Natacha Atlas BDS? Great, but some criticism is due ~ by @docjazzmusic

Sunday, 02 October 2011 15:07 | DocJazz

All of us BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)-supporters undoubtedly are happy to see any artist join the boycott against the racist Zionist entity that calls itself ‘Israel’. Therefore, there is reason to applaud Natacha Atlas’ recent decision to cancel the performances that she had scheduled there. However, a closer look at this issue and this artist reveals that this enthusiasm also deserves some serious footnotes.

While most pro-Palestinian organizations and websites are meeting her decision with loud rounds of applause, I feel slightly uncomfortable about joining in the celebrations.

I had not really followed Natacha’s career much, although I had heard of her before. But I vaguely remembered her doing features with Israeli artists, so I decided to do a little research.

It may have struck some people that one rarely hears any Arab artist announcing a boycott of ‘Israel’ in the news. Have you ever wondered why this is such a rare occasion? The reason for this is that the overwhelming majority of Arab artists have always boycotted Israel. You can’t announce the cancellation of concert tours in the Zionist entity, if you have never had any plans to perform there in the first place.


So, let’s have a look at how things went in that curious case of Natacha Atlas. She is a Belgian artist of mixed Moroccan origins, who developed her music career largely in the United Kingdom. For a summary of her life and works, have a look at Wikipedia, so we can try and keep this short and to the point.


On Tuesday September 27th, Natacha announced a performance tour in Israel. Two days later, on Thursday September 29th, she cancelled it with the following statement:

“I had an idea that performing in Israel would have been a unique opportunity to encourage and support my fans’ opposition to the current government’s actions and policies. I would have personally asked my Israeli fans face-to-face to fight this apartheid with peace in their hearts, but after much deliberation I now see that it would be more effective a statement to not go to Israel until this systemised apartheid is abolished once and for all. Therefore I publicly retract my well-intentioned decision to go and perform in Israel and so sincerely hope that this decision represents an effective statement against this regime.”

Two days does not really sound like ‘much deliberation’, but let’s leave that where it is for now. More important is: why such a focus on the CURRENT government, and THIS regime? Did Natacha have no problems with the previous murderous regimes? From her musical career, and the fact that she apparently has many fans there, it would seem that she didn’t have any structural problems with those. On the contrary, she took issue with Arab artists who did express their disgust of Zionist practices in word or in deed.


Arabs are ‘anti-Semites’? Et tu, Brute?

She toured ‘Israel’ with her band Transglobal Underground, and later did a collab with Israeli artist Yasmin Levy. In 2008, she had an interview with fRoots in issue 300, where she appeared in an article titled the ‘Israel Egypt Summit’. Let us not forget that 2008 saw the most hideous atrocities by Israel against Gaza, and that 2006, only two years before, saw a deadly attack by Israel against both Lebanon and Gaza. Back in those days, Natacha Atlas apparently saw no problem in cosying up with an Israeli artist and touring there.

In fact, it’s even worse. In the article, she lambasted Arab artists for not wanting to perform with Israeli artists, describing their motives as anti-Semitic. Why of course, we have no other reason than that, do we? No colonization, no ethnic cleansing, no expulsion, no land theft, no imprisonment, no attempts at annihilating Palestinian national identity? No massacres, no checkpoints, no structural racism? Check the quotes from the article. It really isn’t a pretty sight.

But there’s a problem, an issue that Atlas feels she needs to air: “Some Arabic artists wouldn’t even consider working with anyone Jewish.”

“You mean they wouldn’t work with an Israeli,” responds Levy, looking baffled and concerned. “No, Jewish,” says Atlas emphatically. “I’m really upset,” says Levy, her shock and distress clearly growing, the more this sinks in. “For me it is the Israeli and Arabic thing, I understand about that, but Jewish. Why? Now in this century?……. Yet here’s Levy struggling to get to grips with the way anti-Zionism can spill over into anti-Semitism…..


You can read the original article here: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6. I warn you that it may make you quite unhappy; that’s what it did with me.

What are we to think of this? Back in those days, BDS was wrong, but now it is suddenly right? And this radical change happened in two days, between announcing an ‘Israel’ tour and cancelling it?

Why are we supposed to suddenly celebrate Natacha Atlas as a hero of justice, after so many years of her being the odd one out who felt it was perfectly okay to identify with Israel despite its immoral and racist foundations? A lady who through all this still describes herself on her own website as (quote) “a human Gaza strip”. She was referring to the complex melange of influences – both genetic and environmental – that have shaped her both as an individual and as a performer.” (unquote)

What a confusing description, made only worse by the explanation. What genetic and environmental melange of influences does she see in the Gaza strip? Indeed, her own identity does seem complex for sure, at least her own definition of it. “When I was very young, I tried to ignore the Arabic side, my father’s side, because I saw it as foreign,” she told Muslim Wake Up online magazine. According to her personal page, ‘her father was a Sephardic Jew’, but in another interview (1995, “Entretien avec Natacha Atlas”) she says: “My grand-grand-grandfather was Jewish.”


From normalization to BDS?


Quite confusing, but so what? Why should her ancestry be an issue at all? I totally don’t think that anyone really cares about that. Her accusation in issue 300 of fRoots where she made all Arab artists look like anti-Semites, is baseless, tasteless and unfounded. On the contrary, it is Zionism which has rabid racism at its very core, which is something all of us BDS-supporters are highly aware of.

What I believe people do care about, is consistency. Do we have any problem with Natacha Atlas supporting BDS? Of course not! We can safely say: glad you finally came around. But with her background of confusion about her identity as well as her political positioning, I believe it would be wise to not immediately crown her as the Queen of BDS – considering she was behaving like a Queen of Normalization until only recently, as has been amply illustrated above.

Let’s wait and see if this is not just another gesture of confusion from a fickle artist who – unlike most other BDS-supporters – does not seem to carry a grudge against the ideological foundations of the state of ‘Israel’, but only against the ‘current regime’. Time, as usual, will tell.


Doc Jazz

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