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Brazilian Music Legends Caetano and Gil Will Perform in Israel Despite Calls to Cancel

"You still have time!", illustration by Carlos Latuff. Permitted use.

“You still have time!” Illustration by Carlos Latuff. Used with permission

Calls from supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) against Israel have not swayed Brazilian music stars Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, who plan to go ahead with a concert scheduled for next week in Tel Aviv.

For months, artists and activists around the world, including former apartheid campaigner and Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, asked the duo — who in 1960s defied the military regime as part of the artistic movement Tropicália — to take part in BDS and cancel the July 28 performance.

Ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, a long-time activist of the Palestinian cause, wrote two public letters in which he implored Veloso to cancel the show. In the first, addressed in late May, he said:

As you know, international artists concerned about human rights in apartheid South Africa refused to cross the picket line to play Sun City. In those days, Little Steven, Bruce Springsteen and 50 or so other musicians protested against the vicious, racist oppression of the indigenous peoples of South Africa. Those artists helped win that battle, and we, in the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality, will win this one against the similarly racist and colonialist policies of the Israeli government of occupation. We will continue to press forward in favor of equal rights for all the peoples of the Holy Land. Just as musicians weren’t going to play Sun City, increasingly we’re not going to play Tel Aviv. There is no place today in this world for another racist, apartheid regime.

In his own letter, Tutu emphasized the conditions in which Palestinians are forced to live:

I have myself witnessed the apartheid reality that Israel has created within its borders and in the occupied Palestinian territory. … If we cannot, at the very least, heed the appeals of Palestinian society, to refrain from undermining their peaceful resistance and aspirations for a life without oppression, we will be abandoning our moral obligations.

While Gilberto Gil refused to speak on the case, Caetano replied Roger Waters in a letter published in O Globo newspaper in July 21. He said:

Quando a África do Sul estava sob o regime de apartheid, e eu soube que artistas estavam se recusando a tocar lá, concordei como que automaticamente com tal decisão.

A complicada situação no Oriente Médio não me mostra o mesmo tipo de imagem preto-no-branco que o racismo oficial, aberto, da África do Sul me mostrava então.

Eu cantei nos Estados Unidos durante o governo Bush e isso não significava que eu aprovasse a invasão do Iraque. Escrevi e gravei uma música que se opunha à política que levou à prisão de Guantánamo — e a cantei em Nova York e Los Angeles. Eu quero aprender mais sobre o que está acontecendo em Israel agora. Eu nunca cancelaria um show para dizer que sou basicamente contra um país, a não ser que eu estivesse realmente e de todo o meu coração contra ele. O que não é o caso. Eu me lembro que Israel foi um lugar de esperança. Sartre e Simone de Beauvoir morreram pró-Israel.

When South Africa was under the apartheid regime, and I was told musicians were refusing to play there, I immediately agreed with that decision.

The complex situation in the Middle East doesn’t seem to me the same black-and-white image that South Africa's official, open racism policies showed me then.

I played in the United States during the [George W.] Bush administration but this didn’t mean I approved of the Iraq invasion. I wrote and recorded a song which opposed the politics that led to the Guantánamo prison being created – and I sang this in New York and Los Angeles. I want to learn more about what’s happening in Israel right now. I would never cancel a concert to say that I am basically against a whole country, unless I was, with all my heart, against it. But this is not the case case. I remember Israel was a place of hope. Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir died pro-Israel.

‘Boycott isn't a moral instrument, it's a political instrument’

Protesters in London in front of the Eventim Apolo, where Caetano and Gil played on July 1st. Photo: Youtube screenshot.

Protesters in London in front of the Eventim Apolo, where Caetano and Gil played on July 1. Screenshot from YouTube.

Supporters of the BDS movement from Brazil and around the world accused the duo of being ‘money grabbing’, and have called for a boycott of the artists themselves — with protests in the tour's concerts in London and Paris — but Caetano’s views reflect how the BDS campaign is largely perceived in Brazil.

Its opponents argue that BDS is ‘selective indignation’ since other countries have also perpetuated wars of aggression against a specific population. Also, they argue that it is wrong to target a whole society for actions perpetrated by a government that doesn't necessarily represent it.

In a piece published in a prominent Brazilian pro-Israel blog, author João K. Miragaya replied to Roger Waters, saying that BDS supporters by their own standards should boycott countries like the United States and Russia because those countries also undertake illegal occupations and infringe international law. He said:

Se legalmente não há apartheid no Brasil (assim como não há em Israel), os números são alarmantes: segundo a Anistia Internacional, em 2012, 77% das vítimas de homicídios no país foram negras ou pardas. Segundo a UFRJ, 71% dos negros e pardos no país são analfabetos e os negros e pardos nas universidades públicas do estado de São Paulo não chegam a 10%. Não sei se o arcebispo Desmond Tutu, citado pelo senhor como uma referência ao comparar o apartheid na África do Sul com a ocupação israelense, teve acesso a estas informações, ou se visitou algum dia uma favela no Rio de Janeiro. O que sei é que a opressão contra negros e pobres no Brasil é tão ou mais violenta do que a ocupação israelense. Inclusive, o número de homicídios per capita no Brasil é dez vezes maior que o de Israel e cinco vezes maior que em Gaza e na Cisjordânia.

[Você] propõe o boicote só a Israel. Responsabiliza não só o governo, mas também toda a população judaica israelense por oprimir os palestinos exclusivamente, como não faz com nenhuma outra população civil em todo o mundo em casos semelhantes. Por quê?

