Four years ago when musician Roger Waters performed in Israel, the famed Pink Floyd singer used his iconic status to speak up and speak out for what he believes are injustices committed by Israel against the Palestinian people.
Instead of performing in Israel's cultural heartland Tel Aviv, he changed his venue to Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, a co-existence peace village; he made sure to visit the Palestinian territories and took time out to view the much disputed security wall being built by Israel. He also stood before 80,000 of his Israeli fans, many of them present or former soldiers, and appealed to them to "stop bombing Lebanon."
While Waters was then blasted by many as being anti-Israel, at least the singer did not coward out of his performance or declare another tiresome boycott. As we have seen with Israel's refusal to meet with Hamas and its closure of crossings into the Gaza strip, boycotts in most cases are ineffective and end up only alienating or angering those powerless individuals who become the victims.
A case in point is the growing list of musicians and other artists that have either cancelled scheduled trips to Israel or called for a cultural boycott. While there is nothing wrong with cultural icons using their power to speak out against injustices and there is no reason for artists not to tackle political issues, refusing to show up at a film festival or cancelling a music gig is unlikely to have much of an impact on Israeli government policies.
Some might argue that a boycott raises awareness or that it could encourage the public to stand up and take action. It could be said that even if the Israeli government is unlikely to care that British filmmaker Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake), refused to come here or that Elvis Costello, the Pixies and guitarist Carlos Santana backed out of concerts here, their fans in the Jewish state might take up the call to action and put pressure on the government.
However, as with most criticism, if it is not constructive then it only serves to anger people and loyal fans that might have taken in the advice of their idols end up irritated and frustrated.
In Israel, the cry so commonly heard is: "They were always just anti-Semitic anyway, so who cares what they do?" or "they have made no effort to understand our side of the conflict, so let them boycott, we don't need them."
Elton John did it
Whatever side of the conflict one might sympathize with, artists might want to take a leaf out of Elton John's book. Performing in Tel Aviv last June, the veteran singer addressed the audience saying: "Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That's what we do."
Indeed, that might be what musicians are best at doing. Bringing people together through the power of their music is a pure and noble cause but if they do chose to get political then they must stick to their beliefs and come here in order to speak up and speak out, allow themselves to be interviewed by the local media and convey their message in an articulate way just like Roger Waters did four years ago at Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam. While no one knows how much sway his words might have had on a large scale, for many die hard Floyd fans (including myself) they certainly left a lasting impression.