Much to the dismay of pro-Palestinian groups, it looks like Chris Rock will be following through on a scheduled performance in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Following months of urging from activists and fans to cancel the Jan. 9 performance, Rock is currently in Tel Aviv for the next stop of his stand-up Total Blackout Tour. The Electronic Intifada, a Chicago-based website that covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reports that nearly 4,000 people signed a petition asking Rock to boycott “apartheid Israel.”
A group of 20 Palestinian performing arts organizations also wrote Rock an open letter pleading with him to reconsider his show in Tel Aviv, likening the event to performing in apartheid South Africa.
The letter, which was published on the Palestinian human rights website BDS Movement (the “BDS” stands for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), references the renowned comic’s history of speaking out against racial injustice.
The letter writers also note that although Rock may never explicitly condone Israel’s treatment of Palestine, his show would be used by the Israeli government as a tacit endorsement:
As the recent performance by Radiohead, in defiance of Palestinian and international appeals, has lucidly shown, what matters most is not whether artists performing in Tel Aviv support Israel’s grave crimes against the Palestinian people or not but how Israel will irrespectively use their performances to portray a false image for itself, covering up its human rights violations.
Dozens of tweets from Israeli officials and Israel lobby groups, as well as US right-wing pundits, gloated over Radiohead’s decision to violate the cultural boycott, with a leading right-wing Israeli newspaper describing the band’s decision to cross the Palestinian boycott picket line as the best gift of “hasbara [propaganda] Israel has received lately.” Israel, after all, sees “culture as a hasbara tool of the first rank,” as a ranking Israeli official once admitted.
The letter compares the current cultural boycott of Israel to those that occurred during the time when the fight against Jim Crow laws was at its peak. It also lists notable entertainers and speakers who have decided to avoid any engagement in Israel, like Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Lauryn Hill and Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
Of the twenty six Oscar nominees in 2016, none has accepted an all-expense-paid Israeli propaganda junket, and out of eleven NFL players, six turned down a similar offer by the Israeli government in 2017.
The open letter ends with a comparison to Black Lives Matter in the U.S., which Rock has openly supported:
We take to heart Baldwin’s advice to his nephew, “Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority, but to their inhumanity and fear.” We shall continue to resist Israel’s dehumanization of us just as the Movement for Black Lives resists racial violence and institutionalized oppression in the US.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has entered into a state of uncertainty in recent months as a two-state solution over control of the West Bank seems less and less viable.
It will be Rock’s first appearance in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post. He will play at the Menora Mivtachim Arena with fellow comedian Jeffrey Ross as his opening act.