Under Neocon Pressure, German Club Disinvites Hip-Hop Legend Talib Kweli and Brands Him 'Anti-Semitic'

In an exclusive interview with AlterNet, the rap legend reacts to a McCarthyite smear campaign.

Photo Credit: messycupcakes, Flickr

Last December, the hip hop artist Talib Kweli visited several European cities as part of his “Tour the Force.” On his schedule was Leipzig, a city in eastern Germany full of college students hungry for cutting-edge music. During recent years, the city, like many others in the country’s east, became known for far-right protests against migrants, refugees and Muslims. Nevertheless, the city’s left-wing circles remain a part of its cultural tapestry. Leipzig’s arts and music scene is centered around the venue Conne Island, known as a hub for concerts and other events. On December 13, Kweli planned to take the club’s stage. But that never happened.

On November 15, Conne Island stated on its Facebook page that the event with Kweli, which would have been his third appearance at the club, would not take place. The club explicitly acknowledged that Kweli’s stance toward Israel-Palestine was responsible for its decision. “Kweli is a subversive Twitter user. A couple of times, he made comments [by him] on Zionism, Israel and BDS. In one of his tweets, Kweli calls Israel an apartheid state, Zionists ‘oppressors’ and described them as his enemies,” Conne Island stated.

Kweli’s support for the BDS (boycott, divestment and sactions) movement seemed to be a particular source of outrage. “It’s not a surprise that Kweli mentions the so-called BDS label in a positive way,” the club’s administrators wrote. “He calls for the boycott of the state of Israel, because ‘it’s a peaceful boycott to draw attention to apartheid.’”

According to the club, it tried, and failed, to reach out to Talib Kweli a couple of times to clarify his comments. In the end, it declined the whole event with the Brooklyn-based artist. Kweli might be a music legend with diehard fans across the globe and a legacy of political activism firmly within the hip-hop tradition, but according to Conne Island, Kweli was just an “idiot, who romantically believes in rebellion while being fooled by anti-Semitic explanatory models.” The club even went as far as to call the grassroots movement of BDS a “reprint of the ‘Don’t buy from Jews’ label," which seeks the “factual end” of the “Jewish state.”

Conne Island published the mail it had sent to Kweli, stating that the club always has been and will be “a place where discrimination will be rejected. Whether it’s sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, et cetera.”

The stance of the club toward Israel is very clear: “We solidarize with the state of Israel and everybody who's seeking for peace in the Middle East, based on the fact that Israel has the right to exist which demands to defend and protect its people (including nearly 2 million arabians. Israel's right to exist remains unalterable for us.” Yes, you read that right. In a statement condemning bigotry, the German nightclub referred to Arabs as "arabians."

Shortly after the statement, Kweli learned from his booking agency that the show had been canceled. “My agency, UTA, has my back in this matter. I don’t care about Conne Island and anything they have to say. It’s sad to see people in Germany become fascists while claiming to support freedom,” Kweli told AlterNet.

The German left: a haven of 'Antideutsche' neocons

For those familiar with the German left, Conne Island's reaction should not come as a surprise. In fact, the club is not what many people elsewhere would consider as “left.” Instead, Conne Island is led by so-called “Antideutsche” (anti-Germans), a movement within Germany’s left which is reflexively pro-Israel, ultra-Zionist and supports a neoconservative and hawkish U.S. foreign policy. According to the Antideutsche ideology, which is mainly based on a strange mixture of post-structuralist theories and alleged anti-fascism but also radical neoconservatism and Islamophobia, the United States is the world’s leading anti-fascist force. Israel itself is considered as the only revolutionary, democratic paradise in the Middle East, while being surrounded by “barbaric Arabs” and fascist, radical Muslim extremists who want to wipe out the whole country. Last but not least, Palestinians are not considered to be suffering oppression and disfranchisement, but are seen as anti-Semitic culprits who attack Jews with rockets or knives, forcing Israel to defend itself with all of the means at its disposal.

Kweli was surprised when he heard that Conne Island accused him of anti-Semitism. “I understand that Germans are sensitive to not appear like they support any form of anti-Semitism,” the hip-hop artist told AlterNet. “But this club has no moral high ground to accuse me of anti-Semitism. There isn’t any proof for that. Understanding that Palestinians are treated like second-class citizens in their own land isn’t anti-Semitism, and neither is calling out the imperialistic policies of Israel.”

Kweli was irked by the persistence of support for Israel from self-proclaimed leftists: “There are left-wing Zionists in the U.S. as well. But it seems that they haven’t done their homework to see how right-wing Christian conservatives support Israel because they think Jesus is coming back. These people hate brown Muslims and they have no love for Jews. They are just white supremacists. But they are also imperialists and having Israel as a partner in the Middle East gives them not just religious hope but also a strategic military position.”

However, Kweli understands that some Germans are critical toward the BDS movement because of Germany’s Holocaust history. “Some Germans would go overboard with demonizing BDS folks,” he said, “while not having all the facts.”

Kweli’s stance toward BDS developed over time. According to the artist, he always supported a free Palestine, but was “truly ignorant” about the scope of the boycott until some his fans convinced him not to perform in Israel. He said some of these fans were Israeli Jews.

“Plenty of Jewish people are down with BDS, a great many. I’ve been the same artist for 20 years. I’ve been supporting Palestinian rights, freedom and justice for all people in my lyrics and in public for over two decades,” Kweli said.

“Their loss, my gain. I still get paid and I get to not perform in a place of hate like Conne Island,” he added.

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Emran Feroz is the founder of the Drone Memorial.