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Thursday, November 27, 2014

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Don’t silence Neil Young

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It’s shaping up to be the best summer ever for concerts in Israel, despite the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement’s strident efforts to establish a cultural boycott of the country.

The lineup of musical acts offers something for every taste. The Rolling Stones are poised to give their inaugural concert in Israel in June, 51 years to the month after the release of their first single. Pop mega-stars Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus and Justin Timberlake have shows scheduled or are expected to announce dates in the near future.

Grunge and alternative fans will welcome Soundgarden and the Pixies (who cancelled a 2010 appearance in Tel Aviv in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, but now appear to have had a change of mind). A host of up-and-coming indie acts, including Passenger and Cults, are also on the schedule.

Canadian artists will be well represented, too. Justin Bieber has a Tel Aviv date slated for May (though given his recent antics, who knows whether he’ll be in any condition to perform by then). And the legendary Neil Young comes to town July 17.

Of all these artists, Young is getting the most flak for his decision to perform in Israel. The group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East has called on Young to show his support for “the human rights of the Palestinian people” by cancelling his concert. Meanwhile, Independent Jewish Voices released a video online that juxtaposes graphic images from the Vietnam War with scenes from the Palestinian territories, all set to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 1970 protest anthem Ohio.

An open letter that accompanies the video asks: “Will Neil Young listen to the Palestinians, or will he play to the tune of Israel’s Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles?”

Given Young’s long history of activism, and his recent cross-Canada “Honour the Treaties” tour in support of aboriginal land claims against oilsands operators, it’s easy to see why these groups are so aggravated by his trip to Israel – they thought he was on their side. Indeed, former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters summed up the BDS movement’s collective shock in a Feb. 1 open letter posted on Facebook: “Neil? I shall ponder all of this long and hard… you were always one of my heroes, I am confused,” Waters wrote.

Pop stars like Cyrus and the Biebs tend to avoid political issues (unless you consider “twerking” a political issue), but Young has never been shy about voicing his opinion. More than likely, Young gave serious thought to the ramifications of playing in Tel Aviv and concluded that doing so fits in with – or at least doesn’t contradict  – his personal and political values. Whether or not he comes right out and says so, by performing in Israel, he is implicitly standing up for the Jewish state and against the likes of Waters and Independent Jewish Voices.

In When God Made Me (from his underappreciated 2005 album Prairie Wind), Young wonders: “Did he [God] give me the gift of voice so some could silence me?” The answer is an emphatic “no,” even if that is precisely what Israel’s enemies would prefer.

yoni

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