Palestine Solidarity Committee’s contribution to the successful campaign below this statement.
Gil Scott Heron Boycott Israel Campaign press release
Fans of revolutionary poet and singer-songwriter Gil Scott Heron welcomed his decision tonight to cancel the concert he had been scheduled to play in Tel Aviv this May. Heron announced the decision during his set at London’s Royal Festival Hall, the opening date of his World tour.
Activists from the Gil Scott Heron Boycott Israel Campaign had picketed the event earlier in the day, attracting considerable public interest and support. Ten activists from the Campaign then continued their protest inside the concert, raising the issue of Israeli apartheid right at the start of Heron’s set and after the first song.
The activists were great admirers of the artist who were shocked by Heron’s decision to play Israel, given his longstanding commitment to equality and civil rights in both the USA and South Africa.
The Campaign is now awaiting confirmation from Gil Scott Heron’s management that the concert has indeed been cancelled.
Emory Douglas, renowned artist of the Black Panther Party, commented “My choice to join the voices opposed to your going [to Tel Aviv] wasn’t personal, but the right thing to do. I will be one of the first in line at your next concert in my town. May you continue to inform and inspire.”
For more information on the campaign, please contact:
Dear Gil-Scott Heron,
A respectful message from Johannesburg.
Those of us in South Africa who fought against Apartheid took strength and courage from your music. The song “Johannesburg” became somewhat of a resistance anthem in the aftermath of the Uprising of June 16, 1976. It was thus a shock and a disappointment to hear that you might be performing in Tel-Aviv, defying the cultural boycott against Apartheid Israel.
For those of us who lived under Apartheid and continue to face its legacy we see many parallels with the treatment of Palestinians. It has been fifty years since the massacre at Sharpeville where 69 people were killed at an anti-pass protest. Palestinians are still forced to carry passes and face daily violations of their fundamental human rights. Palestinian civil society organisations have called on Israel to be boycotted until such time as it abides by international law . We see many similarities with the treatment of Palestinians; indeed, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) a parastatal supported by the South African government, has released findings that Israel is practicing both colonialism and apartheid in Palestine .
Israel was founded and still exists on racist principles and it has created the largest refugee population (more than 6 million people) in the world. Israel has consistently flouted international law and has throughout its over 60 years of military occupation colonized and annexed more and more of Palestinian land. Today Palestinians have less than what the apartheid regime in South Africa allowed Black South Africans to own in the Homelands or Bantustans. The Israeli state also continues to erect what many refer to as the “Apartheid Wall”, despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision in 2004 that it is illegal. This wall further annexes and turns Palestinian land into bantustans.
Your performing in Israel actually supports an initiative by Israel to ‘rebrand’ itself. This ‘rebranding’ campaign, launched after the attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 where more than 1400 Palestinians were massacred , is aimed at making Israel appear to be a liberal democracy and to whitewash its ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Your music has always been deeply politicized and scathing of inequality and structural racism. It is in the light of this that we call on you to cancel your event in Israel. We remember your lyrics, ’I know that their strugglin’ over there ain’t gonna free me,
but we all need to be strugglin’
if we’re gonna be free’. Have you heard, brother Gill, that most of us in Johannesburg say, apartheid anywhere is apartheid everywhere. Or in the words of Nelson Mandela, “South Africa will not be free until Palestine is free”.
The Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa
From Ha’aretz, April 26:
Human rights activists are attempting to pressure American hip-hop artist Gil Scott-Heron to cancel his scheduled concert in Israel, slated to take place in Tel Aviv on May 25th. Over the weekend Scott-Heron, who is presenting new material this year for the first time in 16 years, gave a performance in London. His concert was greeted with protesters who demonstrated outside calling on the performer to boycott Israel. A pro-boycott Web site claimed that the musician had in fact agreed to cancel his Israeli trip, but the producers of his concert at the Barbie club in Tel Aviv said the concert will be held as scheduled. (Noya Kochavi)
A few folks on Twitter have taken JSF to task for prematurely celebrating Scott-Heron’s cancellation announcement during his April 27 London show, by reprinting this presser from the Gil Scott Heron Boycott Campaign. I say reprinting, because I took the release off of the Aboriginal News Service. Odd that folks think it’s ours since both those sources were linked and credited. No matter really. Anyhow I agree we shouldn’t relax until confirmation is received the show is truly cancelled, and the presser said the campaign was pursuing confirmation with Scott-Heron’s peeps. I’m aware of one other follow-up attempt as well. This wouldn’t be the first time an artist has cancelled due to boycott request, and the news is out before Israeli producers give up the ghost.
