After years of fighting to get US pop sensation Britney Spears to perform in Israel, promoters have finally set the date of July 3 in Tel Aviv. While Spears is no longer the epicenter of pop music, she still commands a large international crowd, a large price tag and likely the condemnation of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists who will seek to prevent the performance.
According to Guy Beser, CEO of Bluestone Entertainment, which is bringing Spears to Israel, his company has been successful in recruiting big-name artists with little impact from the BDS movement. “When it comes to artists as big as Britney, Guns N’ Roses, or Aerosmith, I don’t think that BDS really effects them,” he said.
The BDS movement rose to prominence in the mid-2000s as a loosely connected group of activists and organizations seeking to pressure Israel economically and politically through cultural, economic and academic boycotts.
A statement by the movement this month said it is petitioning the band Radiohead to call of their July concert, because “such a performance, irrespective of intentions, will help Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid cover up its massive violations of Palestinian human rights.”
Avi Yossef, a promoter with Israeli entertainment giant, the Zappa group, said the impact of BDS is waning in his industry. “In the last two years, we see BDS is having a serious breaking up,” remarked Yossef, “and we feel it here in Israel.”
Nevertheless, a number of acts have canceled their Israeli performances due to BDS pressure, including R&B singer Lauryn Hill in 2015 and Elvis Costello in 2010. Others, including Beyonce and Pharrell Williams, faced BDS pressure and canceled, citing scheduling conflicts. BDS activists typically take to social media with Twitter hashtags and petitions garnering thousands of signatures.
Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), an NGO that supports artists who plan to perform in Israel and face BDS campaigns, has worked with artists such as Alicia Keys and Macy Gray who were considering dropping their Israel shows due to BDS pressure.
Cancellations come at a big loss to Israeli promoters. The Lauryn Hill cancellation cost the Zappa Group somewhere between 3 and 4 million shekels. Hill was scheduled to perform before a crowd of nearly 15,000 people, before she canceled two days prior to the performance, Yossef said.
While Israeli promoters say the BDS phenomenon is negligible, the Israeli government has ramped up its crackdown on BDS supporters, citing it as a strategic threat. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has gone as far as comparing the movement to terrorism.
Erdan leads Israel’s anti-BDS effort as Strategic Affairs Minister and hopes to compile a database of around 20 of the main Israelis involved in the BDS movement. Meanwhile, the Knesset passed a law earlier this month allowing the Interior Ministry to ban foreign BDS activists and supporters from the country.
According to Ronny Hatchwell, an industry relations manager for CCFP
, said BDS pressure against the Israeli concert industry “is growing, but it’s not working. In the last two years we can safely say that BDS has failed.”
Hatchwell added that the impact of BDS is much less than the financial burden of bringing artists to Israel. “The promoter has to take care of the ambulances, the police, the security, the whole thing, and they don’t get any government help,” she said. Moreover, equipment for an artist’s show is usually flown to Israel on a stopover from their European tours, adding extra financial burden.
The Britney Spears concert will cost more than two million dollars, according to the website of broadcaster Reshet.
Where BDS activists have impact is on smaller acts that more closely manage their brand and tours. “Floods and floods of pressure on social media, there are people who will write to them all day every day and that’s why the bigger artists aren’t usually effected,” said Nick Lieber, a project manager at CCFP
. “Because if they get a hundred tweets a day from BDS activists, it’s a blip on the radar and they don’t even notice, but if you have 40,000 Twitter fans and people are writing to you all day, you are going to notice.”
Spears’s concert, which was announced in a swanky Tel Aviv hotel, looks like a done deal. However, just like every major artist who chooses to play in Israel, she will face mounting pressure. “Usually we face [BDS pressure] after the announcement,” remarked Bluestone Entertainment’s Beser. “Now it will start.”
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