10 min read

From a mother on Mother’s Day

From a mother on Mother’s Day

I wish I didn’t have to write this - I am an artist, not a politician, and would rather speak through creative action than explanatory text - but I find that for several reasons, I must respond to accusations and smears made against me these last couple of weeks.

Yesterday I participated in the 10th national march for Palestine in London, in solidarity with our siblings in Palestine, as well as those at home, and for doing so I was called all manner of ungodly things online, often violent, misogynistic and racist. Some of those people had phrases like “whites will not be replaced” on their profiles, and images of iron eagles as banners. And I’m the extremist?!

Since footage was shared online of a Sing For Palestine event I took part in to raise money for a new ambulance for the Al Awda hospital through the Middle East Childrens’ Alliance, I’ve been continuously dragged in the press and on social media as an antisemite (which I am not) and need to respond to those accusations fully. My attempts to protest the atrocities in Gaza and the West Bank, and the West’s complicity in them, have been ridiculed by powerful men in the media in conversations that I have not been asked to contribute to, including a discussion as to whether or not I should be arrested for my activism, and so I must respond. My safety and the safety of my family has been threatened by some pretty scary people, emboldened by the rhetoric of frontline politicians, as well as cravenly irresponsible coverage by liberal legacy media outlets, including BBC news, and so I must respond. But perhaps most urgently I have to take the opportunity to speak out because since the start of the genocide very little of the campaign that calls for an end to Israeli aggression in Palestine has been covered by the press, except when it is being denounced as “hateful” or “islamist” by some of the most notorious racists in the western world.

“From The River To The Sea..."

I am not, and have never been, and will never be an antisemite. I hold the Jewish people in my life very dearly, and have always kept great reverence for Judaism and Jewish culture, since travelling around Israel and Palestine as a teenager. It makes my stomach turn to know that due to the double-speak and whataboutery of bad faith actors in the media, some Jews today think that I am antisemitic. I hope that my words here can reassure them that I am not, and make it clear that I have deep compassion for what Jewish people all over the world are experiencing right now, due to the rise of genuine antisemitism.

I do not believe that the phrase “From the river to the sea...” is in any way a call for the ethnic cleansing or genocide of Israelis, and certainly when I have used it or heard it used by other people, it has always been as a call for the liberation of Palestine (i.e the most face-value interpretation). Often it is accompanied by the phrase “... we are all Palestinians”.

A call for one group’s liberation does not imply another’s destruction, and those suggesting that it does when it is in fact that first group who are currently being murdered in their thousands, are leveraging a grotesque irony. I will not have my rhetoric around resistance and solidarity redefined by those who most violently oppose my democratic engagement.

Palestinians living all over historic Palestine are living under an apartheid system. Those who live in Israel (one fifth of the population) are treated as second class citizens and the Palestinians living in Palestine are under military occupation. “From the river to the sea” is a call for Palestinians to live with equal rights and to end the illegal apartheid system they have been living under. It is widely accepted all over there world that no group of people should have supremacy over another, so why is it called “genocidal” when this is demanded by and on the behalf of Palestinians?

What I hope will be inferred from the phrase is a demand for a conversation about the future of Israel and Palestine - one that includes Palestinian voices, and acknowledges and attempts to rectify the many crimes that have been inflicted upon Palestinians over the last 75 years. This is the only path to peace and has to begin with an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

At this point it becomes necessary for me to state that I do not support Hamas and condemn them for the attack on October 7th. Whilst it is difficult to know the full truth of what happened that day, and hopefully with the fullness of time we will have a better perspective on this, there were undoubtedly war crimes committed, appalling acts, including the massacre of innocent civilians and hostage-taking. My heart goes out to the victims of that attack, the hostages, and their families.

None of that justifies the horrors that have been inflicted upon the Palestinian people since that day.

