Even before celebrities announce their visits, they must be braced to weather the inevitable boycott storm, says pro-Israel artists’ collective
11 January 2018, 11:42 am
When artists book a show in Israel, they can expect a few things: a meaningful visit to the Western Wall, sunbathing in Tel Aviv, a dinner invite from the prime minister… and an intensive, aggressive online campaign demanding they cancel.
Even before packing up their sunscreen, negative anti-Israel, pro-boycott messages can be so overwhelming that some artists back out from sheer distress.
Bracing an artist ahead of time is the best way to prevent performers from caving in to the boycott pressure, Allison Krumholz, the executive director of Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), told The Times of Israel.
CCFP is a Los Angeles-based pro-Israel artists group that offers support and resources to help industry executives and their clients appropriately handle campaigns against their appearances in Israel. The organization was founded in 2012 after a string of high-profile performers caved to political pressure and canceled their shows here, Krumholz said.
David Renzer, the current chairman and CEO of Spirit Music Group, founded CCFP with Steve Schnur, a worldwide music executive at Electronic Arts (EA). Today, its international advisory board is comprised of more than 50 high-level entertainment industry figures.
We provide the counter to the attack and a balance to the narrative
“We provide the counter to the attack and a balance to the narrative,” Krumholz said. “We may not all share the same politics, but we do agree that singling out Israel as a target of cultural boycotts will not further peace.”
Nick Lieber, the organization’s editorial associate and analyst, said CCFP focuses on building personal relationships with industry executives and using them appropriately when there is concern of a boycott.
When an artist considers canceling a show in Israel or in fact, cancels it, CCFP has its staff or board members reach out to the artist and their representatives, encouraging them to reconsider and providing them with the “support” they need to make an informed decision, said Lieber.
What that support entails varies, he said.
Lieber said that the organization also creates educational forums for industry figures around promoting peace through the arts, such as an event CCFP held in June at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles which brought executives together under the theme of using the arts to build bridges.
But CCFP’s ability to properly prepare artists depends largely on the cooperation of the Israeli promoters, some of whom prefer not to warn their artists about the likelihood of backlash that inevitably accompanies an announcement of an upcoming show in Israel.
“Concert promoters in Israel have different approaches for addressing BDS pressure with the artists they bring,” Krumholz said.
Some promoters, said Krumholz, do speak of the possibility of BDS backlash with their artists ahead of time, but despite high-profile cancellations, some still don’t.
“We’re of the opinion that it’s better to do so, as a number of cancellations have simply been due to the shock of suddenly coming under massive pressure on social media and were completely unrelated to any of the actual arguments BDS makes,” she said.
Pop star Lorde recently canceled an Israel performance set for this upcoming June, days after announcing on Twitter that she was considering pulling out of the gig. The singer said at the time that she was reconsidering due to a campaign led by two pro-Palestinian activists in her native New Zealand, which was also accompanied by a virulent anti-Israel social media crusade.
One of the activists, Justine Sachs, is a founder of Dayenu — a Jewish online activism page that promotes a boycott of Israel over its presence in the West Bank.
“I think that art is politics, I think that artists are connected to political statements, I think that for an artist to go to Israel now is a political statement,” Sachs told Walla, a Hebrew media website.
In the end, Lorde claimed that the “overwhelming number of messages and letters” she received led to her decision to cancel the show.
Lorde’s social media accounts were flooded by an apparently highly organized BDS campaign.
“Nearly every artist who schedules a show in Israel receives some level of boycott pressure on social media, but some, including Lorde, certainly receive far more than others,” said Lieber.
After Lorde caved to pressure, Eran Arielli, co-founder of Naranjah, the company that was promoting her Israel concert, wrote on Facebook that, “The truth is that I was naive to think that an artist of her age would contain the pressure involved in coming to Israel, and I take full responsibility.”
The cancellation isn’t a first for Naranjah, the concert producer wrote on Facebook. (Arielli declined to be interviewed for this article.)
Expressing its disappointment with Lorde’s decision, CCFP produced a statement signed by 50 industry executives and artists.
To maintain its close ties to industry executives, CCFP can’t discuss what happened behind the scenes with Lorde, but Lieber said he thinks “the letter, compounded with all of the negative feedback, probably really affected her.”
Lieber said that social media chatter revolving around Lorde’s Israel show was too congested to provide a concrete breakdown of sides — though the majority of comments on the singer’s social media accounts were anti-Israel and pro-boycott.
He believes that about 50 percent are anti-Israel, 25% are pro-Israel and another 25% are extremely pro-Israel to the point of being unhelpful to the cause by name-calling and insulting the artist.
Although cases such as Lorde’s make major headlines, such cancellations are rare these days. In recent years, Israel has also seen a flood of veteran acts, which tend to handle BDS pressure with more finesse. Notably, Paul McCartney, who despite receiving death threats, went ahead with his concert coinciding with Israel’s 60th birthday in 2008 and also visited a music school in Bethlehem. Leonard Cohen, who after scheduling a 2009 concert in Ramat Gan, offered to play a corresponding concert in Ramallah. His offer was spurned.
Other artists like Radiohead and Nick Cave have not merely ignored but actively hit back against BDS efforts. This past November, Cave went so far as to say that it was thanks to BDS that he decided to play in Israel.
“I love Israel, and I love Israeli people,” said Cave at a press conference in Tel Aviv, adding that he wanted to take “a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians. So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”
Since 2011, CCFP has tracked more than 1,000 concerts by international artists in Israel, including performances by Sia, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.
About 30 artists — including Elvis Costello, Thurston Moore, and Lauryn Hill — have canceled due to BDS pressure during this period. However, a handful of those ultimately decided to play in Israel at a later date, such as the Pixies and Santana, Krumholz said.
Eventually, Krumholz hopes her organization will be made redundant as boycotts increasingly prove an ineffective means to promoting peace.
“If anything,” she said, “turn up the music, expose art to wider audiences, and encourage people from all cultures to interact, communicate and inspire peace and understanding.”