Amid Backlash, Tel Aviv Concert Excluding Female Performers Canceled

World Zionist Organization withdrew its support following Haaretz report, and a singer quit the pre-Yom Kippur event at Rabin Square before the show was called off.

Assaf Amdursky and Ninet Tayib (archive photo)
David Bachar

A pre-Yom Kippur concert scheduled for Tel Aviv's Rabin Square has been canceled due to a public outcry over the exclusion of women performers, the organizers announced Sunday.

Haaretz revealed earlier in the day that the concert, featuring singers Assaf Amdursky, Shlomi Shabat, Shlomi Shaban, Eviatar Banai, Shuli Rand, Israel Gurion and Ishay Ribo, would not include women singers, as stipulated by the event's religious funder.

The World Zionist Organization then announced it was withdrawing its sponsorship, Gurion said he was pulling out, and others said they were considering pulling out. The Tel Aviv municipality had said it approved the event but was not sponsoring it.

"In response to the public outcry and out of a desire to be open to the public and to strengthen national unity, we announce the cancellation of the Lifting Kippur performance," the producer, Azrieli Productions, said in a statement.

Instead, a pre-Yom Kippur rally would be held "involving artists appropriate to the event's adapted format," the company added.

Amdursky, who was producing the event on behalf of the organizers, wrote on his Facebook page that he had asked the organizers' permission to include women singers, but they preferred to cancel the concert and replace it with the toned-down alternative.

Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, 2009.
Aviad Herman

In 2013, the Justice Ministry issued a directive stating that “every public authority must act swiftly, effectively and decisively against any sign of segregation and discrimination under its jurisdiction.”

The concert was due to be sponsored by groups that promote religious-secular dialogue including Hamakom and Karov Lalev. Channel 20 television and radio stations were also due to be on board.

One group was the Schottenstein Foundation, headed by American billionaire Jay Schottenstein, a major Jewish philanthropist and the owner of American Eagle Outfitters.

Schottenstein is a heavy contributor to the Jewish National Fund and Chabad, the Hasidic movement based in New York. He and his family have also contributed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election campaign.

The organizers completely rejected claims that Schottenstein had asked for women not to sing at the event.

“We’re sorry there are people who want to drag politics into this, to an event based on love and unity,” Shiri Raveh, the event’s public relations manager, said before the cancellation.
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) had called on artists and the public not to take part. “The event’s organizers are splitting hairs over their excuses .... This is the grossest exclusion of women at an event presented to the public in a public space.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) wrote on Twitter: “I don’t get involved in protests; that’s a tool for the public. Politicians have their own tools. Instead, I feel like organizing a women’s mass protest in the square with thunderous women’s singing.”

Amdursky had told Haaretz on Saturday that the performers were already selected when he came on board. “The funder is religious and he has his considerations, which I respect,” Amdursky said, adding that Schottenstein was following the dictates of the Shulhan Arukh, a code of Jewish law.  

“He wants to be at the event. Pluralism needs to come from all directions – you want pluralism and don’t give pluralism? I have the ability to include the religious public too .... What’s acceptable to them is acceptable to me,” Amdursky said.

“I work with all communities including the religious, the secular, gay people and the Arab minority. I don’t seek to dictate to others how they want to do things. I just want to do it in style.”

He declined to say what he thought about the exclusion of women from such a large event in a public setting.

Tel Aviv City Hall said it had approved the event but was not sponsoring it. Municipal officials said the city’s criteria for approving such events were limited to technical issues such as security, traffic and handicapped access. By law, the municipality is not allowed to interfere with the content of such events if it does not participate in them, city officials said.

“The city is not cooperating with this one due to the exclusion of women,” the municipality said before the full cancellation. “We fail to see how bringing people closer together conforms with excluding women. The public is wise enough to decide whether to take part.”