As Keys performs in Israel despite boycott, campaigners say new precedent set

For Immediate Release:

4 July 2013 – Washington, D.C.- Despite more than a month of global appeals to cancel, music artist Alicia Keys is performing in Israel today.  After it became known that Keys, an international celebrity and a lead supporter of the NGO “Keep a Child Alive,” would be performing in Tel Aviv, thousands of individuals and public figures the world over have asked Keys to hold Israel accountable for its crimes.  Highlights of the campaign include a petition signed by nearly 16,000 individuals, and a statement by dozens of prominent African-American figures, including authors, academics, artists and clergy comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Jim Crow system of discrimination in the United States.  Keys has also received letters from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, as well as dozens of video pleas from around the world.

Activists, public figures and civil society groups globally have followed the lead of the 171 Palestinian civil society organizations that issued a call in 2005 for a global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.  Israel has been repeatedly condemned for its Apartheid policies against Palestinians, including by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has stated that the only way to hold Israel accountable for its systematic human rights violations is a concerted, non-violent campaign of BDS modeled on the South African experience.

Keys’ performance comes after persistent efforts to draw comparisons between the struggles of African Americans and South Africans with the present-day experiences of Palestinians.  A columnist at NBC’s African-African news hub, The Grio, heavily criticized Keys’ decision to play in Israel, calling into question her right to portray the socially conscious musician Lena Horne in a film.  The statement of African Americans, which included Angela Davis, actress LisaGay Hamilton, Robin Kelley, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and Bill Fletcher Jr., took vocal support of Palestinians by African-Americans to a new level.  “It was important to us to highlight the similarities we witnessed, and read about, between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the experience of African-Americans in the United States under Jim Crow,” said Fletcher Jr., who co-founded the group African Americans for Justice in the Middle East and North Africa.

Ramah Kudaimi of the U.S. Campaign to end the Israeli Occupation states that “Although it is disappointing that Keys has decided to go ahead with her concert in Tel Aviv and lend her name to Israel’s whitewashing of its crimes against Palestinians, the mobilization of so many groups and people to urge her to cancel is a sign of how much the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement for Palestinian right has grown. Keys will look back on this concert and realize that she chose to play in an apartheid state just as so many were deciding to stand for justice and no longer normalize Israel’s actions.”

Calls have also come from within Israel itself, such as from Tali Shapiro of the group Boycott from Within.  Ms. Shapiro has stated that “It is highly disappointing that after months of appeals from hundreds of organization and tens of thousands of individuals, Palestinian, Israeli and international, Alicia Keys has decided that ignoring reports, of an obvious humanitarian crisis created by Israel, is the proper response.”

Despite Alicia Keys’ decision to play, Palestinians involved in pushing the boycott said the campaign is bearing fruit.  For example, in 2010, an Israeli producer admitted to the Jewish Daily Forward that he had offered to pay the equivalent of a Madison Square Garden show to 15 artists, and none of them agreed. Now in 2013, artists can rarely perform in Israel unnoticed.

Many were surprised by Keys’ refusal to cancel despite having an image as a socially conscious artist and human being, with particular sensitivity and passion about children. Reports and statistics presented to her and her NGO and a letter from prominent Palestinian child’s rights and health organizations note that some 700 Palestinian children under 18 are prosecuted in Israeli military courts annually after being arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli army.   Since 2000, more than 8,000 Palestinian children have been detained.

Rania Elias, an arts director in occupied East Jerusalem and member of the PACBI Steering Committee said: “When artists crossed the cultural boycott picket line in apartheid South Africa it was out of ignorance, the lure of money, or unconcern over human rights. Which one of these factors motivated Alicia Keys to ignore Israel’s occupation and apartheid and to allow her name to be used to whitewash its human rights violations against Palestinians?”

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