July 15, 2012
Palestine has long been the blind spot for many anti-racists in the western world. Thanks to Israel’s flagrantly naked aggression against the Palestinian people — Operation Cast Lead, the attack on the Freedom Flotilla, the incessant spread of settlements and strangulation of Gaza, take your pick — that blind spot is starting to right itself.
Polls show that among progressive-minded people in Europe and the US, opinion of Israel is increasingly negative, hovering somewhere around the same amount of support for North Korea. For these people, the horror of apartheid in the Middle East is finally taking its place next to the outrage of racism at home and the shameful legacy of its South African counterpart.
That’s not necessarily true for everyone, though. Take, as a sterling example, Morrissey. As if to prove this point in reverse, the formerly anti-racist Morrissey is going ahead with his July 21st Tel Aviv show with nary a word mentioned of the campaign for cultural boycott.
To be clear, Morrissey has played in Israel before. And yes, he most certainly loves stirring controversy. The former Smiths singer and indie demi-god seems to revel in it. In 2008, he affirmed his show in Israel with a video on the Haaretz website, which he ended with "God bless Israel, stay nice!" In the days following, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel released an open letter to the singer:
It is ironic that your persistent affection for outsiders and misfits has often driven you to write in their voices. Someone hated, rejected and violently attacked by a racist, nationalistic society has her point of view expressed in these lyrics, which you wrote:
We’re old news
Say BBC scum
One child shot, but so what?
Laid my son
In a box, three feet long
And I still don’t know why
A short walk home becomes a run
And I’m scared
In my own country
Singing in Tel Aviv despite the fact that more than 800 Palestinian children have been killed — many in a willful manner — by the Israeli occupation army and settlers in the past seven years alone would effectively tell us, in our faces: "One Palestinian child shot, but so what?"
Indeed, what made Morrissey’s decision to play in Israel so jarring to many of his fans was that he had actually had a fairly consistent record of standing up against racism. As the PACBI letter pointed out, Moz (his nickname, for the uninitiated) had stated in a 2007 interview: "I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind and will not let this pass without being absolutely clear and emphatic with regard to what my position is. Racism is beyond common sense and I believe it has no place in our society."
A checkered record
Moz’s record on racism has never been quite as spotless as he’s made it out to be. Songs like "Bengali In Platforms" are, at best, racially insensitive. But he had always at least made an attempt to apologize, and had been a vocal supporter of UK anti-fascist group Love Music Hate Racism (as a side-note, many of LMHR’s most supportive artists like Lowkey and Reverend and the Makers, are also vocal supporters of the cultural boycott of Israel).
Over the past several years, though, the questionable comments simply became too many. The straw that finally severed ties between he and anti-racist campaigners was when he called Chinese people "a sub-species."
In an interview I did with LMHR convenor Martin Smith in 2010, Smith said of Morrissey:
[Y]ou know, everyone’s entitled to be wrong or change their mind once. I think the problem we’ve got with Morrissey is that he’s done it several times.
I don’t believe it’s a mistake. I think it’s conscious, and I think he’s gone too far. In our organization, some of the bands have already met and talked about it, and we don’t want to be associated with him. We feel it’s not helpful to anybody.
Of course, he could come out and make a clear denunciation, saying he didn’t say it—he hasn’t done that so far. And he hasn’t contacted us to say he wants to distance himself from his statements. I think really he has to grow up at minimum.
These are much more serious statements than he’s made before. "Subhuman" is crude racism, to put it mildly.
Former progressive reputation aside, the fact that this man would also make utterances like "God bless Israel" isn’t all that surprising. In 2008 he outright ignored calls to pull out of his show. This year, there hasn’t been the same campaign urging him to cancel. There has also been no mention from the singer himself about the Mavi Marmara, the bombardment of Gaza or any of the atrocities Israel has committed since his last show. In short, all of Israel’s actions that have made cultural boycott a viable option for many of Morrissey’s contemporaries (the Pixies, Elvis Costello) don’t seem to affect him at all.
Though it would undoubtedly be a victory if a star of Morrissey’s stature were to refuse playing in Israel, there’s likely an understandable feeling among many credible anti-racists that Israel can have his big(ot) mouth all to themselves. Birds of a feather…