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Mark LeVine
Mark LeVine
Mark LeVine is Tikkun's longest serving contributing editor

An Open Letter to Carlos Santana: Don’t Play in Israel in July


by: on April 14th, 2016 | 33 Comments »

Dear Carlos,

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.


Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism


by: on April 11th, 2016 | 10 Comments »

If you grew up in the inner city in the 1970s and 1980s and were a hippie, black or latino–never mind a hippie who spent most of his time with blacks and latinos–chances are you had occasion to call a police officer a “pig.” Real pigs are actually kind of nice, as Charlotte’s Web, the movieBabeand the fact that people keep them as pets attests.

But at least in places like Paterson, NJ, Harlem or the Lower East Side, cops seemed to behave with regularity the way people generally imagine pigs to be: dirty–as in corrupt, gluttonous–as in often overweight and also corrupt, sniffing into people’s business, and often running amok in the communities they were supposed to “protect and serve.”

Sadly, the rise of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing police brutality and corruption it’s brought to light reminds us that things haven’t changed too much. Is calling a cop a pig today a sign of bigotry or prejudice? Or can the insult, however crude, reflect a reality that needs to be highlighted?

I raise these questions because at its last meeting the Regents of the University of California approved a new Principles of Intolerance which, despite the ongoing epidemic of sexual assaults on UC campuses, decreasing of our pensions, weakening of health care benefits, lowering of educational quality and rise in tuition, focuses on the alleged plight of one of the least vulnerable groups at UC by most measures (including UC’s own “Campus Climate” report) – Jewish students.

As word leaked of the language being considered for the final version of the Principles, which would have explicitly equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism an international uproar ensued that condemned the equation as historically ill-informed and empirically wrong much if not most of the time (to cite the most obvious problem, Jews themselves have been and continue to be anti-Zionist).


President Obama, say the ‘D-Word’


by: on January 28th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

The US appears to shy away from talk about democracy in Middle East, despite historic anti-government rallies in ally Egypt.

“]Obama has 'sought to equate Egypt's protesters and government as equally pitted parties in the growing conflict' [AFP]

Obama has 'sought to equate Egypt's protesters and government as equally pitted parties in the growing conflict' [AFP

It’s incredible, really. The president of the United States can’t bring himself to talk about democracy in the Middle East. He can dance around it, use euphemisms, throw out words like “freedom” and “tolerance” and “non-violent” and especially “reform,” but he can’t say the one word that really matters: democracy.

How did this happen? After all, in his famous 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, Obama spoke the word loudly and clearly – at least once.

“The fourth issue that I will address is democracy,” he declared, before explaining that while the United States won’t impose its own system, it was committed to governments that “reflect the will of the people… I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

“No matter where it takes hold,” the president concluded, “government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power.”

Simply rhetoric?

Of course, this was just rhetoric, however lofty, reflecting a moment when no one was rebelling against the undemocratic governments of our allies – at least not openly and in a manner that demanded international media coverage.

Now it’s for real.

And “democracy” is scarcely to be heard on the lips of the president or his most senior officials.


A Great Way to Keep Smiling in a Difficult Time


by: on January 22nd, 2010 | 2 Comments »

Beyond the Pale

[Editor's Note: We are delighted to welcome Mark LeVine, Tikkun's longest serving contributing editor, to Tikkun Daily. Mark wears at least two hats and another one apart from musician is political prof and Middle East expert. His latest post at tikkun.org is "No Hope for Haiti" Without Justice."]

If the end of 2009 is any indication, 2010 is going to be a difficult year. Whether it’s the economy, foreign policy or just political and cultural pulse of America more broadly, a host of problems confronts our society from the political leadership to the average citizen that hardly anyone knows how or even wants to deal with honestly.

We need inspiration, and few things inspire people to action better than music. For my money, one of the best albums to get your year going in a positive way has to be Postcards, the latest release of the internationally acclaimed Klezmer/world music ensemble, Beyond the Pale.

Based in Toronto, Beyond the Pale’s sound is a paradox — acoustic yet explosive, grounded in Klezmer yet swimming in Balkan and bluegrass elements, with forays into everything from reggae to funk. With its blend of innovative original compositions with classics of the world music repertoire that group is surely one of the most accomplished ensembles on the world music scene today.


It’s not surprising that Beyond the Pale hails from Toronto. The city has a strong Jewish presence, which has been joined in recent decades by a major influx of immigrants from around the world, making Toronto one of the most cosmopolitan and culturally diverse in the world. Eric Stein, the multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, bass, cimbalom, guitar) founder of Beyond the Pale and a leading figure in Toronto’s Jewish music scene, explains that the city and the Jewish music scene there lend themselves to opening up to other cultures, which is reflected in the group’s name. “‘Beyond the Pale’ obviously refers to the Pale of Settlement, but that’s the start, not the end of the musical journey we’re on.” Indeed, while Klezmer is the foundation for the music, the majority of the band is not Jewish, but instead hails from a diverse background, particularly the former Yugoslavia.

“Toronto has been an amazing place to develop our music. It’s one of the only places where a band of such eclectic makeup could come together and do what it does because of all the different musical traditions and the freedom and openness that our cultural environment in Toronto facilitates.”