Israeli artists coming to America

Let’s applaud rock legends Paul McCartney, Elton John, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, who all performed in Israel in recent years despite pressure not to.

Taylor Swift. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Taylor Swift.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The biggest news in Israel this month may not have been the upcoming election or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March address before the US Congress but rather a rumor – the possibility of Grammy award-winning artist Taylor Swift performing in Israel this summer as part of her “1989 tour,” in honor of her latest album.
The Calcalist newspaper reported last week that four producers and managers are negotiating to bring Swift to perform at Hayarkon Park with a bidding war of perhaps 2.5 million dollars. Like Rihanna and Justin Timberlake before her, Taylor Swift would be a welcome addition to the Israeli concert scene. We need more Western performing artists like Taylor Swift and Alan Parsons withstanding misguided pressure from fellow performers such as Brian Eno and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.
However in addition to encouraging Western artists (like Blues Hall of Famer Robert Cray who just announced that he, too, would be performing in Israel) – we should also be concerned about the fate of Israeli artists coming to America.
These artists are under relentless attack from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists for having the gall to want to promote their work in the West. The BDS website touts that “protest and campaigns against state-backed performances...are now commonplace in Europe and North America, forcing some cultural venues to defend or retract their decision to host representatives of Israel and persuading others not to invite state-backed Israeli artists at all.”
These protests and so-called campaigns have been led against artists such as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Batsheva Dance Company. In Pittsburgh, the contemporary art museum Mattress Factory was forced to cancel an exhibition involving three Palestinian and five Israeli artists due to the strong backlash from both sides. This was a rare opportunity the cancellation of which hurt all parties involved.
These incidents are especially troubling given the potential influence the arts can have on the very peace and reconciliation so many on the Left seek. The renowned painter Marc Chagall noted that “in the arts, as in life, everything is possible provided it is based on love.” These performing artists who have been the victims of protest have not made any grand political statements, nor are they espousing hate. Instead, they promote positive messages of collaboration, dialogue and peace. Idan Raichel, for example, infuses Arab rhythms and Hebrew texts into his music. Batsheva Dance Company employs both Jewish and Arab dancers. These are fine examples of Israeli artists’ ability to co-exist, a needed image not only for their native Israel but also for the world.
Given the number of successful artists coming out of Israel, it is grossly unfair to prevent them from sharing their gift internationally. Actively promoting Israeli artists who reach across cultural lines on the global stage demonstrates the possibilities of reconciliation, not nationalist racism as some outrageously allege. American producers should be encouraged to search out Israeli artists to bring to US venues should discourage wouldbe BDS protesters.
Art knows no national boundaries and can impact people in many different ways. Cultural and educational events spread knowledge and understanding, as has been continuously demonstrated.
Let’s applaud rock legends Paul McCartney, Elton John, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, who all performed in Israel in recent years despite pressure not to. And let’s welcome young Taylor Swift and others.
But we also need more Israeli artists to come to the West and showcase the vibrant Israeli culture and model of coexistence. Funding for the arts has already significantly decreased; let’s not hurt the international arts community further by preventing artists from reaching a wider audience.
The author, the former cultural attaché at Israel’s embassy in Washington, is founder of Israel on Stage, a new non-profit that showcases Israeli artists.