Old Man Take a Look at Your Life

Neil Young's Concert in Israel is Cancelled Due to Safety Concerns

Neil Young’s July 17th, 2014, concert in Israel has been cancelled, not because Young had a change of heart but, as promoter Shuki Weiss productions (who booked Young while on his ‘Honour the Treaties’ tour of Canada) claimed in part:  “It is with deep regret that we are forced to announce the cancelation (sic) of the Neil Young and Crazy Horse show… in light of the missile attacks in recent days and the fear for the audience’s safety at an event with so many participants”…

Neil Young later issued a statement saying:

It is with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we must cancel our one and only Israeli concert due to tensions which have rendered the event unsafe at this time. We’ll miss the opportunity to play for our fans and look forward to playing in Israel and Palestine in peace.

I will be making donations to both the Louise Tillie Alpert Youth Music Centre of Israel, and Heartbeat, two organizations that teach music to Palestinian and Israeli youth simultaneously by enabling them to play music together.”

The planned concert by Young in Israel caused immense reaction from social justice groups around the globe.  His fans, myself included, were stunned and disbelieving. It was seen as a blatant show of support for the apartheid state, a nasty slap in the face for the occupied people of Palestine, and most specifically Gaza where the residents are now counting the bodies and burying their dead as a result of  Israel’s latest bombardment.

Who could believe that Neil Young, the long time activist, would ignore the BDS campaign, including a cultural boycott demanding that Israel recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully comply with the precepts of international law?

People reacted with open letters, and more open letters, petitions, while fellow musicians appealed to him to reconsider.  He didn’t cancel.

So how does this fit in with any of the issues Young has written about, protested against, worked in aid of during a career that dates back to the sixties?

It doesn’t.  Nor did it fit in with Neil Young’s supposed quest for social justice when he did two concerts in Israel in 1995 with Pearl Jam  (filling in for its lead vocalist, Eddie Vedder.)

At a time when global activists are working peacefully to bring attention to the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation, one would have expected Neil, in light of his activism, to be leading the world in condemning the atrocities Israel is carrying out, and has been carrying out for decades, against a vulnerable people in their own homeland. Instead he planned to do a concert for them.  Hypocrisy comes to mind.

Is this the same Neil Young who, back in 1970, wrote what became an iconic protest song, “Ohio” following the murder by the National Guard of four students at Ohio’s Kent State University? Why, then, did he agree to do a concert in a country where  its military/police are gunning down men, women, and children on a regular basis? Are some “tin soldiers” more acceptable than others? Does it matter if “soldiers are cutting us down” as long as the “us” are the impoverished, besieged, occupied Palestinians?

Is this the same Neil Young who, in 1985, together with Willie Nelson and John Mellancamp, formed Farm Aid, its purpose being to raise money to help family farmers in the US?

This is all well and good if you are an American family farmer, but tragically the Palestinian farmer has a much more difficult life and there is no farm aid or aid of any kind anywhere. Instead the Israeli military/police support the “settlers” as they destroy olive trees, or shoot at farmers as they work in their fields.  In fact, the military not only allow these actions but they contribute to the harassment of the farmers themselves.

His somewhat spiritualistic comment that “Farm Aid is on a mission from God” does not reach out to the Palestinian farmer. One would have thought that their plight would be an issue he might, using his international status as a legendary musician, have brought to the attention of the world. Instead he planned to perform in the country where year after year the Palestinian farmer struggles against settler violence, destruction of his crops, and the very real possibility of being murdered or seriously injured.

His “Honour the Treaties” tour in western Canada (January 2014) saw him speaking out against the expansion tar sands development in Alberta, blasting the oil industry and the current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.  The purpose of the tour was to raise funds for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal fees in their ongoing battle against this expansion, a tour that wasn’t without its controversy.  Oil industry officials were not amused and some fans vented their displeasure on open forums, suggesting Young must have a new album to promote (which, of course, he has).

An environmentalist, Neil drove his electric car to the tar sands, and while on this tour, he created quite a stir when he claimed, metaphorically speaking, that the oil sands resembled the devastation brought about by the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

If he believes the tar sands resembled Hiroshima after the bombing, he should take a look at Jenin after the Israeli massacre of 2002.

Or Gaza after the bombing of December 2008/January 2009:

Or the bombing of Gaza currently ongoing in 2014.

It doesn’t matter at this stage that the concert was cancelled.  What matters is that Neil Young agreed to play in Israel and did not cancel the concert on moral grounds.

Was he aware, for instance, that the land that houses the stadium where he was to perform had once been the Palestinian village of Al Mirr? It’s one of over 500 Palestinian villages emptied of their residents in 1947-1948.

How can he justify defending the rights of native people in Canada and then agree to do a concert for those who have taken away not only the land of the native people of Palestine but their human, civil, social, and economic rights?

And how could he possibly allow himself to be used as a trophy for Israeli propagandic purposes?

His decision to ignore the BDS boycott calls into question all of his chatter about native people, about human rights, about justice.  Is this how he wishes to be remembered?

One of his early hits, “Old Man” comes to mind, in which he sings, “Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you were”.  I would strongly suggest that it’s time Neil take a look at his own life and decide how he wishes to be remembered.  Accepting an invitation to play in Israel, especially in light of the BDS boycott, has made a mockery of everything he’s supposedly stood for.

Because when it comes to social justice, one doesn’t pick and choose who should receive it.  It belongs to all of the occupied, oppressed peoples of the world.  Supporting those who are responsible for that occupation and oppression is unacceptable.

Angie Tibbs is Editor of Dissident Voice and Editor of Poetry on Sunday. She can be reached at: angie@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Angie.