Amnesty International has pulled out of a charity concert to be performed by Leonard Cohen near Tel Aviv in September, but denies it has caved in to an aggressive boycott campaign by pro-Palestinian activists.
The concert, scheduled for Sept. 24 at Ramat Gan stadium, is set to raise millions of dollars to help groups working for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, but proponents of a cultural boycott against Israel have been trying to get it canceled since the date was added to Cohen’s current world tour.
The 47,000 tickets to the concert, priced from $90 to $315, sold out in less than 24 hours, beating sales for Paul McCartney’s Tel Aviv concert last year.
After protests that his Palestinian fans could not travel to Tel Aviv because of Israeli security restrictions, Cohen added an appearance in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Boycott campaigners succeeded, however, in forcing the cancellation of the Ramallah concert in protest over Cohen’s appearance in Israel.
Cohen announced that he had already planned for all proceeds from the Israeli date to be donated to Israeli and Palestinian peace groups through a new charity – the Leonard Cohen Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace – to be administered by Amnesty International USA. Far from silencing the protests, the announcement prompted a vociferous new campaign directed against both Cohen and Amnesty.
Amnesty USA announced its withdrawal from the project on Monday, citing “different requirements between the human rights group and the concert fund.
“AIUSA will not be part of the Fund nor benefit financially from the proceeds of the concert in Tel Aviv, the group said in a statement.
“Amnesty International has taken no position on boycotts anywhere in the world. AIUSA s participation in discussions related to this project was based firmly on the belief that setting up such a fund could be beneficial to Israeli and Palestinian efforts on behalf of human rights, the statement added.
But pro-Palestinian campaigners hailed the move as a success for their efforts and vowed to continue piling pressure on Cohen to pull out of Israel completely.
“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, said Omar Barghouti, a leader of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. “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.
Dr Gerald Steinberg, the chairman of NGO Monitor and the chair of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, argued Cohen’s minders should never have involved Amnesty International.
“It was a mistake from the beginning to involve politicized organizations on either side in what is essentially a cultural event, Dr Steinberg told The Media Line. “These issues should not be mixed. It was an attempt to somehow appease the radical anti-Israel boycott movement and what we’ve seen is that these groups cannot be appeased in any case.
Roni Hirshenson, vice president of the Israeli branch of the Parents Circle-Families Forum that brings together bereaved parents from both sides of the conflict, branded the boycott campaign “foolish.
“A performance of this unique artist with his clear statements reinforces and encourages all who choose not to fall into unfathomable despair, and upholds the message that there is a solution to the conflict here and it really is right behind the door, said Hirshenson, who helped to arrange Cohen’s appearance in Israel.
Earlier, Combatants for Peace, a group that brings together former Israeli soldiers and former Palestinian fighters, announced it would not accept donations from the concert fund. A Palestinian charity also declined to accept Cohen’s money.
On Aug. 11, the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations’ Network wrote to Amnesty International calling on the human rights group not to manage the fund and said Cohen’s “concert in Israel contributes in normalizing Israeli occupation and colonization policies.
Amnesty International’s office in Tel Aviv declined to comment and referred all inquiries to London. Amnesty International’s London office declined to comment and referred all inquiries to New York. No response was received by press time.