Why I am happy to see Leonard going to Israel

This post was written by Reuben Bard-Rosenberg on August 26, 2009
Posted Under: Israel/Palestine,Music

Leonard On Tour

You may know that a campaign has been gathering pace to prevent Leonard Cohen performing in Israel. Across the world there have been gatherings, petitions, facebook groups and indeed protests outside concerts calling on Leonard not to play in Israel. Initially the tone of the campaign was friendly if forthright. Activists addressed Leonard as fans who didn’t want to be disssapointed in him. Yet as his determination to press ahead with schedule has become clear the  tone has become decidedly more forceful, with people pledging to boycott Cohen for his failure to boycott Israel.

Leonard Cohen is excited to meet a member of The Third Estate team.
Leonard Cohen is excited to meet a member of The Third Estate team. Yep that is him and that is me.

So why am I not up for this?  As a teenager, some of my first political activity was with the Palestine Solidarity movement. Indeed I was active in pushing the boycott of goods during the second intifada and still don’t buy from Israel.

I must admit that my immediate, negative, reaction to the demand that Leonard stays out of Israel was in part emotional. Its not only that that I have seen Leonard twice on his current tour and hope others will have the opportunity to experience his brilliance. It’s also that several years ago – when rumours of Cohen’s first tour in over a decade first started to surface – I was hanging around with equally obsessive Cohenites on The Leonard Cohen forum. Many of us by this point had resigned ourselves to the idea that we were born too late to ever see him live. I remember the hope expressed by fellow Cohenites in Israel that he would return for them to see him. And i remember the dissapointment  when initial itineries were published without Israel on them. Quite simply Cohen is a cultural treasure, and I would feel churlish in denying anybody the opportunity to see him play.

Perhaps more importantly this particular manifestation of the ‘cultural boycott’ seems to be a slightly different ball game from the economic boycott. The latter has a clear and demonstrable connection to what we are fighting against. What Israel sells abroad ultimately helps fund the occupation and the military machine. There is no such comparable connection here and as such the calls to boycott Israel have, to some extent, fallen back upon the langauge of collective punishment, with loose talk about leonard playing for the ‘tormentors’ of the palestinians. On the major facebook group pushing the boycott it was stated that ‘When many of his Israeli fans are let down by his boycott they will remember it next time they enter the ballot box.’ Clearly this will work.

I felt some sympathy with a left wing Israeli who made the following intervention.

“no, this totaly sucks! when will ppl learn to distinguish the people from the action of their state?? we suffer enough as left wing israelis living in this fascist state, and now u wanna take away our the bit of culture we get in this little secluded island? u realy think it will affect anyone thats in high position?”

He was met by a response from one Pamela Hardyment who told him to ‘get off the land you stole’ and that ‘the more we isolate you, the more you will let go of your fascist principles, maybe not you personally but the country you call your own’. Clearly the distinction hardly matters. Now we know from elsewhere that Pamela Hardyment is a bona fide anti-Semite – and as such, I would hasten to add, is untypical of most of the boycott campaigners. Yet her comments met with no admonition from the other 650 members of the group.

The waters are made even murkier by the fact that Leonard has promised to give the proceeds from the concert to Israelies and Palestinians working towards peace. Now obviously, I would prefer the money went to some radical anti-occupation activists, but thats by-the-by. This gesture represents a substantial recognition that Tel Aviv is not just another point on the itinerary. The response of the boycott campaign is to attack any organisations that appear to be co-operating with this apparently tainted fund.

The real question for me is what would this achieve? If we want to deny Israelies who may or may not support the occupation access to this great cultural treasure that is Leonard Cohen, surely doing so must carry some serious benefit. And I cannot see that it will. Interestingly this is not the first time that Leonard has played in a territory governed by a dubious and reviled regime (and im not just talk about the UK here.) Back in the 1980s he performed in Poland – where his fan base was curiously huge – in the period of martial law. Opposition activists urged him to make a statement. In his concert he managed to use the word ‘solidarity’, provoking cheers from the crowd. Yet perhaps because of pressure from the government, or because he did not feel comfortable charging into a conflict that was alien to him he did not take sides in the full blooded sense. Yet did make clear his sympathy towards those who were currently struggling and suffering, as shown (along with a brilliant rendition of If it Be Your Will) in this must watch video below.

I would love it if Leonard got up on stage and flew the Palestinian flag. He won’t. But when he gets up on stage, and offers thousands of ordinary people to see him in the flesh and to hear his poetry, and – by donating money to peacenicks on both sides – gestures, in his own way, his sympathy with those who are suffering, I will not complain.

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Reader Comments

If he goes, the occupation will be over in five minutes as Israelis everywhere stage a mass suicide.

Written By Salman Shaheen on August 26th, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

A well-written and persuasive article, and on one level, as a longtime fan I do support Israelis and indeed anybody being able to see Leonard live. But it’s not strictly true that “the ‘cultural boycott’ seems to be a slightly different ball game from the economic boycott” when it is considered that the show has been bankrolled by the notorious Israeli Discount Bank.

Written By Richard Cooper on August 27th, 2009 @ 8:24 am
Frank U

There is enough misery in the middle east already without them hearing Leonard’s tunes! I doubt it will make any huge difference to the lives of anyone in Gaza or the West Bank and it really isnt much of a cultural coup.

