Posted by Danielle Berrin
Judd Apatow's latest flick, "This is 40" is a comic meditation on marriage and family and arguably his most personal film yet. It stars his wife, Leslie Mann, as well as his two daughters, Maude and Iris, and in a strong supporting role, his Jewish heritage.
In fact, there is a very funny scene in the movie about The Jewish Journal. As our own Naomi Pfefferman, the Journal’s arts and entertainment editor described it:
a shlubby journalist wearing a yarmulke shows up to do an interview and is described as being from the “Jewish Journal” — much to the chagrin of Pete (Paul Rudd), a record-label owner whose career and marriage are on the rocks. The only reporter who’s shown up to profile Pete’s star client, rocker Graham Parker, is (gasp!) from the Journal. “Apparently old Jews are the only ones who still buy hard copies of records. ... Because they don’t know what downloading means,” one of Pete’s employees explains.
“Why is this album different from all other albums?” the reporter, played by Rolling Stone journalist David Wild, asks Parker. “It isn’t,” comes the tart reply.
Apatow was probably channeling Pfefferman, who has interviewed him several times over the years, when he thought of including a “Jewish Journal reporter” in his movie. It’s because of her, really, that our local, niche paper won a starring role in a big Hollywood flick, and so, you know, even though the Jewish journalist doesn’t come off as the hippest person ever, we’re still really proud.
“I insult myself all the time in my movies, so why not you?” Apatow joked during his recent interview with Pfefferman. “Remember,” he added, “I only make fun of the people I love.”
Yesterday, I called David Wild, the Rolling Stone contributing editor, author and TV writer to ask him how he prepared for his role as “Jewish Journalist”. “I prayed in a non-Jewish way that this would happen,” Wild said, upon answering the phone.
Wild was a rock journalist before becoming a go-to writer for television specials like the Grammys, Oscars and tonight’s CMA Country Christmas special on ABC -- but he never knew he was an actor. One fortuitous day, however, he got a call from an agent at Creative Artists Agency, where he is repped as a writer, who told him he was being offered a part in Judd Apatow’s new movie.
Wild was both confused and elated. He had known Apatow previously, after contributing some music-related writing to the NBC show “Freaks and Geeks” and “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” both Apatow projects.
“I am very happy and grateful that somehow, when Judd thought of ‘Jewish journalist’ he thought of me,” Wild said. “As we all know, Jews have never made it in the media.”
Apatow offered scant direction for Wild’s big debut, though he asked him to bring a yarmulke to the set and to think of some questions Wild might ask in a real interview. Even though the original script didn’t offer the journalist any lines, Wild felt compelled to do some real “method work” and come up with questions that had “Talmudic relevance.”
On the day of the shoot, Wild did the Passover seder proud: “Why is this album different from any other album?” was his big Jewy query. The ad-libbed line made it into the film and Wild is very proud that during the premiere it elicited a “chortle” from Seth Rogen. “That’s when I felt the gods were on my side -- that was very gratifying for me.”
Apatow later declared on Twitter that Wild’s was the “best yarmulke performance in any of my films.”
Wild believes the yarmulke came from Temple Israel of Hollywood, where he is a member and where his sons were Bar Mitzvahed. But like Apatow, he stops short of calling himself “religious.”
“I’ve been told by one of my best friends, who is Orthodox, that I’ve always had a very Jewish soul,” Wild said. “If I have one, I think it is very Jewish, and in that same sense as with Judd, [Jewishness] comes out all the time.”
So in the end, "Jewish Journal reporter" was exactly the right way to start his acting career.
“No one is enjoying their nine words of fame more than me,” he said.
Except for THE JEWISH JOURNAL, that may be true.
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December 19, 2012 | 3:09 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
INT: Cigar Bar, Melrose Avenue. A cold afternoon in early December. A young-looking comedian sits alone, intensely focused, furiously typing through a cloud of smoke and eating a tuna sandwich.
“Oh, please don’t start with: ‘He was eating a tuna sandwich,’ ” Elon Gold says, half playfully, half pleading.
