Make the boycott go up in Pixie dust

Latest cancellation from the Pixies doesn’t mean the music stops.

 

Israeli music fans are not going to let some misguided, undereducated musicians ruin their good time.

Last Saturday night, more than 7,000 fans crowded the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds for the opening of the two-day Picnic music festival featuring British glam rockers Placebo, despite the last-minute cancellations of support acts, British indie rockers Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System.

In a case of Israeli on-the-spot ingenuity, they were ably replaced by JViewz, who had finished a short Israeli tour and delayed their return to New York at the request of promoter Shuki Weiss, and Rami Fortis, who brought along Balkan Beat Box clarinet player Eyal Talmudi. The show was opened – as scheduled – by the New York-via-Israel bass and drums duo Hank & Cupcakes.

While refunds to the show were made available following the two cancellations, only a handful of ticket holders took advantage of the offer, according to a representative of Mauranne Paz, the PR firm working with Weiss.

Meanwhile, across town at the Mann Auditorium, veteran British singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading was performing the second of two well-attended shows with her crack backup band – the first show having taken place on Friday night at the Shoni Fortress in Binyamina.

Those among the 3,400 people who attended one of the two shows expecting a laid-back offering were taken aback by a rocking Armatrading, showing off her electric guitar prowess many times while presenting a pleasing career overview including the hits Me Myself I and Drop the Pilot.

Nobody attending either the Picnic festival or one of the Armatrading shows was likely worrying about an increasing movement afoot by artists to boycott Israel. They were too busy enjoying world-class music presented by entertainers who were honoring their contracts and agreeing to perform for what were likely very comfortable fees.

That the Klaxons, Gorillaz Sound System and now, the Pixies – who were due to headline the second night of the Picnic festival on Wednesday – decided to join Elvis Costello and Gil Scott-Heron and renege on their signed contract to appear here is regrettable – and totally avoidable.

However, as Weiss pointed out in a statement to media on Sunday, “Events have gotten out of control. Intense pressure is being applied to foreign artists not to come to Israel. This is cultural terrorism.”

Unlike Costello and Scott-Heron, whose clear and above-board left-wing ideology gave them a pre-determined position on Israel, the Pixies have never been known to be a political band.

In fact, the whole philosophy of the band since their regrouping in 2004 has seemed to revolve around one thing – money. Never having cashed in on their cult status while still together in the ’90s, the quartet has done so with a vengeance in their second incarnation.

So why would a nonpolitical band, together apparently only for the money, cancel a big-gate date in Israel? The band’s statement, as released by promoter Weiss, declared that “events beyond all our control have conspired against us.”

If they were really upset over Israel’s actions regarding the flotilla, why didn’t they come out with a clear statement condemning us?

Evidently the flotilla saga is what also caused the Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System to jump overboard, even though neither act came right out and said it. Of course, for Costello and Scott-Heron, who canceled long before the flotilla set sail, it was simply Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that caused them to bail on their lifeboats.

The factor uniting all the acts that have decided that performing in Israel is worse than aligning themselves with those who would deny Israel’s right to exist is exactly something along the lines of what Weiss called “cultural terrorism.” From the moment a high-profile artist is booked into an Israeli venue, a non-stop barrage of e-mails, open letters and petitions rain down on them like stinging needles, prodding and irritating their consciences.

For example, in March, a group of Israeli self-proclaimed human rights activists calling themselves “Boycott!” urged the Pixies in a letter to cancel their show here, asking, “Are you prepared to perform in Tel Aviv while just under your nose millions of human beings are suffocating under a cruel Israeli military regime, denying them elementary human rights?”

Evidently, that appeal wasn’t effective enough. It took the media coverage proclaiming that the IDF killed nine human rights activists bringing aid to Gazans to do the trick.

Artists face the pressure to boycott Israel in different ways. Some, like Bruce Springsteen, have apparently decided not to even enter the argument by not entertaining any offers to appear here. Others have faced dilemmas over whether to perform in Israel or not – but as in the case of Leonard Cohen, those deliberations took place before the date was booked.

Once Cohen agreed to perform at Ramat Gan Stadium last year, he kept to his word. And when the calls for a boycott grew and his conscience grew heavy, instead of canceling, he and his management devised the idea of donating the proceeds to the show to Israeli and Palestinian organizations working toward reconciliation.

Costello also gave serious thought to the issues surrounding his performances here, but instead of reaching the same conclusion as Cohen, he decided to back out totally.

