The battlegrounds of Palestinian civil society's call for a cultural boycott of Israel usually play out in Tel Aviv or in the music venues of other cities, but this week a prominent cancellation was gained much closer to home. The legendary Stevie Wonder was all set to perform for an annual Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) gala on December 6 in Los Angeles when pressure started mounting from activist groups.
As word got out, the Grammy award amassing musician became the focus of efforts by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to drop the date. The FIDF issued a press release just yesterday confirming that Wonder, indeed, will no longer be appearing at the event.
Although no official word was given by the musician himself, the FIDF said that Wonder's representatives cited a "recommendation from the United Nations to withdraw his participation" given his involvement with the organization. Wonder was named a UN Messenger of Peace three years ago.
"We regret the fact that Stevie Wonder has decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF," Yitzhak Gershon, the organization's National Director and CEO, is quoted as saying. He then goes on to describe FIDF as a "non-political organization" that provides "humanitarian support." David Foster & Friends are still slated to appear with Jason Alexander of "Sienfeld" fame as emcee for the evening.
"As a longtime fan, I am delighted that the inspiration I have received from thousands of hours listening to Stevie has been reaffirmed," says Bassem Nasir, a Ramallah-based Palestinian activist involved in the push. "More importantly, as a Palestinian, I am grateful that he had the courage to stand against the injustices done to my people. I hope more artists do the same and boycott Israel."
Wonder is no stranger to the intersection of music and politics. He recorded a song entitled "It's Wrong (Apartheid)" off of 1985's In Square Circle. Its release came at a time when musicians refused to perform in Sun City in response the political oppression of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Palestinian activists drew upon Wonder's political past to pressure him in the present.
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But now, with a cancellation in hand, organizations that campaigned against the scheduled performance are now circulating another petition thanking the musician for the move.
"Your decision gives hope to those around the world who support freedom, justice, and equality, particularly following the latest Israeli brutal aggression in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip," it reads. "Thank you, Stevie Wonder, for standing on the right side of history."
A less controversial appearance by the musician is set for December 15 at the Nokia Theatre for his 17th annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert. The only possible naysayer on the horizon is the Grinch! We'll keep you posted...