Cassandra Wilson Cancels Holon Concert, Joining Artistic Boycott of Israel

Wilson, an American jazz singer known for her unmistakably husky voice, had been scheduled to perform at the Holon International Women’s Festival.

Uri Zer Aviv
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Uri Zer Aviv

Grammy-winning jazz singer Cassandra Wilson has called off her scheduled concert in Holon tonight, after receiving requests from pro-Palestinian activists asking that she join an artistic boycott of Israel.

Wilson, an American jazz singer known for her unmistakably husky voice, had been scheduled to perform at the Holon International Women’s Festival.

Cassandra Wilson

Tuesday morning’s surprising last-minute cancelation comes months after Wilson signed a contract to perform in Israel but only one day after she received full payment for her scheduled appearance, according to the director of the Holon Theater, Guy Telem.

Telem says he spoke with Wilson at length on Tuesday in an attempt to convince her not to cancel the appearance.

“Her first explanation was that she read recently about Israel’s intention to attack Iran and she feared for her safety and the safety of her people,” said Telem. He recommended she speak with official agencies in Israel and the United States to inquire about whether there were any official travel warnings, rather than relying on media reports. He also said such warnings have been in the media for months, including well before she signed the contract to travel to Israel.

Wilson later admitted that her decision stemmed from a desire to support Palestinians’ civil rights, Telem said.

Telem said he asked Wilson whether she actively supported the Palestinian cause before pro-Palestinian activists approached her about canceling tonight’s concert; Wilson had no answer, he said.

For legal reasons, Wilson refused to disclose the names of the groups that approached her, said Telem.

“What makes this cancelation exceptional is that the entire matter arose only a day after she received her payment for the performance,” said Telem. It seems that she pulled a fast one and the singer’s manager has agreed to refund only part of the money as of now, he said. But the damage done to the festival is much greater than just her appearance fee and the damage to the theater’s reputation; there is also the matter of compensating the public and other large expenses related to the appearance.

Wilson joins a host of performers who have canceled appearances in Israel for for political reasons. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Cat Power and Tune-Yards have all canceled concerts recently.

Two years ago, a boycott and divestment organization against Israel signed up 500 artists who stated they would not perform in Israel. Tune-Yards signed the statement, although a few months later the group signed a deal to perform here.

Singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, better known by her stage name Cat Power, canceled a show in Israel this month, tweeting that, due to “much confusion in her soul” over “such unrest between Israel and Palestine,” she could not perform. She added, “I feel sick in my spirit.”

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart canceled a performance in Israel in recent months, citing political reasons, and took on a more profitable deal in Malaysia instead.

The Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee met at the beginning of the month to discuss the boycott. It established a special subcommittee to look into how to compensate Israeli promoters in the cases of politically motivated cancelations. The subcommittee is supposed to present its recommendations within 90 days, but no progress has yet been made.

While many artists have canceled appearances in Israel over the past few years for political reasons, it seems that many only develop their political awareness on the matter after they sign the contracts to perform. Promoters are now introducing clauses to protect against such cancelations, stipulating that the artist is aware of possible political pressure to cancel their appearance.



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