On a warm fall evening at the sprawling Holmby Hills home of top music business attorney Gary Stiffelman and wife Carmen, an overflow crowd gathered to express its collective commitment to creative freedom and to battling the prevailing propaganda of the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel.
The occasion was the Creative Community for Peace’s second annual Ambassadors of Peace celebration honoring Ziggy Marley, Atom Factory/Q&A founder Troy Carter, Warner Records co-chairman/CEO Aaron Bay-Schuck, Caroline/Harvest Records president Jacqueline Saturn and former Universal Music Latin president and founder of WK Entertainment Management Walter Kolm.
“This is not a political or religious organization,” said Electronic Arts’ music president Steve Schnur, who co-founded the organization seven years ago with former Universal Music Group Publishing and Spirit Music Group Chairman/CEO David Renzer. “We have access to educate people as to what Israel is and what it’s not. Don’t base your decision on what you read or hear until you actually visit there and experience it for yourself.”
Schnur, who has been to Israel dozens of time to visit family, came up with the idea during a 2010 Elton John show in Tel Aviv, after acts like Elvis Costello and the Pixies canceled planned tours following incidents like the Gaza Flotilla incident, an Israeli military operation against six civilian ships in the Mediterranean. “Musicians shouldn’t have to cherry-pick their conscience.”
“We believe in the power of music, the arts and culture to build bridges between people,” added Renzer. “Singling out Israel for a cultural boycott certainly doesn’t help matters. We want to encourage interaction and co-existence. For some DJ shows in Israel, 50% of those who attend could be non-Jewish, either Arabs, Muslims or Palestinians.”
Said Schnur (pictured above with Marley): “We feel the one thing an Israeli and Palestinian might have in common is Rihanna.”
Noted Israel supporter Haim Saban, the founder of Saban Entertainment, was born in Egypt but moved to Israel with his family at the age of 12. “The BDS movement is not only anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic, trying to convince people not to go there,” he says. “CCFP is exactly the opposite, showing the beauty of Israel. Music has no boundaries, no borders, it is the bridge between people, countries and cultures.”
Saban was on hand to honor Jacqueline Saturn as an ambassador of peace. Growing up in Nashville in a Jewish family, Saturn confessed a fear of traveling to Israel, until she met her Israeli husband Yigal Dakar. With their two daughters, the family now travels to Israel yearly. “There’s not a better place to witness unity than in Jerusalem,” Saturn observed. “Everyone there lives together. It’s really an eye-opener. It brings tears whenever I see it. I wonder why there’s such bad energy about the place. Why can’t we all just get along?”
Music attorney Aaron Rosenberg introduced Warner Records’ Bay-Schuck, who recalled a trip to Israel age age 13, laughing that his parents picked passover as the time to vacation. Bay-Schuck described CCFP as an organization which “understands that music is a force for change, and artists should not be threatened or silenced whenever or wherever they choose to perform.” He added emphatically that “the BDS movement is cowardly, hypocritical and bullying in its purest form. It’s the responsibility of all of us in this room to educate the rest of the music community, particularly artists, with the facts.”
Troy Carter’s experience with Israel came via Lady Gaga, who performed in the country twice. “When we landed at the airport, it was better than Miami Beach,” Carter marveled. “Swimming in the Mediterranean, floating in the Dead Sea, buying fake Gucci in the place where Jesus walked, thinking I was on Canal Street.”
In reminiscing, he noted Madonna was in the country performing at the same time. Cracked Carter: “If there wasn’t a war at that point, we truly were in a Holy Land.”
For former Universal Music Latin head Kolm, whose WK Management handles Wisin, Carlos Vives and Maluma, the organization represents artistic and creative freedom for his talent. “It is vital the artist get to perform their music for everybody in every nation, without limitations,” he said. “Most of the Latin music community has no idea about this organization, which is why we have to promote it. As a manager, it’s my duty to support my clients’ ability to perform anywhere they choose.”
The evening’s “special artist honoree,” reggae star Ziggy Marley, shared that he has been visiting family in Israel since he was a teenager, and has performed there many times. For him, this is an issue that transcends politics and religion. “We’re all here for peace, ya know?” he said with an ear-to-ear grin. “Peace is what it’s all about.”
When David Renzer announced that the organization had raised $400,000, Haim Saban took the podium to say his daughter insisted he match the total, brining the evening’s tally to $800,000, which will go, according to Renzer to “programs that promote co-existence.”
Scores of notable music executives attended the event including award-winning songwriter Diane Warren, hitmaker Justin Tranter, Pulse Music Group co-CEO Josh Abraham, Warner Records evp A&R Nate Albert and svp urban marketing Chris Atlas, WMG creative officer Mike Caren, global VP A&R Aton Ben-Horin, Reservoir evp A&R Donna Caseine, Warner Records CEO/co-chairman Tom Corson, manager Andy Gould, attorney Eric Greenspan, Capitol Music Group COO Michelle Jubelirer, Geffen Records svp A&R Neil Jacobson, Raised in Space CEO Zach Katz, Milk & Honey president/manager Lucas Keller, UMPG president North America Evan Lamberg, RCA co-president Joe Riccitelli, artists Bonnie and Anita Pointer (Pointer Sisters), Donna Missal and JoJo, who performed.
Variety was the media sponsor for the event.