Scraping Genius Off The Wheel



No stranger to controversy, hardcore punk icon Jello Biafra seems to have once again caused a bit of a stir, though not in a way that he’d otherwise like. His band The Guantanamo School of Medicine recently announced a short tour which includes a July 2nd gig in Israel at Tel Aviv’s Barby Club. Shortly thereafter, an organization called the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign contacted Biafra, urging him not to play the show and to support the academic/cultural boycott of that country. Last week, he published his response letter to the organization, commenting that “the decision to play in Tel Aviv was not taken lightly” and expressing his interest in using the trip to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fans as well as those with opinions on the cultural boycott took the debate to the band’s Facebook page, leading Biafra to release a statement:

Dear friends,

Thanks a lot for caring enough to weigh in with all your comments and suggestions. I can’t deny I’m glad this has stirred up so much debate. People unaware of the Palestinian side(s) of the story can now use all these links to learn a lot more.

Some have suggested I go to Israel alone for a personal fact-finding mission before bringing the band. Good idea, but I don’t have the money and free time some people may think I do. The way I get overseas is to play my way there, so to speak.

We tried for a gig in Ramallah, but no luck. No, I wouldn’t have played Sun City back in South Africa’s apartheid days. But an underground punk show for an anti-apartheid audience might have been tempting, especially for them. (some RSA punks did ask).

I don’t see how the Netanyahu government could manipulate this event for their own purposes. What right wing regime in their right mind would want to namedrop me? I am not exactly known for keep my mouth shut onstage, especially about human rights violations. There is no government sponsorship of this show.

Please understand that we are still torn up about this, in no small part because we are probably 95 – 99% in agreement on this issue with the people writing in. I have been part of Peace Now for years and have contributed to at least one Palestinian medical aid organization.

The main reason I wanted to do this in the first place is not just to see first hand what is going on, but for our likely audience of people already there who are as outraged over the extreme oppression as we are.

I think of all the spoken word shows I have done in the American Deep South, especially smaller towns, where it seemed like every radical and progressive person from a wide area showed up, and let me know how thankful they were I even bothered to come. That they looked around the room and felt they weren’t alone. Or that not every American is down with either of our governments’ non-stop human rights violations, and that it is important to have allies and friends.

Jello Biafra

Given the outspoken frontman’s political views, I’m not surprised by his reasons for performing, though I’m not sure I can support the decision. As a supporter of the musicians’ boycott of Arizona (read my comments here), I’m a believer in the tactic’s ability to promote positive change. And while I respect Biafra’s position, I can’t help but be somewhat disappointed by it. I’m sure many of you have thoughts on this thorny, multifaceted issue, so feel free to tell me who’s right and wrong in the comments section.


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