Why Are Israel-supporting Jews in the Music Industry Staying Silent?

While anti-Israel sentiment is being voiced loudly and publicly, pro-Israel Jews in the entertainment industry are staying mainly silent.

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Thank you, Tel Aviv: Rihanna Tuesday night.
Thank you, Tel Aviv: Rihanna Tuesday night. Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

These are strange days for liberal Jews in the entertainment industry, watching celebrities speak out against Israel while the pro-Israel voices are primarily silent.

At times, the statements are laughable – Rihanna mouthing off on Instagram then deleting her “#FreePalestine” post – but at other times they're openly hostile.

Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, paused in mid-concert on July 8th to say: “I swear to fucking God, there are some people out there who are looking for a reason to kill. They're looking for a reason to go across borders and take land that doesn't belong to them. They should get the fuck out and mind their own fucking business. We don't want to give them our money, they don't get our taxes to drop bombs on children.”

A few days later, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic supported the sentiment, adding: ''It is the knuckleheads on both sides that should be criticized and not the singer from a rock band.''

But does that really soften the anti-Israel blow in a climate where some of the industry’s most revered figures, from Carlos Santana to Snoop Dogg, preach that it’s cool to be anti-Israel?

Where are the rock stars expressing solidarity with Israel’s right to defend itself or pausing between songs to explain that every day is harrowing for Israeli civilians who are attacked by rockets and threatened by terror tunnels leading to their homes, playgrounds and streets?

Social media explodes

Amid the silence of Israel supporters, social media feeds explode with anti-Israel posts and threads spin out of control with anti-Semitic vitriol. Many apolitical Jews who, if anything, identify with left wing causes from abortion rights to gay marriage, find themselves compelled to clarify facts and rally behind the IDF.

The result? They get called “fascist,” “right wing,” “criminal,” even “scum” and “vile” by colleagues who they never realized were closet Jew-haters.

“Anti-Semites are really coming out of the woodwork,” one Jewish record company head said. “My husband is Israeli. I tell no one.” Then she added: “Please don’t use my name.”

Laugh as you may over Jon Stewart’s shtick about being called a “self-hating Jew” by his fellow tribesmen, many working in the entertainment field feel the opposite sting.

They feel bullied by a confederacy of industry “liberals,” who dismiss anyone who doesn’t uphold the party line of Israel as an oppressor and the cause of all evil in the region.

“I just get so emotional, I try not to post too much,” says Regina Joskow, director of publicity at Rounder Records. “I feel like I bang my head against the wall when I share reality, not a bleeding heart fantasy.“

Though she was reticent to express her views, she’s become emboldened lately, posting links to articles she finds might help her detractors understand why she supports Operation Protective Edge.

“When I hear people, particularly my fellow Jews, defend Hamas, I want to grab them by their shoulders and say, ‘These people would kill your children, your parents, your spouse!’ I consider myself left-wing, but not if it means subscribing to lies and Hamas.”

Instead of going toe-to-toe with rhetoric, she does the only sane thing she can think of. “I’ve been blocking and unfriending people like mad,” she says. “I really hate seeing people’s true colors.”

What Joskow is referring to are doctored images, such as that of beach-goers in Tel Aviv cheering the deaths in Gaza, which are reposted endlessly - because it promotes a depiction of Israelis as dehumanized brutes.

And we thought Jews controlled the entertainment biz.

The silence of the powerful

Actually, there are many Jews and Israelis in powerful positions in the music biz— U2 manager Guy Oseary and Atlantic Records Group co-chairs Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman, to name a few – but their voices are mute.

And the current crisis isn’t the only instance when Jews in the entertainment biz have taken a passive stance. Only Sony’s Amy Pascal vowed never to work with Mel Gibson again, after the actor's anti-Semitic and misogynistic rant.

So what’s a pro-Israel industry exec to do when the Jewish heads of major record labels and Israeli mega-managers aren’t sticking up for the IDF or Israel’s right to defend itself?