“She’s just a naive idiot”

Nigel Farage has spoken at length over many years about “Cultural Marxism”, “Soros-funded organisations”, “unelected Globalists”, and innumerable other antisemitic dog-whistles. Often this has been in conversation with people like Alex Jones of InfoWars or Rick Wiles of TruNews - known and self-avowed anti-semites. He is also notorious for sowing division, particularly along racial lines. But apparently none of that disqualifies him from being interviewed by the BBC’s Nick Robinson about what should and shouldn’t be done about “extremists” in Britain today. When Robinson asked Farage whether I should be arrested (!) for singing “From the river to the sea...” Farage called me a “naive idiot”, and said that I should be “given a severe warning”, and “made to see the error of [my] ways”.

David Baddiel is a man whose checkered history with racism needs no commentary from me, but who has notably repositioned himself as an expert on racism in recent years. On his new podcast with Tory peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Baddiel laughed theatrically at my activism, before deigning to correct me for not understanding the meaning of my own words. (It’s worth noting that Warsi went on to say that for “a whole load of people” the phrase “from the river to the sea...” means “equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis in the lands from the river to the sea”.)

Perhaps the superiority of being a self-proclaimed “public intellectual” has gone to his head, but Baddiel, as with Farage, is an all-too-common example of a professional opinion monger who resorts to tactics made to silence voices that dissent from his own. I am not the right sort of person to be discussing this in the eyes of Baddiel, Farage, Robinson, or any of the others, and the condescending manner in which my charitable work is being spoken of reeks of misogyny. I am incredibly familiar with the “shush, silly girl” strategy. It is used to discredit me and my message of solidarity without engaging me in debate. I truly am sick to the back teeth of men like these.

“Charlotte Church denies antisemitism"

This was the headline on the BBC News website. The Guardian ran the same one. There were many, many more news outlets that ran even more alarming headlines and stories, but I’ll focus on the BBC and Guardian stories. Making the story about my denial of anti-semitism is pure clickbait designed to accentuate the perceived scandal and obscure the reality of the situation - I sang a protest song in Bedwas Workmen’s Hall, and yet it sounds like I committed a hate crime.

An article from the BBC News last Sunday (3rd March), entitled “Nuance is being lost” seemingly without irony, said:

Charlotte Church sang the controversial pro-Palestinian chant "From the river to the sea" at a concert. (She denied she was antisemitic).”

No more context was given - not the fact that this was a charity event, specifically to raise money for an ambulance in Gaza - not even the fact that it was an event in solidarity with Palestine, calling for a ceasefire. Not that it was an interfaith, intergenerational choir singing freedom songs from all over the world, No mention of the actual history of the usage of the phrase. Just incredibly irresponsible ‘journalism’.

At a time when democratic norms in the House of Commons are being overturned supposedly due to fears for MPs safety, I have to ask the BBC and The Guardian, amongst others: what about my safety?

I have been called many things in my time, but not until this week have I received so much imaginative and violent hate. I’ve never before been called “traitor”. The threats to my safety have resulted in the police coming round to check in on us. And the BBC continues to publish articles, with extremely inflammatory language that does not accurately represent the reality of the situation. I’m pretty sure it has broken its own guidelines about being “accurate and fair”.

And then Nick Robinson’s question to Nigel Farage: “Do you think Charlotte Church should be arrested?” I mean, are you real? To think that this was not only broadcast across multiple BBC platforms in a pre-recorded interview, but also that someone made an editorial decision to clip that bit up and toss it into the maelstrom of social media to promote the show, at a time of such febrile debate... how is that contributing to social cohesion, let alone considering my safety?!

Almost as irresponsible is MP Andrew Percy who said that I should “hang my head in shame”, before doing the news round talking of MPs safety and how pro-Palestine activists are "dictating the terms of the debate”. Considering this was in the same news cycle that three prominent conservatives (Lee Anderson, Suella Braverman and Liz Truss) were all banging the drum for Islamophobia, the PM following with his deranged speech about extremism on Friday evening, I have personally never felt less safe. I feel caught up in a political parlour game played by lunatics, with incredibly high stakes, that I do not consent to being a part of.

