Legendary soul singer Stevie Wonder has apparently succumbed to pressure from critics of Israel and pulled out of the performance he had been scheduled to give at a major Los Angeles fundraiser for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.
The 25-time Grammy Award winner had originally committed to headline the annual FIDF gala on December 6, but protests by those who believe the Israeli army is responsible for enforcing “apartheid-like” conditions on Palestinian Arabs and committing “atrocities” against them during its defensive military operations created pressure for the entertainer to cancel. The protests coalesced in an online petition on change.org that garnered 4,000 signatures.
A source close to the situation revealed that Wonder’s representatives are planning to claim he was unaware of the exact nature of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and that after he received complete information about the organization’s work, he decided that performing at such an organization’s event would in essence be contradicting the spirit of his official status as a United Nations “Messenger of Peace.”
The JTA reported that a source who had read e-mails between Wonder’s representatives and FIDF organizers said Wonder would cancel his performance and feign ignorance. “[He would] claim that he did not know the nature of the group, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces,” the source stated, “and that he believes such a performance would be incongruent with his status as a U.N. ‘Messenger of Peace.’”
In a statement finally sent out to the Reuters news agency, Wonder said, “Given the current and very delicate situation in the Middle East, and with a heart that has always cried out for world unity, I will not be performing at the FIDF Gala. I am and have always been against war, any war, anywhere.” Wonder said in his statement that he will be donating funds to organizations that support Israeli and Palestinian children with disabilities.
The annual FIDF event, which is chaired by wealthy and influential philanthropist Haim Saban and his wife Cheryl, raises millions of dollars to support the wellbeing and educational programs that benefit members of the Israeli military. “We regret the fact that Stevie Wonder has decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF, an American organization supporting the educational, cultural, and wellbeing needs of Israel’s soldiers, their families, and the families of fallen soldiers,” stated FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon. “FIDF is a non-political organization that provides much-needed humanitarian support regardless of religion, political affiliation, or military activity.”
An official of Friends of the IDF, when reached at the group’s Los Angeles office, had no comment. Separately, Wonder’s agent at Creative Artists Agency did not return a request for comment. The spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General also had no comment on the matter.
The Friends of the IDF Western Region Gala will feature a dinner and program emceed by Jason Alexander of “Seinfeld” fame, and presenting a performance by renowned composer David Foster and Friends. The 2012 Gala is co-chaired by many prominent members of the entertainment community, including Avi Arad of Arad Productions; Avi Lerner of NuImage; Mel Woods, President of MGA Entertainment; Ben Silverman, former Chairman of NBC; Roger Ailes of Fox News Channel; Brad Grey, Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures; and Danny Dimbort of Red Granite Pictures.
Also attending the event will be FIDF National Chairman Nily Falic; FIDF National President Julian Josephson; and FIDF National Director and CEO, Major Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon.
As a general rule, the United Nations does not place any restrictions on the professional engagements of its goodwill representatives. Wonder most recently entertained the prestigious audience at a U.N. concert marking the world body’s 67th anniversary. Elie Wiesel, the world-famous Nobel Peace Laureate and Holocaust memoirist, a regular defender of Israel, also bears the title of U.N. Messenger of Peace.
“You were arrested in 1985 protesting South African Apartheid, now we ask you: please remember that apartheid is apartheid, whether it comes from White Afrikaaner settlers of South Africa or from Jewish Israelis in Israel,” stated the petition on change.org. “Desmond Tutu has recognized that Israel’s Apartheid is worse than South Africa’s — will you stand with us against apartheid and cancel your performance at the IDF fundraiser.”
The news of the singer’s planned appearance at the FIDF function also sparked a second petition, initiated by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which urged Wonder to “please continue your legacy of speaking out for the oppressed. Please be a ‘full-time lover’ of justice (a reference to Wonder’s hit “Part-Time Lover”) by standing on the right side of history and canceling your performance for the Israeli army.” The popular singer had performed in 1998 at a bash that celebrated Israel’s 50th anniversary.
The efforts to publicly excoriate celebrities who make plans to perform in or on behalf of the State of Israel have become quite active over the past several years. In one notable attempt to counteract this trend, a group of music industry executives, led by former Universal Music Group executive David Renzer, founded the nonprofit Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) to privately and publicly fight against artist boycotts of Israel.
Wonder’s most celebrated albums include “Innervisions,” “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and “Songs In The Key Of Life.” His numerous hit songs over a decades-long career include “For Once In My Life,” “Superstition,” “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” “Living For The City” and “Sir Duke.” His image as an entertainer has been suffused with the messages of peace, love and universal harmony.