Afropop Star Salif Keita Cancels Jerusalem Benefit Concert Citing Fear of ‘Being Harmed Personally’ After BDS ‘Threats’
by Joshua Levitt
Afropop musician Salif Keita on Thursday was forced to cancel a performance scheduled for today at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival on the recommendation of his management and agents after they said they could not guarantee his safety in the face of “threats, blackmail attempts, intimidation, social media harassment and slander” from the “extremist” Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
In a statement published to the musician’s Facebook page, addressed to “Sacred Music Festival, Hadassah Hospital, Salif Keita fans,” Keita’s non-profit, The Salif Keita Global Foundation, said: “The reason for the cancellation is not one which was made by Mr. Keita, but by his agents who were bombarded with hundreds of threats, blackmail attempts, intimidation, social media harassment and slander stating that Mr Keita was to perform in Israel, ‘not for peace, but for apartheid.’ These threats were made by a group named BDS, who also threatened to keep increasing an anti-Salif Keita campaign, which they had already started on social media, and to work diligently at ruining the reputation and career that Mr. Keita has worked 40 years to achieve not only professionally, but for human rights and albinism.”
“Of course, we do not agree with any of these tactics or false propaganda, but management’s concern is to protect the artist from being harmed personally and professionally. Although, we love Israel and all his fans here, and the fantastic spirit of unity of the Sacred Music Festival, as well as the important work your hospital is doing for albinism, we did not agree with the scare tactics and bullying used by BDS; therefore management decided to act cautiously when faced with an extremist group, as we believe BDS to be,” the message said.
The decision to cancel the performance coincided with news that British crooner Sir Tom Jones, who is also scheduled to perform in Israel, was also being targeted by the BDS movement. An email message sent by Israel’s Consul for Public Affairs in New York, Gil Lainer, informed friends of Israel that Jones “has been the latest victim of a fringe campaign pushing for a boycott of Israel, which bullies artists and academics from coming to Israel.” Lainer asked readers to send messages to Jones via Twitter telling him “that his adoring fans in Israel can’t wait for his show.”
The statement from Keita made a point of explaining that the decision not to perform today was the result of physical threats and intimidation, not politics, echoing what The Animals’s Eric Burdon said after announcing last month that he would pull out of a concert in Israel, though Burdon changed his mind at the last minute, performing in Israel without a hitch.
Earlier this week, former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters, who features a Jewish star painted on a giant inflatable pig at his concerts and is a seven-year member of the international BDS movement, asked other musicians and performers to join him in a new boycott of Israel.
“I write to you now, my brothers and sisters in the family of Rock and Roll, to ask you to join with me, and thousands of other artists around the world, to declare a cultural boycott on Israel, to shed light on these problems and also to support all our brothers and sisters in Palestine and Israel who are struggling to end all forms of Israeli oppression and who wish to live in peace, justice, equality and freedom,” Waters wrote via Facebook on Tuesday.
Jewish organizations and human rights groups responded sharply. “If I were a musician looking to protest human rights abuses today, I would be looking at Syria, at Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, everywhere but Israel,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli told Waters that his cultural boycott should “go all the way,” and include an image of her used in a video montage for his show, which he’s been doing since at least 2011. Jewish heavy metal rocker David Draiman of Disturbed and Device has also stood up to Waters, and many international superstar musicians including, Alanis Morissette and rapper Pitbull have performed in Israel in the past year without any problems. Rihanna, 25, arguably one of the highest profile singers in the world today, is planning to visit Israel to perform in Tel Aviv, in October.
“Mr. Keita is not a politician who plays for governments, but a musician who performs for his fans who are of all faiths and origins in Jerusalem. It is unfortunate that artists like him are threatened by this group who falsely claim to defend human rights, when they should take their concerns to governments or ask for support of their cause in a lawful way, and not by endangering the freedom of expression of artists, or using harassment and intimidation of artists who play for peace and for all people, in order to bring some kind of justice to the Palestinians they claim to represent,” said Keita’s Facebook message.
Keita, turning 64 this Sunday, is known as the “Golden Voice of Africa,” and became a crossover music star with a 1970s band called “Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux.” As well as a musician, Keita is a direct descendant of the founder of the Mali Empire, Sundiata Keita, and is known for his albinism, a skin pigment disorder and a cause which he was to be supporting in Jerusalem.
As part of the four-day concert series, Keita had been scheduled to visit Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital and its albinism center, and insisted on following through with a donation to the hospital consisting of several hundred new UV-protected sunglasses, UV-protected clothing, swim gear and hats for patients with albinism.
In the statement, his foundation said: “We thank you for your invitation to Jerusalem, and are deeply saddened and disappointed by the outcome of this planned performance and visit. We hope that you will receive this donation with the love it was intended to bring to the patients, as we determine a future time to be able to perform in Israel, and visit your important center for albinism and skin cancer treatment.”
Keita was scheduled to perform on the closing day of the festival with Gil Ron Shama, Goodwill Ambassador for the Israeli Foreign Ministry to Muslim countries, a post given to the musician because his music fuses Israeli sounds with African beats and has taken him to many African countries to work with local performers.