If she could, Ellyn Solis, an independent music publicist and former senior director of publicity at Sony and Epic, would stay off social media for the duration of Israel’s military incursion into Gaza. But she can’t. Staying on top of everyone’s feeds is her job, after all. Each time she dips in these days, she tries not to drown in the hate.
“One journalist I’ve worked with for years posted that any pro-Israel comments would not be accepted at all,” she says. “Another contact told me I should be stripped of my progressive badge because I can’t be progressive and think Israel has a right to defend itself!”

Solis has removed the Israeli flag she had on her Facebook page. “I don’t want to exacerbate an already volatile situation,” she says. “I love what I do and while I take somewhat of a stand, I don’t want to come off as badgering.”

As a result, Solis says she and many of her fellow publicists are reticent to voice their opinions. Call it fear, loathing and inertia.

It is such a painful situation,” she says. “And there’s such a deep divide. Each news report brings another challenge.”

Most of the industry sources contacted for this article insisted on staying anonymous to protect their jobs and clients. Some expressed disappointment that Jewish entertainment high rollers weren’t being more vocal. “How can I stick my neck out when no one has my back?” one asked.

The Creative Community For Peace (CCFP), a group formed two years ago by a number of music moguls to counter the BDS movement, has been surveying the situation and largely staying mum.

“We’re not a political organization,” says CCFP advisory board member Craig Balsam, founder and president of Razor & Tie Records. Balsam recently wrote an editorial in the New York Post lauding the way Neil Young had announced the postponement of his concert in Tel Aviv, which was scheduled for last week.

“With rockets being fired all around, it’s understandable why he canceled it, though he was quick to say he was going to reschedule,” Balsam says. “And his decision to donate to two organizations that teach Palestinian and Israeli children to play music together and foster peace was done in the right spirit.

Then there's Roger Waters

"But I take great offense at someone like Roger Waters, who publicly shames artists who want to play there, comparing Israel to an apartheid state and Nazi Germany.”

Though Waters’ virulently anti-Semitic statements reflect a fringe sentiment, Balsam says, he, too, has noticed a flood of misinformation about Israel and Gaza.

“I give artists like Rihanna the benefit of the doubt,” he says. “It’s normal for a well-intentioned person to see all the blood and death and want to say something about it. Sometimes they get out ahead of themselves before they’ve had a chance to educate themselves and think things through.”

That’s why CCFP seems to be taking the high road of support for artists who are well-disposed towards Israel, rather than pointing fingers. After Rihanna’s Instagram debacle, CCFP posted a photo of her on tour in Israel on its Facebook page, clarifying her positive feelings toward Israel.

“Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of misinformation propagated during this conflict that only serve to inflame the discourse and heighten emotions,” says CCFP founder David Renzer, chairman of Spirit Music Group and former chairman of Universal Music Publishing Group.

On its Facebook page, CCFP lists basic facts about the conflict and stays out of the fray. But one can only think that with board members like Jody Gerson, co-president of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Ron Fair, former chair of Geffen Records, and Rob Prinz, head of music at United Talent Agency – the representatives of artists from Lady Gaga to Justin Timberlake, who kicked off the summer in Tel Aviv – there may be unseen hands guiding artists behind the scenes.

For example, when asked whether there had been anyone encouraging Selena Gomez to clarify her “Pray for Gaza” post by adding that she wasn’t “picking any sides,” her publicist replied “no comment.”

While Gomez fans were quick to mince through her words, some of them interpreting them to mean she’s anti-Israel, the 22-year-old doesn’t exactly have a loudly voiced political agenda. She hasn’t rallied against Israel the way Coldplay and Elvis Costello have. Her statement seems innocuous.

Still, where are the Sarah Silvermans expressing outrage over Hamas and solidarity with Israel, the home of her sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman? She belatedly took to Twitter yesterday, posting what some have described as the sort of ambiguous, neutral statement reflective of Hollywood Jews who care more about not alienating anyone in the biz than expressing a bold opinion: “Whaddayasay we have y'all's Gods fight it out & keep the children out of it, sound good?”

Joan Rivers has spoken up, telling a TMZ reporter: “If we heard they were digging tunnels from New Jersey to New York, we would get rid of Jersey…. You cannot throw rockets and expect people not to defend themselves… You are all insane! They started it.”

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