Hurdles For The 2009 Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Concert

Leonard Cohen World Tour, Israel, and Palestine Intersect

I don’t pretend to grasp the national, religious, ethnic, cultural, and political issues and conflicts that have come to surround the seemingly straightforward plan to bring the Leonard Cohen World Tour to Israel. This post is limited to summarizing  the events of story thus far.

The basic issues are covered in this quote from Robert Kory, Leonard Cohen’s manager, published in Leonard Cohen Concert Proceeds To Benefit Reconciliation Work:1

“Ever since we announced Leonard’s world tour which started in May 2008, there’s been considerable interest in bringing him to Israel,” Kory [Robert Kory, Cohen’s manager] told the Post Monday from Belfast, where the 73-year-old Jewish poet had performed over the weekend.

“As the tour has proven to be a tremendous success, the calls from Israel to play grew and we expressed willingness to do a show there. At the same time, we had a certain concern about the level of the ongoing conflict and suffering on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides,” he continued.

Israel has, of course, hosted previous Cohen performances, including a stint in which he sang for the troops during the Yom Kippur War (1973).

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen – Yom Kippur War

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Leonard Cohen – Yom Kippur War

The Leonard Cohen West Bank Concert That Is Not To Be

Pro-Palestinian protests erupted, urging Cohen, through open letters and demonstrations, to cancel the Tel Aviv concert, and, indeed, rumors were rampant that the show had been eliminated from the schedule.

At some point (the timeline is difficult to confirm), Cohen also scheduled a tour date in Ramallah after the Tel Aviv appearance. This excerpt is from Haaretz (June 25, 2009):

International music legend Leonard Cohen will perform in the West Bank city of Ramallah two days after his upcoming performance in Israel, Haaretz has learned. The concert in Ramallah is set to be held on September 26, in the Palestinian city’s Cultural Palace; about 1,000 fans are expected to attend. Cohen’s decision came after pro-Palestinian activists attempted to dissuade the singer from performing in Israel.

The protests did not, however, abate. The Ramallah date, decried as a political expedient, was canceled, as explained in West Bank Cancels Leonard Cohen Concert In Protest Against Israel:2

A Leonard Cohen concert planned in Ramallah on the West Bank in September has been cancelled after the artist became embroiled in a campaign to boycott Israel.

The 74-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter announced he would perform in Tel Aviv as part of his world tour. The Ramallah date was added later, allegedly in response to pro-Palestinian campaigners who had tried to dissuade Cohen from appearing in Israel.

Now his Palestinian hosts have cancelled the West Bank concert, amid claims that the planned gig was a hollow attempt to “balance” performances.

“Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel’s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel,” the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said in a statement.

The campaign was launched in Ramallah in 2004 and calls for an international academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Cohen, who is not believed to have a large fanbase in the West Bank, was scheduled to play at the 736-seat Ramallah Cultural Palace, a day after appearing at the 55,000 capacity Ramat Gan stadium, near Tel Aviv.

The Ramallah event was to be hosted by the Palestinian prisoners’ club and attended by families of some of the 11,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails of detention centres.

This excerpt from Leonard Cohen’s Ramallah gig called off:3 expands on the possible reasoning of the Pro-Palestinian groups:

The 74-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter has had his concert in Ramallah canceled in a development viewed as a small victory by groups calling to boycott Israel.

Pro-Palestinian activists said Cohen was not welcome in Ramallah as long as he insisted on performing in Tel Aviv, where a concert is planned for September 24.

The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, which was organizing the event, decided to cancel the concert because it was becoming too politicized, but the club insisted it did not bow to pressure from boycott organizations.

“I wouldn’t call it pressure,” Qadura Fares, president of the Prisoners’ Club, told The Media Line. “We can organize the event – it’s not difficult or impossible – but we prefer not to have these hard discussions.”

“We need people like Leonard Cohen to share his support for the Palestinians and it means a lot, but the boycott [campaign] thinks that it’s like the experience in South Africa – that anyone that wants to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom should only visit Palestine and not Israel.”

Fares said he wanted to maintain the organization’s reputation as a nonpolitical entity.

“We’re a sensitive group and we work with all the Palestinians,” he said.

“We’re not a political organization and we to continue our help to the prisoners without interference of political issues. The administration in the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club decided to freeze this event. They will have discussions but for the time being it’s been frozen.”

It appears the concert would have been more a symbolic gesture than a gig to please the fans, especially as, according to Fares, Cohen does not have a large following in the Palestinian territories.

The concert would have been attended by families of Palestinian security prisoners, human-rights activists and handicapped people. It was agreed that the concert would be dedicated to the prisoners, Fares said.

Organizations calling to boycott Israel were satisfied with news of the cancellation.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said, “Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel’s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel.”

The cancellation is seen in the wider context of cultural, academic and trade boycotts of Israel and Israeli products.

Follow The Money

Given that the Leonard Cohen World Tour was originally predicated on the sing-songwriter’s need to raise money after his retirement fund was, according to the courts, dissipated by his previous management, the next link in this chain of events is especially striking. The following passages are drawn from Leonard Cohen Concert Proceeds To Benefit Reconciliation Work:4

All of the net proceeds from Leonard Cohen’s September 24 concert at Ramat Gan Stadium will be earmarked for a newly established fund to benefit Israeli and Palestinian organizations that are working toward conciliation, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

According to the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter’s manager, Robert Kory, the Fund For Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace will provide financial support for organizations and individuals working in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, focusing on bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents who have experienced loss, yet continue to strive to achieve peace in the region through their efforts.

