An Open Letter to Neil Young

I have friends who consider you family for the way your music is so influential in their lives, others who consider you among the pantheon of rock and roll gods, and even more who, after your recent decision to tour under Honour the Treaties, have jumped on your side. I want to, first off, say thank-you. We need more people who have a platform and are willing to use it to speak against injustice, to demand change, and to bring light to issues that those in power are determined to keep quiet. Your interviews and statements against the Canadian government’s repeated attempts to destroy the land through the Alberta oilsands and fracking elsewhere, and your connection of these problems to the oppression of Indigenous peoples, is to be respected and appreciated.

Honouring the treaties made between Indigenous nations and Western governments - originally, the British and then the Canadian government - is an important step in enacting transformation. These first treaties outlined what it would mean to sustainably share the land, to respect and protect the land for future generations, respect the autonomy of nations, and live together in respectful and meaningful ways (among other things). They were often understandings of friendship. Indigenous treaties were not just pacts between governments (as we often understand treaties) but something that was lived out on a daily and individual basis, they were meant to guide how settlers and Indigenous peoples were to be in relationship with one another.

These originally treaties have been broken, though. Land was/is stolen and occupied, people exterminated, languages and ways of living denigrated and destroyed – respectful relationships were not maintained. The Canadian nation was built through the destruction of treaties and Indigenous peoples; so, honouring the treaties is important because it challenges the very structures and legitimacy of how Canada came to be. If we recognize Indigenous nationhood (treaties are only made between nations…), that means we recognize Indigenous peoples’ right to self-government and self-determination. By honoring the treaties, we honor Indigenous nations, we honor Indigenous nations’ right to their land, and we honor respectful relationships between settlers and Indigenous peoples. Honouring treaties is about enacting a politics of justice and love. This is in opposition to forceful occupation, genocide, containment, and the stripping of basic human rights – all things that happened (and continue to happen) in the building of Canada.

There are reports that, this summer, you plan to play a concert in Israel. The Israeli state is also built on forceful occupation, genocide, containment and the stripping of basic human rights of Palestinians (the Indigenous people of that land). There is a reason that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is known as one of the staunchest supporters of Israel – the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada parallels the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in Palestine. Israel is also called an apartheid state, including by those in South Africa that experienced the infamous Apartheid there. Military checkpoints, forced separation, forced evictions, destruction of land, and daily assaults by the military and settler para-military organizations are just a part of it – Indigenous Palestinians are suffering under an unjust state.

There were no treaties made between Israel and Palestine, so Palestinians cannot call for change by the honoring of original agreements. So they have tried to call for change in another way, through Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS). This is a similar strategy to what happened when formal apartheid existed in South Africa, and is credited for being part of the change there. Palestinians are calling for BDS and hoping that those of us who wish to see change will honour this. Much like honouring the treaties, honouring BDS is the assertion of Indigenous nationhood and the assertion of more respectful and just relationships.

Mr. Young, if you wish to honour the treaties and support Indigenous nationhood, playing in Israel is the opposite of this; it is rejecting the call from Palestinians, failing to honor their struggle and, subsequently, supporting and legitimizing their continued oppression by the Israeli state. It would be hypocritical to support and champion respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples here in Canada, and then turn around and reject respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples in Palestine.

Thank you for your support of treaties and, subsequently, Indigenous nationhood here in Canada. Please think about what this means for the possibility of you playing a concert in Israel. Please support Indigenous nationhood both here and in Palestine by honouring the Palestinians' call for BDS. The famed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated “no one is free until we are all free.” Please support freedom for Indigenous peoples around the world because we are all connected in this struggle against oppression.

In peace,

44 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “An Open Letter to Neil Young”

  1. Robert Ross January 15, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Please do not play in to apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

  2. Mark Koenig January 15, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Mr. Young,
    I am deeply concerned to learn that you plan to play a concert in Israel this summer. Israel has occupied Palestinian territory. Military checkpoints. Restricted highways. Violence perpetrated by individuals living in illegal settlements. A stranglehold on Gaza. Palestinian children tried in Israeli military courts. These are just a few of dynamics of occupation. Many artists and others have joined the BDS campaign to pressure Israel to honor international law and respect the rights of the Palestinians. I encourage you to join them and cancel this concert. Only justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike will lead to peace for Israelis and Palestinians together.
    I am a long-time fan who owns many of your recordings on vinyl and compact disc. Seeing you in concert has been on my bucket list. I have never done that. Should you go ahead and play this concert, I never will.

  3. Saima BUtt January 15, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Dear Neil Young,

    Your support of indigenous communities across Turtle Island has been so inspiring.
    Please take the time to consider the cultural boycott.

  4. Dave Lippman January 15, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Hey Neil, always follow your every move, hope your next one is a good one – away from anything supporting ethnic cleansing!

