Elvis Costello is a brilliant musician and a seemingly thoughtful man, which makes his decision to cancel two concerts in Israel even more troubling.
As late as two weeks before the shows, Costello, in a Jerusalem Post interview, carefully distinguished between the “hawkish policy of the government,” with which he disagrees, and a citizenry which may in fact be divided over that policy.
But someone or something changed the musician’s mind. In a subsequent letter to fans he explained that “there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.”
In other words, the perception of ignoring Palestinian “suffering” outweighed his respect for the diversity of his Israeli audience.
We won’t argue with Costello’s interpretation of the Palestinian reality — he’s entitled to his opinion. And if canceling his concerts moved Israelis and Palestinians any closer to peace, we’d be all for it.
But a cultural boycott of Israel does exactly the opposite. By singling out Israel for condemnation, it emboldens its critics and enemies, many of whom have an animus against Israel that has nothing to do with the fate of the Palestinians. It enables Palestinians and their supporters in the illusion that time and world opinion, as opposed to meaningful actions on their part, will bring them closer to their goal of “liberation.” Israel boycotts grossly oversimplify a tragic conflict, suggesting a dualist struggle between good guys and bad guys. Boycotts strengthen Israeli extremists, whose stars rise when Israelis are feeling most isolated and vulnerable. Cultural boycotts also insult the many, many Israelis who have been working for peace and reconciliation.
“It seems to me that dialogue is essential,” Costello told his Israeli interviewer. It is. It’s too bad that the man who sang “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding” chose to forgo that dialogue in favor of a blatantly one-sided and counterproductive political act.