Cultural Organization Pushes Back Against BDS by Providing Behind-the-Scenes Support for Artists Planning to Perform in Israel (INTERVIEW)
Despite pressure from the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Hollywood celebrities and famous musicians are choosing to visit and perform in the Jewish state, the director of an entertainment industry advocacy organization told The Algemeiner.
“Music and culture can build bridges to peace in Israel. A cultural boycott that singles out Israel is wrong and will not resolve the conflict and will not bring about peace,” said Jill Hoyt of Creative Community for Peace (CCFP). Founded about four years ago by entertainment industry giants David Renzer, chairman of Spirit Music Group, and Steve Schnur, president of music at EA Music Group, CCFP provides a balance to the discourse surrounding Israel and encourages Hollywood bigwigs to visit the country and experience it for themselves.
“We focus largely on the entertainment industry, because celebrities have enormous impact and influence on society,” said Hoyt. “If you look at their social media accounts with millions of followers, their reach is pretty broad. When they visit Israel, whether it’s a celebrity or famous musician, it has a positive impact. And, for whatever reason, should they cancel their trip, negative repercussions as well.”
CCFP has encouraged many stars — including Alicia Keys, Scarlett Johansson and Carlos Santana, to name a few — not to cancel their plans to visit Israel due to pressure from the BDS movement.
“We’ve intervened in many circumstances. When Alicia Keys was targeted, it was a very difficult situation. However, she ended up performing to a sold-out crowd in Tel Aviv,” said Hoyt. When Scarlett Johansson faced extreme public backlash for connecting herself to Israeli company SodaStream, “We worked with her team behind the scenes and supported her with a positive letter-writing campaign, messaging and information about Israel. And we received a public thank you from her publicist for our help.”
Each performer who cancels a visit to Israel is a win for the BDS movement, Hoyt said. “When BDS claims responsibility, whether it’s true or not, it affects not only fans but other artists and musicians,” she stated. “CCFP works a lot behind the scenes with our connections in Hollywood to preemptively support their decision to visit Israel and educate them on what the boycott movement is and isn’t.”
One of the most outspoken supporters of the BDS movement — and who pressures other artists not to perform in Israel, which he has called an “apartheid regime” that carries out the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians through “racist, oppressive and discriminatory” policies — is Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters. Waters also openly criticizes musicians who perform in Israel, such as Jon Bon Jovi and the Rolling Stones, and takes credit for the cancellation of a performance by Stevie Wonder at a 2012 Friends of the IDF gala.
“Boycotting Israel is not the solution and it will only punish people who want to hear the music and come together,” said Hoyt. “Isolating people can only fan the flames of extremism. Whether or not you agree with government policies, we encourage people to continue their trips.”
CCFP has come under fire for its work. The organization has been branded a “right-wing extremist group and part of the settler movement” by anti-Israel groups and websites such as Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada, Hoyt said. Despite its being a privately funded organization, critics claim CCFP receives money from the Israeli government. “None of these claims is true,” said Hoyt, adding that in some instances “antisemitic slurs are used against us, too.” Within Hollywood itself, CCFP “hasn’t faced any real backlash.” As Hoyt puts it, industry officials are “gun shy” to take a public stance on a very political situation.
As Israel gears up for the summer — a popular time for outdoor concerts — some of the biggest names in music are set to perform in the Holy Land, including Elton John, Barry Manilow, hip-hop artist Wiz Khalifa, Spanish singer Julio Iglesias and world-renowned Russian pianist Sergey Jilin.
“Artistic freedom is a democratic value CCFP cares strongly about. Israel, like all democracies, is imperfect and fans in Israel should not be punished,” Hoyt said. “We hope people see Israel for themselves and play for their fans because music can be part of the solution.”