Should Paul McCartney have played in Israel?

 September 29, 2008         Leave a comment

Should Paul McCartney have gone to Israel? While it’s generally the function of a blog to spew ill-informed invective on subjects like this, I’m genuinely not sure either way.

The background to this gig lies in the recent un-banning of the Beatles by Israel, 43 years after the Liverpool moptops were banned from the middle-Eastern state in case they corrupted its youth.

The Israeli ambassador this year presented a written apology to John Lennon’s sister at the Beatles Story museum, in what was no way a clever publicity stunt during Israel’s 60th anniversary.

So, Paul headed to Tel Aviv to play for 40,000 people and about 5,000 spooks from Mossad and MI6 – despite protests from several Palestinian groups, while the Israeli press veered between raptures and pontificating on how Jewish the Beatles actually were.

When asked by the Guardian if he was concerned that his visit would become politicised, Macca replied:

“Music is a great international voice for getting people together. I will do my best to speak to Palestinians and Israelis and get an idea of what the solution might be and support that. But my little bit is to bring people together through music.”

The Sun City comparison is an obvious one and a relevant one given Macca’s involvement in Artists United Against Apartheid, but is it a fair one? That’s not a question I’m going to go into here – suffice it to say that I view Israel’s treatment of Palestinians over the years rather dimly.

Whatever your ideology, race or religion – when a coalition of the world’s largest charities says Israel’s illegal building of settlements is having a ‘drastic toll on Palestinian daily life’ there’s clearly a problem.

Hebrew need is love

So how come McCartney – champion of the dispossessed, the underdog, the little guy and seals – is playing in Israel? He can’t need the money.

McCartney is no politician. He’s a musician who has made the occasional foray into environmental and ethical issues.

No doubt, Macca believes that his presence in Israel can act as a catalyst for peace in the region in the way that all musicians believe music can achieve what international diplomacy cannot, though I’m doubtful that a rendition of Live and Let Die is likely to spur Jew and Arab into brotherly affection.

Maybe when you live in the rarified atmosphere of an international pop mogul to start to believe your own press – certainly Bono, Geldof and Chris Martin display a kind of messianic self-belief that wearing a funny hat and talking about poverty can solve the world’s problems.

So, what can expect to come out of The Beatles’ late arrival in Israel? Is the gig likely to have made much difference to the Palestine situation? No. Did it lend validity to the Israeli state? Doubtful? Will any number of nutcases on Jewish and Arab sides of the conflict hail and revile it? Definitely. Will some Beatles fans have a good time watching Macca do his strange little o-mouthed peace sign? Probably.

Maybe some good can come out of it. McCartney’s visit has again turned the spotlight on Israel, and the coincidence of the charity report may again spur the international community into revitalising its efforts in the Middle East.

By all accounts Macca trod a very fine line very well, paying respects to Israel and Palestine alike and displaying a badge of the Jewish-Palestinian OneVoice group.

But I can’t imagine his gig to a group of music lovers who probably need little urging to Give Peace A Chance made much impact on the day-to-day problems of the 60-year old Israel.

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