We have met several times before, in a very different era, when Nelson Mandela was still in prison, and then again when Apartheid had just ended and the world seemed so full of hope, including in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The first time we met was at a mid-1980s concert of yours at The Pier in New York City, when you let my friend and I climb on stage and hang a huge banner we’d made calling for freedom for Nelson Mandela. Later, when we met at Woodstock ’94 and had lunch together before your show (I was there helping direct the house band of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe), we talked about how beautiful it was that banner was no longer needed, and hoped that the world would keep moving towards the peace, love and humanity your music has always represented.
When I helped arrange and perform on Ozomatli’s 2005 Grammy-winning album Street Signs, bringing together Moroccan Gnawa legend Hassan Hakmoun and French Jewish Gypsy band Les yeux noirs with Ozo, it was your amazing collaborations with other artists that inspired me. Perhaps most important, my lifelong commitment to human rights, from setting up a college chapter of Amnesty International to working with the global anti-music censorship organization Freemuse, emerged out of your honesty and spirit of love and commitment to social justice and human rights globally.
It’s no understatement to say that I cannot imagine my life as a musician, professor, human rights activist or father without you and your inspiration. And so, with the profoundest possible respect and belief in the rights of all peoples to have their full measure of justice, peace, self-determination and freedom, I am begging you: Please don’t perform in Israel this July.
I write these words with a very heavy heart. I’ve lived, studied and worked in Israel most of my adult life. The first language I ever dreamed in besides English was Hebrew. The greatest music I’ve ever played has come from there, and I enjoy nothing more than working with the many Israeli artists I’ve come to know and respect. However, none of this holds a candle to the suffering of the Palestinian people, which I have seen up close time and time again for the last 25 years. Carlos, you don’t have to believe me, talk with Archbishop Tutu, who I’m sure you know and can easily reach. As he wrote in 2010: “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.” The next year Bishop Tutu came out in support for BDS, as I urge you to do now.