Thursday, 9 June 2011

Dear Mr Simon

As a rule, we chaps of the road are not ones to accept or indulge ourselves in the methodology of the generalisation. But we are when all is said and done only almost human. In consideration of this fact, I long held a sincere opinion that two esteemed songwriters - a Mr Robert Zimmerman and a Mr Paul Simon were highly intelligent men of impeccable principle. I say this because when assessing their combined back catalogue of writings, one is immediately struck with the sensitivity with which they both approach a variety of subject matter. Here is not the place to delve into the particulars of the voluminous body of work of these two quill drivers nor dwell on the minutiae of their most renowned and exemplary compositions other than to say that Mr Simon is well known for his appreciation of structures that span lively rivers and such like, his nuanced discourses on the inability of certain members of the equidae family to undertake more than one task, and has catalogued extensively in verse, a variety of exit strategies for jilted paramours.

With regard to Mr Zimmerman, one is particularly impressed with the power with which he has fought the corner of the underdog, particularly with regard to his unequivocal support for an American boxer named Rubin Carter.

It's definitely blowin' in the wind for these Night Soil chaps

Few would seek to try and place both songsters and their combined output next to much of the night soil that masquerades as mainstream popular music in these throwaway days of digital ephemerality. Thus I find the decision of Messrs Zimmerman and Simon to perform at the Ramat Gan stadium in Israel over the coming two months rather more than odd given that other artists such as The Pixies, Gorillaz and Elvis Costello have taken the decision to not play Israel in light of requests by many groups including the Israeli peace and justice group Boycott from Within.

The Vagrants therefore publish an open letter provided by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel  and Bricup (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine).


London, 6 June 2011

Dear Paul Simon,

We know you’re no stranger to controversy. When you recorded parts of ‘Graceland’ in apartheid South Africa with black South African musicians, you were publicly criticised by the liberation movement, the ANC, and anti-apartheid organisations, for breaking the cultural boycott. 

At the time, you told the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid that you yourself had ‘refused to perform in South Africa’. And since antiapartheid icons Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela played in the live ‘Graceland’ tour (even though there were anti-apartheid demonstrators at some of the venues), you clearly convinced key members of the antiapartheid movement that you were not colluding with, or intending in any way to promote, the apartheid regime.

We’re struggling to see any carry-over from this situation to your forthcoming concert in Ramat Gan, Israel, on July 21. You’ve played in Israel before, so perhaps this event doesn’t seem that important to you – just a one-night add-on to your US and European tour (and maybe that’s why the Ramat Gan date doesn’t figure in the tour list on your website).

But if you hope this concert in Israel can be about music, not about politics, that’s not how your promoter, Marcel Avraham, sees things. In July last year he told the Israeli online news site,, that he does shows in Israel ‘as a mission, a sense of Zionism, not just to make a buck’.

Whether you intend it or not, your show in Tel Aviv will make a political statement. And Avraham is absolutely clear what he believes that statement to be. He told Ynetnews that Elton John, Metallica and Rod Stewart, all under pressure to cancel their shows in Israel, had approached him ‘with questions. “My answer to them was very simple. Listen”, I told them. “Israel is a small country still fighting for its existence. The Arabs want to throw us to the sea. If you want to come and lend us a shoulder, by all means, we’ll be delighted”.’

This hackneyed scenario – small beleaguered state teetering on the edge of extinction -- won’t wash any more. Israel’s army has dominated the region for the past 40-something years, and the people who are clearly and evidently ‘fighting for existence’ are the Palestinians.

So -- are you willing to ‘lend a shoulder’ to daily land-grabs and watergrabs and the inexorable squeezing and stifling of Palestinian lives and hopes? Are you willing to ‘lend a shoulder’ to illegal settlements and illegal military checkpoints, to detention without trial, torture in prison, and the innumerable daily cruelties, small and large, aimed at making Palestinian existence intolerable and driving people out?

If you don’t support these actions by successive Israeli governments (documented in comprehensive detail by human rights organisations like Amnesty International), and if you don’t want to appear to condone Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity (see, for example, the UN Goldstone report on the Gaza onslaught in 2008-9), then we believe you should want to cancel the Ramat Gan concert.

Your choice is simple: occupier vs occupied; ethnic cleanser vs ethnically cleansed; oppressor vs oppressed. You can’t avoid it. Please follow the logic of your opposition to South African apartheid. ‘Strong wind destroy our home’ – it’s happening to the Palestinians every day. Please lend a shoulder to them.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Haim Bresheeth
Mike Cushman
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead

PS: We’ve just noticed that the liner notes of your recent album, ‘So Beautiful or So What’, were written by Elvis Costello. You probably know that Elvis Costello cancelled the concerts he was scheduled to give in Israel last year as ‘a matter of instinct and conscience’. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said Costello’s decision was ‘exceptionally brave and principled…a victory for the ethical responsibilities of international cultural figures’. When you cancel, you’ll be in good company.

Please don’t go.

1 comment:

  1. And as Dylan in 1983 so astutely wrote of that "evil" nation, Israel:-

    Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,
    His enemies say he's on their land.
    They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
    He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
    He's criticized and condemned for being alive.
    He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin,
    He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,
    He's wandered the earth an exiled man.
    Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,
    He's always on trial for just being born.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
    Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
    Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
    The bombs were meant for him.
    He was supposed to feel bad.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
    That he'll live by the rules that the world makes for him,
    'Cause there's a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
    And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    He got no allies to really speak of.
    What he gets he must pay for, he don't get it out of love.
    He buys obsolete weapons and he won't be denied
    But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    Well, he's surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,
    They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.
    Now, they wouldn't hurt a fly.
    To hurt one they would weep.
    They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    Every empire that's enslaved him is gone,
    Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.
    He's made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,
    In bed with nobody, under no one's command.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    Now his holiest books have been trampled upon,
    No contract he signed was worth what it was written on.
    He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth,
    Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    What's anybody indebted to him for?
    Nothin', they say.
    He just likes to cause war.
    Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed,
    They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed.
    He's the neighborhood bully.

    What has he done to wear so many scars?
    Does he change the course of rivers?
    Does he pollute the moon and stars?
    Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill,
    Running out the clock, time standing still,
    Neighborhood bully.