Stanley Jordan: You Don’t Get to Peace without Real Solidarity

Stanley Jordan should not elevate the status of art above human rights. (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

By Rima Merriman

After putting BDS activists through their paces for eight straight days of discussion on his Facebook page, noted Jazz musician Stanley Jordan announced on January 1st, that he had decided not to support the call of the Palestinian civil society to boycott the upcoming Red Sea Jazz Festival this month in Eilat, Israel.

In his announcement, Jordan referred to a “spirited online discussion and much deep soul-searching” but did not give a reason for his decision.  Instead, he avowed his dedication to “world peace” and pledged to demonstrate to the many activists who had contributed to his Facebook thread with over 800 posts of information and considered arguments – including two messages from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott – that he had “heard” them and was ready to make others hear their impassioned plea.   Jordan had concluded that that the best way “I could serve the cause would be to do my performance as scheduled, but separately organize an event in a major city in the United States to raise funds and awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people. The time frame will be in September or October 2013.”

Though not unexpected, that “conclusion” was problematic for many BDS advocates.  The discussion on the thread ranged over a wide variety of topics triggered by Jordan’s questions.  However, there was one central issue that kept rearing its head:  What does it really mean to be in solidarity with an oppressed people?

Besides Jordan, some artists, like Native American poet and musician Joy Harjo, who are approached by PACBI and asked to heed the Palestinian people’s call to honor the academic and cultural boycott – that is, to stand in solidarity – too often arrogantly assume that they can demonstrate their support by performing in Israel and then gesturing to Palestinians through other means of their own choosing, for example by arranging for a parallel performance in the occupied territory.  That’s an offer that PACBI, which is represented by over 170 civil society organizations and is growing in international support daily, categorically refuses.   The list of artists who have respected the call includes Santana, Cat Power, Elvis Costello, Cassandra Wilson, Massive Attack, Jello Biafra, Faithless, Leftfield, Gorillaz, Pixies, Gil Scott Heron, and many more that have refused to play for apartheid and is growing.

It is well known that Israel utilizes international artists as part of a clear strategy of normalization to try and legitimize settler colonialism, occupation, and apartheid.  “Branding Israel” is a propaganda campaign financed by the well-heeled Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to showcase a side of Israel more palatable to the world.  PACBI asks artists not to be complicit in these state efforts by not performing in Israeli institutions.  Those who do not heed the call often end up regretting their decision, as has been expressed by Macy Gray, Pete Seeger, Richard Montoya and others.

Jordan is now trying to justify his decision by expressing inchoate beliefs  about the power of his art to achieve “world peace” by “changing consciousness” while propounding the notion that the boycott undermines the freedom of the artist and limits the transformative power he possesses over his audience.  By doing so, he has elevated the status as an artist as though he is ‘above’ human rights.  True change of consciousness comes when the privileged use their power to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, not in telling them how best to resist – as he also tried in his comments on Facebook.

At several stages in the discussion, Jordan outlined his dilemma:  “This situation and the information I’ve received has really moved me, and I regret that we have this sticking point about the boycott being the only acceptable form of help.”  Activists pointed out that the boycott is one of the most effective ways to peacefully protest Israel’s deadly subjugation of Palestinians and one that is called for by those being oppressed.  But more importantly, they explained what an act of solidarity actually demands.  Adrian  Boutureira Sansberro spelled this out most powerfully in his comments to Jordan:

“Firstly, we are in solidarity with the oppressed, not the oppressor. Secondly, being in solidarity entails being able to take direction from those one claims to be in solidarity with. Learning how to take direction, as to what is it that those we are in solidarity with wish us to do, is a huge aspect of shifting the relationships of power between the oppressed and the oppressor. It is also a way to really come face to face with our own true commitment and power issues. To do as we wish, is not being in solidarity. It is practicing supremacist charity. I say supremacist, because even when people claim to be in solidarity, they refuse to relinquish their own power and privilege as individuals. They refuse to surrender their own interests. They refuse to recognize that the collective must always be greater than the individual, or we are not in solidarity at all. We are then independent actors who cannot accept taking direction for whatever reason.”

