Music is supposed to cross all boundaries. Regardless of language, culture, or country, the beauty of a song can unify and humanize. It’s therefore extremely telling that anti-Israel activists choose to prevent musicians and artists like the cover band The UK Pink Floyd Experience from playing in Israel. The UKPFE almost didn’t come because of violent threats directed toward them, but in spite of it all, arrived in Ben Gurion on January 3rd to great fanfare. With a welcoming attitude, a group of Israelis, including myself, formed a welcoming committee, showing musicians and artists everywhere that music and applause will inevitably drown out screams of hate. The dichotomy in temperament, conduct, and ideology between Israelis and boycotters should also serve as a reminder that the spirit of cultural boycotters is to bully, dehumanize, and separate.
The UK Pink Floyd Experience is a cover band of Pink Floyd. Having performed in Israel in 2017, they were invited for an encore performance at the crack of 2019’s dawn. Unfortunately, Roger Waters, a former member of the original Pink Floyd band, is a radical proponent of the movement to culturally boycott Israel. Waters drew attention to the cover band’s upcoming tour, decrying their plans to play for people who “execute their neighbour’s children” in “cold blood everyday”. Waters demanded that they not play his songs, and then went on to publicly name and shame the band members, unleashing a torrent of violent threats to their persons and family. The musicians even had their phone numbers published by Waters’ acolytes. Under this immense pressure, the UKPFE closed their Facebook page and canceled their tour. Eventually, they were convinced to come to Israel, much to Waters’ chagrin. At the airport, Israeli Pink Floyd fans and Israel advocacy groups formed a welcoming committee to greet the embattled band. The UKPFE entered Israel to cheers, supportive banners, and even gift boxes containing a taste of the “Israel experience”. The support and fanfare continued into the tour itself, with sold out shows that featured an Israeli cover band, Echoes, singing the songs that Waters wrote. The difference in behavior between anti-Israel advocates and Israelis is clear, and should be instructive for other musicians and artists that wish to come to Israel.
Bullying tactics, such as those suffered by UKPFE, are endemic to anti-Israel boycotters. They will stop at nothing to force their political agenda on others. They see the end as being righteous, justifying any means. It is this dangerous mentality, of which organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah follow to its logical conclusion, that allows them to engage in tactics like threats of violence. Like with these other radical groups, submitting to demands will only embolden.
Once victorious, bullies by nature will find a new target to bend to their will, unless enough people stand up to them. The UKPFE are not the first to be subjected to the boycotters’ tyrannical pressure, nor will they be the last. While boycotters like to pretend the majority of its victories are achieved through ideological conversion, they are in fact the result of unrelenting browbeating. If the practice of bullying tactics, due to their efficacy, were to be adopted by every single political cause, the fields of music and artistry would become a veritable minefield, more pain and danger for its practitioners than it is worth. This alone should be cause for musicians and artist to use the UKPFE as a springboard against bullying. However, the contrast between the Israelis and their haters also shows what is surrendered when submitting to the bullies.
While Waters’ followers were willing to stoop to bullying and threats to get their way, Israelis took a different path. As far as I’m aware, Israelis and Israel advocates did not threaten the lives of the band to sway them. They made appeals on their love of music, and for the opportunity as individuals to partake in the transcendent connecting power of music. Boycotters don’t care that bands like UKPFE play at all. Israelis want them to play, including for them. The greeting at the airport shows how much Israelis cherish music, and if artists would only brave the screams of a few bullies, they would be met with far louder praise soon thereafter. The appreciation and respect for the arts that Israelis hold should be encouraged, while the mentality of anti-Israel activists should not, as it is contrary to the spirit of music itself.
While musicians seek to bring understanding and joy to the people, the goals of boycotters are to dehumanize and create suffering. Waters himself clearly sees no diversity or humanity in Israeli society. Israelis are not individuals but a collective of monsters. They are wholly to blame for entire conflicts, and are portrayed as child-killers and racists without exception. None of UKPFE’s potential audience are worthy of music, according to boycott proponents. Instead of embracing the humanizing commonality of music, the bullies demand that that Israelis be set apart. Apart from that shared human experience, they are otherized and dehumanized. This makes it easier to bully and threaten, as when it comes to slaying monsters, all is permitted. For their supposed inhumanity, and their sole ownership of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Waters and others seek to force a political solution by making Israelis suffer. They hope to bring Israelis to their knees with a thousand cuts, and are willing to deliver ten thousand more to whomever else gets in their way. Israelis must submit to boycotters in the same way that musicians do. No other solution is acceptable, especially reconciliation.
With a worldview that Israelis are the sole instigators of Levantine conflict, there is no room for the relations between Palestinians and Israelis. Boycotters proudly proclaim that they reject any normalization. According to them, there should not be any negotiations or attempts at reconciliation when Israel is in a position of “power” and has not opened its borders and naturalized all Palestinians as citizens. This of course, would ultimately result in the dissolution of Israel and the disenfranchisement of Israelis. Keeping music from Israelis is a way to prevent any cooler Israeli and Palestinian heads from interacting and developing the bonds needed to create conditions for true, negotiated peace. Making violent threats should be an initial indicator that these harassers don’t care about peace. The fact that they are doing so instead of something productive, such as launching a campaign to make sure Israelis and Palestinian both attend the concert together, further drives home their lack of commitment to a meaningful end to conflict.
Until artists ignore bullying and embrace the applause and love of Israelis, music will continue to be hobbled in meeting its purpose. With bullying a valid tactic, actual fans will not connect with artists. Israelis will continue to be dehumanized, and peace will continue to hang in the far horizon. The UKPFE, and their Israeli fans and airport welcomers, showed how its possible to overcome the hate. Others should follow suit, and give their art the opportunity to blossom to its full potential.