Stones with a human heart

Stones with a human heart

The lyrics of the classic Israeli song “Ha-Kotel” (“The Western Wall”) – created by Yossi Gamzu and Dubi Zellser, and popularized by Ofra Haza, among others – took on a newly prophetic timbre of late: “Yesh anashim im lev shel even, yesh avanim im lev adam” – “There are people with hearts of stone, and there are Stones with a human heart.”

The Rolling Stones, to be precise: the legendary British rock band played a concert in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park for some 50,000 appreciative fans, despite political pressure by the BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement to cancel their appearance. Efforts to intimidate the band repeated the usual specious and hateful rhetoric and familiar canards. Rafeef Ziadah, a BDS spokesman lectured: “We urge the Rolling Stones to refrain from playing in apartheid Israel and not to condone Israel’s violations of international law and human rights against the Palestinian people.” With good cause, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has quipped that BDS really stands for “Bigotry, Dishonesty, and Shame.”

The concert was held on June 4, the night after Shavuot. The Stones’ appearance was delayed to a later hour (despite local ordinances prohibiting loud music after 11 p.m.) so that religiously observant fans could get there without violating the sanctity of the festival. Mick Jagger greeted the crowd with “Chag Shavuot same’ach!” Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood, together with an entourage of (a biblically resonant!) 70 crew and family members, toured Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and they visited the Dead Sea in advance of the concert. After the concert, Mick Jagger tweeted his appreciation: “Todah… Thanks to everyone in Israel for the great reception. It was a great concert and we will always remember it. Nizkor otah tamid.”

Those who have Israel’s well-being at heart should remember it too. Whether our support for the Jewish state is grounded in religious identification, or it is a matter of principle with no Jewish ethnic or nationalistic basis – “simply” because Israel is a faithful American ally and a besieged island of modernity, stability, and democracy amid a sea of unrest, revolution, and anti-Americanism – we rightly decry the BDS movement and its advocates. While identifying the evils of BDS, we are similarly duty-bound to celebrate those who defy its ugly politics. Such independence, moral courage, and friendship are not to be taken for granted, especially when it comes from such a renowned and influential group as the Rolling Stones. The Jewish people is adept, as a result of a long and unfortunate history of irrational detractors, at identifying attacks and offenses. We would do well to hone our collective skill at recognizing the hand of friendship when it is extended, and at reciprocating with genuine and warm appreciation.

Israeli president Shimon Peres, soon to leave office, apparently shared in the enthusiastic response to the concert. He posted a note on his Facebook page, quoting the Stones’ hit: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Of course, the Stones are not the first to break ranks and perform in the Jewish state. Among those who have done so are, notably, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Cyndi Lauper, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Guns ‘N Roses… and others. Nizkor otah tamid.

The politics of BDS demonstrates that there are indeed “anashim im lev shel even” – people with hearts of stone. (“You better go home, ’cause you’ll, you’ll never break this heart of stone,” as the Rolling Stones lyric has it.) The warm and gracious response of Mick Jagger and company to their Israeli public has made it abundantly clear, too, that “yesh avanim im lev adam” – there are Stones with human hearts. There are precious hearts that understand that boycotts and exclusion, isolation and cynical campaigns to delegitimize legitimate regimes are no road to peace.

Hearts that understand that these political weapons belong in the hands neither of performers and artists (cue Alice Walker, Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana), nor those of academics and scientists (AAAS, ASA, AUT, MLA, PACBI, et al: take note). Did the Stones go to Israel to express sympathy with the Zionist cause? To reject rejectionism and boycott as a matter of artistic principle? Solely motivated by their 5.4 million dollar concert deal (the amount has been reported by some as approaching 7 million)? Whatever their motives, I celebrate their choices (or at least this one!). They defied the forces of hatred masquerading as social conscience. “There’ve been good times, there’ve been bad times… Though these hard times are buggin’ me now, Honey, now it’s a sin. There’s gotta be trust in this world, or it won’t get very far….”

Perhaps it is not too optimistic to hope that the motza’ei Shavuot concert in Tel Aviv is a milestone heralding the ultimate failure of the BDS movement, betokening a trend toward more even-handed, tolerant, and, indeed, appreciative attitudes toward the Jewish state.

Or as Naomi Shemer, the “first lady of Israeli song and poetry” put it, “Ki min ha-avanim ha-eleh yibaneh ha-Mikdash” – “From these Stones, a more sanctified future will be built.” May her words, too, prove prophetic.