Rihanna and Other Artists Who Play Israel Feel the Pressure

Twitter-based BDS Movement urges entertainers and others to stage anti-apartheid-like boycott

israel Rihanna
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Pop star Rihanna has confirmed an Oct. 22 concert in Tel Aviv, a decision that has delighted her legions of Israeli fans but angered proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global campaign calling for the use of political and economic pressure to compel Israel to withdraw from Palestinian land.

Known in the Twittersphere as #BDS, the movement has been gaining momentum since its inception in 2005, and has caused ripple effects across Israel’s academic, agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Its proponents, who consider Israel’s policies against Palestinians tantamount to apartheid, have pushed — with success — for Israel’s detractors to adopt a total refusal to purchase Israeli products, to target corporations and universities that do business with Israel, and to encourage governments to levy penalties against the Jewish state until it fully withdraws from the territories it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and allow all Palestinian refugees the right of return to their pre-1948 homes.

Artists and entertainers have been drawn into the fray, with directors bowing out of film fests, musicians scrapping concerts and intellectuals refusing Israeli awards in a bid to avoid traveling to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. In July, “Reluctant Fundamentalist” helmer Mira Nair spurned an invitation to bring her film to the Haifa Film Festival, writing on Twitter, “I will go to Israel when the walls come down … I will go to Israel when Apartheid is over … I stand with the (Palestinian Campaign) for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.”

Nair is one of the biggest names to bow to the pressure. While the BDS movement has gained global support, and nearly 14,000 users follow @BDSmovement on Twitter, the past few years have seen some of the world’s most prominent artists ignoring BDS’ pressure and even issuing statements condemning the injection of politics into their profession.

This past summer, Alice Walker wrote an open letter to songstress Alicia Keys, urging her to cancel a planned July 4 concert in Tel Aviv.

Keys nevertheless went ahead, with the singer explaining to the New York Times, “I look forward to my first visit to Israel. Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.”

Online petitions and campaigns sometimes bordering on harassment are routine. Jon Bon Jovi, Elvis Costello and the Pixies have all nixed scheduled concerts after facing such intimidation, which appears in floods of Facebook messages, viral letters and tweets, and threats of blowback in the form of diminished ticket sales in other locations across the globe.

But when a truly big music act books a tour date in Tel Aviv, BDS has, so far, floundered. Triumphs for the Twitter counter-movement that calls itself #BDSFail have included 2012 sellouts by Madonna, Lady Gaga and Linkin Park, along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

As for Rihanna, her local promoters say the Holy Land performance is 100% on, and the star is being prepped for the expected media backlash that will no doubt accompany her when she steps onstage for 50,000 eager fans.