Written By Frank U on August 27th, 2009 @ 8:28 am

“‘the more we isolate you, the more you will let go of your fascist principles”

Has this person every actually met… well, any human being? That’s the exact opposite of how it works. That’s how boycotters would like it to work. But it really doesn’t.

Written By Neuroskeptic on August 28th, 2009 @ 11:04 pm
zoubir b

Leonard Cohen is “his own man” and can entertain whomever he wants to, wherever & whenever. This said, I think that his age & jewish lineage, more than any other consideration, compel him to appear in Israel. I’ve loved L. Cohen’s songs & poems for as long as I’ve hated Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and strongly wish he hadn’t decided to lend “legitimacy” to a mid-east apartheid regime. I think that his fans ARE right in voicing their disapproval & disappointment and hope that a broad enough boycott will result to show our idols who’s really patting their ego & padding their bank accounts.

Written By zoubir b on September 1st, 2009 @ 9:19 am

“He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’”
It is clear boycotting someone is as building a fence with him, and as so, a ‘sure’ and ‘fast’ way of making someone a good neighbor.
I believe a motivation to act and help the Palestinians by hurting the other side is unhelpful to the situation. On the other hand an act to get both sides closer together and helping the people who suffer from both sides will have a much more positive effect. My belief is that if more of the people who want to help the palestinians by boycotting or hurting Israel from abroad would come and spend a few days here in Israel(Yes I’m from Israel) traveling between Israel, Gaza and Ramalla it will help creating a connection between people living on both sides. A connection through a bridge these people will constitute. Instead of destroying by boycotting, these people will build a cultural, empathic, human bridge between people living on both sides of the fence, a thing which would help a lot more in “letting go” of any ‘fascist principles’ then any kind of boycott whould.

Written By Roy on September 8th, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

Nobody loves you Israel, you are universally hated, everybody is boycotting you, soon you wont be able to breathe, breathe, and yes, I suppose if you say we are anti semites we must be but how come my lover who is a jew doesn’t feel this vibe? Mmmm. Thank god he aint interested in Isra-hell, he is a hooman beeeennnnnn

Lotsalove, mwah, the noose is tightening, better start wandering again yehudim

Written By pam on September 19th, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

I am assuming you are pam hardyment.
“yes, I suppose if you say we are anti semites we must be”

What is this “we” about. I did not accuse any particular group of anti-semitism. I myself am an anti-zionist and specifically said that you are unrepresentative of the boycotters. No there is no “we”. This is about YOU specifically. Did you or did you not say “Shame on all Jews, may your lives be cursed.”

This is not anti-zionism. It is – as you specifically make clear – an attack on all jews. Stop hiding behind decent anti-zionists upon whom you bring shame.

“better start wandering again yehudim”.

This really says it all. Your beef is not with the israeli state or with Israel. It is with, as you put it, ‘yehudim’.

Written By Reuben on September 19th, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

do you hear yourselves?
yes you supposedlly called “left wings” or “peace supporters”!!
you are suppose to support peace not hate!!
while supporting palestinians and hating israelis you are doing nothing but being hippocrits!!!
you say you want peace while doing acts of war!! boycott is an act of war not peace!
so maybe all of you “israeli haters”,”palestinians lovers”, “anti-zionist” or “anti-sematic” should take a good look in the mirror and ask yourselvs if you are really better then the ones you call “fasict” aren’t you doing the same things as they do?

Written By Ronnie on September 21st, 2009 @ 5:46 pm

Don’t be ridiculous. Boycotts, whether right or wrong, are not acts of war. And learn to write like a grown-up please.

Written By Owen on September 21st, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear Ronnie. I didn’t want to do this, I really didn’t, but you’ve forced my hand…


Written By Salman Shaheen on September 21st, 2009 @ 11:48 pm

Hello Pam.
Once again I urge you to come and visit Israel, see things in your own eyes and make acts of love and support. Go to Ramala and help with the education of young people, donate money or buy Palestinian goods, but don’t hate and destroy. I hope that in your heart you see the path you chose mainly as love to one side instead of hate to the other side.

Roy – an Israeli Jew

Written By ROY on October 2nd, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

Ruben, A very good person you seem to be in the photo
above (getting an autograph of Mr. Cohen). Would you post your picture in military uniform?

Written By zoubir on October 20th, 2009 @ 8:39 am

Zoubir, I dont own a military uniform. Why do you ask?

Written By Reuben on October 20th, 2009 @ 10:37 am

“Would you post your picture in military uniform?”

I’d post one of me in a PVC one…but you’d have to log in your bank details first;)

Written By Becky on May 5th, 2010 @ 7:22 pm
Pelo Nord

Pam’s a hardcore middle-class racist who inhabits a relatively high-brow world where people read The Guardian and Independent. She writes poetry and has even had it published. Lives in the very fancy London borough of Richmond.

She believes she’s a world away from ‘far right’ BNP & EDL but she almost certainly has the same psychological make-up. She’s

Poor love. With all that hatred it’s no wonder she’s so depressed.

Written By Pelo Nord on January 15th, 2014 @ 9:41 pm

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