If legally there is no apartheid in Brazil (as there isn't in Israel), the numbers are alarming: according to Amnesty International, in 2012, 77% of homicide victims in Brazil were black or mixed race. According to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, 71% of the black and mixed race population are illiterate and black and mixed race people are less than 10% of the university students in São Paulo state. I don't know if archbishop Desmond Tutu, who you mentioned compared the apartheid of South Africa to the Israeli occupation, has had access to this information, or if he ever visited a favela in Rio de Janeiro. What I know is that the oppression of poor and black people in Brazil is equal or even more violent than the Israeli occupation. Actually, the number of homicides per capita in Brazil is 10 times bigger than Israel and five times bigger than in Gaza and the West Bank.

[You] advocate the boycott of only Israel. You attribute responsibility not just to the government, but to the whole Jewish-Israeli population, exclusively, in a way that you do not do with any other civil population in the world in similar cases. Why?

Professor Pablo Ortellado, a Brazilian supporter of BDS, rebuffed those arguments in a social media post in which he explained:

A campanha para que Gil e Caetano cancelem o show em Tel Aviv e adiram ao boicote internacional a Israel andou recebendo muitas críticas que acho que não são procedentes. A crítica diz que não faz sentido boicotar Israel e não boicotar, por exemplo, um poder estatal muito mais nefasto como os Estados Unidos. Acho que essa crítica não entende o significado estratégico do boicote. O boicote não é um instrumento moral, é um instrumento político. O objetivo não é conquistar a pureza nas relações de consumo ou de trabalho (em todo caso impossível, numa sociedade capitalista), mas pressionar um ator político ou econômico a fazer aquilo pelo que se luta. Foi assim que, no final dos anos 1950, os negros do sul dos Estados Unidos boicotaram as empresas de ônibus para, por meio do prejuízo econômico causado, pressionar as empresas a suspender a política de segregação racial dos assentos; foi assim também que consumidores e artistas do mundo inteiro boicotaram a África do Sul nos anos 1980 para, por meio da pressão econômica e da pressão moral, levar o país a por fim ao apartheid. Boicote é uma campanha política coordenada a que se adere e não uma tentativa de atingir a pureza no consumo ou no trabalho. Não existe, atualmente, que eu saiba, uma campanha bem estruturada para boicotar os EUA para se atingir algum fim e, por isso, a comparação não faz sentido. No entanto, pela primeira vez, há uma campanha internacional bem estruturada para que consumidores e artistas boicotem Israel para que o país suspenda a criminosa e hedionda ocupação dos territórios palestinos. Ao não aderir à campanha, Gil e Caetano não estão fazendo uma coisa moralmente errada — estão fazendo uma coisa politicamente errada: estão furando uma ação coordenada que tem sido, pela primeira vez, capaz de incomodar economica e moralmente o Estado de Israel.

The campaign for Gil and Caetano to cancel their show in Tel Aviv has been receiving a lot of criticism and I don't think it's consistent. The criticism says that it doesn't make sense to boycott Israel and not boycott a much more atrocious state power such as the United States. I think this criticism doesn't take into account the strategic significance of the boycott. The boycott isn't a moral instrument, it's a political instrument. Its objective is not to reach ‘purity’ in consumer or work relationships (in any case impossible in a capitalist society), but to pressure a political or economical actor to make a specific choice. In this way at the end of the 1950s, black people in the South of the United States boycotted bus companies to, through economic losses, stop the racial segregation policy in the seating arrangement; in this way consumers and artists throughout the whole world boycotted South Africa in the 1980s to compel the country through economic and moral pressure to end apartheid. Boycott is a coordinated political campaign that one takes part in, and not an attempt to reach purity in consumerism or work. Today, there doesn't exist, not that I know of, a well-structured campaign to boycott the United States to reach a specific goal, that's why the comparison doesn't make sense. However, for the first time, there is an international well-structured campaign for artists and consumers to boycott Israel so that this country ends its criminal and noxious occupation of the Palestinian territories. By not taking part in the campaign, Gil and Caetano are not doing something morally wrong — they are doing something politically wrong. They are trespassing against a coordinated action that is for the first time capable of disturbing the state of Israel economically and morally.

7 comments

  • arturo

    Hey Roger! We don’t need no thought control!

  • Keith Weinberg

    That’s interesting. So, by not joining a BDS mandated boycott of Israel, Caetano and Gil open themselves up to boycott and protest. That is a rather fascist approach by the BDS movement.

  • […] Click here to read the story. […]

  • Harvela

    The BDS movement is not about two states for two people . It calls for the dismantlement of the state of Israel in its entirety and its replacement by a single Palestinian state and in its own words and logo ” From the River to the Sea , Palestine will be free .
    It is from this core mission statement that Professor Norman Finklestein , no friend of Israel , was moved to state in an interview with Frank Barat that the BDS movement is a cult . It uses the law correctly to strive for an Israeli withdraw from the West Bank , but then goes against international law and opinion by calling for the dismantlement of Israel pre 67 . The BDS cannot have it both ways .

  • […] by Taisa Sganzerla · comments (3) Donate · Share this: twitter facebook reddit […]

  • Yacoov

    If Palestine really wants to be free, than stop to support Hamas! Palestine is not the problem, the problem is the palestiian people vote in terrorist politic part as Hamas. Seek people.

  • chickenroo

    There are basic qualitative differences between South Africa and Israel that create a clear argument against BDS. South Africa under apartheid was structured to privilege whites over black Africans under the simple logic of racial superiority. No civilization ever systematically tried to exterminate “whites”. Israel and the Occupied Territories are structured to protect jews and their homeland, the only place on earth in which they can feel safe. Many civilizations have systematically tried to exterminate jews.

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