  5. Mussa'ab Bashir January 15, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    If you are an artist, don’t stain yourself with playing in the Zionist entity

  6. Noushin Framke January 15, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Peace for both peoples depends on JUSTICE for both peoples.

  7. Jordy Cummings January 15, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    What can I say that hasn’t been said in this letter. Neil, when you bring about youth being killed in protests by Nizons tin soldiers, when you sing about the lynchings in Alabama by Southern Men, when you do really important work for the indigenous people of Turtle Island, you betray all that by playing in Israel.

    I am someone who lives and breathes your music and felt such pride in your recent activities. And I still do. Which is why I know you will honor the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

  8. Kinsey Toews January 16, 2014 at 5:24 am

    Ditto to everything above! I’m disappointed mr. Young!

  9. Damien Flinter January 16, 2014 at 8:24 am

    If you support the incarceration of Palestinians in reservations you negate your position vis-a-vis Native Americans…this is the same struggle for humanity and justice against racist rapacity.
    Think before you tour.

  10. Lynda January 16, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    Mr Young,

    If you are concerned with humanity which you seem to be, please do not perform in Israel. We need to send this dangerous country a message.

  11. Jacques January 16, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    The Israeli lobby group AIPAC currently has a proposition before the US Congress to significantly increase financial sanctions against Iran, as well as unconditionally follow Israel into war with Iran irregardless if Israel begins the conflict. At a time when Iran is making efforts to work with the world community to appease concerns over their nuclear program, and end the sanctions it hardly seems appropriate to be escalating the rhetoric of war.

    It’s my hope that you do not by proxy support Israel’s aggression, and boycott this apartheid state. Please cancel the planned concert as well as encourage other artists to do the same.

  12. Carole Powell January 16, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Dear Neil I implore you not to go Israel to perform. Others have spoken of your commitment to justice for peoples of America and Canada. This is no different Neil. Whilst Israel subjugates, terrorises and occupies Palestinian lives and land people of good conscience cannot give support to Israel . If you play the message that you are sending Israel and the world that is alright to continue to be oppressors. . Please do not go.

  13. Stefano January 16, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Dear Neil Young, i hope you’ll wish think better about playing in Israel on next summer. Human Rights of Palestinian People are not less important than that from Native American People or what else Natives around the world. Think better and ty to have good informations about what really it is the life for Palestinian People in West Bank or Gaza.

  14. Ant January 16, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Don’t do it Neil…

  15. Glen Marshall January 16, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    I must respectfully disagree with your premise. Artists must be allowed to voice and bridge using their art, intuition and voice to bring light to the conversation as they see it. Paul Simon flew against the wind in creating graceland and bridged many conversations and brought attention to apartheid and flew in the face of the separation of like hearted people and Neil will likely do the same. You can’t stop the brave from speaking.

  16. Dink Lorance January 16, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    How can you do this? Israel is doing what the U.S, did to the American Indian…and, with much greater success. This is a racist, murderous, terrorist country that thumbs it’s nose at the world while it kills Palestinians. This is WRONG, Neil…please cancel your appearance. I met you once in the 60’s and have been a fan through all the years…give this some thought, man….don’t do it!

  17. David Condon January 16, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Neil, as a lifelong fan of your music, and someone who respects what you are doing on your present tour in Canada, I respectfully ask you to reconsider playing in Israel and to support the BDS campaign.

  18. Shahidah Janjua January 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    It is clear that you care deeply about issues of social justice. There has been a terrible loss of life for both Israeli and Palestinian people. This would not have happened if it weren’t for the unjust policies of the Israeli government which have endangered everyone’s lives in Israel, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. It is now widely known that the Israeli government has created an apartheid state in its own land. It is engaged in a programme of ethnic cleansing. It keeps its own people in a constant state of fear in order to solicit their acquiesance. I sincerely ask you to take a stance against these injustices.

  19. Bonita Caracciolo January 16, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    No! Free Palestine!

  20. William Prettie January 16, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    I truly hope that the reports of your considering a concert in the oppressive military expansionist state of Israel are not true

  21. Roy Trickey January 17, 2014 at 10:12 am

    your voice is strong, Neil, and on the side.of justice.
    honour the.treaties and oppose the occupation
    support the BDS and say.it from here

  22. judy Haiven January 17, 2014 at 11:06 am

    People of good conscience throughout the world are saying they will not perform in Israel, they will not add to the status of the country because of Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation of Palestine.
    I am Jewish and Canadian, and it is about time that we do not give Israel a “pass” when we note discrimination, occupation, illegal settlement and violence that the Israeli Defence Forces, the government and much of the Jewish population of Israel promote.

