Musicians come to Israel despite bullying of BDS

Musicians come to Israel despite bullying of BDS

Fourteen-time Grammy winner Alicia Keys is the latest musician to defy the ugly bullying and harassment from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists and perform in Israel.

On July 4, Keys sang to a sold-out crowd in Tel Aviv, to promote peace through music. For one song, she was joined by popular Israeli musician Idan Raichel. Before performing her song “Listen to Your Heart,” Keys reportedly told the audience: “People are always trying to tell us what’s right for us and what isn’t. Instead of listening to them, you should listen to your heart.” This appears to be a reference to the hateful bullying she received following news that she would be performing in Israel. Keys’ Facebook page was targeted with abusive comments regarding her decision to perform in Israel.

Despite such tactics, Keys decided to perform in Israel, telling the New York Times over a month ago: “I look forward to my first visit to Israel,” adding, “Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.”

Keys received support from several individuals and organisations including Creative Community For Peace (“CCFP”), which on its website notes that it represents “a cross section of the creative world–those who create and help create music, films, and television programs–and their fans.”  CCFP’s members from the music industry include Jody Gerson, co-president of Sony/ATV Music Publishing; Ron Fair, former chair of Geffen Records; and Rob Prinz, head of music at United Talent Agency. Together the group represents the likes of Celine Dion, Aerosmith, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Timberlake and many others. CCFP wrote an open letter criticising Alice Walker’s letter to Keys as “misleading” and organised a petition with over 18,000 signatures supporting artists to play in Israel.

The letter stated:

“Israel is a democratic country with a diverse population, where women, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and all minorities have equal rights; a nation where art and freedom of expression flourish. Citizens of all ethnicities mingle openly in public arenas, sit side-by-side in restaurants and are free to speak their minds and vote their consciences. The recently crowned Miss Israel is from Ethiopia. In apartheid South Africa or the pre-civil rights American South, that would have been unheard of.

The great Martin Luther King Jr. had this to say this about Israel: ‘Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.’

False comparisons of Israel to apartheid South Africa and the pre-civil rights American South diminish the real human suffering of those times. South African Member of Parliament Dr. Kenneth Meshoe, who grew up in apartheid South Africa [and] knows the tyranny of oppression, wrote the following in his May 15 op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner.

‘As a black South African who lived under apartheid, this system was implemented in South Africa to subjugate people of color and deny them a variety of their rights. In my view, Israel cannot be compared to apartheid in South Africa. Those who make the accusation expose their ignorance of what apartheid really is… Israel is a model of democracy, inclusion and pluralism that can be emulated by many nations, particularly in the Middle East.'”

CCFP outlines why it is against BDS on its website:

“We may not all share the same politics or the same opinion on the best path to peace in the Middle East. But we do agree that singling out Israel, the only democracy in the region, as a target of cultural boycotts while ignoring the now-recognized human rights issues of her neighbors will not further peace. We understand the power that our music, our films, our television shows, and all arts have. They have the power to build bridges. Foster better understanding. Encourage dialogue. And hopefully lead toward greater mutual acceptance. If anything, turn up the music, expose more of our films and television shows to wider audiences, and encourage people from all cultures to interact and build greater dialogue and understanding. If you support the message that the arts can build bridges-please join us in this important mission.”

Other artists who have also recently defied BDS harassment and performed in Israel include Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Black Eyed Peas, Missy Elliott, Alanis Morisette, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Rhianna and Shakira. Shakira commented:

“I’m very proud of my Lebanese heritage… but it has nothing to do with the fact that I respect and have great affection for this country and the people of this country, both Israelis and Palestinians, and that’s why I’m here, because I think that kids need us – kids don’t understand about conflicts” and added “We are all Israel.”

Madonna performed in Israel in May 2012 despite strong opposition by BDS activists, and called her concert a “peace concert”, offering 600 free tickets to the show to various Israeli and Palestinian peace activists. Madonna said of starting her tour in Israel:

“I chose to start my world tour in Israel for a very specific and important reason. As you know, the Middle East and all the conflicts that occur here and that have been occurring for thousands of years, they have to stop. You can’t be a fan of mine and not want peace in the world.”

Last month Barbara Streisand performed at Shimon Peres’ birthday concert in Israel, and she was joined by other A-list celebrity guests that included Sharon Stone and Robert De Niro.

Meanwhile, British pop duo, the Pet Shop Boys, comprised of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, were also targeted by anti-Israel activists and bullied not to perform in Israel in June. One pro-BDS poster showed Tennant and Lowe wearing glasses with the captions “1 child killed every three days” and “2 kids caged every day.” Tennant responded on the Pet Shop Boys official website, refuting the often-made claim by BDS activists that Israel is an apartheid:

“I don’t agree with this comparison of Israel to apartheid-era South Africa,” noting that “It’s a caricature. Israel has (in my opinion) some crude and cruel policies based on defense; it also has universal suffrage and equality of rights for all its citizens, both Jewish and Arab… In apartheid-era South Africa, artists could only play to segregated audiences; in Israel anyone who buys a ticket can attend a concert.”

The arts – especially music – is uniquely capable of bringing people together and promoting a universal message of peace, in contrast to BDS which seeks to entrench division. When artists, especially socially conscious artists like Keys, stand up to the BDS movement, it is a win against a campaign that hurts Israelis, Palestinians and the prospects for peace.

Sharyn Mittelman