Pop music icon Stevie Wonder has cancelled his performance scheduled for the Dec. 6 FIDF Gala in Los Angeles saluting IDF Soldiers. The event is sponsored by philanthropists Haim and Cheryl Saban.
The 25-time Grammy winner was to appear for an expected 1,200 FIDF supporters, including dignitaries from the U.S. and Israel, at the FIDF Western Region Gala, which is also scheduled to feature Grammy Winner David Foster & Friends with “Seinfeld” veteran Jason Alexander as Emcee.
According to a press release issued on the morning of Nov. 29: “Representatives of the performer cited a recommendation from the United Nations to withdraw his participation given Wonder’s involvement with the organization. FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon: ‘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.’”
Representatives at both the national and local FIDF offices declined to comment further on the reason for Wonder's pullout, but it appears there was a substantial online campaign calling for Wonder's withdrawal from the event.
The Website endtheoccupation.org, ostensibly a part of the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is celebrating a "victory" after posting a letter to Wonder pressuring him to cancel.
"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 went on to draw parallels between South African apatheid and Israel's policies towards the Palestinians and clocked more than 4,000 signatures the morning of the cancellation, according to their Website.
Another online petition, at the Website Change.org posted by a woman from Italy and with 4,570 signatories stated: "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."
This targeting of high profile celebrities who express plans to perform in or on behalf of the State of Israel is not uncommon. In recent years, a group of music industry executives established the nonprofit Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) to privately and publicly counter artist boycotts of Israel.
Earlier today, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that a source who had read emails between Wonder's reps and FIDF organizers said Wonder would pull out and play dumb: "[He would] claim that he did not know the nature of the group, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and that he believes such a performance would be incongruent with his status as a U.N. 'Messenger of Peace.'"
It is hard to believe a music legend such as Stevie Wonder, who has been in the business for decades, would not pay closer attention to the organizations for whom he agrees to perform (in this case, the purpose of the organization is evident in the name of the organization). It is harder still to believe this would occur under host Haim Saban's watch, since he is a devoted music fan and has in the past secured the entertainment acts himself. Last year, for example, Saban's good friend Barbra Streisand performed at the banquet, and the year prior, Andrea Bocelli included one of Saban's favorite songs, "Besame Mucho," in his 6-song set.
But what's a favor to a friend in the face of political fearmongering?