Don’t Give BDS Undue Credit
By: Nick Lieber – Editorial Associate and Analyst, Creative Community For Peace
Pharrell Williams has canceled his show in Israel. That much is clear.
It is also clear that Pharrell, like virtually every international artist who has scheduled a performance in Israel, received pressure from supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. BDS activists use social media, petitions, open letters in the press, personal visits and confrontations, and sometimes even threats in an attempt to convince artists to boycott Israel and cancel their shows.
As overwhelming as this pressure can undoubtedly be, it has not stopped Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake, the Rolling Stones, Suzanne Vega, Dionne Warwick, the Backstreet Boys, Robbie Williams, Cyndi Lauper, Alan Parsons, or many hundreds of others from performing in Israel. And there’s no evidence that it stopped Pharrell either. In fact, Pharrell seemed quite excited about his upcoming concert.
There were conflicting reasons given by his representatives, who said the cancellation was due to scheduling issues, and Israeli music industry sources, who cited low ticket sales. What wasn’t cited by anyone involved in booking Pharrell’s performance in Israel? BDS. There is nothing that demonstrates a causative relationship between BDS pressure and the decision to cancel Pharrell’s show.
Yet this lack of evidence has not prevented BDS activists from claiming and/or implying that their pressure was the cause of Pharrell’s cancellation — as seen in the example above. Sadly, this is nothing new. When concerts are canceled in Israel, no matter the stated reason, BDS proponents are quick to turn them into false victories. Even more sadly, others – on both sides of the divide – are often inclined to follow suit.
It happened with Donovan, Henry Rollins, Primus, and, most famously, Santana. Each canceled a show in Israel for reasons completely unrelated to politics and the call to boycott. Each cancellation was quickly made political by BDS supporters and opponents on social media and in the press. (Strangely, despite the fact that Santana has scheduled a new show in Israel for later this month, clearly demonstrating that his 2010 cancellation had nothing to do with BDS, he is still inexplicably regarded as a victory by BDS supporters.)
Missing from these often hysterical conversations surrounding cancellations in Israel is the fact that concerts are canceled relatively often, all over the world, for the most mundane of reasons.
Just over the past week, cancellations were announced for a Public Enemy show in Orlando, Florida (“unforeseen circumstances”), an Aretha Franklin concert in Bethel Woods, New York (no reason given), and two of Ellie Goulding’s shows in Perth and Adelaide, Australia (“unforeseen scheduling conflicts”).
This isn’t the first show Pharrell has had to cancel. In 2014, he canceled concerts in Portugal and Spain due to “scheduling difficulties.” Last month, it was reported that he canceled a July show in Glasgow, Scotland, though the singer himself denied any show had been scheduled in the first place.
It happens. Musicians get sick. Family issues arise. Logistical mistakes are made. Agents and promoters fight. Tickets don’t sell. There’s nothing to do about it – some concerts will simply be canceled.
Only in Israel are such routine cancellations so often turned into political issues.
For proponents of BDS, this is expected. Out of the hundreds of musicians that book shows in Israel every year, they influence very few to cancel. As executives and artists become knowledgeable about the goals and tactics of the BDS movement, most artists are choosing to continue with their planned performances in the Holy Land and standing up for freedom of artistic expression. Supporters of the cultural boycott of Israel have been so unsuccessful at persuading or pressuring musicians to boycott Israel that they’re desperate to claim any victory they possibly can.
BDS’s true success has been at influencing the conversation. At convincing even opponents of the cultural boycott that all cancellations must have something to do with politics. At getting news outlets to mention BDS in articles about cancellations that have no connection to BDS at all, spreading their inflammatory message and politicizing art – to their gain and to the detriment of peace.
Anybody who opposes the BDS movement, who believes in bridges rather than boycotts, must categorically reject any and all efforts to hijack the voices of artists, to misrepresent their views and their intentions. If there’s no evidence that a cancellation was due to political pressure, we mustn’t assume that it was.
Otherwise, we are giving the boycott movement undue credit and handing them a victory they have not earned, dealing a devastating blow to truth and artistic freedom.
Creative Community for Peace (CCFPeace) is an entertainment industry organization that represents a cross-section of the creative world dedicated to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel. We may not all share the same politics or the same opinion on the best path to peace between Palestinians and Israelis. But we do agree that singling out Israel as a target of cultural boycotts will not further peace.