It’s ironic. Some of today’s biggest stars have accepted handsome sums to put on shows for tyrants: 50 Cent, Nelly Furtado, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and Usher all took money from members of Qaddafi’s inner circle; Hilary Swank cashed in royally on a Chechnya visit in 2011; Julio Iglesias performed in a concert produced by the dictatorship of Equatorial Guinea; and Jennifer Lopez has raked in over $10 million for (in the words of the Human Rights Foundation) “serenading crooks and dictators from Eastern Europe and Russia,” among them “corrupt Uzbek industrialist Azam Aslanov,” “Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov,” “Russian oligarch Telman Ismailov,” “the dictatorship of Azerbaijan,” “Alexander Yolkin, a Russian bureaucrat accused of corruption,” and, most recently, the musically named dictator of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.
Yet in recent years, while all these top-flight celebs have queued up to have their palms greased by Satan’s little helpers, an even longer parade of showbiz types have made a big to-do of cancelling performances in the only democracy in the Middle East. One of the newest members of this fraternity is Eric Burdon of the 1960s band The Animals, who announced last week that he wouldn’t be going onstage in Israel, as scheduled, on August 1. The reason, according to his manager, was that he was “under increasing pressure, including many threatening emails that we are receiving on a daily basis.”
Burdon isn’t alone. Every reasonably well-known entertainer who plans an appearance in Israel can expect to be targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – a sprawling assemblage of organizations and individuals that share a systematic dishonesty, an ideological fanaticism, and an intense determination to isolate Israel from the rest of the civilized world. Just the names of these activists and groups – many of which are funded, directly or indirectly, by Western governments and church bodies – could fill pages. Among them: Al-Awda; EuroPalestine; the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organization Network; the Palestinian BDS National Committee; Info Palestine; Addameer; Children of Palestine; Kairos USA; Israeli Apartheid Week. The list goes on and on – and includes something called Who Profits (a project of something called the Coalition of Women for Peace), which supplies other BDS groups with the names of firms it thinks should be targeted with boycotts because of their Israeli connections.
One of the BDS movement’s many effective spokespeople is Anna Baltzer, head of yet another one of these revolting groups, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Baltzer, a stylish and attractive young Jewish-American woman, spends much of her time speaking at U.S. churches, telling her earnest listeners outright lies about Israel and trying to convince them that their Christian faith obliges them to boycott the Jewish state. Just to give you an idea of the kind of people we’re talking about here, Baltzer lends an air of legitimacy to her campaign by presenting herself to audiences as the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors; in fact her grandparents, although of Polish background, lived in Belgium and escaped to the U.S. before the Shoah began. The name Baltzer itself is an invention; she started using it years ago to keep her ardently Zionist grandmother (now deceased) in the dark about her poisonous anti-Israel activism. Among the many whoppers Baltzer has told audiences is a story about a pregnant Palestinian woman who allegedly lost her baby because she wasn’t allowed through an Israeli checkpoint – and whose name has miraculously changed from one retelling to the next.
Among those who’ve been pressured by this unsavory crowd to drop gigs in Israel is Paul McCartney, who in 2008 was targeted – and threatened – by several BDS groups. “I got death threats, but I’m coming anyway,” Sir Paul said at the time. “I have no intention of surrendering. I refuse to cancel my performances in Israel.” Yet another BDS group, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, issued a statement at the time saying that Sir Paul’s concert would “convey a message that McCartney either condones or apathetically ignores Israel’s reality as a colonial power and an apartheid state that oppresses the indigenous Palestinians and occupies Arab land.” To his credit, McCartney didn’t allow himself to be swayed by their rhetoric.
Others who have stood up to intimidation include Alicia Keys, Deep Purple, Rihanna, Madonna, Moby, the Pet Shop Boys, Aerosmith, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and (yes) Barbra Streisand, who last month sang at Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday party and described Israel as “a shining beacon of hope in the world.” (To be sure, being Barbra Streisand, she also used the visit to criticize Orthodox Jewish attitudes towards women, while remaining silent on Islamic misogyny; but at least she went.) Meanwhile, those who’ve yielded to pressure include Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Carlos Santana, Jon Bon Jovi, the Yardbirds, Joe Lynn Turner, Meg Ryan, Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder, and Elvis Costello. (I think it’s important to spread both these lists far and wide.)
Moby, in an Israeli radio interview, reportedly made the savvy observation “that the intensity of the attacks against him before he came to Israel made him suspect that this wasn’t an objective movement that was concerned with people’s welfare, but with something dark and dubious.” (I couldn’t have said it any better myself.) By contrast, Elvis Costello, after deciding to cancel a 2010 performance, posted on his website a self-congratulatory open letter – which was welcomed by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – describing his decision as “a matter of instinct and conscience” and expressing his concern that if he didn’t cancel, the public might assume he “has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.” As for Roger Waters: to be fair to him, he doesn’t exactly belong on a list of cowards who caved in but, rather, on a roster of out-and-out Jew-haters: a concert he held in Belgium the other day, which kicked off his European tour, featured a Star of David as a symbol of oppression.
Then there’s Elton John. When word got around in 2010 that he was planning a concert in Tel Aviv, he received a long communication, dripping in condescension and moral lecturing, from a bunch of U.K. academics called the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine. They told him that when he “gets to that ‘Candle in the Wind’ moment, and thousands of lighters flicker…there won’t be any Palestinians from the Occupied Territories swaying along with the Israelis” because “the army won’t let them leave their ghettoes….when you stand up on that stage in Tel Aviv, you line yourself up with a racist state.” Many a bubble-headed celebrity, ignorant of the realities of Israel and Palestine and scared of bad PR, might well be taken in by such propaganda. Sir Elton was not. He went ahead with the concert, at which he told his massive audience that recent cancellations of Israeli shows by other entertainers weren’t “gonna stop me from playing here.” Musicians, he underscored, aren’t supposed to “cherry-pick our conscience.” Nice turn of phrase, that.
One organization that’s claimed much of the responsibility for cancelled performances in Israel is Boycott from Within, a group of Israelis who, among other things, pen missives to celebrities urging them to stay away from Israel. In 2010 the group wrote an open letter to an “alternative rock band,” the Pixies, in which it asked: “Are you ready to perform in Tel Aviv when right in front of you millions of people are suffocating under a cruel Israeli military regime that denies them basic human rights?” It worked; the Pixies backed out. In 2011, the group wrote to French chanteuse Vanessa Paradis, telling her that if she went ahead with plans to perform in Israel, it would “have the effect of contributing to Israel’s image of normality” and would “allow the state of Israel to use your reputation to whitewash its crimes!” She cancelled too. It is cheering, however, to note that the group’s attempts to scare off more famous names – among them Morgan Freeman, Alanis Morissette, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers – met with failure.
Remember those names, all of them – the knights and knaves alike. And remember, too, that boycotts can work both ways.
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