In the end, Jordan was unable to relate to the above careful and important distinctions.  He remained stuck on the notion of “help” in the sense of charity – thus his proposed charity concert in the US.  “I would like to work in alliance with those who support the Palestinian people and, in the true spirit of alliance, have it be understood that there may be differences of opinion on how best to accomplish that.”  Many people told Jordan that he could choose to do his own thing to show a sense of empathy or “an alliance” with the cause (as opposed to what is being requested of him specifically), but they also explained  that such a choice would not be as effective and would certainly not be in solidarity in the true sense of the word, which is why Jordan’s decision not to support the boycott provoked Sylvia Posadas, one of his interlocutors to write simply: “So sorry you cannot fully support Palestinian people at this time. You have not been requested to give charity, but support for their ethical choice of tactic. In time, perhaps you will understand what ‘solidarity’ really means.””

– Rima Merriman is a faculty member in the English department, Al Quds University in the occupied West Bank. She contributed this article to

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  1. It is both humbling and encouraging to see such international support of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid and occupation. While Stanley Jordan may not have heeded the call to boycott, I see the level of solidarity in the discussion as a victory and another step towards justice for the Palestinians. Thank you Rima Merriman for sharing this.

  2. Thank you Dr. Rima for taking the time to provide a very informative article. During my participation in the discussion on the Stanley Jordan forum on the issue, I found your comments very informative and provided a very rich substance to one who is trying to decide.
    The link above is the one without the deletions by the artist’s publicist.
    I thank you very much for this contribution and for the very subjective way you dealt with Stanley’s questions. Now if you can think of a way to get the over 800 comments grouped or sorted by topic and followed by Stanley’s conclusion to proceed?!

  3. May I ask how does one distinguish the utilisation of international artists as part of “a clear strategy of normalization” and “Branding Israel” from the routine “genuine” cultural activities that all other countries engage in? I would add that having a component of government funding may not be a sufficient criterion, as 1. cultural festivals in all countries tend to receive government assistance as they are often not finacially self -sufficient and 2. most government funded cultural festivals have as a goal the promotion of the country or city in which they are held.

    • Andrew Wirth: Here is a url for an excellent analysis by Tali Shapiro of how incoming musicians are recruited to serve Israeli political interests (which are expansionist, apartheid and settler colonialist in nature):

      As a BDS activist, whose main focus is cultural boycott, Tali Shapiro has come up against a very common Israeli claim (individuals, small business, and government officials) that “culture has nothing to do with politics”.

      Shapiro goes on to explain that, in fact, CULTURE HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH POLITICS, because, in branding Israel, much of Israel’s propaganda is based on the blurring of the lines between the individual and the state (and army). This is how it works:

      1.Cultural product is commissioned by an official Israeli body or non-Israeli institution that serves Brand Israel or similar propaganda purposes.
      2.Product is funded by an official Israeli body, but not commissioned (no political strings).
      3.Event is partially or fully sponsored or funded by an official Israeli body or a complicit institution.
      4.Event or project promotes false symmetry or “balance”.

  4. Thank-you for this great deconstruction of someone putting their ego above people’s human rights and then trying to dress it up with charity. The Palestinian people have called for a boycott and for people to be in solidarity with them – they don’t want charity. BDS apartheid every day until it ends.

  5. Dr. Merriman poses the central question: “What really does it mean to be in solidarity with an oppressed people?” And of course the answer is to stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor, to paraphrase Sansberro. Sadly, Stanley Jordan’s proffering of “love and light” comes off as utterly vacuous and insipid in light of the Israel’s human rights abuses to which many of the more than eight hundred comments on his wall attested.

  6. The road is made by walking, as the Antonio Machado poem teaches us.

    We sometimes get to choose the road, else we inherit it. Irregardless, any trajectory presents us with key lessons.

    For me, growing up in Uruguay during the time of the military coup in the 1970’s, the question of what it means to be in solidarity with the oppressed was perhaps decided for me, as I saw my neighbors “disappeared” from their homes, and my grandmother up against the wall in our living room with a soldier’s gun to her head. I took direction then…Listened when that woman told me to keep my mouth shut. I did as I was told, perhaps saving her from jail or a beating or worse…Solidarity 101…

  7. Stanley Jordan cancelled!!!
    No doubt this article helped Stanley understand he needed to show real solidarity.
    What a wonderful start for the new year. I thank Stanley for refusing to appease those who support apartheid on the pretext of peace.
    As an Israeli I observe that refusing to breach the Palestinian call for boycott is the most effective message a musician can send to delusional Israelis who are in denial of the horror we have been inflicting on generations of Palestinians.

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