A common love of music may have carried Craig Balsam (co-founder of Razor & Tie Entertainment), David Renzer (chairman of Spirit Music Group) and Steve Schnur (Electronic Arts’ worldwide executive and music president) to the top of the music business, but each is also engaged in another mutually shared passion: The Creative Community for Peace* (CCFP), a group advocating for greater international cultural engagement with Israel.
The advocacy group, which began in 2012, has grown in the wake of the proliferation of the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel, which has led to high-profile Promise Land cancelations by touring musicians including Annie Lennox, Lauryn Hill and Elvis Costello. (Other more high-profile cancelations, including by Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams, Lana Del Rey, Neil Young, CeeLo Green and the Pixies cited either security concerns and/or scheduling conflicts or did not clarify why but did not cite BDS as the reason. The Pixies subsequently performed in Israel.)**
“We decided there needed to be a response to the BDS movement, because very few music executives are advocating for Israel,” Balsam says of the CCFP, which counts approximately 40 entertainment executives on its advisory board from the music, film and TV sectors in cities that include Los Angeles, New York, Nashville and London.
CCFP’s mission statement is a simple one: “Culture and arts help build bridges,” says Renzer. “We try to provide balance to the dialog. An example of the power of music to build bridges is that when an artist performs in Israel, the audience is made up of people from all religions — Christians, Muslims and Jews — and they’re all present together at concerts, which is not the case in many other countries. We also support organizations such as Polyphony, which sponsors classical orchestras made up of half Arab and half Israeli students.”
Cancelations in Israel by international acts is not a new phenomenon and dates back to the intifadas — the Palestinian uprisings of the late ’80s and early ’90s — and gained more traction in the mid-oughts with the launch of the BDS movement. The result is that the Israeli concert industry has lost millions because these called-off shows are most often not covered by insurance (a topic reported on in Billboard).
Waters is one of the BDS movement’s most high-profile and vocal proponents, preaching the protest movement’s message to boycott Israel and its government — which it considers an occupying force — from stages across the globe, most recently at Desert Trip and in two interviews with Billboard (“Roger Waters Shares What He Really Wanted to Say About Trump [and Clinton] at Desert Trip” and “Roger Waters Eviscerates ‘Racist, Sexist Pig’ Trump & Urges Israel ‘To End Occupation’ at Desert Trip“).
“He’s made some really outrageous statements,” says Balsam, who cites Waters’ use of words like “genocide,” “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” and comparisons to Nazism when describing the Israeli government’s policies. “We’re not trying to whitewash it and say Israel is perfect, but these terms are just factually incorrect, inflammatory and extreme, and it really troubles us.”
Balsam says one of CCFP’s messages is that performing in Israel is an opportunity for artists to see what’s going on for themselves. And further, if an artist is critical of the Israeli government, “They should go perform, stand on the stage and say you don’t like the current government. You can do that there. No one is going to arrest you. We don’t expect everyone to agree with every policy of the Israeli government, just like I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree with every policy of the U.S. government.”
CCFP also considers itself something of an information clearing house and resource for artists and their teams who may be concerned about playing Israel and/or facing pressure from the BDS movement. Says Balsam: “What happens is, the minute an artist mentions they might play Israel or sets aside a date, they are barraged from many different angles. And it’s not just the artist who’s barraged; it’s the manager, sometimes it’s booking agents, and they don’t know what to make of it. What happened before CCFP was that they would just cancel the show because they felt very pressured and like they were doing the wrong thing. They didn’t really understand the issues and options. We felt we had to do something to support the artist community and encourage music to be played wherever in support of peaceful gatherings.”
The CCFP works directly with artists along with management and agents to identify additional causes and/or collaborations that resonate with an artist, their fans and others. “For example, we worked closely with Cyndi Lauper and her management in helping identify a program she could work with that appealed to her,” Renzer recalls. “She wanted to visit a LGBTQ center in Tel Aviv, which is something we helped facilitate. … When Alicia Keys announced a concert in Israel, she was slammed very hard by the boycott Israel movement. Not only did we work with her management team and agents, but we also connected her with a musician in Israel named Idan Raichel who is all about promoting music as a means of peace and co-existence and has a multi-ethnic and -religious band. She went on to perform in Israel with Muslim and Israeli musicians and even invited them to Central Park to perform with her. That’s a perfect example of how artists can utilize the power of music to help build bridges.”
Both Renzer and Balsam say they would welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue with Waters and mention that the other artists on the Desert Trip bill — The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan — have played the Holy Land (along with other top-tier acts, including Madonna, Lady Gaga, Metallica, Justin Bieber, Elton John and others). “I find it very ironic that he has a powerful platform and announced his new ‘Us and Them’ tour as being about the power of music to build bridges towards peace, and yet he’s saying some pretty incendiary things,” Renzer argues. “Frankly, we would love to challenge Roger Waters to debate in a public forum where we can talk about the facts and the issues.”
Ultimately, Razor & Tie’s Balsam says, it’s all for a higher purpose. “People have to live in peace,” he says. “Our hope is that by creating dialogue and conversation and education, there will someday be a peaceful resolution.”
*Following publication of this article, individuals and groups supporting the BDS movement wrote to Billboard claiming the CCFP is funded by and has its back-end administrative work done by a political organization called Stand With Us (or Israel Emergency Alliance) and receives funds by the Israeli Government. When contacted by Billboard to clarify, CCFP representatives replied with the following statement:
“CCFP HAS our own mission statement and our Board of Advisors operates completely independently. Our operations, editorial decisions and strategy and direction are all set by the Co-Founders and Advisory Board of CCFP. Launching a 501c3 recognized by the IRS takes time and involves various costs. We are a relatively young organization and for expediency and to save costs we launched as a DBA of Israel Emergency Alliance, which is the name of the 501c3, so that donors are able to get the tax benefit. As we have said, we receive no funding from Stand with Us / Israel Emergency Alliance, and operate independently. For costs savings, they provide some back office HELP, INCLUDING accounting and HR. All of these things CCFP PAYS FOR and Stand With Us has no involvement with our board, mission or day to day operations. We are ALSO not in any way funded by the Israeli Government.
– Roger Waters has never canceled a show in Israel but has refused to perform there since his 2006 show at Neve Shalom.
– CeeLo Green’s cancelation in 2014 did not cite BDS as the reason