Leonard Cohen’s Manager: Western Academics Scuppered Ramallah Concert

By Nathan Jeffay

Published September 25, 2009.
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Leonard Cohen’s plan to play a sister concert to his Israel gig in Ramallah was scuppered due to pressure from western academics and not primarily due to objections from within the Palestinian community, Cohen’s manager, Robert Kory, told the Forward.

As the sellout Tel Aviv concert was about to get underway, Kory gave a frank interview speaking of the upset he felt when the singer’s Middle East visit became a source of controversy.

He revealed that he and his colleagues came close to pulling the plug on the Tel Aviv date as they were “swamped” with messages of protest — both from people who objected to Cohen playing in Israel because they felt it gave legitimacy to the occupation of land captured in the Six Day War, and from people who objected to the conciliatory tone of the concert, billed an event “for reconciliation and peace.”

Kory said: “At one point the noise level on the left and the right got so loud that we thought: ‘why we need to do this?’ Our promoter Rob Hallett thought: ‘maybe we’ll do the concert; maybe we wont’ — it depended on which day.” Kory said that this is why the concert was not confirmed until the beginning of August.

In June, amid of the controversy about playing Tel Aviv, community groups from Ramallah invited Cohen to play a sister gig there. Cohen was enthusiastic. But as widely reported, in mid-July, his hosts revoked their invitation.

Kory said that the main factor in the cancelation was not internal Palestinian pressure, as was widely assumed, but the fact that “there were academics from the U.K. that came raising hell.” Britain is home to a strong academic lobby that backs the campaign to boycott Israel.

Kory told the Forward: “We have a disagreement. I am an American, I support free speech. They are British academics and I don’t know, they’re ‘right’… I don’t want to name names but there are those in the academic community who suppress speech because they know what’s right.”

After the Ramallah plan went pear-shaped Israeli Tourism Ministry Director-General Noaz Bar Nir and Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy issued a joint plea for Cohen to perform the heavily Israeli Arab city of Nazareth. This plan never got off the ground

In a Cohen’s VIP tent before the Tel Aviv concert there were dozens of Palestinians who part company from those who were against the Ramallah concert.

The singer set up a charity, The Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace, which will be kick started with the net profits from the Tel Aviv concert, expected to be $2 million. In the tent were Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the conflict and who run initiatives together trying to promote peace. The fund will bankroll their initiatives. They include The Parents’ Circle-Families Forum, which sets up face-to-face meetings between bereaved families from both sides, and an Israeli-Palestinian radio station Radio Kol Hashalom.

“I am Palestinian,” said one man who got up to speak at the event, Ali Abu Awad, from the West Bank. “I was in prison for four years. My mother was in prison for five years. I resist the occupation and I taste the violence. I was wounded and I lost my brother, and I am proud to have Leonard Cohen supporting us.”

Other speakers included the Israeli author David Grossman, who paid tribute to the beneficiaries of Cohen’s new fund. Grossman, whose son Uri was killed in the 2006 Lebanon War when serving in an armored IDF unit, described them as people who refuse to “turn their wound in to a weapon,” instead opting for “decisiveness and courage to choose life again … to act all the time against the gravity of grief and the gravity of despair.”

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