On Leonard Cohen and BDS: To the Dead We Owe the Truth

Cohen’s love songs became tainted by his contribution to the normalization with Israel. (Photo: Video grab)

By Richard Lightbown

As the death of Leonard Cohen was announced today tributes flowed in from around the world. Regrettably I cannot share this sense of loss. For me the spirit of the man who wrote The Partisan had already died a while ago, when the man who wrote ‘Everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost’ entertained the bad guys in a concert at Tel Aviv in 2009.

Cohen’s partisan could have been a comrade of Sheikh al-Qassam hunted by the British in 1936. But he was definitely not an Israeli pilot attacking the al-Quds hospital in Gaza with white phosphorus in 2009. Nor was he a sailor on an Israeli gunboat machine-gunning Gazan fishermen lawfully working in Gazan territorial waters. Nor a checkpoint bully on the West Bank. So why didn’t Cohen recognize these facts by his actions?

In his song called Anthem he had said of ‘the killers in high places’ that ‘they’re going to hear from me’. Yeah, they heard all right, as their critic bestowed his blessing on Israel’s miscreant behaviour by performing in Tel Aviv. How bitterly ironic.

Of course Leonard wasn’t the only one to cross the BDS picket line. Elton John played Israel immediately after the Tsahal had shot up scores of civilians on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, just as he had played in apartheid South Africa some decades before. Martha Wainwright tried to conceal the fact that she had snuck into Israel to perform, just like she snuck in the back entrance at Hebdon Bridge to avoid the pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Not so the Rolling Stones who were allegedly paid between £2.4 and 3 million for their contribution to the normalization of Israel.

Yet Leonard Cohen was different to all the other scabs. Not only was he the winner of a formidable list of prestigious awards, he was a writer who addressed political and social justice in his songs. As a father he had named his daughter Lorca after the Spanish poet and playwright who had been shot by the Falange and whose works had been banned by Franco’s regime for many years. How could such a man ignore the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation?

There had been a concerted campaign pleading with Cohen not to play this gig, but he was determined to go regardless. It wasn’t for the money: originally the purse was to be donated to Amnesty International USA, until a campaign to Amnesty scotched that. So a less prestigious fig-leaf was found for the so-called ‘Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace’. In addition there was a late attempt to organise a concert in Ramallah, presumably to help defuse criticism. This was cancelled after the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club Society, who were the intended beneficiaries, refused to collaborate as long as the Israel gig went ahead.

Like vintage wine gone sour, Leonard Cohen’s beautiful love songs became tainted by his contribution to the normalization of Israel’s criminal policies. The man who saw himself as a soldier on stage just didn’t have it in himself to face the realities of everyday Palestinian existence. For a writer who had criticised social injustice this was a coward’s response to a gross injustice.

– Richard Lightbown contributed this report to PalestineChronicle.com.

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  1. He saw the violence towards Palestinians from Israel but lacked the integrity to say something about it…


  3. I am from Vancouver,Canada and I wanted to say that Leonard Cohen has been condemned for supporting Israeli Apartheid.He didn’t want to offend the Canadian Gov’t who is a strong supporter of Israel.There are many well known performers like him who did the right thing and boycotted Israel like:Stevie Wonder,Lauryn Hill,Elvis Costello,Alice Walker,Roger Waters and Pink Floyd.Leonard Cohen should have did the same but he didn’t.He will be remembered for that.

    • Leonard Cohen saw Arab suicide bombers and terrorists murdering Jews, and then the Arab mob hands out sweets. No wonder he loved Israel. The Jews are mainly peace-loving whereas so many muslim Arabs (like Vacy) are hateful anti-semites but Israel has a duty to defend itself.

  4. He was smart enough to see the savage ethnic cleansing, the racist apartheid, the brutal military occupation, the thousands of people made homeless, maimed and slaughtered each year. But money and supposed tribal loyalty was more important to him. He could have spoken for humanity, but he chose to speak for the killers, and “say their prayers with them out loud”. He was a coward and a great disappointment.

  5. Oh dear Jane: such yawningly, absurd, opposite-of-the-truth propaganda.
    For every 100 Palestinian victims – less than one Israeli is injured or killed.
    An eye for an eye ?

    • What a stupid observation Paul G. If 100 Arab terrorists try to kill Jews and they all get neutralised in the process good riddance and pity the poor innocent Jewish victim whether one or many. No doubt you prefer outcomes like in France where the terrorists killed hundreds but only a few of the evil jihadists got killed. I think that’s called terrorist sympathiser.

      • Oh Jane, you have it the wrong way around. Please do yourself a favour and look up Miko Peled. Miko Peled, his father and grand father were high ranking soldiers in the IDF. Please read his account of this disgraceful situation.

      • To have some understanding of the Palestinian viewpoint I would suggest you read a book by Ilan Pappe, an Israeli born historian, who published a well written and documented book entitled “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”. It is important that you realize that prior to the colonization of Palestine by Jews from Europe and North Africa and the eventual creation of the State of Israel by the United Nations, there was a large and thriving Palestinian population in the region. Pappe’s book, amoungst many others, will help you find out what happened to them and to understand why they continue to stand up to Israeli occupation.

  6. “Israel, and you who call yourself Israel, the Church that calls itself Israel, and the revolt that calls itself Israel, and every nation chosen to be a nation – none of these lands is yours, all of you are thieves of holiness, all of you at war with Mercy. Who will say it? Will America say, We have stolen it, or France step down? Will Russia confess, or Poland say, We have sinned? All bloated on their scraps of destiny, all swaggering in the immunity of superstition. Ishmael, who was saved in the wilderness, and given shade in the desert, and a deadly treasure under you: has Mercy made you wise? Will Ishmael declare, We are in debt forever? Therefore the lands belong to none of you ..”

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