  23. Lucy Lepchani January 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Pleased consider the people and the values you claim to represent and remain loyal to these, rather than fall victim to Israeli colonialism and apartheid, and taint all that you hold in esteem. Please stand with the native people of Palestine, their land rights and Human Rights

  24. Nino Pagliccia January 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Neil Young, please reconsider performing in Apartheid Israel. Join the BDS campaign and speak up in solidarity with the Palestinians! You have the truth. Make it known everywhere where there is injustice.

  25. Jason Kunin January 18, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Neil, your vigorous and articulate defense of indigenous land rights in Canada, which I greatly respect, will be undermined if you ignore the indigenous land rights of the Palestinians and the international call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law, ends its policies of apartheid, and allows for the return to Palestinian of the homes and lands that have been stolen from them. As we speak, the Harper government, which is basically the political wing of the oil industry in Canada, is heading to Israel with the largest delegation it has ever take to that country, and part of their agenda is to advise Israel on how to exploit the offshore gas reserves that lie largely in Palestinian waters. In other words, the situation for Palestinians there is almost identical to the one you have been courageously opposing here. I know you will do the right thing, Neil. Please don’t support apartheid. Don’t play in Israel!

  26. Katia Berdichevsky January 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Please- if indigenous ppl mean something to you, and territorial rights are something you believe in strongly, the Palestinians should be afforded the same respect..

  27. janan chandler January 18, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    In your heart, you know Israeli oppression of Palestinians is wrong. Please don’t validate Israeli violation of international law and human rights by performing

  28. Diane Gee January 18, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Dear Neil,

    I have never seen you on the wrong side of justice or empowering abused people. Please rethink this. Segregated buses, Jewish only roads. The destruction of ancestral homes to make way for “settlers” who keep the indigenous out at gunpoint.

    White phosphorus on a civilian population, trapped like sardines in a cement and barbed wire barrel.

    Living with War? Palestinians are living with war, and no one wins when people allow it, condone it by playing nice for the oppressors.

    You are better than this. Please?

    Diane M Gee

  29. David Mandelzys January 18, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Dear Neil

    I am a huge fan of your music. As a Canadian I was also extremely happy to hear you speaking out for indigenous rights in Canada. I am Jewish and a strong supporter of the Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and sanctions as non violent resistance to Israeli apartheid. Please do not play in Israel.

    Yours truly

  30. Henry Lowi January 19, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Inform yourself about Israeli oppression of Palestine. Inform yourself about the the Palestinian freedom struggle. Inform yourself about the Palestinian civil society call to impose boycott, divestment, and sanctions in solidarity with the people of Palestine. Inform yourself about the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

  31. Neil Rogall January 23, 2014 at 5:58 am

    Neil, I have loved your music since 1969. I have applauded your stance on Bush and Iraq. I admired your support for Canada’s first citizens. As a person of Jewish origins who supports the Palestinians right to exist in the face of a vicious racist Israeli government hell bent on obliterating them, I ask you to cancel your concert Israel. You never played apartheid Sourh Africa, don’t play apartheid Israel

  32. Daniel Margrain January 31, 2014 at 5:02 pm


    I wouldn’t love the Neil Young I love if not for the many idiosyncrasies, complexities and contradictions that as an artist are central to who you are. But there are limits and this is one of them. For the reasons already mentioned, playing in Tel Aviv is akin to playing Sun City during Apartheid. I can only assume that you have been badly advised by a bad management company. Neil don’t do it – your legacy and reputation depends on it.

  33. Peter Lake February 1, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Neil, you have been a hero of mine since the 60s. Your “Honour the Treaties Tour” has reinforced that.
    I am surprised to learn that there is a plan for you to perform in Israel this summer, ignoring the Cutural Boycott.
    Please be informed about the plight of the indigenous people of Palestine and cancel this tour…. or even better, perhaps a “Honour Indigenous Human Rights in Palestine/Israel” tour would be wonderful.

  34. Dale February 4, 2014 at 4:56 am

    Neil….I call on you to take a moral stand for humanity. This takes courage to stand in the face of adversity, but the people of palestine have been doing this for decades. Your not going to Israel will help guide the politicians of Israel to reach an honest peace and realise that peace cannot be achieved through the oppression of others. Should you decide to go to Israel, the Israeli government will have one less reason to change from their Apartheid policies. Let peace prevail.

  35. molly February 14, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I support Palestine and hope Neil Young cancels his scheduled Tel-Aviv concert. Your letter is excellent.

  36. Li Hardison February 20, 2014 at 12:36 am

    Dear Mr Young,
    I have listened to your music since I was 17. One song that comes to mind is about Kent State. With the seminal lyric being “4 dead in Ohio” Well there are many more dead in the ongoing Palestinian genocide.
    Please…. for the love of humanity refrain from performing in Tel Aviv.

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