Paul McCartney hit all the right notes – and not only at his concert in Tel Aviv on Thursday night.
He had the good sense, since he was only rocking in Israel, to show he wasn’t playing favorites – by visiting a Palestinian music school in Bethlehem and touring the Church of the Nativity.
And while in the West Bank, he had the further savvy to talk purposefully about the need for peace without lapsing into political specifics, sticking with his expertise when highlighting the potential in music to bring people together.
There are, self-evidently, two narratives to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s consensual conviction is that we would have reached a viable two-state solution long ago if the fundamental Palestinian objective were not actually replacing the Jewish state rather than living peacefully alongside it. The Palestinian argument, by contrast, ranges from the relative moderates’ assertion that it is the Israeli settlement enterprise and not their terrorism that has thus far doomed negotiations, to the Islamists’ avowed goal of our elimination.
Many media outlets recognize the complexities of these conflicting narratives and relate to them with subtlety in their general coverage. Many, but not all. It was notable that the BBC, the Guardian and some other news sources, in some of their reporting on McCartney’s visit, did their best to hype his gig as an act of real controversy, intimating that he was guilty of defying political correctness in coming here at all.
“Paul McCartney survives landmark Israel gig,” headlined the Guardian on its post-concert report, as though there had been some doubt that he would. A BBC radio interviewer, meanwhile, asked me how McCartney, who has spoken out against China’s human rights abuses, could possibly come to Israel, and then followed up with a question about Israel’s “illegal occupation” of the West Bank, plainly bent on presenting Israel as a venue far beyond the pale for any right-thinking rock globetrotter. McCartney, choosing to stay here for two full days and determined to see things for himself, put such closed-minded ignorance to shame.
Of crossing the security barrier en route to Bethlehem, McCartney remarked that “You don’t like to see things like that exist in the world. It reminded me of the Berlin Wall.” Yes, it would have been wonderful if he had added that he, sadly, understood why Israel had been forced to build it, to thwart the waves of second intifada suicide bombers. But the fact is that we Israelis don’t particularly like to see it either. We wish we didn’t need it. And if everybody in this region appreciated the gift of life with the same humanity and respect that Paul McCartney does, we wouldn’t need it.
To this ex-Brit Israeli, McCartney’s Israel visit showed him to be a mensch. I thought it was lovely that he bothered to learn enough of our language to dedicate “My Love” in Hebrew to his late wife Linda, who was Jewish. I hope that, after he’s had some downtime, he’ll get back.
And if he does, maybe he’ll eliminate the only discordant aspect of this visit: Strumming the first half of the sublime, plaintive “Something,” in tribute to George Harrison, on a ukelele?