A group called Creative Community for Peace is fighting back against the cultural boycott of Israel in the music industry. Made up of 30 leading music executives, talent agents and entertainment lawyers, the CCFP includes music powerhouses who represent luminaries like Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, Aerosmith, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Timberlake. In recent days, artists as prominent as Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Roger Waters, the alternative rock band The Pixies, jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, alt rocker Cat Power and UK-based electronic artist Joker have all canceled appearances in Israel in order to boycott the Jewish state.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), made up of pro-Palestinian activists who push their message on Web sites and college campuses, targets Israel with vitriol like food labels that read “baby blood fresh Gaza,” an Israeli flag overlaid with a no-smoking symbol and the words “Boycott Apartheid Israel,” and Coca-Cola cans inscribed with the words “Killer Cola.”
BDS has succeeded in some attempts already: a boycott of London’s Ahava retail store, which distributes skin-care products from Israel’s Dead Sea, and a video showing the BBC cutting off its live broadcast of the Israel Philharmonic’s performance in London last fall.
This isn’t anti-Israel stuff. It’s anti-Semitic stuff. As David Lonner of CCFP, a former William Morris agent and founder of the Oasis Media Group, said, “That ‘baby blood fresh Gaza’ thing? That’s not anti-Israel. That’s plainly anti-Semitic. That’s as vile as anything you’d see in Nazi Germany.”
Los Angeles Consul General of Israel David Siegel said of BDS, “It doesn’t have clear leadership or a major hierarchy . . . but the goals are very, very clear: Boycott, delegitimize, dehumanize. They’re not about peace, and it’s not about debating Israel’s policies. It’s really about undermining our right to be a state for Jews . . . It takes a network to fight a network. You don’t see Abbas making these videos; you see Westerners doing it.”
The boycott extends beyond the music industry; last month Oscar winner Emma Thompson joined with more than 30 other members of the theater to protest the inclusion of the Tel Aviv theater troupe Habima in a Shakespeare festival at London’s Globe Theatre. And in 2009, at the Toronto International Film Festival, a group of artists tried to stop the festival featuring films from Tel Aviv.
Some artists have defied the boycott and defended Israel’s right to hear them: among them are Lady Gaga, Elton John, Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, Herbie Hancock and Lenny Kravitz. Madonna is planning to debut her World Tour in Tel Aviv this summer, and there will be appearances by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Cirque du Soleil.
But the pressure on artists continues; the Red Hot Chili Peppers, scheduled to perform in Israel in September, have been targeted by BDS with a a Facebook page demanding the Peppers “Defy Injustice, Cancel Israel.” Will they have the guts to do what Elton John did in 2010, when he walked out on stage in Tel Aviv and said, “They’re not gonna stop me from coming here, baby”? Or have guts like Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber’s 30-year-old manager, who got death threats such as “If Justin Bieber comes to Israel, we’re gonna kill the Jew manager”?
We’ll see. But in the meantime, CCFP is determined to fight back. As Steve Schnur, worldwide head of music for Electronic Arts (EA) video games, put it: “Musicians that play there don’t have to agree with the current or previous policies of the Israeli government — but they can go there and speak toward it or against it. Where else in the Middle East can an artist do that?”