Leonard Cohen concert proceeds to benefit reconciliation work
Exclusive: Singer's gig to benefit Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
By DAVID BRINN
All of the net proceeds from Leonard Cohen's September 24 concert at Ramat Gan Stadium will be earmarked for a newly established fund to benefit Israeli and Palestinian organizations that are working toward conciliation, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
According to the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter's manager, Robert Kory, the Fund For Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace will provide financial support for organizations and individuals working in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, focusing on bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents who have experienced loss, yet continue to strive to achieve peace in the region through their efforts.
Both Cohen and AEG Live, his worldwide concert promoter, are also donating 100 percent of their earnings from the concert, the final date on Cohen's European tour, to the fund.
"Ever since we announced Leonard's world tour which started in May 2008, there's been considerable interest in bringing him to Israel," Kory told the Post Monday from Belfast, where the 73-year-old Jewish poet had performed over the weekend.
"As the tour has proven to be a tremendous success, the calls from Israel to play grew and we expressed willingness to do a show there. At the same time, we had a certain concern about the level of the ongoing conflict and suffering on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides," he continued.
"Leonard had a very simple thought. He said 'I'd like to play, but I just can't take any money out. I want it to stay there.' It wasn't any more complicated than that," said Kory.
"That's my role as manager, to take an idea and see whether it can be implemented, to see whether we could leave the net proceeds from the show in Israel for some positive use."
That seemingly simple task has kept Kory on transatlantic flights and phone calls for the last two months, and has contributed to the uncertainty which surrounded the concert. Cohen's last performance in Israel was in 1975, after he had performed for IDF troops during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Cohen was familiar with the Parents Circle - Family Forum, an NGO representing Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children in the conflict and who have made the commitment to work together to build a consensus for peace. Kory approached the organization's founder, Yitzhak Frankenthal, whose son Arik was murdered by terrorists near Ramallah in 1994.
"I got a call from someone identifying himself as Leonard Cohen's manager. I thought to myself, 'What's going on here?'" said Frankenthal, who enthusiastically professed to be a longtime Cohen fan.
"Robert told me that Leonard would like to donate money from his show to people who have paid the price and still continue to do what they can to achieve reconciliation. They invited me to meet them in New York, and I discovered two wonderful people - Leonard and Robert, they complete each other. It was really special and unusual to find someone like Leonard who cares about what's going on here in the Middle East and tries to do something to help."
Through Frankenthal, Kory contacted other organizations, who initially will be the beneficiaries of the fund - the Peres Center for Peace Children's Medical Program, Combatants for Peace, an organization which attempts to bring together IDF veterans and Palestinian terrorists who have renounced their ways, and the Palestinian Happy Child Center, a developmental center that works with special-needs children in Ramallah.
"Once we met with Yitzhak, it began to look like we might be able to achieve something with the idea. We discovered there were a number of organizations doing good work that were largely being ignored," said Kory.
Attempting to maneuver through the barbed wire of both Israeli and US tax laws to enable the organizations to benefit from the concert, Kory realized that an intermediary neutral vehicle would be required to facilitate the financial funneling. He approached Amnesty International for advice, and the concept of a special fund was raised.
"We didn't want it to be identified as a Palestinian or Israeli charity. Some people take the position that Amnesty International is not a neutral organization, but it's a respected international charity, with vast experience and great lawyers. So we reached out to them for legal support, and from those conversations, the idea arose of launching a fund, sponsored by Amnesty, that would be a proper, neutral legal vehicle," said Kory.
According to Curt Goering, the senior deputy executive director of AI USA, the participation of the organization is an organic extension of their human rights mandate.
"We saw this as an exciting opportunity with potential to recognize, support and pay tribute to the Israelis and Palestinians who have been working for peace and human rights amid a difficult environment and insurmountable odds," said Goering. "I see our participation as complementary to what we do, even though this initiative is different from Amnesty's ongoing work."
Cohen accepted the principles of a fund, but only if its purpose was made crystal clear, said Kory. The fund's goal, according to its mission statement, which was obtained by the Post, is "to provide financial support for organizations and individuals working to achieve reconciliation, tolerance and peace between Israelis and Palestinians and thereby advance the recognition and full expression of human rights in this region."
Its method of achieving its aims are through "direct financial grants to appropriately qualified organizations within Israel and Palestine with an emphasis on those organizations whose members have suffered from the ongoing conflict yet refuse to give up hope for reconciliation leading to a society of tolerance and peace. Grants will be made based on review of grant applications by the Board of Trustees."
