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Leonard Cohen and Amnesty International – An Unholy Alliance


I always talk about Israeli pacifists and their inability to see the barriers they place on the Palestinian road to justice, dignity, and human rights. Today I’d like to talk about a much more appalling occurrence; Amnesty International supporting Leonard Cohen’s breach of the boycott of Israel.


The Leonard Cohen Myth

Personally, it’s hard for me to understand the disillusionment of pro-Palestinian Leonard Cohen fans. In the history of his involvement with Israel, Cohen has always sided with Israel, or made statements of officially taking no sides, when his side was rather obvious:

"I don’t want to speak of wars or sides … Personal process is one thing, it’s blood, it’s the identification one feels with their roots and their origins. The militarism I practice as a person and a writer is another thing. … I don’t wish to speak about war." 

In case I’m misconstruing my information, I’ll repeat the quote I’ve embedded on my front page and have, personally, had no choice but to live by:

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
~ Desmund Tutu

In Cohen’s most recent history, he is consistent. He refuses to take a side, thus siding with the oppressor. Cohen has received a letter from many organizations (originated with PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel), asking him not to preform in Israel. As response, typically trying to balance out a situation in which balance is not there to be found, Cohen decided to preform for the Palestinian Prisoners‘ Club Society. The Society declined to entertain Cohen’s notions of equality:

"We are now pleased to announce that we have received confirmation from the Palestinian Prisoners‘ Club Society that they will not be hosting Leonard Cohen in Ramallah.  A strong consensus has emerged among all parties concerned that Cohen is not welcome in Ramallah as long as he insists on performing in Tel Aviv, even though it had been claimed that Cohen would dedicate his concert in Palestine to the cause of Palestinian prisoners.  Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel‘s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel."

 

The Problem with the International Centrist

As if all this wasn’t enough, Cohen was dead-set on clearing his conscious:

"All of the net proceeds from Leonard Cohen’s September 24 concert at Ramat Gan Stadium will be earmarked for a newly established fund to benefit Israeli and Palestinian organizations that are working toward conciliation…"

The above quote is taken from non-other than the very-Zionist Jerusalem Post. Here’s another quote from the same article:

"Attempting to maneuver through the barbed wire of both Israeli and US tax laws to enable the organizations to benefit from the concert, Kory realized that an intermediary neutral vehicle would be required to facilitate the financial funneling. He approached Amnesty International for advice, and the concept of a special fund was raised."

In other words, trooper Cohen maneuvered through the barbed wire with the assistance of the Amnesty International brigade. How poetic. How utterly embarrassing for Amnesty International to be portrayed favorably by the Jerusalem Post.

I understand big groups like Amnesty International have to be diplomatic and must exercise impartiality, and quite frankly I respect the ability to do so. However, being diplomatic doesn’t mean endorsing pseudo-diplomatic initiatives, especially when they are completely avoidable, as in the case of Leonard Cohen.

To refrain from repeating myself, here’s my own attempt at diplomacy, that I sent to Amnesty International (at the event of a response, I will update):

"Hello Amnesty International,

I’m a big supporter of Amnesty International and a regular donation contributor. As an Israeli citizen- who opposes the occupation and violence wreaked by my government, army and countrymen on the Palestinian people, and supports the international movement to boycott Israel- I am appalled that Amnesty USA might break the boycott efforts. The international community has set the terms for the Palestinian struggle and rightfully made it clear that no violence will be tolerated. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has done a wonderful job in stating the terms of the BDS campaign- I don’t have to tell you what a huge commitment to a long-term strategy of non-violence that is. Terms which seem very fair and have been accepted around the world as the guidelines for this world-wide initiative.

When Leonard Cohen decided to come to Israel, PACBI made themselves clear, once again, that it is unacceptable, under the guidelines of a cultural boycott. As I’m sure you know, Cohen tried to appease PACBI by scheduling a show in Ramallah, which PACBI rejected. There is no need to be balanced in a situation that balance doesn’t occur. Had Cohen canceled in Israel he would have been making a meaningful statement and propelled the boycott movement by sheer power of his fame. Performing in both Israel and the Occupied Territories is a wishy-washy peace-faking statement, the kind that Israeli "peace" groups have been making, in order to stroke their own sensibilities, meanwhile marginalizing the other organizations (Palestinian, Israeli and International), who believe in the importance of keeping one’s stand, when it comes to the BDS initiative. "Peace" is a word that has lost all meaning in Israel, we demand human rights instead.

To find that Amnesty International might support this damaging endeavor is shocking, for me, but I take it you decided upon it with the best of intentions. Since I don’t expect you to understand the inner workings of the Israeli Center-Left and its psychological motives, I urge you to consider simple facts: Leonard Cohen preforming in Israel breaches the cultural boycott and normalizes the occupation. This is not something that should be supported by Amnesty International. It is morally wrong and diplomatically wrong. The boycott movement must stick to a standard of "no business as usual", in order to be effective. I urge you to reconsider.

Awaiting your reply,
Tali Shapiro
"

What’s Wrong with Balance?
If some of you are wondering how donating the proceeds of the concert to both Israeli and Palestinian organizations is a "damaging endeavor", here’s PACBI’s words:

"PACBI has always rejected any attempt to "balance" concerts or other artistic events in Israel–conscious acts of complicity in Israel‘s violation of international law and human rights–with token events in the occupied Palestinian territory. Such attempts at "parity" not only immorally equate the oppressor with the oppressed, taking a neutral position on the oppression (thereby siding with the oppressor, as Desmond Tutu famously said); they also are an insult to the Palestinian people, as they assume that we are naive enough to accept such token shows of "solidarity" that are solely intended to cover up grave acts of collusion in whitewashing Israel‘s crimes. Those sincerely interested in defending Palestinian rights and taking a moral and courageous stance against the Israeli occupation and apartheid should not play Israel, period. That is the minimum form of solidarity Palestinian civil society has called for."

