Pharrell Williams cancels Israel gig

July 15, 2016
Pharrell Williams.

Ten-time Grammy Award winner, US musician Pharrell Williams has cancelled his July 21 performance in Tel Aviv amid conflicting explanations.

Over the past year, the “Happy” pop star has faced sustained pressure from the Palestine solidarity movement. Last year, amid rumours that he would be scheduling a Tel Aviv performance, campaigners urged him not to go.

In an open letter, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel said that by performing in Tel Aviv, Williams would show himself “indifferent to the suffering of Palestinian children”.

The cancellation also comes as other big names, including Carlos Santana, are being urged by fans not to “entertain apartheid” by performing at Israeli venues.

Israeli media have provided conflicting explanations for Pharrell's Tel Aviv no-show. Haaretz cited lacklustre ticket sales, while The Jerusalem Post reported “scheduling conflicts.”

BDS South Africa has made Williams a focus of its campaigning over his endorsement of the retail chain Woolworths, because of its sales of Israeli goods.

Last September an effort to limit the size of a Palestine solidarity protest outside the Cape Town venue where Williams was performing was thrown out by a South African judge.

Williams has been publicly unresponsive to appeals for him to use his platform to support — or at least not be complicit in the violation of — Palestinian human rights.

But recently he made a modest gesture in response to a call for solidarity with activists, bloggers and journalists jailed and abused in a crackdown by Azerbaijan's dictatorial regime.

Williams was one of several international stars who performed as part of the Formula 1 racing event in the capital Baku last month. Formula 1 has been accused of “sportswashing” and “masking” abusive regimes including Azerbaijan's and Bahrain's.

Azerbaijan is a close military and intelligence ally of Israel. The Jerusalem Post said Azerbaijan spends billions on weapons from Israel, making it the second biggest market in Asia, after India, for Israeli arms.

Sports for Rights, a coalition of international human rights groups, did not call on Formula 1 or international artists to boycott Azerbaijan, but asked for public condemnations of abuses and pressure for them to stop.
“Chris Brown and Enrique Iglesias completely ignored our calls,” Rebecca Vincent, coordinator of Sports for Rights, told Eurasianet of two other singers who performed in Baku during the Formula 1 event.

But Pharrell received credit for speaking out — however obliquely — in apparent response to the campaign's call. In his performance, he dedicated his song “Freedom” to the “youth of Azerbaijan”, saying: “When they grow up they will change things not only here, but around the world and no one can stop them.”

Despite Williams lack of comment on the cancelling of his Tel Aviv gig, Palestinian rights campaigners will be pleased this performance is off — no matter the publicly stated reasons.

[Abridged from Electronic Intifada.]

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