Listed as the fund's initial appointees to the board of trustees are Kory, Frankenthal, Peres Center for Peace director-general Dr. Ron Pundak, Amnesty International USA secretary-general Lawrence Cox, Robert Hallett, president of AEG Live International and Dr. Nedal Jayyousi, the chairman of the Palestinian House for Professional Solutions.
"I think that this is a genuine effort to bring peace and reconciliation to both of the peoples, and it's something we really need. I wish there were more people like Leonard Cohen out there," said the Ramallah-based Jayyousi, who said he would attend the Ramat Gan show.
"I think this will have a role in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, and it may have a high impact on the region."
"The fund doesn't intend to do anything beyond being a vehicle to receive donations and pass them on," said Kory, adding that the fund's board is inviting the worldwide music industry to donate to fund the proceeds of one performance during the coming year, whether in Israel or elsewhere.
"We believe it's a viable goal," said Amnesty's Goering. "Amnesty itself has benefited in the past from music as a powerful vehicle to promote human rights. When we saw how committed Leonard was, not only donating his proceeds but putting his own voice and credibility on the line, we became hopeful that other artists will also decide to participate."
According to Kory, Cohen's clout encouraged AEG Live's Hallett to donate his company's proceeds from the show at Ramat Gan Stadium, which can hold 40,000 spectators.
"In a quiet voice, Leonard has invited other in the industry to join him. Rob was taken with the idea, and despite having this huge deal and lots of headaches, he's not going to make a dime on the concert," said Kory.
Hallett expressed his full support for the fund and told the Post that he hopes the Cohen concert is just the first step.
"I thought the idea of this message of peace which is apolitical and really helping both sides was great. We've met some really inspiring people while setting this up, both Israelis and Palestinians," said Hallett.
"I think this is a way forward. Nobody thinks it will change the world, but it's an invitation to help. Everyone knows that this problem has to be solved, the question is just when. If we can help make a difference, we have to try.
"I can't speak for anyone else, but I'd like to think this will capture the imagination of other artists and get others to participate, not just in Israel, but internationally."
Kory admitted that there would likely be some level of derision by some Israelis and Palestinians for attempting to "interfere" in the regions's internal struggles, but that he was convinced it was the right thing to do.
"We're prepared to be criticized for doing this. No doubt it's going to happen. So be it. Leonard's an artist, not a politician, and he doesn't want this to be seen as a political act," said Kory.
Despite distancing himself from the politics of the region, Cohen has not been immune to calls from pro-Palestinian groups and individuals to boycott Israel and cancel his show.
While tickets haven't gone on sale yet, Kory insisted that the show - which is being locally promoted by Marcel Avraham with sponsorship from Bank Discount - was in no danger of being affected by such pressures.
"My response to those who call for a boycott is very simple," said Kory. "Leonard is not unmindful of the problems between Israel and the Palestinians. I don't think that anyone there is happy with the situation there except for those with economic interests. The majority of people on both sides see it as a damaging situation. Leonard's aware of that and that's the fundamental motivation behind this process.
"When I talk to people calling for Leonard to boycott Israel, I ask them: 'Why can't people have different approaches? Can't we respect each other and have a different way of addressing a common problem?'
"They cite human rights violations, but freedom of speech is a fundamental human right. Leonard is an artist and the last thing you want to do to an artist is to suppress their artistic expression."
While discussions had been undertaken about a performance in Ramallah following the Ramat Gan show, Kory said that there were too many obstacles to make that happen.
"Yitzhak Frankenthal introduced us to Palestinians in Ramallah, and I visited there out of the hope of having the opportunity to play there. But Leonard is an artist, and he doesn't like to play if the 'noise level' is too high. His music speaks for itself.
"As soon as the idea of playing in Ramallah came up, the noise level went way up. So that wasn't something we were seeking," said Kory.
To emphasize that all systems are go for September 24, however, Kory disclosed that various production issues which had made the concert uncertain have been resolved.
"We don't do shows unless the sound, lights and production requirements are precisely to our standards. Look at the reviews on the tour - the sound is getting singled out," said Kory.
"It's taken time, but our production team is getting on a plane today to fly to Israel to sign off on the final sound setup. Even though it's a stadium, it's going to sound like Leonard's playing in a living room."
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