What’s wrong with a tuna sandwich?
“It’s not technically from a kosher restaurant,” he says.
The 42-year-old stand-up comic is hardly the first Jewish entertainer to insist on “looking cool” while exhibiting a healthy dose of religious Jewish anxiety. But he may be the only person ever to have asked “Baywatch” babe Pamela Anderson if she’d adjust her work schedule so he could celebrate Shabbat.
“ ‘Oh, I love Shabbos!’ ” Gold recalls her saying. “She totally got it.”
But their show together, the Fox sitcom “Stacked,” helmed by Steven Levitan, pre-“Modern Family,” only lasted 19 episodes, so Gold will probably have to have that conversation again. And again and again.
Being Modern Orthodox in modern Hollywood isn’t uncomplicated (or uncompromising), but Gold says reconciling his religious life with his professional life has been more blessing than curse. For starters, there is the mine of material, a glut of kitschy stand-up routines like “Elon Gold: Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish” or this week’s “Merry Erev Christmas,” his fifth annual event, at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.
“You can’t get away from the Jewish thing when it comes to me,” Gold said. “I own it, and I’m proud of it.”
The more pressing dilemma of his life, rather, is that he’s just plain frustrated. “I’m sexually frustrated, creatively frustrated, politically frustrated; I’m frustrated about life.”
This comes as a surprise, given how well he lives (with four kids and his wife, who was his high-school sweetheart, in a big house in Westwood) and how successful he is (a routinely employed actor and comedian who makes a bundle emceeing Jewish events nationally — “I put the ‘fun’ in fundraiser,” he quipped), not to mention, his spiritual proficiency. What could possibly be so vexing?
“At this point in my life, I thought I’d already have a hit show under my belt, a couple of movies, be on my second or third HBO special and my 30th ‘Tonight Show,’ ” he said, explaining that he’s only on his 10th. “If I died tomorrow, there would be nothing on the shelf with me on it — and I want to leave a legacy in comedy before I leave this planet.”
Although he has appeared on several sitcoms and works fairly consistently on television, Gold came up amid a generation of comics that includes Ray Romano (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), Dave Chappelle (“Chappelle’s Show,” “Half Baked”) and Louis C.K. (“Louie”), so, by comparison, he feels a bit behind. Especially since the New York native got his first gig at 16, at the Manhattan hotspot The Comic Strip, following a young Adam Sandler in the lineup. By the time Gold matriculated at Boston University, he had built up a lucrative career touring college campuses with his stand-up show.
“I bought my first Lexus at [age] 20 because of the college tour,” he said. “And then struggled for the next 20 years. I’m still, like, in school, waiting to graduate. You don’t get to do what you can do — what I feel I was born to do — to its fullest if you only get to do a fundraiser here, a Laugh Factory set there, an occasional guest appearance. It’s like you’re doing it in little spurts.
“I want to be Jewish rock-star comedian, not an old-school Catskills comedian,” Gold said.
Gold prides himself on his two acts — his “Jewish act” and his “secular act” — that he’ll perform selectively, according to his audience. “I have a Jewish act that’s for my people, for people that are living Jewish lives that will get all the references,” he explained. That act, which can be seen at the requisite organizational dinners every week, is actually what has sustained him over the years, even though he says Jewish audiences in Los Angeles don’t support Jewish-themed culture enough.
“I love performing for Jewish audiences because of the deep connection we have, but Jewish audiences are the worst audiences for comedy,” Gold said. “They’re more skeptical. We can’t let loose and have a good time. And we’re the worst laughers — it’s more of a reserved laugh, followed by thinking and planning: ‘You know, he’d be good for a fundraiser next month.’ It’s like sex with Jews. It’s always satisfying, but it’s never off-the-charts, blow-your-mind, unbelievable.”
Despite his discontent, Gold is a pretty solidly stable guy who counts being away from his family on Shabbat as his toughest misfortune. “I’ve always had my doubts about religion, but I have really found comfort in it,” he said.