Both Cohen and AEG Live, his worldwide concert promoter, are also donating 100 percent of their earnings from the concert, the final date on Cohen’s European tour, to the fund.

… “Leonard had a very simple thought. He said ‘I’d like to play, but I just can’t take any money out. I want it to stay there.’ It wasn’t any more complicated than that,” said Kory.

“That’s my role as manager, to take an idea and see whether it can be implemented, to see whether we could leave the net proceeds from the show in Israel for some positive use.”

… Cohen was familiar with the Parents Circle – Family Forum, an NGO representing Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children in the conflict and who have made the commitment to work together to build a consensus for peace. Kory approached the organization’s founder, Yitzhak Frankenthal, whose son Arik was murdered by terrorists near Ramallah in 1994.

“I got a call from someone identifying himself as Leonard Cohen’s manager. I thought to myself, ‘What’s going on here?'” said Frankenthal, who enthusiastically professed to be a longtime Cohen fan.

“Robert told me that Leonard would like to donate money from his show to people who have paid the price and still continue to do what they can to achieve reconciliation. They invited me to meet them in New York, and I discovered two wonderful people – Leonard and Robert, they complete each other. It was really special and unusual to find someone like Leonard who cares about what’s going on here in the Middle East and tries to do something to help.”

Through Frankenthal, Kory contacted other organizations, who initially will be the beneficiaries of the fund – the Peres Center for Peace Children’s Medical Program, Combatants for Peace, an organization which attempts to bring together IDF veterans and Palestinian terrorists who have renounced their ways, and the Palestinian Happy Child Center, a developmental center that works with special-needs children in Ramallah.

“Once we met with Yitzhak, it began to look like we might be able to achieve something with the idea. We discovered there were a number of organizations doing good work that were largely being ignored,” said Kory.

Attempting to maneuver through the barbed wire of both Israeli and US tax laws to enable the organizations to benefit from the concert, Kory realized that an intermediary neutral vehicle would be required to facilitate the financial funneling. He approached Amnesty International for advice, and the concept of a special fund was raised.

“We didn’t want it to be identified as a Palestinian or Israeli charity. Some people take the position that Amnesty International is not a neutral organization, but it’s a respected international charity, with vast experience and great lawyers. So we reached out to them for legal support, and from those conversations, the idea arose of launching a fund, sponsored by Amnesty, that would be a proper, neutral legal vehicle,” said Kory.

According to Curt Goering, the senior deputy executive director of AI USA, the participation of the organization is an organic extension of their human rights mandate.

“We saw this as an exciting opportunity with potential to recognize, support and pay tribute to the Israelis and Palestinians who have been working for peace and human rights amid a difficult environment and insurmountable odds,” said Goering. “I see our participation as complementary to what we do, even though this initiative is different from Amnesty’s ongoing work.”

Cohen accepted the principles of a fund, but only if its purpose was made crystal clear, said Kory. The fund’s goal, according to its mission statement, which was obtained by the Post, is “to provide financial support for organizations and individuals working to achieve reconciliation, tolerance and peace between Israelis and Palestinians and thereby advance the recognition and full expression of human rights in this region.”

Its method of achieving its aims are through “direct financial grants to appropriately qualified organizations within Israel and Palestine with an emphasis on those organizations whose members have suffered from the ongoing conflict yet refuse to give up hope for reconciliation leading to a society of tolerance and peace. Grants will be made based on review of grant applications by the Board of Trustees.” Listed as the fund’s initial appointees to the board of trustees are Kory, Frankenthal, Peres Center for Peace director-general Dr. Ron Pundak, Amnesty International USA secretary-general Lawrence Cox, Robert Hallett, president of AEG Live International and Dr. Nedal Jayyousi, the chairman of the Palestinian House for Professional Solutions.

And, finally, it appears the Tel Aviv concert has not only sold out but sold out at a record pace (faster than, for example, recent concerts by Madonna and McCarthy).

Leonard Cohen show sells out in hours

All 47,000 tickets to the Leonard Cohen concert in Ramat Gan have been sold in less than 24 hours, the Le’an ticket agency confirmed yesterday. The tickets went on sale on Saturday night, with the high demand causing the ticket agency’s Web site to crash within hours. By Sunday noon, tickets reserved for customers of Discount Bank, a key sponsor of the event, also ran out. The tickets were priced at between NIS 450 and NIS 1,200. Cohen’s management says profits from the performance will go to Israeli and Palestinian groups working for coexistence.5

Status Of The Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Concert As of 4 August 2009; 7:00 AM

Leonard Cohen is scheduled to perform before 47,000 fans at Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv, Israel on September 24, 2009 with all proceeds from the sold-out concert going to the Fund For Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace. Pro-Palestinian protests calling for the cancellation of the concert continue.

Other 2009 Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv Show Posts

To view other posts about this historic concert, go to 2009 Cohen Tel Aviv Show.

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  1. Leonard Cohen Concert Proceeds To Benefit Reconciliation Work by David Brinn,  The Jerusalem Post. July 28, 2009 []
  2. West Bank Cancels Leonard Cohen Concert In Protest Against Israel by Rachel Shabi. The Guardian. 14 July 2009 []
  3. Leonard Cohen’s Ramallah gig called off by Rachelle Kliger, Jerusalem Post, July 13, 2009 []
  4. Leonard Cohen Concert Proceeds To Benefit Reconciliation Work by David Brinn,  The Jerusalem Post. July 28, 2009 []
  5. Haaretz []