Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

Jazz, BDS and meditation: a rant

This wasn’t the post I intended to write today, but someone (who is welcome to identify themselves but who is in a bit of a vulnerable position vis-a-vis the Israeli authorities so I won’t) sent me a link on Facebook and pushed my blood pressure through the roof, so I’m stuck with this instead.
That link was to a discussion initiated by a musician called Stanley Jordan, who has been asked by BDS campaigners not to play at the Eilat Jazz Festival in Israel. Jordan supposedly threw open the question of whether he should play to debate, although his answers to questions during the conversation seem to suggest that his inclination was always towards playing.
Anyone wanting to know the background to the boycott, divestment & sanctions call by Palestinian civil society can get it here, and the debate on Facebook is characterised by some wonderfully clear and cogent arguments from activists such as Tali Shapiro. It’s two specific aspects of Jordan’s position (or that of his publicist Edie Okamoto, who seemed to spend much of the discussion answering for him) that were particularly offensive and which I wanted to flag up here.
The first is Jordan’s supremely patronising attitude towards the Palestinian people. In response to a clear request by a Palestinian organisation, backed by a huge number of Palestinians, to boycott Israeli cultural events, Jordan says a clear ‘no’. Instead, he seems to claim, he has a better answer:

“Our discussion revealed a crisis whose depth was even far greater than I had known, and I felt compelled to help. Like many others, I am deeply dedicated to the cause of world peace, and this situation goes against everything anyone with a heart could ever condone. However, after much consideration I concluded that the best way I could serve the cause would be to do my performance as scheduled, but separately organize an event in a major city in the United States to raise funds and awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people. The time frame will be in September or October 2013.”

The Western arrogance of this attitude is simply breathtaking. Jordan has been given a clear request by representatives of an occupied people, who would like him not to help provide PR and support to a regime which systematically steals their land, kills them, suppresses their economy, deprives them of educational opportunities and access to healthcare and constrains their ability to travel. Instead, he has unilaterally decided that they should be recipients of his charity, which they never asked for in the first place.
Secondly, and more of a personal irritation, are statements like this:

“Edie Okamoto publicist for Stanley Jordan while he is resting and meditating for peace. You may greatly enjoy watching Mosaic which is an award winning news show created by Link TV. The founders of Link TV are friends – one of them an Israeli of German descent and another one a Palestinian of Arab descent. They are both tired of all the conjectures and started collaborating. The key to peace is true and respectful communications with all parties listening to each other. Currently 20% of all Israelis are of Arab descent and they are not being treated like the people in Germany, Poland or South Africa and in fact if you read Israeli newspapers many young Israelis are in support of a peace treaty. The extreme factions in each country are not ready to stop the fighting and it takes more and more and more peace loving people to have peace loving people turn into the majority on each side. Your contributions are valued and appreciated. Love and Light, Edie”

OK, this one is not by Jordan himself, but by his publicist. But she is apparently speaking in his name, and using his public Facebook account to do so. The patronising tone of the comment, which presumes to tell activists living and working in Palestine and Israel that there is a groundswell of ‘peace-loving’ young Israelis developing, is almost as breathtaking as Jordan’s own superiority in electing to replace respecting Palestinian wishes with making them charity cases of them. Okamoto’s bizarre notion that there can be some kind of demographic growth in ‘peace-loving people’ which will solve global conflicts is a pretty terrifying example of ignorance of history. It also betrays a serious lack of knowledge of the situation in Israel, where right-wing hawks are not an ‘extreme faction’ but politically dominant, and racism against not just Palestinians but African asylum seekers is reaching terrifyingly violent levels.
But it was the “meditating for peace” bit which really got my goat (read: made me want to go and throttle the first hippy I could lay my hands on). Meditation is fine. Great. Wonderful. But it is not a substitute for analysis, for clear and informed thought (and there is nothing in either Jordan or Okamoto’s statements in the discussion to suggest that they are remotely well-informed on the subject). And the idea that it was a justifiable thing for Jordan to be doing whilst there is a discussion – as I said, initiated by him – going on, was deeply disrespectful to those people who did take the time to participate in the conversation.
One could hope that during his visit to the (truly ghastly) resort of Eilat, Stanley Jordan (and his publicist) take a trip to Jenin refugee camp and to the Separation Wall and to the city of Qalqilya and to the villages terrorised by settler gangs. I find it unlikely (it might unbalance his chakras or something). I will just take refuge in the fact that I was never much of a fan of jazz anyway.

3 comments on “Jazz, BDS and meditation: a rant

  1. emmarosenthal
    January 1, 2013

    There’s something truly pernicious about the new age spirituality’s derailing of social justice issues. “Light and Love” and “think positive” are such insipid platitudes that require ignoring the realities that must exist for that illusion of positivity.

  2. Matt Graber
    January 1, 2013

    Jazz was instrumental in breaking down white-only spaces in the Jim Crow south, and pushing justice for Blacks in America to the forefront of so many spaces and conversations. Its a most cruel and disgusting irony that Stanley will be playing in an Israeli settlement town built over the remains of the Palestinian village of Umm Rashrash.

  3. Pingback: Stanley Jordan’s BDS Equivocations: Jordan declares his intention to cross the line. « ¡Cafe Intifada! -Uniting Art With Critical Consciousness

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This entry was posted on January 1, 2013 by in Middle East, Music, Palestine, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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