Scraping Genius Off The Wheel



JELLO OUT OF ISRAELTwo weeks ago, I reported on the controversy surrounding Jello Biafra and his plan to bring his band The Guantanamo School of Medicine to Tel Aviv for a concert. Supporters of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel seem to have prevailed, as the former Dead Kennedys frontman announced that the show now will not happen:

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine are not going through with the July 2 date in Tel Aviv.

This does not mean I or anyone else in the band are endorsing or joining lockstep with the boycott of all things Israel….

The toll and stress on the band members and myself has been huge, both logistically and as a matter of conscience. I can’t drag anyone any further into rough waters without being better prepared than some of us thought we were. A responsible leader does not go, ‘Hey, check out the storm at the top of Mount Everest. Let’s go up anyway just in case we don’t die.’ Some members are angry with me for this decision, let alone how long it took me. I don’t blame them.

The statement goes on to explain Biafra’s original intentions for playing the gig as well as his attempts to book a Ramallah show for balance. The note also features an anecdote about his experience performing in the former Yugoslavia.

Given his politics, Biafra’s initial plans to perform in Israel confused me. I understood that he wanted to see what it was like on the ground, but his veracity towards the United States with regard to Middle East matters (especially during the Bush years) stood philosophically at odds with his performance plans. Surely an activist such as Biafra was aware of the boycott, had considered it when the opportunity to perform in Tel Aviv arose. It was, of course, a chance for him to see what was happening in the region firsthand while presumably covering at least some of his travel expenses. Yet the choice struck a nerve not only with a rabid cluster of opportunistic anti-Israel types but with progressives and liberals in Biafra’s fanbase–myself included–sympathetic to the Palestinian people.

I don’t know if the decision not to play makes Biafra a winner or a loser, a distinction made ever murkier when talking about something as complicated as Israeli-Palestinian relations. Is it a win for social justice or for the Palestinian people? Doesn’t seem like it, at least not in a material way. Is it a loss for Israel? Other than not having the chance to see a great performer and hardcore punk icon, not really. Ultimately, I don’t have a definitive answer as to whether or not anybody truly gains or loses in this scenario. I’m sure you guys commenting below do, because Internet commenters on a metal blog have all the answers.


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