17 May 2009
New York activists gathered in front of Radio City Music Hall Sunday night during a Leonard Cohen concert to call upon the singer/songwriter to cancel his scheduled September concert in Israel. The protesters sang songs, chanted, handed out leaflets to concert attendees and produced sidewalk art. The call comes in support of earlier calls by Jews, Palestinians, Israeli citizens and residents of the UK, and coincides with the publication of an open letter by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) calling for protests throughout the cities Cohen is touring.
“With the construction of the Apartheid Wall and Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands, and on the heels of the brutal Israeli attack on Gaza that killed over 1,400 Palestinians and injured 5,000 more, the Palestinian Catastrophe continues and we demand that artists start taking a courageous and principled stand by refusing to entertain occupiers and oppressors,” said Riham Barghouti, Palestinian-American activist with Adalah-NY. This week Palestinians around the world commemorate the 61st Anniversary of the Nakba of 1948, when Israeli forces expelled 800,000 Palestinians and destroyed 531 villages.
Protesters chanted “Leonard, Leonard Have A Heart, Don’t Help Apartheid With Your Art” and sang “Ain’t Gonna Let Occupation Turn Me Round, Gonna Keep On Walkin’, Keep Boycottin'” to the tune of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round”. A particular crowd favorite was, to the tune of Frere Jacques,
Are you sleeping, Are you sleeping,
Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen
While your songs are so fine
Israel’s taking Palestine
Don’t go there, Don’t go there
Activists passed out fliers to ticket-holders on the back of which was written “Don’t Play Israel”. Concert-goers were asked to hold them up during the concert so that Cohen could see a visual call to join the growing cultural and academic boycott of Israel by canceling his upcoming concert in Tel Aviv on September 24, 2009. Since over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued their call for boycott in July 2005, Palestinian groups have focused on cultural events as a key tool in the Israel government’s campaign to legitimize its ongoing occupation and oppression of Palestinian people.
Before the show, protesters chalked “Leonard: Don’t Play Israel” on the sidewalk in front of the stage entrance. Radio City Music Hall staff quickly mopped the sidewalk. “They can wash away these words, but they can’t wash away the growing boycott movement,” said Hannah Mermelstein, an activist with NYCBI, the New York Campaign to Boycott Israel. NYCBI recently launched its own campaign against Motorola for its development and production of bomb fuses and communications equipment for the Israeli military. “We are proud to be a part of the growing boycott and divestment movement called for by Palestinians. Concerted effort to isolate Israel is the only means to end the ongoing dispossession and oppression of Palestinians by Israel.”