Arts and Popular Culture Opinion

A kind of tragic: Queen announce they are to play Israel

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Rock legends Queen have announced that they are to play Israel for the very first time, when they step out at Yarkon Park, Tel Aviv, on 12 September.

In a statement to the press, lead guitarist, Brian May claimed that “this is an amazing opportunity to bring Queen music live to thousands of folks who have been devoted to our music for years.”

While it may be the first time Queen have performed in Israel, it is not the first time that they have wilfully and shamefully broken an international cultural boycott of an apartheid state in order to trouser a few quid.

In 1984 the United Nations organised a cultural boycott against apartheid South Africa. Despite the boycott and instructions from the musicians’ union, Queen agreed to play a series of gigs at Sun City; a complex modelled on Las Vegas, which was essentially a playground for rich, white South Africans – a totem of the vile apartheid regime surrounded by poverty stricken rural ghettos.

The decision to play Sun City was not an unthinking oversight. It was deliberate and considered. At the start of their 1984 world tour, May told a press conference that “we thought about the morals of it a lot and it’s something we have decided to do. This band is not political, we are not out to make any statements, we play to anyone who comes to listen.”

Queen were subsequently fined by the British musicians’ union and became persona-non-grata amongst sections of the trendy music press. No doubt the blow was softened by the rumoured £2m (£6m today) Krugerrands that they received for playing just a handful of dates. The same sum was offered to the US pop duo, Hall and Oates. They declined; describing anyone who took the money as “jerks”.

In a snivelling interview with Q magazine six years later, May claimed:

“of course we are totally against apartheid. Our business manager went over to suss it out. We carefully considered all the pros and cons for a year before deciding we would be doing more to achieve the end of apartheid by going than by staying away. The audiences were mixed [disputed by the ANC] and the hotel we stayed in was mixed. I’m sure a lot of people still feel we’re fascist pigs because of it. Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about that. We have totally clear consciences.”

Such was the lustre of May’s brass-neck, Queen had the audacity to participate in a concert to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday in 2008.

In the last year, over 600 artists have agreed to a cultural boycott of Israel, signing-up to the following statement “We will accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government.”

Omar Barghouti, a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, states that:

“Cultural boycott initiatives against Israel more often than not cite the boycott of apartheid South Africa as a key reference. This reference is neither coincidental nor rhetorical. It stems from the many similarities between the two cases of colonial oppression and it aims to highlight the effectiveness and moral unassailability of using the boycott in the cultural sphere to resist a persistent oppressive order that enjoys impunity and ample complicity from the powers that be around the world and to increase the isolation of oppressive regimes, like Israel’s.”

May and his Queen colleagues are yet again putting fame, fortune, and their own ego’s above the human rights of sections of the population of the countries they tour.

Excuses such as “we are not political” or “we just play where we are asked” do not hold any water. They are wilfully ignorant smug cop-outs – used as a ‘get out of jail free’ card that puts the user beyond criticism or reproach. Unfortunately for May – and his overtly political twitter feed – they do no such thing. They just reveal the craven stupidity of those that utter them.

I would have more respect for Brian May and Queen if they just said “We don’t give a fuck”. At least it would be honest.

I should add that Queen are not the only artists to break the cultural boycotts of South Africa or Israel. However, there cannot be many who chose to ignore both, and even less that also toured Argentina during military junta rule; as Queen did.


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