But I think the GSH boycott campaign did the right thing sending out that release, & it made sense to repost it. Publicizing the announcement will help keep GSH to his word. The quote they included from the Black Panther Party’s former culture minister congratulating GSH for his decision amounts to public pressure on GSH not to backslide. And they did include the caveat that confirmation was needed.
The Beeb reviewed the Saturday show. Here’s the last few paras:
Aside from a lengthy solo track by pianist Kim Jordan mid-way to promote her new album (of which the least said the better), the only truly curious moment came when pro-Palestine protesters shouted slogans between and during songs, apparently in protest at reports Scott-Heron was set to play in Tel Aviv next month.
Though at first he swatted off the criticism with witticisms, he later became visibly aggravated, later in the set denying any plans to perform in Israel had ever been finalised.
Moreover, Scott-Heron, who refused to perform in apartheid South Africa, suggested he would only play in Israel or the Palestinian territories once peace had been restored in the region.
Also there’s a pretty good piece today in The Morning Star by a longtime fan who attended Saturday’s show. The whole thing’s worth a read, I’m posting the latter part that deals directly with the show:
Supporters of Palestine began tackling the issue from the moment Scott-Heron took to the stage, urging him to reconsider and shouting slogans such as “Gaza is today’s Johannesburg.”
He tried to dismiss them, but he could not shut them up, and more voices were raised after the first song, Bluesology, had ended.
Between songs and protests, the concert was interspersed with a series of what, under different circumstances, would have been engaging and comical anecdotes, but which, in this tense and charged atmosphere, fell somewhat flat.
The songs, of course, were excellent, and Scott-Heron’s voice is sounding as great as ever – perhaps even more so.
Deep and earthy and soulful, enhanced rather than damaged by the passing of the years.
But it was hard to listen to songs like We Almost Lost Detroit and Work For Peace knowing that they were coming from a man who had seemingly abandoned the solid principles of solidarity which gave rise to them.
Then came the bombshell. After leaving the stage while his piano player performed a solo piece, he returned with the news that he would, after all, cancel the Tel Aviv show.
He did want to play there, he said, but not until “everyone is welcome there” – a reference to the fact that most Palestinians are penned in to a tiny corner of their erstwhile country, denied even the most basic freedom of movement.
You could palpably feel the atmosphere lift and the crowd – who, it must be said, had not been overly sympathetic to the protesters – gave him a standing ovation in time for the roof-raising finale of classic tracks Celebrate, Celebrate and The Bottle.
One final note of caution, however. The Tel Aviv concert is still being advertised on Scott-Heron’s official website, tickets are still being sold, and there has been no official announcement from his management to confirm the cancellation.
It may be too soon to announce a victory on this front just yet…
Maybe so, & I should have thought twice before tweeting it as a “BDS victory.” It’s promising progress in a BDS campaign, but we should hold off on the bubbly for now.
UPDATE: This review in the Guardian oddly doesn’t mention the protest or any controversy. The comment section is still open.
Take a look at http://gilscottheron.net/live/ It used to list Tuesday May 25, 2010 – Tel Aviv, Israel. But it’s gone now:
Saturday May 22, 2010 – Dissonanza Festival, Rome (0)
Sunday May 23, 2010 – Gagarin, Athens (0)
Friday May 28, 2010 – Conservatorio di Milano, Milano (0)
Saturday May 29, 2010 – Tin Angel, Philadelphia (2)
Looks like another rather promising development. It seems Gil is sticking to his word. Is the Israeli press gonna figure this out?
More Boycott News.