Suzanna Vega Defies Cultural Boycott

18 Jul

Moving from London to Jerusalem we’ve had to give up on a fair deal. Sure, living in this unique city is an absorbing experience, but you can easily begin to miss many of the things that made London such a mesmerizing place to call home. Missing out on a never-ending array of top-class concerts is probably right up there as one of the things Asya and I most miss from our time in London: Elbow, Franz Ferdinand, Death Cab for Cutie, Yoav, Bloc Party, Glasvegas, Regina Spektor, Laura Marling…to name just a few of the groups and singers we managed to see in our 18 months living in London.

Here in Israel it’s a lot more quiet on the gig-attending front. Yes, we get to see a few Israeli bands every now and again, but when it comes to international acts venturing this way the choice has been pretty slim. On the one hand,  the obvious logistical and financial problems of schlepping all your way over here from Europe or the US for a one-off concert makes Israel a less alluring destination. Secondly, and now more prominently, a growing cultural boycott has forced a whole array of international acts to cancel concerts in Israel the last few months, such as Carlos Santana, Pixies, Gorillaz, Elvis Costello, Klaxons and Devendra Banhart. This new craze had been simmering for a while but quickly gained placed after the botched flotilla raid last month.

Personally, I have nothing against bands choosing not to perform in Israel as a personal way to protest against its policies and the damaging status quo it doggedly maintains – even if it does mean we miss out on the odd the concert or two. Most concerts take place in the Tel Aviv area, a city that prides itself of being one of the hippest cities on the Mediterranean – a Middle Eastern Barcelona if you will. It’s also home to the millions of people who have been accused of becoming increasingly politically apathetic after a period of relative calm; no connection or care for the plight of the millions of Palestinians who live stranded out on the Gaza strip or stuck in the West Bank. Could denying them their right to their dose of international pop music be a way to grab their attention – probably not I’m afraid. On the other hand, I do think it’s unfair to overly criticise those few artists who in their mind chose to separate politics from culture by coming here, and denouncing them for somehow legitimising Israel’s policies.  Despite the vigorous campaign led by many pro-Palestine groups and politically aware fans the likes of Elton John, Rod Stewart, Metallica and Rihanna have all visited Israel this summer.

So an overly long introduction to what was meant to be a simple blog post on our trip to Caesarea last week where we saw Suzanne Vega – yes, one of the few artists to ignore the growing cultural boycott. Asya is the Suzanne Vega fan, but I was more than happy to tag along and see this concert in one of Israel’s most idyllic venues: The Roman Amphitheatre in Caesarea. It’s always a relief to escape Jerusalem for a day and two, and heading up the coast to Caesarea was no exception. Don’t get me wrong Jerusalem is an amazing city, but there is nothing quite like getting away to the coast to realise how unrepresentative Jerusalem is of the rest of the county and how suspiciously the rest of the country regards Jerusalem with all it’s religious trappings and nationalistic zeal.

Anyway back to the concert. Half the fun was sitting high up in the amphitheater enjoying the laid-back music whilst under the stars and the cool Mediterranean breeze cooling us down after yet another day of scorching temperatures. The only downsides came from not being nearly as engaged by the music as Asya and the strange sensation of going to a gig without a beer near to hand – alcohol seemingly forbidden on such a historical site. Still it would have been the perfect venue to see any singer; indeed some of my favourite artists like Radiohead and Björk  have also performed here over the years.

Please feel free to comment if you think I’ve got it wrong on the whole boycott thing…

I’ve added a short you tube video with some rather blurry but okay shots of some of Suzanne Vega’s back catalogue.


Posted by on July 18, 2010 in Music, Travelling in Israel



2 responses to “Suzanna Vega Defies Cultural Boycott

  1. Mikko Takkunen

    July 19, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for the post. Interesting read.

    I wasn’t aware of the fact that these Israeli boycotts have spread from university circles and consumer goods also to musicians.

    How’s your Hebrew?

    Any luck on the job front.


    • thomassh21

      July 20, 2010 at 1:00 am

      Hey Mikko,

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, boycotts all round. We’ve just had the Jerusalem Film Festival and a couple of Hollywood stars pulled out for the same reasons (Dustin Hoffman and Meg Ryan I think). Personally, I think the only types of boycotts that will really work in the long run are the economic ones and so far they only seem to be limited to goods produced by settlements in the West Bank rather than the whole of Israel.

      Sorry for not writing in ages. I have been following your blossoming photojournalistic work with a smile. Well Done!

      Do you have a microphone so we can catch up on Skype one of these next evenings? It would be great to have a chat.


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