It’s unlikely, though, that much serious thought, aside from the accountant’s perspective, went into the decisions by the Pixies, Klaxons or Gorillaz Sound System to scuttle their shows. It was probably more like a knee-jerk response of “Israel was the bad guy in the flotilla scenario, the good guy human rights groups were condemning its actions, and we don’t want to be alienating our fan base by performing in a place that’s not Amnesty International-fully sanctioned.”

A decision on whether the Picnic festival’s second night – which is also slated to feature the up-and-coming British rockers the Editors and stellar local openers Carusella – will, like the first show, go on as planned with last-minute additions has not yet been made by Weiss.

Full refunds are being offered, but if fans really want to make a statement against cultural terrorism, they should ignore the fact that the Pixies canceled, and if the show still goes on, they should show up in full force. The Editors are pretty damn good, and they’ll look and sound even better on stage in contrast to the turmoil wrought by their colleagues.

Rod Stewart may not be much of a consolation prize for the Pixies musically, but in an interview on Sunday night, he emphatically stated that he’d be honoring his appearance at Ramat Gan Stadium on July 1.

With Rihanna and Metallica already having followed suit, and with Elton John, Jeff Beck and a slew of other major talents still on the way, it’s clear that despite the pressure and the scare tactics, the music is not going to stop. Just ask the 10,000 people who saw Placebo and Joan Armatrading on Saturday night.

David-Brinn David Brinn is the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. Before that he was the editorial director of ISRAEL21c, and was involved in the initial efforts at rebranding Israel.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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What next in Haiti?

With the rains coming, Israeli aid workers in Haiti are trying to figure out their next move.

The Petitionville refugee camp, stretched across what was, before the earthquake, a country club for the Haitian elite, houses some 60,000 people – it’s the largest refugee camp for the earthquake victims in country. Thousands of tents, constructed of red, yellow, blue or orange tarp, cover the rolling hills of the camp like strange plastic flowers; in the distance, you can see the sea.

People from all over Port au Prince and from a cross section of Haitian society are living here – some come from crowded slums not much different than the camp, others are middle class families; all of their former lives, and often some of their closest relatives are buried in the rubble of their homes.

Tevel-BTzedek-Volunteers-in-Haiti

Photo courtesy of Baruch Rafik (IsraAID).
Volunteers with Tevel B’Tzedek teach children at a makeshift school in the Petionville refugee camp, in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Amidst the crowded, precariously steep dirt pathways, there are unexpected sights – tents that have been converted into fledgling businesses – beauty parlors, tiny shops, bars – even one tent with a sign that reads “cyber café”, probably powered by a generator, as there is no electricity in the camp. The most popular image here, appearing even on some of the business signs, is a drawing of Haiti with an eye painted on it, turning the map into a face; a large teardrop is rolling down the country’s cheek.

There are thousands of children in the camp, but only one school, run by volunteers from the Israeli non-profit Tevel b’Tzedek, and funded by IsraAID, an umbrella organization of Israeli groups working in the developing world.

I founded Tevel b’Tzedek, which has been working with poor and marginalized communities in Nepal for the past three years through its service learning programs that combine volunteering with the study of poverty, Jewish social justice values and globalization.

The nine Israeli and US Jewish volunteers of “Tevel” have been here for the past two months. As I walk through the camp with them, they seem to know everyone, from the children to the US Marines providing camp security. There is an amazingly unlikely moment as we climb the steep hill towards the school – we meet a group of Nepali UN soldiers, and the Tevel Nepal graduates chat with them in Nepali – it seems like the harbinger of a new world.

Besides the schools, which reach 260 children, Tevel has put up community tents with programming for preschoolers, teenagers, and adults – the volunteers learned informal education techniques, like the use of theater, during previous stints with Tevel in Nepal, and are applying everything they learned to the even more chaotic reality of Haiti. They work using theater and song, local talent and local translators, and teach leadership techniques (“leadership means motivating people”) as well as health and geography.

During an art class, Yonatan, one of the volunteers, tells the kids to paint what is on their minds – one of them draws a picture of people screaming against the background of a collapsed building – this is a scene etched on his memory, right after the earthquake, he says.

My job is to figure out what to do next. With the rains and then typhoons coming, the camp is not safe, especially for those on the bottom of steep hills. The camp will empty out over the next few months. Should we go to work in the next phase of semi-permanent camps? Should we move to one of the villages, where we can also use Israel’s agriculture expertise to boost food production, a major priority in Haiti even before the earthquake?

J/P, an organization headed by the actor Sean Penn, is a major source in the camp. Penn himself has been here nearly continuously for the past two months. Last week, after the rains, he worked side by side with the Tevel b’Tzedek volunteers, taking instruction from Israeli army veterans about how to put up the tents.

