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By: Roy Trakin
Recent tirades by Kanye West, now known as Ye, were undoubtedly on the minds of many of the record-shattering 500 guests who gathered at the spacious Beverly Hills home of Columbia Records A&R executive Ben Maddahi’s parents to mark the tenth anniversary of the Creative Community for Peace. The organization, co-founded by Electronic Arts President of Music Steve Schnur and veteran publishing executive David Renzer, honored an eclectic group as Ambassadors of Peace for 2022: comic legend Eugene Levy, “Sex and the City” creator Darren Star, Grammy-winning performer/songwriter Autumn Rowe, Billie Eilish managers Brandon Goodman and Danny Rukasin of Best Friends Music and UTA global co-head of music David Zedeck.
The fourth live event organized by the nonprofit — meant to encourage artists to collaborate and bring their talents to Israel as well as combat antisemitism — brought out a who’s who of entertainment executives and creatives, including past honorees Diane Warren, Warner Records CEO/co-chairman Aaron Bay-Schuck, Virgin Music label and artist services president Jacqueline Saturn and Atlantic Records Group’s EVP of global A&R Aton Ben-Horin.
Warren, an outspoken supporter of Israel who was honored at last year’s ceremony, had some choice expletives to describe her reaction to West’s hateful words. “Antisemitism is always just below the surface and now it’s reared its ugly head again,” she said. “Nobody should have anything to do with him. It’s like someone said, he just remixed an old record that’s been around 3,000 years like it’s a new thought. The Holocaust started with words like that.”
Co-founder Schnur, who recently penned his own Variety editorial calling the entertainment industry to task for their initial silence on the Ye incident, evoked the Jewish Hanukkah warrior Judah Maccabee to express his continued outrage. “Enough with this rhetoric that spreads like wildfire,” said the veteran music executive. “He’s one of many continuing to spew using platforms. My response is, hell no. I don’t want to hear it anymore. We need to stand up for not just the Jewish community, but the Black community, Muslims, Asians and the LGBTQ as well. The idea is that art is something that can bring people together. The only thing a Palestinian and Israeli kid might have in common is Rihanna’s music.”
Added Renzer, who noted that the following day (October 27) would be the fourth anniversary of the 11 Jews murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh: “Our message is one of unity, co-existence, anti-hate. Maybe it took something as dramatic and unfortunate as [Ye’s remarks] for it to happen,” adding this was a “record-setting year for the organization in terms of attendance, sponsorship and donations.”
Comic legend Eugene Levy attributed his honor to the award-winning sitcom “Schitt’s Creek,” which he co-created with son Dan as a way to present an ideal community “blind to religion, sex or nationality, a world without bigotry,” joking about the misspelling of his name (Eugege) on the video display in back of him. He then told of running for class president in his senior year of high school and having his Superman-inspired campaign posters (“It’s a bird, it’s a plane… it’s Levy’) defaced with “Jew,” and winning the election by refusing to back down, or remove the posters.
UTA’s Zedeck defended fellow talent agency CAA’s decision to drop Ye as a client. “We have to be responsible for whom we represent,” he said. “Freedom of speech may be a legal issue, but not being associated with Ye is a business decision. It’s important to keep music and art separate from politics. This organization has a larger role than just combatting the BDS movement (boycott, divestment sanctions against Israel).”
Interscope vice chairman Steve Berman introduced Best Friends Music’s Brandon Goodman and Danny Rukasin, serenading the latter with “Happy Birthday.” Speaking to Variety, Goodman said, “My belief is that art should unite, not divide. Our job is to let our artists speak for themselves through their own experiences.” Darren Star, called to the stage by “Uncoupled” star Joshua Platt, recalled teaching a film and TV writing class at the University of Tel Aviv, “where even the bouncers wish you a ‘Shabbat shalom.’”
“Only by understanding each other can we make the world a better place,” Star said on the red carpet before the presentation. “Storytelling can transcend politics, creating characters where you can understand their humanity is so important. Art can make all of us understand our common humanity better… It helps build bridges.”
Autumn Rowe, who earned a Grammy for co-writing four songs on Jon Batiste’s album of the year-winning “We Are” — including “Freedom,” which she later performed to wrap the evening — is perhaps the perfect representative for both the CCFP and its sister organization, the Black Jewish Entertainment Alliance. The South-Bronx born singer-songwriter is the daughter of a Black father and Jewish mother, and an activist who has been involved in anti-racism, women’s and creative rights organizations such as Grammys on the Hill, the Women’s March on DC and SONA (Songwriters of North America).
“There are a lot of similarities between Blacks and Jews,” she said, comparing slavery with the Holocaust. “We both have bonds of oppression.” Her involvement with the CCFP and the BJEA came about during a time of introspection while in COVID lockdown. “It was a big moment for me to pause and reflect on who I wanted to be,” she explained. “Which was someone who spoke up for people whose voices weren’t being heard. These organizations helped me do that.”
Asked about West’s comment, her response was swift: she removed all his music from her Serato DJ software. “I felt really hurt by those comments,” said Rowe. “He has inspired me as a producer, songwriter and artist. I’ve been a fan for a long time, but I don’t feel like playing music from someone who wants to go ‘def con 3’ on the Jews. I’m over him.”
CCFP Director Ari Ingel offered his own closing argument against the notion of an “irreconcilable” co-existence of Israel and Palestine which has been in place since the country’s very inception in 1948, suggesting a three-prong answer for those present: taking a trip to Israel, encouraging artists to perform there and supporting the organization in its future goals.
“The objective is peace,” added Schnur. “Not to divide.”