Amnesty yanks support for Cohen's peace concert

Amnesty International has decided to discontinue its support for Leonard Cohen's peace concert in Ramat Gan next month, following pressure from Palestinian solidarity groups for the artist to boycott Israel. Cohen's tour of the region has been dogged by controversy, and attempts to arrange a Ramallah concert were rebuffed due to pressure from Palestinian groups who felt it would be regarded as a step toward normalization of ties with Israel. Amnesty had originally agreed with Cohen's representatives to work together on a fund for "Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace," but a statement posted on Amnesty International's Web site last week declared: "Given the different requirements of Amnesty International's work and that of the fund, both have agreed that at this point AIUSA will withdraw from active involvement with the fund. Amnesty International USA will not be part of the fund nor benefit financially from the proceeds of the concert in Tel Aviv." Omar Barghouti of The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel commented, "We welcome Amnesty International's withdrawal from this ill-conceived project, which is clearly intended to whitewash Israel's violations of international law and human rights. By abandoning the Leonard Cohen project in Tel Aviv, Amnesty International has dealt Cohen and his public relations team a severe blow, denying them the cover of the organization's prestige and respectability." But Curt Goering, Amnesty International USA's deputy executive director, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that "it wasn't this that has lead us to change our approach to this issue. Amnesty doesn't take a position on cultural or other boycotts; we do advocate sanctions in certain circumstances - we did call earlier this year for an arms embargo on both Israel and Palestine, but we don't take a position on any cultural boycott... It was only following the lack of support from Israeli and Palestinian NGOs that we decided not to continue our support." Cohen is currently scheduled to play a single concert at the Ramat Gan Stadium on September 24. Tickets to the veteran Canadian singer-songwriter's performance, "A Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace," are sold out. Proceeds from the concert will charities such as a center for special needs children in Ramallah and the Parents Circle-Family Forum, an organization that brings together IDF veterans and former Palestinian gunmen.