Whatever one thinks of his radical politics, Penn is for real, working day in and day out in the hot sun, living in a tent himself. His people think we should stay with the refugee camps. “You guys are amazing,” Penn tells me. “You’re the hardware, we’re just a little piece of software,” I answer him.

Micha Odenheimer is the director of Tevel B’Tzedek and was liveblogging from Haiti last week for Repair the World. For the past two months, nine volunteers from Tevel b’Tzedek have been working to support the communities devastated by the January 12 earthquake, running the only school in the Petitionville refugee camp.


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Not the new kid on the block

The new ‘Masbirim’ campaign is acting like it invented the hasbara wheel.

 

The debate over whether Masbirim – Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein’s new effort to involve average Israelis in the effort to defend the Jewish state abroad – is too right-wing exposes its inbred flaw and the Achilles’ heel that has hampered most hasbara efforts over the years.

As we’re all acutely aware, there is no consensus on the conundrum we call the peace process. Just as I shudder to imagine left-wing Israelis accosting Americans in the street to lambaste the country’s “apartheid” policies toward the Palestinians, I also cringe when thinking about my corner grocer Yossi explaining to the family behind him in the queue at Disney World why Arabs can’t be trusted and transfer is the only answer.

The concept of Masbirim is to be applauded for adapting the idea first conceived almost a decade ago that for hasbara to succeed, it must look beyond the conflict with the Palestinians.

But the fact that the Masbirim site, pamphlets and training sessions are even delving into the land mine of politics – and encouraging ordinary Israelis to try to talk about subjects with which even seasoned, fluent English-speaking spokesmen get tongue-tied – is not going to help the country’s image, and could do much to further damage it abroad.

The tank verses the stone-thrower

As the Foreign Ministry’s brand management team head Ido Aharoni told the annual Israel Tourism Conference in Tel Aviv last month, when you talk about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians abroad, it ultimately comes down to the IDF tank confronting a Palestinian youth throwing a stone. Given the fact that there’s no way to articulate Israel’s position within a short TV sound bite time constraint, it’s the image that remains and sticks in the viewers’ minds.

“When we continue to try, it inevitably fails and that’s bad because it leaves the picture of the tank and the child in sight and harms the Israeli brand,” said Aharoni.

Add to the already muddled mix the issue of exactly who are we trying to convince of Israel’s natural goodness and rightful place in the world? There are a small percentage of people for whom Israel will always be the bad guy. You’re never going to persuade an Israel Apartheid Week activist that he has a skewed view of our region, and that he should give us another chance. Alternatively, there are those supporters of Israel (albeit mostly on the Right) for whom the country can do no wrong.

But there’s a vast middle ground of people, in America and in the rest of the world that frankly doesn’t care very much about politics, including the situation in our little corner of the world. Start talking about security fences and checkpoints and kassams, and their eyes will begin to glaze over in apathy.

Thankfully, the Masbirim effort includes facts about the “other” Israel that provide some ammunition that there are people with normal lives here, doing things that civilized people everywhere do.

Discussing classical music not the answer

However, as Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz succinctly satirized in a recent column (“Wrong troops, wrong ammunition,” February 26), the scenario of an Israeli couple verbally accosting British citizens about the classical music concerts that they attend in Israel reveals that there remain some bumpy roads ahead in honing exactly how we’re going to convey the image that we’d like to impart to the rest of the world.

And we do have a load of information to convey – about how Israeli innovations and people are inventing, creating and developing new techniques, products and services every day that are being used around the world to save and improve lives.

David Sable, CEO and vice president of Wunderman, a division of the Young and Rubicam advertising agency, who has conducted extensive branding research for Israel in the US, has reported that Americans “find Israel to be totally irrelevant to their lives.”

As Aharoni pointed out to the tourism conference, Americans see Israel as a grim, war-torn country, not one booming with high-tech and busy outdoor cafes. That’s why a decade ago, people like Aharoni and other top government officials started working on – and are continuing to develop – a rebranding campaign.

Just a bikini-filled vacation site?

It’s been dismissed by both the Left and Right – the former for giving short shrift to the realities on the ground and the suffering of the Palestinians, and the latter for attempting to trivialize the Jewish homeland into a spring break, bikini-filled vacation site.

However, the branding process doesn’t ignore the troubling realities of present-day Israel, it asks the world to know Israelis by the full scope of their society. Likewise those who claim that these efforts attempt to turn the country into a fun, libertine paradise are woefully off target.

Sure, the conflict exists, but so do breakthrough cancer drugs, groundbreaking computer technology – and yes – beautiful beaches and breathtaking models.