And, for the most part, Hollywood understands. Except for that one time he turned down the season finale of a hit show because it was taping on Passover. “You just don’t do that,” he said. “When those things aren’t, ‘Oh, he’s doing a movie with Spielberg in Europe,’ but rather, ‘He’s staying home with his family to have dinner.’ It’s like, ‘How dare he? We’re not using him anymore.’ ”
December 14, 2012 | 10:23 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
In 1995, the musician Stevie Wonder traveled to Israel for the first time to promote his album, “Conversation Peace.”
Over the course of a late summer week, he toured the country, visited holy sites, met with Israeli and Palestinian political officials and performed for “some ten thousand fans,” Reuters reported, outside the gates of Jerusalem in Sultan’s Pool.
"I'm very excited to be in this part of the world for many reasons,” Wonder told the news agency. “Many years ago when I was a little baby and my mother was still troubled with the fact of me being visually impaired, she wanted to take me to the holy city in the hopes that maybe I would get my sight again," he said.
During his final concert, then-Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert presented Wonder with a medal of Jerusalem. Wonder expressed his gratitude by ad-libbing through one of his best-known songs: “I’m only here… in Jerusalem… because I love you.”
The following day, he met with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s aide, Ahmed Tibi at Tibi’s East Jerusalem home. After presenting Wonder with gifts, the PLO spokesman reportedly said, "[Stevie Wonder] is loved by all - Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. He's a symbol of study for equality, peace and freedom and we are very proud that you are here between us. We like your songs and we like you," he told Wonder.
But fast forward to 2012, and Stevie Wonder wouldn’t be caught dead even at a Los Angeles fundraiser for Israel. So the question must be asked: What happened? How in Wonder’s world did Israel go from Holy Land – that can cure blindness! – to hornet’s nest?
Among the various reasons for his withdrawal -- and there were many – it was reported on this blog that internal pressure from the African-American community may have played a part. And while it would be irresponsible and brash to extrapolate from this one occurrence, of which we know so little, any sweeping conclusions about the current state of relations between the Jewish and black communities, it does seem like a good time to revisit this historic alliance and ask serious questions about its perdurability.
Whatever the status of the macro-relationship between Jews and African-Americans, Jews have shown themselves to be a strong voting bloc for Obama, the first black President. In the aftermath of yet another historic moment when the American people (and indeed a majority of Jews) have chosen to re-elect a black President over a patrician white guy, and who, coincidentally, will inaugurate his second term on Martin Luther King Jr. day, there's evidence that we are entering a post-racial world.
Furthermore, the Jewish holiday of Chanukah is yet another reminder of the power of individuals and groups to take a stand and change the course of history. There was a time when Jews and blacks were united in their dream for civil equality, bonded by a shared past of enslavement and the miracle of worldly redemption. During the civil rights era, these partners walked side-by-side. They worked together tirelessly to realize not a goal, but a civic good: the American political affirmation of b’tzelem elohim – that all men are created in God’s image.
But just a few weeks ago, someone prevailed upon an old friend not to express his friendship for the Jewish ancestral homeland. The same place this man once walked and sang, bringing with him the light of peace, the illumination of music and the possibility for healing has now become a moral morass.
Was Wonder’s pullout a critique of Israeli policy? An act of cowardice or fear? Or just a quiet opt-out? If he wasn’t acting of his own volition, what does it tell us about the resounding effects of behind-the-scenes influencers and their values? Does it reveal something about the status of the relationship between blacks and Jews?
To be sure, the relationship between the two communities has evolved, sometimes messily, in the years since 1963. But is that alliance now broken? Or simply a reasonable disagreement between friends? It would seem that if reasonable Jews can disagree with each other about Israel, than reasonable people outside of the Jewish community also have that right.
To be fair to Wonder, it is understandable how the perpetual politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be a muddled mire for a star, but it is also a quandary in need of new light.
