Bossa no-noBossa no-no

Brazilian crooners won’t bend to BDS

Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil respond to boycott activist Roger Waters

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Brazilian singers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil are known equally for their bossa nova tunes and ardent political activism, and neither is caving to pressure to cancel their upcoming Israel concert in July.

Both were asked by former Pink Floyd band member Roger Waters to cancel the July 28 show, as part of the ongoing cultural boycott campaign waged by Waters to protest what he terms the human rights violations against Palestinians in Israel.

Veloso and Gil refused.

“I’ll sing in Israel and watch what is happening there,” said Veloso in a letter published by Brazilian newspaper O Globo.

“My heart is strongly against the arrogant right position of the Israeli government,” he wrote. “I hate the occupation policy, the inhuman decisions that Israel took in what [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu tells us is self-defense. And I think most Israelis who are interested in our music tends to react in a similar way to the politics of his country.”

Israelis are long-time lovers of Veloso and Gil’s music and the concert, being held in Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu stadium, is sold out. Gil last performed in Israel in 2013 and has repeatedly stated that he won’t cancel his shows.

The two singers are veteran friends and collaborators.

Veloso wrote in a letter to Waters that while some in Brazil’s Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement were surprised that he and Gil did not refuse the invitation to perform in Israel, he doesn’t intend his decision to perform as a tacit approval of the government’s policies.

“I hate the occupation policy, the inhuman decisions that Israel took in what Netanyahu tells us is self-defense,” he wrote.

At the same time, he said, he sang in the United States during the Bush administration and that did not mean he approved of the invasion of Iraq. He wrote and recorded a song opposed to the policy that led to the Guantanamo prison – and sang in New York and Los Angeles.

“I want to learn more about what is happening in Israel now,” wrote Veloso. “I would never cancel a show to say that I am basically against a country, unless I was really and with all my heart against him. What is not the case. I remember that Israel was a place of hope. Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir died pro-Israel.”

Veloso added that he likes to see Palestine and Israel as two sovereign states, and believes that Israel must listen to the reactions coming from abroad.

“The United Nations, many governments and even artists, like you, show Israel risks becoming increasingly isolated, if you follow with their reactionary policies,” he wrote. “Sometimes I think it is counterproductive to isolate Israel. That is, if you are seeking peace. I have many doubts about such a complex subject.”

Veloso completed his letter to Roger Waters by commenting that he believes his performance is a neutral event with regard to Israel’s politics. But if his songs, voice or mere presence help Israelis who disagree with oppression and injustice — “in a word, to feel further away from voting in someone like” Netanyahu, he wrote — “I’ll be happy.”

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