Shouldn’t the world see Israel through that broader lens instead of the tunnel vision of only the green of the military and the black of the haredim?

And maybe, isn’t that what we – and that includes the government, the left-wingers and the right-wing corner grocer – should be talking about when the topic of the conversation abroad turns to Israel? The reason for that narrow view of Israel isn’t only due to the media – it’s because the same “we” have a habit – or maybe an obsession – of only talking about the conflict when we discuss Israel with people abroad.

‘Beyond the conflict’ reporting began years ago

The establishment of Masbirim on its own may have some merit, but my beef is that they’re behaving like the first kids on the block, when in fact, efforts have been ongoing for a decade to equip Israelis and supporters of Israel with the non-conflict information required to make the country “relevant” to people around the world.

For example, the organization that I used to work for – ISRAEL21c – has done wonders to take the lens cap off the camera focusing totally on the conflict and to spread the word that Israel is not only a diverse place with people living normal lives, but that it’s a land of innovation for which the world would be a poorer place if it ceased to exist.

Integrating already-existing material into a new endeavor like Masbirim would do wonders to increase its chances of success and its efforts to educate ordinary Israelis about the country they live in.

What would happen if Horovitz’s fictitious Israeli couple ended up discussing their respective family bouts with cancer with the British couple – and it emerged that the British husband had swallowed a miniature camera that provided X-rays of his colon and provided an early detection of cancer that may have saved his life.

If the Israeli couple had been properly briefed to know that the camera was an Israeli invention – developed by Given Imaging in Yokne’am – they may have mentioned that and, in a second, transformed the cold, grim, militaristic Israel into one of the most relevant things in the British couple’s lives.

Will it change their opinion of Israel – provided they even had one? Perhaps. But will it be included in their montage image of Israel the next time they see a TV report in London about police and Palestinians clashing on the Temple Mount? Absolutely.

David-Brinn David Brinn is the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. Before that he was the editorial director of ISRAEL21c, and was involved in the initial efforts at rebranding Israel.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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Engines for social change

Israel has over 26,000 non-profits devoted to helping the underprivileged. What these organizations need now is state support.

The Purim mitzvah of sending mishlo’ah manot (Hebrew for ‘gifts of food’) may be a Jewish child’s first experience of giving, an act that may (but may not) open the giver’s young heart to the plight of the less fortunate. A bar/bat mitzvah hessed (charity) project is another way to open young eyes to needy causes. Children’s awareness of the duty to give and help other people clearly depends on the approach of their parents and teachers.

When the Israeli child reaches high school, a stint of volunteering becomes part of the curriculum and thus becomes a compulsory chore which often has little added value for either the giver or the receiver. However, when 12th graders face the end of their school career, some consider the option of undertaking a year of community work.

“Should I delay my army service and do a year of voluntary service?” asks a girl on a youth chat forum (in Hebrew) on the Internet. “I discovered that I can volunteer at an immigration center, a dog training center, a youth village, a birding center, a boarding school, a youth movement, or in a center that runs activities in nature, and I found lots of other options, too,” she writes.

Israeli youth movements, such as the Scouts, Bnei Akiva and many more, reach out to and encourage high school youth to spend a year volunteering for worthy causes before enlisting in the army.

Another contributor to the chat forum addresses the question of why it is necessary to help others. She believes that some immigrants have difficulty fitting into society and therefore young people should help them through the established youth movements. “We, in the youth movements are the salt of the earth,” writes the teenager. “We are the people who can bring about change. In my opinion, whatever you choose to do, try to think how you can help the most, give, and improve our country.”

Each year, more school leavers in Israel volunteer through a structured framework, such as a youth movement or another non-profit organization, in the hope of bringing about social change.

The volunteering experience may strengthen their feeling of social responsibility and they may become the social entrepreneurs of the future. Alternatively, because it is difficult to have an impact on society, they may well give up. Volunteers need preparation, guidance and support from those with experience in the field so that they can truly make a difference.

The impact of social entrepreneurs

Is it really possible to improve society? Many of Israel’s brightest and most passionate social entrepreneurs believe that they have found a way that can indeed influence change in a specific field, such as feeding the hungry, helping immigrants to find their place in society, or helping youth at risk to find their way back into society, but they need time and money to do this.

The private sector provides role models for successful innovation: Social entrepreneurs develop business plans, create start-up funds, manage budgets, develop professionalism and excellence, market their programs for social change and also evaluate success. The private sector also provides advisors, board members and volunteers. Programs for social change depend on contributions from the private sector, but also sometimes from the public (government) sector as well.

