Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Defence of Arch Enemy's Decision to Play Israel

Angela Gossow is "hypocrite of the year" according to BDS campaigners
This week, a woman named Jin Jirrie posted a comment on my review of Swedish/German metal band Arch Enemy's latest album, Khaos Legions. She remarked that:
"You might be interested in the band's approval of the Israeli state and its propaganderists. Angela may claim she supports the people's revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, but when it comes to Palestine, she supports their oppressor, deletes pro Palestinian comments from the bands' facebook walls and praises Stand With Us as a human rights organisation. Anarchist? who is she trying to kid."
Jirrie is a dedicated campaigner against Israeli apartheid, and has previously appealed to Bryan Ferry, Macy Gray and The Fall not to play Israel. Her stance is that of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, who call on supporters to take any and all economic measures they can in an effort to affect the end of Israel's "occupation and colonization of all Arab lands". As part of this, there is a Facebook group urging Arch Enemy to "Resist Playing for Apartheid Israel".

Though I recognise the brutality of Israeli apartheid, I reject the BDS position, mainly because I believe it cannot improve the disgusting conditions in which working class Palestinians struggle to live. As I wrote in an article for The Commune last year:
"[...] USA's support of Israel - which runs into the billions of dollars per year in purely financial terms, not including the diplomatic support at the United Nations and elsewhere. This truly special relationship dates back to President Truman, who described Israeli statehood as “an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization”. He backed the first forced expulsion of Palestinians because the United States capitalist class needed - and still needs - a powerful guard dog in the Middle East, to stand in watch over oil, gas and trade routes. If there were to be a massive boycott of Israeli goods, the USA government would surely step in to fill the gap, rather than risk losing its valuable partner."
 Furthermore, BDS is flawed as a tactic because:
"[...] boycotts take us down the road to the lifestylist ghetto, which is streets away from where communism can be built. This is because we tend to isolate ourselves when we make boycotting things a big part of our politics. To boycott is to withdraw into one's self, not to meaningfully engage with others who could be our allies. It is a passive call for a nicer capitalism, and so a call the powers that be can generally tolerate."
For me:
"Active solidarity is the only way that racist ideologies will be broken down, because it’s the only force that will show them up for what they are - tools of the ruling class. Though the slogan may sometimes seem trite, only when workers of all nations unite will we be able to transcend the barbaric horror of capitalism."
Why shouldn't this Israeli woman get the chance to see Arch Enemy next year?
It is my belief that the large protest movement in Israel this summer - which was inspired by the Arab spring but driven forward by the poverty facing young working class Israelis - demonstrated the objective potential for class-based solidarity between Israelis and Palestinians.

Angela Gossow's politics are not entirely my own, though there is a lot of overlap. A central point of disagreement of is her public championing of liberal protest groups such as Amnesty International. Not only does mild-mannered petitioning jar with the strident calls for revolution which dominate her lyrics, but such alliances also leave her open to ruling class intrigues. For instance, she recently tweeted thanks to pro-Israeli state pressure group Stand With Us, who claimed to be in favour of "liberal rights for all, especially gay rights". But they also mobilised in favour of Operation Cast Lead/the Gaza Massacre in 2008/09, and train North American students to "act as campus emissaries of the Jewish state." These are uncomfortable truths for any self-identifying anarchist.

However, occasional naivety and lack of carefulness is not proof of support for reactionary organisations or their political standpoints. Here are quotes from some of Gossow's recent Tweets to pro-BDS campaigners:

"We play for people, not governments, and the people of Israel are not our enemies. We refuse to become your political puppets"

"We are picking the side of HEAVY METAL FANS UNITED - all over the world. We dont discriminate color, race or gender!"

"I support freedom of expression for EVERYBODY, including Israeli citizens."

These are genuinely progressive sentiments, and they should be defended from those who would deny working class Israelis their freedom to see Arch Enemy perform.
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