For activists on both sides of the battle over boycotting Israel, there’s no business quite like show business.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which aims to isolate Israel because of its occupation of the West Bank, has often had trouble gaining traction on other fronts. But the performing arts have emerged as the one field in which calls to boycott the Jewish state have yielded some response. Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Annie Lennox and Stevie Wonder, among others, have responded to calls from grassroots activists by canceling dates in Israel or declining to play there, or at Israel-related events, even as other performers, including Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Bob Dylan and Madonna, have pointedly ignored such calls.
But lately, a group opposed to BDS has been taking a notably different approach. Unlike its opponents, who focus on building grassroots pressure by fans, from the bottom up, the Creative Community for Peace has assembled an impressive roster of top entertainment executives supportive of Israel who are seeking to influence artists from the top down to perform there.
“Because our members work within the industry, we are able to use our personal contacts to proactively reach out to artists and their representatives to provide balanced information about Israel,” said Lana Melman, CCFP’s director. “We prepare them for the possibility of a boycott campaign, educate them about Israel and the artistic freedom there, and work to arrest potential cancellations.”
CCFP, which formed in 2011, does not yet have its status as a tax-exempt charity recognized by the Internal Revenue Service. But while awaiting the processing of its application, it has partnered with StandWithUs, a group widely perceived as being on the far right of the pro-Israel spectrum. Pending acceptance of CCFP’s application, donors to the organization send their contributions to StandWithUs, an already recognized public charity. StandWithUs channels these donations to the newer group. This enables CCFP supporters to claim their donations as tax deductions. CCFP also currently shares office space with StandWithUs.
These are legal and commonly used practices for new groups in the not-for-profit world, according to tax experts. But CCFP’s choice to partner with StandWithUs — a group that has co-produced videos with Israel’s foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, rejecting the notion that the West Bank is occupied — has moved critics to question its real agenda.
“Why not align themselves with an organization that is closer to their projected position as apolitical?” asked Andrew Kadi of the pro-boycott U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation.
CCFP’s founding member David Renzer, in an email to the Forward, said his organization has “always operated independently” of StandWithUs and that “there is no day-to-day relationship” with the group.”
The criticism has not stopped CCFP from bringing together an impressive roster of Hollywood heavies behind its banner. They include, among others, Ben Silverman, a former co-chair of NBC Entertainment; Jody Gerson, co-president of Sony/ATV Music Publishing; Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of Time Warner; Samuel Schwartz, co-founder of the music talent agency Gorfaine/Schwartz, and Ron Fair, chief creative officer and executive vice president of Virgin Records and former chairman of Gefen Productions. Fair has also produced albums for acts such as the Black Eyed Peas and Christina Aguilera, and these high profile connections underline the kind of personal and professional relationships the group can bring into play.