While Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters has in recent years acted as a de facto frontman for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, urging fellow artists against performing in Israel, Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd., for nearly 35 years, has brought the biggest names in entertainment to the Jewish state for historic live shows.
Musical guests attracted to Israel by the company have included Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, Madonna, David Bowie and Eric Clapton. The trend continues this summer with Neil Young, Soundgarden and the Pixies, all signed by Weiss to perform in Tel Aviv. The Rolling Stones have also been booked by Weiss.
“I’m not getting the message from the artists that they are feeling the pressure [from the BDS movement]. While that might have been true in the past, that’s not the case today,” said Oren Arnon, the head promoter for Weiss’ company.
Weiss has also signed the international circus troupe Cirque du Soleil, which is bringing its “Quidam” performance to Tel Aviv this summer.
Promoting and producing live performances in Israel, in the dangerous and unstable neighborhood that is the Middle East, comes with significant financial risk, said Arnon. When the security situation becomes heated and artists decide to cancel their shows, “we lose millions [of dollars],” he said.
That was the case during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when the popular British electronic music band Depeche Mode canceled its Israel show over concerns for safety. (The band did make up for it by performing in Israel several years later.)
Over the past several years, some artists have canceled their planned Israel shows not due to security fears, but as a result of the pressure levied by members of the BDS movement. Yet Arnon said of what he calls the “many” artists who haven’t backed out, “We’ve had many positive experiences with conscientious and intelligent artists who choose to come and see for themselves rather than cave to the propaganda.”
The Rolling Stones would be the biggest name to perform in Israel this summer. BDS groups have already taken to social media, calling on the Stones to boycott the Jewish state.
Whether or not she directly felt the BDS pressure, last year popular R&B singer Alicia Keys ignored the campaigns targeting her Israel performance and gave a concert in Tel Aviv that Arnon said was simply “incredible.”
Arnon admitted that BDS “in many ways can be seen as nonviolent and legitimate,” but added that art “is supposed to address issues that bother and disturb [people].”
“What BDS is saying is ‘just shut up — don’t use your art for good or for bad,’ which is something we [at Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production] have a hard time agreeing with,” Arnon said.
Arnon said Weiss’ company was behind the 2006 Israel concert by Roger Waters, a massive show was moved from its original venue to the Neve Shalom “Oasis of Peace” village, where Arabs and Jews live together. The vision was to play at a location symbolizing hope and peace between the two peoples. It was only after the show was announced that Waters was introduced to the BDS movement, according to Arnon. But Waters chose to play in Israel anyway and after performing there decided to become one of the BDS movement’s biggest supporters based on his firsthand experience of the country.
“Whether you or I agree [with Waters’ decision to support BDS] doesn’t matter,” Arnon said. “I don’t think I am trying to put words in anyone’s mouth. I don’t think it’s legitimate to prevent people from educating themselves, and it’s also not legitimate to shove one specific set of beliefs down an audience’s throat. Everyone is entitled to obtain his or her own opinion, how they see fit.”
While Waters came away with one particular conclusion, many other artists who come to Israel see the country in a positive light, said Arnon. He cites various coexistence projects musicians are exposed to when they visit Israel, including work done by an organization called Heartbeat, which brings Jerusalem-area Jewish and Arab youths together to play music in order to “let go of the fear they might have of each other.”
“We’ve taken artists to see [Heartbeat’s work] together and given artists the opportunity to come and express their thoughts,” Arnon said. “Israel is a democracy and artists can go on stage and say what they want to say. That’s what the arts have been about the last few centuries.”
Arnon feels it would be best for both the Jewish and Arab public in Israel if artists would choose discussion over boycotts. While he said singers are entitled to boycott, he has a problem with those who say, “Don’t go there and play for your fans, and don’t engage with them.”
“Bottom line, come here and tour and see the facts,” Arnon said, conveying his message to potential artists considering performances in Israel. “Our success is having an artist tour, understand the difficulties, and understand that bad things happen here similar to anywhere else in the world. We encourage them to come instead of not showing up.”