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You can’t always get what you want

The Rolling Stones played in Tel Aviv this summer. Photo Credit:

Israel fights boycott campaign with a little help from friends 

Remember that fabulous line in "Shakespeare in Love" where the director turns to a harried playwright and says: "The show must …you know," and stops. "Go on," insists the playwright, urging him to finish the sentence. That interchange took place in the Globe theater in Elizabethan England; in modern day Israel even thinking of staging shows is more complicated. Before overseas artists can appear in any venue in the Holy Land, they must field a barrage of pleas to boycott "the apartheid state."

On the Facebook page urging the Rolling Stones not to visit us in Israel, for example, guitar strings morph into a wall topped by an Israeli flag; the graphics, it has to be owned, are clever. Along with appeals to the band members to remember how evil we are, there are threats: if they do give a Tel Aviv concert, they are warned, their other shows will play to empty stadiums.

But boycotts lead to anti-boycotts; Israelis, backed by Jewish support worldwide, are not about to be wiped off the international entertainment map without putting up a fight. "Apart from anything else," explains Lana Melman, director of Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), "artists should be part of the solution to problems, helping people feel connected. Telling them not to perform in Israel is infringing on artistic expression and politicizing art; it's simply not right."

CCFP, an entertainment-based advisory board in Hollywood with staff in Israel and New York, is determined to right that wrong. It was formed at the end of 2011 by some key players in the music world keen to make a difference: David Renzer – once Chairman of Universal Publishing and now Chairman of Spirit Music, Steve Schnur – President of Electronic Arts Music and Ran Geffen-Lifshitz – owner of MMG Music in Israel.

This is how it works: once an artist is signed up to appear in Israel, CCFP swings into action. Neil Young, for example, might have found his elusive heart of gold, but for all that it is pretty challenging to harden even the shiniest heart against an avalanche of tweets and twitters and all manner of pleas not to strum his guitar on our shores. So, 32 prominent members of Hollywood's entertainment industry signed a cover letter to a petition of 26 000 signatories urging Young to ignore the boycott cries. As of today he's still on track to rock us in Park Hayarkon in July. 

Actress Scarlett Johansson refused to back out of her SodaStream contract

Scarlett Johansson was an inspired choice to bring SodaStream into the mainstream. Never mind her voluptuous apology to Coke and Pepsi delivered in a dramatic black dress, forget those luscious lips wrapped around a seductive straw – Johansson refused to back out of her contract despite the fizzy drink factory's location in Ma'aleh Adumim, across the Green Line in the West Bank. She defended her choice with facts and figures: the company employs both Jews and Arabs; Israelis and Palestinians work side by side bottling the liquid that is suddenly so sexy, thanks to the sparkling actress. Despite being axed from her position as global ambassador for the charity Oxfam for not caving to boycott demands, Johansson stood her ground and kept sucking on that straw. And CCFP was right there to support her; sending her thousands of grateful emails through her agent. Johansson even expressed her gratitude to CCFP for being a bridge.

Building bridges is what artists do best, when left alone to play their music. But what a song and dance even a simple concert can become, in the cacophony of discords in our neck of the woods. Geffen-Lifshitz, who promotes Arabic music in Israel and helped to facilitate a shared European tour bus between the Israeli Arab group "Khallas" and the Israeli Middle Eastern Metal Music Bank "Orphanland," is convinced that playing music together leads to improved understanding and connection. Yet there are always complications. "Orphanland" did some gigs with a Lebanese belly-dancer; an Israeli flag fluttered onstage during the performance. According to Geffen-Lifshitz, the dancer has now been banned from her native land.

Sometimes the hype gets downright silly, as when a Ha'aretz journalist, covering a pop concert in Park Hayarkon, reported that Rihanna announced from her Tel Aviv stage that all she sees "is Palestine." The journalist had spun the facts; scrutiny of playback tapes clearly showed a not-in-top-form Rihanna belting out the lyrics to her "Pour it Up" track, including the original line "All I see is dollar signs." Ha'aretz, pushed by The Jerusalem Post and Stand with Us, retracted in the end; the whole brouhaha highlighted the absurd lengths to which people will go to hammer home their agenda. 

Lana Melman: “Artists should be part of the solution to problems.”

CCFP has a lot to contend with. Roger Waters, for example, of "Pink Floyd" fame, caused huge traffic jams in Israel some years ago as eager fans flocked to hear him. Waters, although warmly received on his tour, has since become a vocal advocate for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), compared Israelis to Nazis, urged other artists not to bow to Jewish pressure to perform here, and excoriated Scarlett Johansson and others who buck the BDS trend. Geffen-Lifshitz does not accept this way of doing business. "We invite Waters to come here again and see for himself what is going on," he proclaims. "We are happy to dialogue with him – if he wants to make a change, let him meet us and talk." 

One of the key players ... Ran Geffen-Lifshitz, owner of MMG Music in Israel

In the meantime CCFP is taking the talk to the artists, wherever they might be. Mainly funded by private individuals in Israel and abroad, the organization hopes to continue providing support to any artists who choose to visit the Holy Land.

With a stellar line-up of top entertainers slated to treat us to a summer feast of music, it looks like we're in for a hot few months ahead.

To donate to Creative Community for Peace, to join the thousands who have signed their anti-boycott petition or to like them on Facebook, please visit 



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