For now, it is too soon to know what all of this means, if this will prove a standalone event or a portent of further discord. It is the black hole, the space not seen, its presence revealed by the glittering dust particles floating around it. And yet, now that that perimeter has pushed up against politics, what do we do?
Do we write off the abandonment of a friend as a victory for our enemies? Or do we try to win our friend back? Do we try to fill the frozen silence with words, with compassion, with the virtue of our cause and with love?
December 14, 2012 | 7:04 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
It sometimes feels hard to grasp the magnitude of a miracle. But we are fortunate to live in a society in which our culture serves as an astute documentarian of human majesty.
It is true of literature, film, music and other arts but it occurred to me that the themes of Hanukkah are especially prevalent right now at the movies. The theaters are filled with reverberations of the miraculous, miracles large and small, tender and hard won, encompassing and discrete.
As in the Hanukkah story, about the triumph of a small rebellion over a mighty army, there can be seen grand miracles that bring sweeping change and alter the course of history (Les Misérables). Historic achievements that free the fettered and elevate the dignity of humankind sometimes depend on the radical courage of one brave soul (Lincoln). Others require an army, and prove that in the service of great miracles, such as bringing evil to justice, complicated, even ugly work is required (Zero Dark Thirty). And it is something of a miracle itself that in the movies, even history can seem small, shrunken, and ephemeral in the scope of cosmic connection (Cloud Atlas), the nature of the universe and the existence of God (Life of Pi).
Where do these reverberative effects begin? With the power of one: a Matthathias, an Abraham Lincoln, a CIA operative who risks his life to rescue others (Argo). Because it is sometimes in the small, private act, the secret contours of the heart that the deepest miracles are felt. There is wonder in the enfoldment of arms (The Sessions), the constant friend (The Twilight Saga), the resilient marriage (This is 40), the enduring love (Amour).
All of these stories are reflections of the religious, the journey from darkness to light, from estrangement to intimacy, hopelessness to faith. Hanukkah, the light-filled holiday takes place during the darkest part of the year. Each night (and indeed at every Jewish holiday), we kindle flames at sundown. It is a reminder that darkness is the beginning of light, just as a dark theater signals the beginning of illumination.
December 10, 2012 | 3:08 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
What do Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Scarlett Johansson, Drake and Jack Black have in common?
They'll all (presumably) light up tonight for the third night of Chanukah. Here's some quick, cute proof from NowThis News:
December 7, 2012 | 1:27 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Spirits were barely diminished at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) annual dinner Thursday night, a week after headliner Stevie Wonder’s provocative and public pullout. More than 1,000 Israel supporters turned out at the Hyatt Regency in Century City for the annual gala hosted by Haim and Cheryl Saban.
The four-and-a-half hour evening steered by “Seinfeld” veteran Jason Alexander included moving, personal presentations by IDF soldiers and raised a reported $14 million from attendees, many of them Israeli-American business and entertainment leaders, including Avi Arad, head of Marvel Entertainment, film producer Avi Lerner, real estate developer Izek Shomof, actress and producer Noa Tishby and Oracle business magnate Larry Ellison.
Businessman and producer David Matalon offered the best line of the evening when, during the live auction-style fundraiser, he pledged $8,000 to the FIDF and, “in honor of Stevie Wonder, another $2,000.”
“I’ll have him call you to tell you he loves you,” Haim Saban quipped from the stage.
Other than that moment of levity, the silence surrounding Wonder’s cancelation continued, although emcee Alexander seized an opportunity to share some unusually candid remarks about the complexities of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. In a lengthy and serious address, he talked about his love for both Israelis and Palestinians and how his work with the organization One Voice has exposed him to both sides of the conflict.
“This conflict continues because of the inability of leaders to break through this impasse and find a way to peace,” he said.
Knowing before whom he stood -- a predominantly Israeli-American and Jewish crowd – Alexander was careful to balance his pro-Palestinian remarks with strong supportive messages about Israel. The most vigorous applause came when he referred to the Jewish state as the most “maligned, underappreciated and hardest challenged nation on the planet,” and expressed admiration for its soldiers.
