Why Artists Can’t Perform in Israel & Palestinian Territories

By November 10, 2016Blog Post

Why Artists Can’t Perform in Israel & Palestinian Territories

By: Nick Lieber, Editorial Associate and Analyst, Creative Community For Peace

Last year, to our great disappointment, American musician Ms. Lauryn Hill canceled her scheduled concert in Israel, citing her inability to also perform in the Palestinian Territories.

“When deciding to play the region, my intention was to perform in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah,” she wrote on Facebook, announcing the cancellation of her show. “Setting up a performance in the Palestinian Territory, at the same time as our show in Israel, proved to be a challenge.”

What was missed in the ensuing uproar, the praise she received for supporting justice or the criticism for singling out Israel, was the reason it proved to be such a challenge in the first place.

Ms. Lauryn Hill was hardly the first musician to try and fail to perform in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and, unless something changes, she certainly won’t be the last.

So what’s the problem? Did they all have simple scheduling conflicts? Perhaps they were unlucky finding available Palestinian venues? Did the Israeli military prevent them from performing there?

From her vague message, it could have been any or all of them, when, in fact, it was none.

The truth is that artists are unable to perform both in Tel Aviv and Ramallah because Palestinian venues, due to pressure from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), refuse to host anybody who has performed in Israel.

As Ali Abunimah, a leading BDS activist and founder of the Electronic Intifada, notes, PACBI welcomes visits by musicians, but not if those visits are accompanied by visits to Israel or attempts to facilitate dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

PACBI’s message is clear: You must choose one or the other. You can’t perform for both Israelis and Palestinians. You can only perform for either Israelis or Palestinians.

We saw echoes of this dangerous and divisive message in 2013, when Alicia Keys performed in Dubai after her concert in Tel Aviv. PACBI urged the venue in Dubai to cancel her show and “tell her that she is not welcome in Arab countries,” simply because she performed in Israel. We saw it again last year when the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon (CBSI) called on the Lebanese people to boycott Chris Brown’s show if he continued with his performance in Israel, which he did.

Ms. Lauryn Hill, on the other hand, decided to cancel her performance “and seek a different strategy to bring [her] music to ALL of [her] fans in the region.”

At Creative Community For Peace (CCFP), we were disappointed that Ms. Lauryn Hill chose to punish her Israeli fans for the hypocrisy and intolerance of a Palestinian organization. We reject PACBI’s black and white narrative that you’re either with Israel or the Palestinians.

Unless and until PACBI is challenged, and their “you’re with us or against us” mentality is called out and rejected, it is unlikely that anybody will be able to perform for all of their fans in the region.

Until then, the many hundreds of musicians who have performed in Israel, including Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Elton John, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Alan Parsons, Brian Wilson, Craig David, Jason Derulo, and Suzanne Vega will continue to find themselves barred from Palestine.

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