ISRAEL: Activists urge musicians not to perform in Israel

Babylon & Beyond: Observations from Iraq, Iran, Israel, the Arab world and beyond

March 17, 2010 | 6:42 am

Israelis are already buying tickets, psyched to see a long list of international artists billed to perform in Israel in coming months. But as Israelis prepare to rock, political campaigners are on a roll and the summer concerts are already striking a sour note.

Peace activists are picking on the Pixies, slated to play Israel in June. They’ve sent the band an open letter saying “as much as some of us are huge fans and would love to hear your show, we won’t cross the international picket line.” This line isn’t always visible, but it’s there, they write, asking: “Are you prepared to perform in Tel-Aviv while just under your noses millions of human beings are suffering under a cruel Israeli military regime?” The activists, Israeli citizens from a group that supports the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) “from within,” urged the Pixies to refuse to perform in Israel “until there is freedom here.”

The local producers of the Pixies’ concert, headed by premier entertainment producer Shuki Weiss, responded with a letter of their own. Weiss wrote that there was no difference between the Chinese government silencing a show because of explicit lyrics or an Islamic government silencing artists because of revealing clothing and “a political movement trying to express a specific opinion at the expense of music lovers. We believe your call is one for silencing art and we are sad to say we regard this as cultural terror, no less.”

Another group took up the issue with Elton John. This time, it was the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel that called on the artist not to contribute to “Israel’s celebration of its occupation and apartheid.” Israel, they wrote, is “luring renowned performers to rebrand itself as an enlightened, cultural country while continuing to dispossess Palestinians.” Reminding John that he played Sun City in 1983, they wrote: “We urge you not to be on the wrong side of history again.”

Many artists come under pressure to leave Israel off their tours. Some resist, like Paul McCartney. Others, such as Leonard Cohen, gave a significant part of the proceeds to the Parents Circle, a peace group of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli parents. The boycott campaign did, however, succeed in scuppering Cohen’s plans to perform in Ramallah. Roger Waters came despite pressure but made his own statement by moving the concert location from Tel-Aviv to Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, a joint Arab-Jewish community.

Rihanna also is scheduled to perform in Israel. She comes with strings attached — but not political ones. Young Israelis will be awarded tickets only after completing several hours of volunteer work for the community as part of a project with the Israeli sponsor.

And some cancel, like Carlos Santana. Santana — who performed in Israel in the past — dropped Israel for scheduling-overload reasons, it was reported locally. But a U.S. group supporting the cultural boycott of Israel published a letter thanking him for “electing not to perform in the apartheid state.”

Meanwhile, metalheads have been at loggerheads over Metallica too — with a call for a boycott of a different nature. Outraged at high ticket prices, thousands joined a Facebook campaign launched by Israeli fans to boycott the May concert. The boycott was dropped after Metallica intervened and an agreement on more reasonably priced tickets was reached.

— Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

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