“I believe that the men and women soldiers that defend [Israel] are among the most honorable and noble soldiers the world has ever seen,” Alexander said, though he added that sometimes, “they have made mistakes.”
He thanked the crowd for the opportunity to share his thoughts.
Story continues after the jump.
Video by Jeff Hensiek
Throughout the night, Israeli soldiers took to the podium to share their stories, many of them heart-wrenching reminders that even with its military might, the IDF has suffered profound losses. Yoni Asraf, an American who enlisted in the IDF, told the crowd how he had lost a limb in a mortar attack during the 2008 incursion into Gaza known as Operation Cast Lead. Despite his loss, he refused to relinquish his post and spent years rehabilitating himself in order to rejoin his unit.
Later, a North African-native mother who immigrated to Israel and lost two of her sons in combat for the IDF, delivered an astoundingly resilient message. “I am not broken,” she said. “You cannot break a spirit.”
After her emotional speech, host Cheryl Saban embraced her, while her husband looked on with misty eyes.
“As a mother myself, your story has touched me. Everyone in this room is inspired by you,” Cheryl said.
Haim Saban used his pulpit time to talk about the values of the IDF, portraying an army of ideals, of “courage, compassion, strength and sacrifice.”
Inspiration rapidly gave way to income, as Saban himself solicited donations to the FIDF from the stage. “The time is always ripe to do right,” he said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
Once millions of dollars in pledges had been collected from the crowd, Grammy-winning musician and producer David Foster orchestrated some light entertainment, with performances by “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard and a gold-glitter encrusted Chaka Khan, the Grammy winning “Queen of Funk-Soul,” who sang the hit “I’m Every Woman.”
Foster, who has coordinated the musical entertainment for the FIDF dinner for years, said in an interview that although he has never been to Israel, he has learned a thing or two about Jewish culture from all the dinners.
“I’m not Jewish,” Foster told the crowd. “But I have been circumcised, and I do know Barbra Streisand.”
December 6, 2012 | 10:15 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
When Stevie Wonder backed out of a planned appearance at a Dec. 6 gala to benefit the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), the reasons given for his decision were varied.
Many news articles focused on the thousands of signatures on a letter and online petitions urging Wonder not to appear at the event. As has been reported previously on this blog, the FIDF’s initial explanation for Wonder’s cancellation mentioned that some individuals associated with the United Nations had pushed Wonder, who was appointed a U.N. Messenger of Peace in December 2009, to drop out.
But in addition to these efforts, voices from within the African American community in Los Angeles and beyond also put significant pressure on Wonder to abandon his planned appearance.
“The first level, which has been popularized, is the petition campaigns,” said Dedon Kamathi, a producer of Freedom Now, a radio show about “pan-African political and cultural” subjects that airs weekly on KPFK. “I think that the real, within-the-family pressure came from a number of black community organizations.”
Kamathi, who first heard about Wonder’s planned appearance from Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. Congresswoman from Atlanta, said that leaders within the black community told Wonder’s staff that if he didn’t drop the FIDF benefit appearance, they would picket in front of KJLH, the Los Angeles-based R&B and Gospel radio station owned by Wonder, as well as at Wonder’s annual House Full of Toys benefit concert, set to take place at the Nokia Theater in L.A. later this month.
“They said they would protest at KJLH because we take personal responsibility for people like Bob Marley, people like B.B. King, people like Stevie Wonder, people like Public Enemy,” Kamathi said, standing on the sidewalk outside the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on Thursday evening, about an hour before the FIDF gala was scheduled to start. “We gave them life, they live in our communities.”
For the approximately 130 protesters who gathered along with Kamathi outside the hotel in Century City on Thursday afternoon, the fact that Wonder would not be playing inside made the moment not just one for protest, but also for celebration.
“We are here to celebrate our brother Stevie Wonder for standing up on a principle, the principle that the Palestinians of today are the South Africans of yesterday,” said Shakeel Syed, a member of the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. “He had the courage and principle to defy the oppressors and defend the oppressed.”