Singing for freedom

In the late 1980s, the Estonian people brought about a liberating revolution from the failing USSR, not with weapons, but with voices. The Civil Rights struggle in America has a glorious history of singing woven through it. Music was a major part of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa, not least with the Specials hit “Free Nelson Mandela”. Jamaica, Estonia, Iceland, Zimbabwe, the Feminist movement, the LGBTQ movement I could go on and on. There has never been a liberation movement that hasn’t had music and song at its heart. Heart being the most powerful word here, because singing together brings us into a place of feeling, of emotions, and unity and love. Disconnection and separation cannot survive in this environment. In my opinion it is the most powerful tool of togetherness that we have.

This is why I was so delighted to work with Côr Cochion, the socialist choir first formed in Cardiff during the miners’ strikes in the 1980s, who have used singing to tirelessly protest against Apartheid, the BNP, the invasion of Iraq, and many other injustices. Their director, Wendy Lewis (incidentally one of many Jewish people who is opposed to the Israeli occupation), is a wonderful genius of community action. Her re-write of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in Cymraeg about Palestinian liberation is just about the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in years.

My heart breaks every day witnessing the atrocities that are being enacted - the hell on Earth that is being wreaked by Israel and its allies - but more than anything, what breaks my heart as open as the sky is the love I’m witnessing between the Palestinian people. Those orphaned children who hold each other close after having to endure painful surgeries, have limbs amputated or maybe their faces or chests stitched back together after being purposefully targeted by an IDF sniper. Those desperate, bereaved grandparents who’ve just seen the last of their grandchildren killed; those beautiful teenage boys, that remind me so much of my own son, full body hugging the shrouds of their beloved mothers. And the pain and love and tenderness of the mothers and fathers..... I will do everything in my power to help. I despair for anyone who would tell me I am wrong for doing so.

I am not alone. What is being allowed to happen in Palestine by Western governments is waking people up to the violent reality of what the West is built upon: inequality, exploitation, colonisation. A line has been crossed and the majority of the people of the world are rising up against this most grotesque show of power and domination. We will never forget what has been allowed to happen.

I think we need to bring to the forefront of this conversation weapons. As one human race, we must understand that if we had to murder thousands of children with our bare hands we would massively lose the taste for war. Our fetishisation of increasingly efficient impersonal killing machines makes slaughter very easy.

My dream is that we can with love, care, grief, deep mutual understanding, dismantle every weapon on earth.

And if my voice can bring us any closer to that, then no matter what you call me, I will keep singing.

This Mother’s Day I call to all mothers, all grandmothers, in fact all those who have mothers, to hold in our hearts all those who had mothers in Gaza and now do not, all those mothers whose children have been murdered, and the families whose every member has been brutalised and wiped out. Let us listen to our bones, our great-great-grandmothers’ instincts that live within us, and reject the fallacy of western patriarchal moral authority. Feel and trust your feelings. Let us consciously bring about the coming of the deep maternal healing that must come.

Yma o hyd - Still here Charlotte Church xx

PS. - Yesterday at the March for Palestine I led the crowd to sing “Yma o hyd” (“still here” in Cymraeg) and “Sumud” (“steadfast perseverance” in Palestinian) together, and above those beautiful voices I sang this poem by Ukranian-Jewish-Puerto Rican poet Aurora Levins Morales:


Last night I dreamed

ten thousand grandmothers

from the twelve hundred corners of the earth
 walked out into the gap

one breath deep

between the bullet and the flesh

between the bomb and the family.

They told me we cannot wait for governments.
 There are no peacekeepers boarding planes.

They said we will cup our hands around each heart.

We will sing the earth’s song, the song of water,

a song so beautiful that vengeance will turn to weeping,

Ten thousand is not enough, they said,

There are no leaders who dare to say

every life is precious, so it will have to be us.

the mourners will embrace, and grief replace

every impulse toward harm.

so, we have sent this dream, like a flock of doves

into the sleep of the world. Wake up. Put on your shoes.

You who are reading this, I am bringing bandages

and a bag of scented guavas from my trees. I think

I remember the tune. Meet me at the corner.
 Let’s go.