great time. The scene is pretty nascent out there right now, but there’s a lot of cool honest punk kids hungering for live music. My experience of most places is skewed by the fact that I generally hang out with punks, who are generally disaffected and middle class. In this case it was further skewed, in the sense that I didn’t go (or have the chance to go) to any Palestinian areas, or hang out with any Palestinian kids. The Israelis I was hanging out with were, to the last, intelligent, thoughtful and good fun.

We went Jerusalem on a day off, which was fabulously surreal – wandering around the old town is like being on the set of Life Of Brian. The history oozes from every surface and is very much a living concern. I also, personally, found the idiosyncrasies of the various Abramic religions, always a little silly, to be much more ridiculous when presented in such claustrophobic proximity. Seeing orthodox jews, Christian monks and muslims wandering around scowling at each other because of theological disputes (which usually come down to arguments over what types of meat to eat when, or something), was pretty barmy.

It was intriguing also to be in a society which, on a surface level, feels very westernized, very much like America, in both good and bad senses. But beneath the veneer of comfortable democracy and consumerism is the shadow of militarism (conscription to the IDF is still mandatory for men aged 19-21) and threat (you get your bags searched for bombs going into shopping malls). I did my best to talk politics as much and as sensitively as I could. My most interesting conversation was with a guy who turned out to be Shimon Peres’ grandson. Much I learned.

And now for the philosophy. Since announcing the shows until literally just now, I’ve been receiving emails and comments from people with opinions on the fact of me going over to play – opinions to which they are very much entitled to have and share. Most of them were intelligent and thought-provoking. I wanted to state my views, for the record, here. I have something to say both about the debate, which breaks down into two separate arguments, and the meta-debate.

The first argument is the basic one over the rights and wrongs of the situation in this part of the Middle East. I really can’t be particularly arsed to get into a big discussion about this here – partly because I’m no expert, and partly because it usually devolves into the same old bullshit – both sides accusing anything the other says of being “propaganda”, both sides being vindictively selective in the facts they consider, both sides eventually saying something tedious about Hitler. For what it’s worth, I think the basic problem of two competing nationalisms claiming the same territory is a thorny one. I think Israel has a real problem in that its leadership schooled itself in an era of genuine existential threats (1967, 1973, to say nothing of the Holocaust) but is applying that mindset to a fundamentally different reality with a different balance of power. I think the Palestinians are suffering, but I think too many people are too quick to overlook what an awful bunch of shits Hamas are. Whatever. Like I say, I’m no expert, and I’ll leave the fine print to others.

The second argument is how any of this relates to the business of playing shows in Israel. It’s not at all clear to me that, even if I did unconditionally condemn the Israeli government (which I don’t), I shouldn’t play shows there. The shows were organized by private citizens without any state involvement, and I’m not in the habit of judging individuals by the actions of their government. We in the UK and the USA, after all, have the Iraq war and occupation hanging over our collective heads. Of course I’m aware that some artists are boycotting Israel, as is their right; however it seems morally duplicitous to me to boycott Israel and not (say) the USA. Maybe big artists can afford to boycott one small state for the sake of some media grandstanding, and not the other, their main cashcow?

So those are the arguments. I have my positions on them, which are far from unassailable. But I also wanted to comment on the meta-debate, the terms and the manner of the debate. In fact this is the thing that has particularly got my goat. In the negative commentary I’ve received, the tone is usually either implicitly or, more often, explicitly, saying that, by going to Israel, I am either stupid, ill-informed or morally bankrupt. That actually really fucks me off. The fact is, I’m a grown up with some basic grasp of history and politics, I thought about it, made a decision on my own actions and carried it out. You are free to disagree, such is the joy of pluralism. I just think it’s pretty lame to accuse me of being any number of things (stupid, fascist, not punk (ha!), in it for the money (double ha!)) because we hold differing opinions. I respect people who intelligently disagree with me, and I’d ask the same consideration in return.

Basically if punk means unquestioningly agreeing with anyone else’s opinion, whoever they may be, then fuck punk. But luckily, that’s not really how I understand the term. G’night.

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