Although the protesters were quick to claim Wonder as a fellow activist for their cause -- one man held a sign with Stevie Wonder’s face and the words, “Thank You!” painted on it – in a statement posted on the KJLH Web site, Wonder did not choose sides.
"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 on December 6th,” Wonder said in the statement. “I am respectfully withdrawing my participation from this year's event to avoid the appearance of partiality. As a Messenger of Peace, I am and have always been against war, any war, anywhere. In consistently keeping with my spirit of giving, I will make a personal contribution to organizations that support Israeli and Palestinian children with disabilities.”
The protest started at 4:30, an hour and a half before the FIDF dinner was set to begin in the hotel’s ballroom. During a brief press conference, a number of speakers denounced Israel, the IDF, and the FIDF.
“I am here to admit that I was a member of the terrorist organization,” said Miko Peled, an Israeli activist on behalf of Palestinian rights, referring to his time in the IDF. “Yes, they have tanks, commanders and fancy fundraisers and this hotel, but it is no more than a brutal terrorist organization."
The son of an Israeli general, Peled, who lives in San Diego, has written a book about his becoming a pro-Palestinian activist. His own son, Eitan Peled, was at the protest as well, a Palestinian flag draped like a cape over his shoulders.
“I grew up with friends in Palestine before I knew I was supposed to be enemies with them,” the 18-year-old UCLA freshman said.
After a few speeches, the smaller-than-expected crowd waved Palestinian flags and conducted a candle-lit funereal march along the pavement, complete with a tiny flag-draped casket.
An online invitation for the protest on Facebook had garnered more than 1,000 positive RSVPs, and the Los Angeles Police Department had come ready for a crowd of that size. According to the commanding officer on the scene, Commander Dennis Kato, 60 officers had been mobilized from two different bureaus.
At about 5:40, around two dozen of those officers could be seen still standing by their cars at a remote staging location behind the hotel.
“Now that we’ve seen the crowd, we’ve released a number of units already,” Kato said just as the first of the cars of people arriving for the dinner began arriving on Thursday evening, around 5:45 p.m.
While the cars, most of them luxury imported European models, drove past, the protesters shouted slogans -- “Shame on you!” “Stop killing children!” “Israel is a Racist state!” – and waved their flags.
“These groups have been very cooperative, which makes it easier for all involved,” Kato said. “We don’t want to disrupt either side. It’s America, they get a chance to exercise their rights and say what they want to and we’ll let them have that opportunity as long as they abide by rules.”
December 4, 2012 | 3:30 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
An unusual silence has blanketed the circumstances leading up to music icon Stevie Wonder’s canceled performance at the Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala on Dec. 6 at the Hyatt Regency in Century City.
The 25-time Grammy winner was set to appear for an expected 1,200 FIDF supporters, including dignitaries from the United States and Israel as well as friends in Hollywood, when he suddenly canceled on Nov. 29. A press release issued by the FIDF national office last week reported “representatives of the performer cited a recommendation from the United Nations to withdraw his participation given Wonder’s involvement with the organization.” The release also included a statement from Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, FIDF’s national director and CEO, that said, “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.
“FIDF is a non-political organization that provides much-needed humanitarian support regardless of religion, political affiliation, or military activity.”
Not mentioned was the fact that an online campaign entreating Wonder to cancel his performance in protest of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians had garnered thousands of signatures. Members of that same coalition are also planning to protest outside the event; as of press time, according to the event’s Facebook page “Protest Dec. 6 at LA Fundraiser Supporting Israel’s War Crimes,” more than 1,000 had said they would show up.
Wonder was appointed a U.N. Messenger of Peace in December 2009 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. His cancellation came on the same day that the U.N. General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian territories to a non-member observer state through an overwhelming majority vote of 138 to 9, with 41 countries abstaining
The Messenger of Peace role is a largely ceremonial post held by distinguished figures in the fields of art, literature, music and sports who agree to use their celebrity to bring attention to U.N. concerns and causes. Other messengers include author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, actor and activist George Clooney and world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
That FIDF officials did not condemn Wonder, however, may have its root in the fact that FIDF Western Region dinner chairs, media mogul Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl, also have close ties to the United Nations. In September, President Barack Obama appointed Cheryl to the post of U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly.