Social entrepreneurs work mostly in the third sector – the non-profit or social sector – by implementing just and creative solutions and pressuring the public and the corporate sectors to act for the good of society.

In Israel, this sector includes more than 26,000 non-profit organizations. It is ostensibly an autonomous economic bloc that does not belong to the private sector or to the public sector, but nevertheless it depends heavily on both for grants, donations and tax breaks. Round table discussions among the government, the corporate chiefs and the third sector promote cooperation, especially on financial issues.

Israel’s government has a vested interest in the survival of non-profit organizations that provide important services, especially for those people with special needs, and therefore supports the third sector to the tune of well over a billion shekels per year.

And yet, if the government becomes the main funder of non-profit organizations, this third sector will no longer constitute an independent entity and it will lose its current role as an engine for change and diversity. Non-profits are already heavily burdened by governmental regulation, bureaucracy and surveillance, to avoid any potential abuse of charitable funding.

Social entrepreneurs who have their own source of wealth have more freedom and potential to improve society by engaging in human rights issues, teenage alcoholism, peace, the environment or whatever they choose, than do those who have to compete with thousands of other non-profits for limited funds to implement a creative solution and prove its effectiveness.

Those who don’t have their own fortune have to hunt for financial backing for their programs. For this reason, in recent years some non-profits have set up their own income-generating businesses in the hope of generating funds that can sustain their program of social change, with no strings attached.

Effi Toledano of Zionut 2000 has helped in the setting up and running of 42 third sector social businesses, giving people with special needs valuable work experience. He admits, though, that most of these businesses are unable to generate sufficient income to sustain the non-profit organization’s effort for social change.

The new “fourth sector” in Israeli society

Now a fourth sector is sprouting in Israel, in the form of “for-benefit” corporations with a social mission. This is venture philanthropy, where stakeholders expect an interest on their financial investment in the social enterprise. However, in my opinion, although every citizen should be involved and help out, it is the government’s responsibility and not that of the private, non-profit, or for-benefit sectors to improve society.

The Declaration of the state’s establishment spelled out the government’s responsibility to “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants… ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex… guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture… [and] safeguard the Holy Places of all religions,” as agreed on May 14, 1948.

The Welfare Ministry is right to fund the third sector, if the third sector can indeed improve society for the government. That is the big question. The business sector can and should help, too, but ultimately the state has to keep the engine running toward equality of social, political, educational, and religious rights for all citizens.

Michele Klein has a doctorate in adolescent psychology and volunteers for several projects for youth at risk in Israel’s third sector, including Wing of Love and Bikes for All.

Alexander Haig was my friend

Through thick and then, Alexander Haig never wavered in his friendship for Israel.

Al Haig, who died Saturday, was a good friend to Israel – through thick and thin, both at the best of times and during difficult times. He never wavered in his friendship for Israel. A very cerebral man, Haig’s support for Israel was not only based on the rationale that the United States and Israel had shared strategic interests; it was also tempered by an admiration for Israel’s courage in the face of daunting odds.

I first got to know him well when I arrived in Washington as Israel’s ambassador in February 1982, when he was president Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state. My first order of business was to request a private talk with him, just the two of us. He immediately consented. A few days after my arrival in Washington, on a Saturday, I was secretly whisked into the State Department building through an underground entrance. For the next two hours he and I, with no one else present, discussed the problems facing Israel and the situation in the Middle East.

When I told him our prime minister, Menachem Begin, was concerned that after having made substantial concessions during the negotiations leading up to the peace agreement with Egypt, he might now be pressured by the White House to make additional concessions inimical to Israel’s interests, Haig responded by saying “not on my watch.” He showed understanding for the problems we faced at the time along the Lebanese border, with the Palestine Liberation Organization militias encamped there launching attacks against northern Israeli villages. When we parted, I knew that Israel had a good friend in Washington and that I had also established a personal friendship with Al Haig.

While there is no truth in the persistent rumor that Haig gave Ariel Sharon – Israel’s defense minister at the time, who visited Washington and discussed Israel’s problems in the north with Haig – the “green light” for an Israeli military operation in Lebanon, we did have his steadfast support throughout the operation until he left the office of secretary of state. When at one point I described the operation to him and told him “Al, we are winning,” he responded “you guys always win.”

To read the full article click here.

Printed courtesy of Ha’aretz

Moshe Arens was a member of Knesset. He served as Minister of Defense three times, and Minister of Foreign Affairs once. He also served as the Israeli ambassador to the US, and was a professor at the Technion University in Haifa.