Female singer asked to leave J'lem music festival

Two other female performers also say they were pressured not to perform by haredi audience members in Old City.

Liat Zion of The Diwan Project 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Liat Zion)
Liat Zion of The Diwan Project 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Liat Zion)
Liat Zion, the sole female singer of the eight-member musical ensemble, The Diwan Project, said she was unexpectedly – albeit politely – asked to leave the “Sounds of the Old City” music festival on its opening night in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter last week, at the behest of disgruntled Orthodox attendees.
The four-day music festival, held from March 18-21 in the Jewish Quarter, a mainly-religious section of the city, featured Jewish-themed music, Armenian music and traditional Arab music groups, and was attended by a secular and religious audience.
“The producers of the festival accidentally put the show in a very religious part of the city and they didn’t notice that there was a female member of the group – me,” said Zion.
“So, shortly before we finished our first half-hour set on opening night, one of the producers came on the stage and asked me to leave.”
According to Zion, despite numerous news reports that she was forcibly removed from the stage following an uproar by haredi audience members, her exit was peaceful and entirely her decision.
“I was not forced off the stage, I chose to get off,” she said. “So many news organizations tried to make this into an ugly story, but you know what the amazing part of this is? I think some good came of it, and I hope you will focus on this message: We are all brothers and sisters, and if something is difficult, or doesn’t feel right for one of my religious brothers, I don’t want to push his buttons or provoke him. We are all entitled to different points of view.”
Zion said that after the group exited the stage to enter the festival’s artists’ room, they were greeted by an apologetic production manager, whose name she did not disclose.
“He politely approached us and apologized very deeply for the mistake,” she said, adding that the production company paid her for the agreed-upon sum of the contract and included cab-fare to take her to her home in Herzliya.
“I have no anger about what happened,” Zion said. “It was a misunderstanding.”
However, another male-dominated group that was asked not to include its two female members during the festival did not share Zion’s magnanimity.
Dotan Yogev, a member of the 15-member musical ensemble, Marsh Dondurma, said his group was preemptively pressured by the festival’s producers not to include its two women performers in that particular show.
“We had the show booked in the Old City and two days before the concert I got a phone call from the guys in charge of the show and he asked me quite firmly to go on without [our two female members],” said Yogev. “I told him this was impossible and embarrassing and that there was absolutely no reason we would perform without them.”
Yogev said he was unaware who was specifically responsible for pressuring the group not to perform with the women, but that he was “clearly advised to substitute them with men.”
Yogev said after a couple days of “nonstop phone calls” from the contractor asking him not to allow the two women to perform with the group, he and the ensemble continued to steadfastly refuse.
His efforts paid off.
“We held firm and eventually made it to show and were able to perform at the festival with both women,” he said. “Look, there were a lot of secular people and tourists in the audience, as well. If we were just doing the show for an Orthodox audience, then I’d understand – but the audience was mixed, like the true face of Jerusalem.”
Yogev added, “It was a concert for the people, featuring singing – it’s not like we put on a swimsuit competition.”
Meanwhile, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, formally condemned Zion’s removal from the festival in a posting on his Facebook page, and placed the blame on the festival’s artistic director, whom he did not name.
“This incident that occurred as part of the festival in the Jewish Quarter where one woman was not allowed to sing is a malfunction of the artistic director, which we only heard of after the fact,” Barkat wrote.
“Additionally, women sang and performed in many locations at the music festival in the Old City,” he continued.
“The decision was not up to me and not acceptable to me and I will make sure that it does not happen again. The exclusion of women in any form is not acceptable to me and I will continue to work against it.”
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Municipality issued a statement defending the festival’s overall inclusion of female performers.
“Many women at the festival sang in many places in the Old City,” it stated. “The specific incident is the malfunction of the artistic director, which was not made on behalf of the municipality, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Ariel Company and is not an indication of the festival in its entirety.”