[First published by The Clare People, March 9 2019]
I love a good grapefruit, me. I eat them like an orange, like they’re supposed to be eaten. Not cut up in segments and laced with sugar until anything resembling the tang of the fruit is replaced with a saccharine sweet.
The nicest, juiciest and often cheapest grapefruit available in Ireland comes from Jaffa, an Israeli company who supply, directly or indirectly, most of the large supermarkets and greengrocers.
Three years ago, I stopped eating Jaffa grapefruit. I stopped because I didn’t want to support an Israeli company when the Israeli government was employing such hostile policies towards Palestine.
It wasn’t a great sacrifice – one that I wouldn’t think to mention had it not been for the very hostile reaction in some quarters to Clare singer, Sarah McTernan, being chosen to represent Ireland at the Eurovision in Israel.
But, non the less, it was a decision that I was conflicted in making. The fruit is grown by farmers who have families, who employ workers who also have families – they all need to eat. Who knows what opinion they have, for or against, Israeli government policy. I certainly don’t. But ultimately, I reasoned, a grapefruit is GDP and commerce is something that government’s pay attention to – even in Israel.
I am conflicted on this but I’m not sure an artistic boycott falls into that bracket – especially one which is not supported, for whatever reason, by the majority of big-name, touring musicians.
Over the last five or six years Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Metallica, Justin Bieber, Madonna, Paul McCartney, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead and The Rolling Stones have all played Israel.
The difference between these acts and Sarah McTernan is that Tel Aviv is another night on an endless tour to Elton John, while it is the chance of a lifetime to Sarah McTernan. I can’t see Benjamin Netanyahu losing a moments sleep if the Scariff singer decided to throw away her big chance. No with Tom Jones, Bon Jovi and John Cleese all playing Tel Aviv later this year.
I was taken by Ian McEwan’s comments when he went to Israel in 2011. He said, ‘If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed…. It’s not great if everyone stops talking’.
I am conflicted about all of this, but maybe that’s how I should feel. This is not a simple dynamic.
I was in Paris for Rock en Seine in 2007. It was a wonderful festival in a breathtaking outdoor park, but the most amazing thing about the weekend was The Arcade Fire.
The band, who headlined the last night, took to the stage before a rapturous 20,000 plus Parisian crowd, played two songs and then proceeded to lecture the audience, in both French and English, about 200 years of French foreign policy towards Haiti.
It was an incredible experience. The crowd mostly listened and were mostly respectful.
I can’t speak for the rest of the concert goers, but after that performance I made a point of educating myself about the history of Haiti – from the great slave revolt of Toussaint L’Ouverture which led to independence, to the crippling economic devastation reaped on Haiti by the French, Americans and others over the years.
I’m not saying that because Arcade Fire played Paris, that Sarah McTernan should therefore perform in Israel. It’s not nearly that simple. This situation leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth, but what I do know is that none of that taste was created by Sarah McTernan.