Alicia Keys, left, with Rachel Greenberg, who is connected to Thank Israeli Soldiers.
For supporters of Israel, the news couldn’t have been better: mega-pop star Alicia Keys not only played Tel Aviv on July 4, but she met with an organization called Thank Israeli Soldiers. The group puts together lectures for Israeli soldiers, delivers care packages and organizes “weekend experiences” for soldiers in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Or was it news? The original blog post by a blogger named “Aussie Dave” (see it here) celebrating Keys’ purported visit and calling it a rebuke to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was soon taken down with no explanation.
I ask anyone who may have replicated this post or the photo to please refrain from doing so.
So what happened? Here’s what I have been able to find out.
In early July, a woman named Rachel Feldhamer published the above photograph of Keys on her Facebook page. The picture was said to have been taken July 8 in the Old City in Jerusalem. the blog Israellycool.com, a pro-Israel website which relishes publishing “BDS Fail[s]”, soon trumpeted the news.
“I have it on good authority that the photo was taken in the old city of Jerusalem, at the Thank Israeli Soldiers office, a group that mostly sends care packages to, and hosts Shabbat meals for, IDF soldiers,” reported “Aussie Dave.”
The other woman in the picture was clearly Rachel Greenberg. She appears multiple times in photos on the Thank Israeli Soldiers website.
Then the post mysteriously disappeared, with the message I quoted above. In a second comment on his blog that was also later removed, Aussie Dave wrote, “It was from Facebook and was genuine. I can’t go into details as to why I was asked to take it down, but I acceded to the request once I realize there was an issue.”
And in an e-mail to me, he said that “I was led to believe she visited there and then my source was told this was not the case. So I could not leave my post up… What I can tell you is I was under no pressure to pull it, not from Alicia Keys nor anyone connected with her. As much as I would have loved it to be true, once I was told my initial info was wrong, I had to pull the post for credibility’s sake.”
Keys’ PR team denied to me that any visit took place. A spokesperson for Keys said in an e-mail that “there was no planned visit with any group Israeli or Palestinian. While touring the region, Alicia was introduced to many people and graciously posed for photos with fans.”
But a source with direct knowledge of the visit told me that said that Keys didn’t just waltz into the office, that the visit came about when she saw advertisements for the group in Jerusalem, and wanted to check it out. The source also said that Greenberg works for the group, though I couldn’t confirm that independently. “She [Keys] was there. That’s a picture of her in the Claman house,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Abba and Pamela Claman run Thank Israeli Soldiers out of their home in the Old City of Jerusalem–where the photograph of Greenberg and Keys was taken, according to “Aussie Dave.” After the photo was published on Facebook, the source said that Greenberg’s job was threatened and that the organization asked Greenberg to get the photo taken down. I called Greenberg several times to try and get her version of events. She did not pick up her phone.
Thank Israeli Soldiers also denies that Keys visited its organization.
“It was a misrepresentation on somebody’s blog,” said an employee of Thank Israeli Soldiers, who refused to give her name and hung up after a five-minute conversation. “It’s not fair to put a star who’s on her own spiritual journey into a position of trying to make up stories about where she’s going and what she’s doing. So that’s all I have to say about it. It’s not true…Don’t write anything, there’s no story.”
Yes, move along now! The incident could only add further embarrassment to what was a controversial career move by the star. Keys’ visit to Israel attracted vociferous opposition from activists working in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) call.
Thank Israeli Soldiers is not the kind of group that Keys needs on her facebook page. It is run by people connected with the Republican Party. Claman was at Mitt Romney’s Jerusalem fundraiser last July, which cost $25,000-$50,000 to attend. And on the board of Thank Israeli Soldiers is Cheryl Halpern, a former chairwoman of the Republican Jewish Coalition known for blasting National Public Radio’s coverage of Israel.