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Blinken faces backlash for 'partying in Ukraine while Gaza burns'

US secretary of state's guitar performance is heavily criticised amid ongoing US support for Israel's war on Gaza
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken  performs "Rockin' in the Free World" with members of The 1999 band at the Barman Dictat bar in Kyiv on 14 May 2024.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken performs 'Rockin' in the Free World' with members of The 19.99 band at the Barman Dictat bar in Kyiv, on 14 May 2024 (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken faced a deluge of criticism from social media users on Wednesday, after he performed Neil Young's protest song, Rockin' in the Free World, at a Ukrainian bar during his surprise trip to Kyiv.

After taking to the stage with the Ukrainian band 19.99, Blinken could be heard telling attendees: "Your soldiers, your citizens - particularly in the northeast, in Kharkiv - are suffering tremendously.

"But they need to know, you need to know, the United States is with you, so much of the world is with you. And they're fighting not just for a free Ukraine but for the free world, and the free world is with you too."

Blinken, holding a shiny red guitar, then proceeded to perform a cover of Young's 1989 classic, which was written as a social commentary on poverty within the US, drug addiction, problems with child welfare, and the environment.

His performance was met with a flurry of outrage, with several social media users criticising Washington's support for Israel amid its war on Gaza, labelled by rights groups, legal experts and several nations as genocide.

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"Not only did Tony Blinken show up at a bar somewhere in Kyiv to play a rendition of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," State Department planners brought along C-SPAN to film the thing. The song is a pretty accurate distillation of Blinken's halfwit interventionist ideology," wrote journalist Michael Tracey.

Not only is this as bad as watching "dad dancing", but just as the US tries to present events in Ukraine & Israel with a narrative which is opposite to reality, so #Blinken tries to present Neil Young’s "Rockin’ in the Free World" as literal rather than satirical," said another user.

The war on Gaza began on 7 October, when Palestinian fighters led by Hamas broke out of Gaza and launched an attack on southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking around 24o others hostage.

Israel responded with a full-fledged declaration of war, launching an aerial bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion. Israeli forces have attacked hospitals, schools, UN shelters, mosques, and residential squares.

In response to the war, the US has thrown its support behind Israel both diplomatically and militarily. Washington has fast-tracked weapons shipments to the country, and the Biden administration has called on Congress to pass billions of dollars in additional military aid for the country.

"Glad Blinken can enjoy playing the guitar," wrote another user. "It's a shame so many kids in Gaza will never play - because they've been killed or had their arms blown off by the IDF."

In his visit to Israel on 13 October following the start of the war, Blinken invoked his Jewish ancestry as he publicly shared his support for Israel's war efforts.

“I come before you not only as the United States secretary of state but also as a Jew,” Blinken told an audience at Israel’s defence ministry.

Blinken has faced heavy criticism over the past few months for his administration's support for the ongoing war. Since February, a group of pro-Palestinian activists have camped outside Blinken's home in Mclean, Virginia, protesting what they say is the secretary of state's support for an ongoing genocide in Gaza.

In recent weeks, the US's top diplomat has begun to criticise Israel's conduct in the war, acknowledging the "horrible loss of life of innocent civilians" in Gaza.

The Biden administration also paused a single arms shipment to Israel earlier this month and released a report stating that it is reasonable to believe Israel violated international humanitarian law in Gaza using US weapons.

But with that report falling short of making a definitive conclusion that Israel did violate international law using American arms - a conclusion that would require the US to halt arms transfers to Israel - policy experts have lamented that the Biden administration does not appear to have genuine concerns over Israel's war conduct.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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