And some wonderful words from Irish composer and novelist Raymond Deane:

"What could any reasonable person have against "programs for peace"?… By assisting Cohen in his ruse to bypass this boycott, Amnesty International is in fact taking a political stance, in violation of the premise of political neutrality with which it so regularly justifies its failure to side unambiguously with the oppressed. Amnesty is telling us: resistance is futile, the voice of the oppressed is irrelevant, international humanitarian law is a luxury."

In my words: I’ve long covered the problematic programs and people that dare call themselves "peacemakers". I’m thought of as the extreme of the extreme, in Israel, but if asking for unconditional human rights is extreme, then I am a proud extremists. Many on the self-proclaimed Left are easy to spot, their key phrase is:

"They deserve human rights/freedom/their own country, but…"

This "but" is a fearful one, rooted in a deeply ingrained and denied racism. The people who say this are well aware of Israel’s crimes- past and present, and yet still afraid of what may happen, once we let the "two legged beasts" out of their cage, whether they call Palestinians that, or not. In my journey of discovering the truth behind Israel, I’ve realized some things are not negotiable. That is human rights and as a result, this boycott.


Learning from the Cohen/Amnesty Debacle

As the Zionist propaganda machine goes into overdrive, we may find new claims, resulting in the Cohen/Amnesty debacle. For now, Israelis are generally unaware of the international boycott against their state, already underway. Last time I observed any mention of this in the mainstream media was during Cast Lead, when Channel 10 aired the typically condescending and ignorant Before you boycott Israel! video. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this article in their archives.) Nothing more responsible than your main stream media instilling blind confidence in you, when an international boycott of your country is rapidly developing.

I can’t predict the creativity of the Zionist mind, but I’m expecting that when the boycott is finally made clear to Israelis, the first rebuttals will be that nothing is enough for those "demanding" Palestinians, and even when the "reasonable" and "unbiassed" offer to give a little to both sides is made, they still "demand the whole arm". These kinds of underhanded remarks are exactly why I decided to document the Cohen/Amnesty incident.

There should be no questions as to what the boycott’s goals or guidelines are. Some areas are unclear to many, and these cases should be studied. But to those who are unclear, I direct you again to PACBI, who are the Palestinian voice on the issue of the boycott, and have articulated their terms thoroughly. When in doubt, contrast and compare your specific case to their statements. Implementing a boycott on Israel isn’t as hard as Zionist propaganda would like you to think. The best way to deal with the occupation army is to arm yourself with knowledge.

 

Update 08.08.09:
Bil’in is always a personal issue for me. Here’s their letter to Amnesty, in light of the Cohen debacle:

"
Dear Amnesty International,
 
We, members of the Bil’in popular committee against the wall and settlements, have always appreciated Amnesty International’s role in the defense of human rights around the world and have recognized you as partners in our own struggle to defend our rights. We remember with great pleasure and pride your December, 2006 visit to our village to witness one of our protests.  For these reasons we were surprised and deeply disturbed to learn that Amnesty International is sponsoring Leonard Cohen’s upcoming concert in Israel.
 
We were disturbed not only because supporting Cohen’s concert works against the wide grassroots Palestinian nonviolent initiative calling for the cultural boycott of Israel until it adheres to its obligations under international law, but because Amnesty’s support for the concert  hurts us in Bil’in personally and directly.
 
Leonard Cohen’s concert, that Amnesty is sponsoring, is being handled by Israel Discount Bank. Israel Discount Bank’s trading room and other computer services are run by an Israeli company called Matrix IT. Matrix IT’s trading room is located on our villages land stolen by the illegal settlement of Modiin Illit (
http://www.whoprofits.org/Company%20Info.php?id=633). Israel Discount Bank has also financed the similar construction of some of the building projects in the settlements of Har Homa, Beitar Illit and Ma’ale Adumim. Additionally, the Discount Bank is the second major shareholder of Mul-T-Lock, whose factory is located in industrial zone of Barkan, another illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank (http://www.whoprofits.org/Company%20Info.php?id=558).
 
We are sure that you and Amnesty International were not aware of these facts. Otherwise we are confident that Amnesty would not be involved in supporting an endeavor that profits directly from the abuse of our rights. We are confident that now that this was brought to your attention you will withdraw Amnesty’s support. Furthermore, we encourage Amnesty to examine more closely any project that you plan to support in Israel in the future because, unfortunately, the Israeli economy as a whole is currently benefiting from the abuse of Palestinian rights..
 
In Bil’in we are currently facing a new wave of oppression against our popular campaign against the Wall and settlement built on our land. The Israeli occupation forces are frequently raiding our village at night and abducting people, mostly children, from their homes. The members of our committee are being targeted. Currently two leading non violent activists and organizers Mohammed Khatib and Adib Abu Rahme, along with seventeen other Bil’in residents, are  imprisoned by the Israeli military. We are counting on your continued support for our struggle and  are certain that you will not allow Amnesty International to lend its support to the violations of our rights.
 
In solidarity,
 
The Bil’in Popular Committee
"

 

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