According to the papers, in politics there are few things worse than a U-turn. Indeed, few stories so assuredly earn three-inch headlines than the news that a leader has changed his or her mind. To do so, we’re told, evidences a lack of conviction, a tendency to waffle, a failure of nerve.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I often admire U-turns and those who undertake them. Rather than losing confidence in their sense of purpose, I appreciate their willingness to put their hands up to a failure of judgment, to consider new information and allow it to inform an existing view, to be wrong and admit it. It seems to me that it takes more guts to change your mind when you’re wrong rather than to stay the faulty course as a matter of principle, comprehensively severed from the content it’s meant to serve. In fact, leaders who are scared to change their minds scare me, for it tells me they’re either cowards or they’ve stopped thinking. I’m not sure which is worse.

These are some of the thoughts that came to me a couple of days ago when I read that the Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso has announced he will never again play in Israel.

Veloso and his longtime collaborator Gilberto Gil were under tremendous pressure last summer to cancel a 28th July gig in Tel Aviv in response to Palestinian civil society groups’ call for a cultural boycott. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, a well known and outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights, weighed in with a heartfelt open letter which reads in part,

Caetano, if I may pose a question, why would you not reject complicity with such injustice now, just as surely as you would have rejected white racism against South Africa’s black population back in the eighties? Your letter suggests you believe your upcoming gig in Tel Aviv can help change Israeli policy. I would suggest this is a naïve proposition. Sadly, it is not just the Israeli government that needs a change of heart. Polls indicate that a staggering 95% of the Jewish Israeli public supported the 2014 bombing of Gaza,(561 dead children), 75% do not support a Palestinian state based on the long­ negotiated ’67 borders, and 47% believe Palestinians citizens of Israel should be stripped of their citizenship.

Veloso replied to Waters’s appeal with the claim that for those who seek peace it is ‘counterproductive to isolate Israel’. The best response I’ve found to the fantastical notion that underpins this claim comes from Omar Robert Hamilton, producer of the Palestine Festival of Literature. In a thrillingly articulate response to the now-infamous Culture for Co-existent letter signed by J.K Rowling and others, Hamilton says,

[Since the 1993 Oslo Accords] Israel…has enjoyed full diplomatic and economic relations with all the world’s major players, it is at the centre of global trade in arms, hi-tech and diamonds. It competes in European sporting and musical competitions and enjoys European trade benefits. It has the US Congress in thrall to its every whim and has an army of lobbyists at work in every Western capital. Israel does not suffer from a shortage of ‘bridges.’

In the end, Veloso and Gil played the sold-out show, and that was that. Or so it seemed, anyway. On 8th November, the Brazilian superstar wrote an article for a Sao Paulo newspaper entitled ‘To visit Israel to never go back to Israel’ in which he describes visiting the West Bank village of Susiya during his summer trip. According to the BDS movement website, in the article Veloso ‘describes how his visit to the Palestinian village of Susiya in the occupied Palestinian territory helped to shed light on the grim reality of living under Israel’s decades-old regime of occupation and colonization.’

It continues,

What Veloso heard there from Palestinian villagers being subjected to daily violent attacks by fanatic Israeli settlers, under protection from the Israeli occupation forces, made him reach the conclusion that, ‘all complaints from BDS [activists] have ground’.

Revealing that ‘the peace I had believed [to exist] inside Tel Aviv’ was all along ‘fragile, superficial and illusory’, Veloso writes that he now wants real peace, which Palestinians have always argued must be based on justice and full respect for international law. He writes, “But now I want it feeling much closer to the Palestinians than I had ever imagined myself – and further away from Israel than my heart could not even [imagine] just a little more than a year ago’.

So it seems that Veloso found his own response to Rowling and her ‘Co-Existence Coterie’ (I told you Hamilton was good) by simply opening his eyes, ears and heart.

Naturally The Times of Israel, which was crowing just a few months ago about Veloso snubbing the boycott movement, now claim he has ‘bowed to BDS pressure’. I guess its journalists haven’t seen a conscience at work in a while, so they’ve forgotten what it looks like.

Of course, this news comes at the same moment the UK government has denied visas to four Palestinian health workers who’d been sponsored by the World Health Organization to attend a conference (which I’m attending) on trauma in war zones. Call it reverse BDS. And let’s not forget the London mayor Boris Johnson’s contemptuous sneering at UK supporters of an academic boycott from the comfort of his taxpayer-funded junket to Israel. Still, against the white noise of Johnson’s perverse and ill-timed tribute to Israeli ‘democracy’, Veloso’s inspiring U-turn was a reminder that ‘lefty academics with no standing’ and their allies are in darn good company.

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