July 24, Washington, DC – In the aftermath of Alicia Keys' recent concert in Israel, human rights advocates today revealed new information that they say showed that Keys went a step beyond ignoring the fundamental human rights of Palestinians and chose to stand with the Israeli regime of occupation and oppression. Keys performed in Tel Aviv on July 4 despite the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel, letters from novelist Alice Walker, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, Defense for Children International, and the Israeli group Boycott!, and a petition signed by 16,000 people, all calling on her to cancel her show as she would have in the apartheid South Africa era. Keys, with other artists, was said to be joining Stevie Wonder in a boycott of Florida over the Stand Your Ground law, but a Keys spokesperson has now denied that claim, as have a number of other artists.
Keys sang a duet at her concert in Tel Aviv with Idan Raichel, a self-described "cultural ambassador" for Israel. Later she reportedly visited "Thank Israeli Soldiers," an organization that aids Israel's occupation army and supported a May 2010 Israeli attack that killed a US citizen, and Israeli President Shimon Peres' misleadingly named "Peres Center for Peace." Keys also allowed her name to be repeatedly used by the Israeli government to prop up Israel's declining global image. Despite all this, Israeli security harassed members of Keys' band at the airport as they left, according to an eyewitness, possibly racially profiling them. (Details of all the aforementioned below)
Anna Baltzer from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation explained, "Keys claims to support human rights, and she talked about playing to unify audiences in 'peace and love,' but instead her actions conveyed support for Israel's government, military occupation and elites that impose a violent, discriminatory regime of oppression and apartheid on the Palestinian people. Instead of standing on the right side of history, her decision to break the boycott was akin to playing in South Africa's Sun City under apartheid, hosted by Afrikaner elites. Still, we expect that many others will choose instead to stand for justice, as Mira Nair and Stephen Hawking just have."
Andrew Kadi from the Steering Committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation added, "We are not aware of any meaningful interactions that Keys had with Palestinians, despite many efforts to reach out and raise her awareness about Israel's multi-tiered system of oppression. Instead she visited "dialogue groups" with token Palestinian roles that perpetuate the bankrupt narrative that Palestinians and Israelis are two equal sides with a human relations problem. This is like suggesting that Jim Crow in the US could have been remedied by blacks and whites getting to know one another better, rather than through equal rights and an end to racially discriminatory laws and policies." In the run-up to Keys' concert, a group of 50 African Americans affirmed the similarity between Jim Crow in the US and Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
Keys' invitation to Idan Raichel to perform with her in Tel Aviv seems to contradict her reported claim that she "doesn't feel that she's playing for the state of Israel," because Raichel has said of his band, "We certainly see ourselves as ambassadors of Israel in the world, cultural ambassadors, hasbara [propaganda] ambassadors, also in regards to the political conflict." Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently organized an African tour for Raichel to represent the country, and Raichel sees serving in the Israeli army "as a 'basic ingredient' to 'Israeliness.'" Palestinian citizens of Israel, 20% of Israel's population, generally do not serve in the army, and some Israeli Jews refuse military service. Raichel is also a member of the advisory board of Creative Community for Peace, a powerful Israel lobby in the US music industry that uses its connections to protect Israel from the fast-growing global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Raichel is a leading endorser of the right-wing US organization "Thank Israeli Soldiers" which Keys reportedly visited in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. Thank Israeli Soldiers provides care packages to Israeli soldiers and, among other activities, in 2010 collected letters "of support to our brave and moral young men of the Shayetet 13 (Israeli Navy Seals), the unit which boarded the Flotilla." These Israeli soldiers killed 8 Turkish and one Turkish-American civilians, some, including the US citizen, execution style, when the Israeli military attacked the civilian aid ship the Mavi Marmara off the besieged and occupied Gaza Strip. A popular pro-Israel blog posted a photo of Keys standing next to a woman linked to the organization while purportedly visiting the "Thank Israeli Soldiers" office. The visit was later denied by the Israeli blog that initially posted the story and by Keys' PR firm, despite the apparent photographic evidence. Today a US activist went to the office of Thank Israeli Soldiers in the Old City of East Jerusalem, and, standing at the office door, was handed a folder of information about the organization by the same woman who was in the photo with Keys. The woman told the US activist that her name was Rachel. The US activist was not allowed to enter the office.
Keys' visit to Israel was proudly tweeted at least eight times by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and various Israeli consulates. Showing the importance the government attaches to major artists visits in light of Israel's growing cultural isolation, Israel's consulate in Philadelphia tweeted, "Alicia Keys blew Tel Aviv away at her July 4th concert, and Rihanna is next! Will you be at her October 22nd show?" There is no evidence that Keys and her representatives objected to the use of her name and performance by Israeli officials to the benefit of the state of Israel. However, Keys and her legal representative, the firm Ziffren, Brittenham, LLP, whose partner David Byrnes is also an advisory board member of Creative Community for Peace, took legal action to remove from Youtube a video made by activists of Palestinian women protesting set to the tune of "Girl on Fire" that called on Keys to cancel her show in Israel. CCP later asserted that the activists were using Keys' "work for their own self-gain."
Israeli media and the founder of the Israeli technology company Natie reported that Keys visited the Peres Center for Peace, an Israeli organization accused by Palestinian civil society of being "a leading colonial and apartheid institution." Shimon Peres, Israel's President and the center's founder, has cultivated the aura of a champion of peace, despite, as just one example, having ordered Israel's military assault on Southern Lebanon in 1996 that resulted in the massacre of 102 Lebanese civilians and wounding of hundreds more who had sought refuge inside a UN compound in Qana. The Peres Center has been denounced by Palestinian civil society organizations as "neither effective in bringing about reconciliation, nor desirable, and "hindering the path to just peace," and was characterized by an Israeli analyst as "patronizing and colonial." Keys' visit to the Peres Center appears to contradict her PR firm's statement to a reporter from Mondoweiss that "there was no planned visit with any group Israeli or Palestinian."
Keys also visited the US/Israeli organization Heartbeat that is also founded on the false premise that peace can be achieved merely through "dialogue," without addressing inequality and basic human rights.
All this support for Israel did not spare Keys' team from mistreatment. Dr. Rachel Mattson of the recent Librarians and Archivists to Palestine delegation says that she ran into Keys' musicians at Ben Gurion airport as they were leaving the country on July 5: "I found myself being interrogated next to Alicia Keys' sound engineer. He was Latino. I saw 2-3 Israeli security staff harassing him, aggressively demanding that he prove that he participated in the concert and hand searching all his equipment. Security started my interrogation after his and I still finished before him. At the gate later I ran into Keys' other band members, all African American, who told me they had all experienced problems with Israeli security." Israeli staff at border crossings practice racial profiling, targeting Muslims and people of color for extra scrutiny, and Ethiopian citizens of Israel and African refugees experience significant racial discrimination in Israel.
In response to Israel's large-scale abuses of Palestinian rights, Palestinian civil society launched a call for a global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel in 2005, modeled on the call by black South Africans for a boycott of apartheid South Africa that helped bring an end to the racist system. Numerous musicians, including Elvis Costello, Santana, Gil-Scott Heron and The Pixies have cancelled concerts or refrained from playing in Israel.