Over 30 New York human rights advocates protested outside the performance of Israeli musician Idan Raichel at the Beacon Theatre this evening, calling Raichel “a self-proclaimed propagandist for the Israeli government” and its brutal, apartheid policies towards the Palestinian people. The peaceful, spirited protest of chanting and singing was met by hostility and racism from many concert-goers.
A number of Raichel’s fans began shouting obscenities and making vulgar gestures at the protesters, in two cases mocking the religious garb (video) some Muslim women wear (the headscarf, or hijab). One aggressive male fan repeatedly told a female protest chant leader, “You should die!” Another went out of his way to walk up to two female protesters and toss a lit cigarette between them. In contrast, one passer-by read an explanatory flier and then joined the protesters, adding her voice to chants such as, “Voice of peace? That’s a lie! Idan plays while people die,” and “Musicians must take a stand, no excuse for stealing land.”
Riham Barghouti from Adalah-NY explained, “Completely contradicting the image that he tries to project of a man of peace who values other cultures, Idan Raichel also identifies himself as cultural ambassador for the state of Israel and a proud supporter of the Israeli army who actively collaborates with the Israeli government’s “Brand Israel” initiative. Brand Israel attempts to convey a positive image of Israel through arts and culture, diverting attention from Israel’s brutal human rights abuses and systematic denial of rights to the Palestinian people.”
On October 24th, Raichel reacted on Twitter and Instagram to protesters outside his Philadelphia concert holding a sign reading “Boycott Israeli Apartheid.” Raichel wrote in response, “…sooooo… 1. Israel is NOT an apartheid country. 2. I am proud to be an Israeli artist. 3. U should NEVER boycott artisits [sic].”
Maureen Silverman from Adalah-NY responded, “Idan Raichel should use his position to truly speak out for human rights for all people by supporting justice for Palestinians, and he should oppose the actions of Israel’s government and army, rather than fronting for them. This boycott isn’t about being Jewish or Israeli; it targets supporters of Israel’s unjust policies.”
Alexis Stern from Adalah-NY wondered, “Why is it that at two different protests of Raichel’s concerts, in Philadelphia and New York, fans of the supposed musician of ‘love’ and ‘peace’ have shouted racist and bigoted obscenities, and made threatening gestures such as spitting at demonstrators and throwing torn flyers back at them?”
In 2009, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official outlined the Brand Israel strategy that Raichel supports to the New York Times, saying, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits…This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.
Raichel calls his music “global fusion,” developed from “cross cultural collaborations,” and cultivates an image as a representative of a “tolerant, multi-ethnic Israel.” Yet Raichel’s actions and statements contradict his claimed support for peace, respect for other cultures, and transcendence of national boundaries. Raichel was sent on a 2012 tour of Africa by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which explained, “The goal in sending Raichel to Africa was to present Israeli culture at its best.” In a past interview, Raichel has said (translation): “We certainly see ourselves as ambassadors of Israel in the world, cultural ambassadors, hasbara ambassadors, also in regards to the political conflict.” Raichel has also claimed that “our army is a basic ingredient” for Israeliness. Raichel endorses the right-wing organization Thank Israeli Soldiers, with a personal testimony of support, ignoring the Israeli army’s long record of brutal human rights abuses committed against Palestinians in the service of an apartheid regime. He also served as an advisor to Creative Community for Peace, a powerful US entertainment industry lobby that uses its connections to protect Israel from human rights concerns.
Tonight’s protesters are part of the growing international movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, to pressure Israel to end its human rights abuses. The Palestinian-led BDS movement is a nonviolent campaign for Palestinian rights inspired by the international boycott campaign that helped to abolish apartheid in South Africa.
New Yorkers will also be holding a protest on Tuesday, October 29, at 6 PM at Alice Tully Hall at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s fundraising concert there. The Israel Philharmonic website proudly states that the Orchestra serves as “Israel’s musical ambassador throughout the country and the world.” American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra calls the IPO “Israel’s finest cultural emissary” and notes that “[t]he goodwill created by these tours…is of enormous value to the State of Israel.” New Yorkers have held lively protests at performances by Raichel (2011), the Israel Philharmonic (2011, 2012), and others in past years.