The Internet campaign calling for a boycott of the FIDF event only targeted Wonder, however. Cheryl Saban’s longstanding support of Israel and the FIDF, along with her husband, distinguishes her from Wonder, who in 1995 performed in Israel and met with Israeli and Palestinian officials, but has not performed there since.
The Web site endtheoccupation.org, an arm of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement — the international group that advocates for the use of economic, political and cultural pressure on Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights,” according to one of the movement’s major Web sites — featured a letter with more than 4,000 electronic signatories pressing Wonder to abandon his FIDF plans.
“We are a diverse group of people of conscience and social justice organizations around the world, saddened by the announcement that you will be performing and helping to raise money for the Israeli army,” the letter said. It also draws parallels between South African apartheid and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, and says a performance by Wonder at the FIDF gala would show support for those practices.
Another letter, posted on the Web site change.org, which listed 4,570 signatories on the day of Wonder’s cancellation, made a more direct address: “We call on Stevie Wonder, as a conscientious American advocate for human rights and dignity not to support the Israeli Defense Force by performing at their gala fundraiser ... The IDF is an institution which promotes, enables, and protects Israel’s Apartheid regime.”
Moments after Wonder made his announcement, endtheoccupation.org wrote that they were celebrating a “victory.”
The targeting of high-profile celebrities who express plans to perform in or on behalf of the State of Israel is not uncommon. In response to such efforts, a group of music industry executives established the nonprofit Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) to privately and publicly counter artist boycotts of Israel. The group’s co-founder, former Universal Music Group CEO David Renzer, now president of music ventures at Saban Capital Group, has, in the past, spoken out against such intimidation but declined to comment for this article.
However, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel was quick to point fingers at the BDS movement, referring to a press release issued by the consulate that specifically condemns the BDS movement as a “front for a campaign aimed at delegitimizing the very existence of the State of Israel.”
“BDS is not about peace,” Siegel said during a phone interview on Dec. 3. “It’s about vilifying Israel.”
Asked if he thought the FIDF’s U.N. explanation might be intended to deflect attention from an effective boycott by Wonder of one of the largest Israel fundraisers in the country, Siegel said, “I don’t know. We weren’t involved in the whole FIDF thing. But the BDS effort is very significant; we know that.”
When asked how or why he had made the connection between Wonder’s cancellation and BDS when the FIDF was offering a different account, Siegel said, “I didn’t mean to make any connection like that. What we’re talking about is BDS in general; there are attempts to enact a cultural boycott, which we think is counterproductive. That’s a general statement. It doesn’t relate to Stevie Wonder.”
A coalition of self-described L.A. “peace activists” had promised, however, to stage a large demonstration outside the Hyatt, where they planned to enact a mock funeral procession with a “child’s casket” on the night of the gala. The protest also was to include participants donning placards with the names and ages of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza last month.
In a press release, the coalition of two dozen groups and a half-dozen individuals claims credit for Wonder’s cancellation is due to “thousands of activists around the world using social media, e-mail and phone calls.”
A collection of speakers from both secular and religious organizations say they will appear, including Israeli-American activist Miko Peled, son of an Israeli general and author of “The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.”
As of press time on Dec. 4, the Western Region FIDF had not announced plans for a prominent musical replacement, though, as in past years, Grammy winner David Foster & Friends will perform, and “Seinfeld” veteran Jason Alexander will reprise his role as emcee. The absence of a major headliner stands out because the gala is known for bringing in rarified, glamorous musical acts. Past years have featured musical legends such as Barbra Streisand and the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.
But Haim Saban, known for dazzling surprises, insisted on Dec. 3 that the gala will go on with its usual splendor, undeterred.
“Life is good,” he wrote in an e-mail, “and we’ll have the best gala YET.”