Leonard Cohen plays in Israel: one bereaved Palestinian parent said "I can't boycott a heart as big as Leonard Cohen's"

Leonard Cohen, who celebrated his 75th birthday earlier this week, gave his scheduled concert at Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan stadium last night without any adverse incident — bringing enormous pleasure to the mostly but not entirely Israeli audience.

It is a pity that he will not be playing in Ramallah this weekend, as he had proposed when the Palestinian boycott committee objected to his performing in Tel Aviv. That suggestion was not acceptable to some — it seems, in fact, to a very few only — but the whole matter therefore became too much, too controversial, and too exhausting for others, who simply chose not to deal with the issues raised.

For the boycott committee, the sole issue was that Leonard Cohen should have totally avoided Israel, and played only in Ramallah.

We reported on this controversy earlier here, as well as
here, and also here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Cohen told the audience of over 50,000 people on Thursday night that: “I don’t know if we will pass this way again” … so, he promised “to give it everything tonight.” The JPost also said that the concert transported the audience to “a vibrant spiritual high”.

A Youtube video shows Leonard Cohen performing “Hallelujah” in the Ramat Gan stadium on Thursday night:

“I did my best, it wasn’t much”, Cohen sang in this song, “I told the truth, I did not come to Tel Aviv to lie”… and the audience roared in response.

One comment posted on Youtube says that this video, though excellent, “unfortunately cannot capture the 50,000 light sticks bathing the stadium in an eerie green glow. What a magical moment!!”

According to the JPost report, “Cohen spoke admiringly of the The Parents Circle-Families Forum group, to which part of the proceeds from this concert are going, praising bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents for ‘the nobility of this exercise’ in reconciliation. Their effort, he said, represented a ‘holy holy holy response to human suffering’ and ‘God willing’ it could mark the beginning of a process toward peace”.

The JPost also said that “Ali Abu Awwad, an activist in the Parents Circle from the village of Beit Umar, whose brother was killed by the IDF, said that the common bond of the gathering was a group of broken hearts … Talking about pressure from Palestinians that led to a boycott of a proposed show in Ramallah, Awwad said, ‘I can’t boycott a heart as big as Leonard Cohen’s’.”

Israeli author David Grossman was also there. Grossman supports the Geneva Initiative, and he publicly opposed the Second Lebanon War in August 2006, even before his son Uri, 20, was killed in the final hours of that Israeli military operation. The JPost reported that Grossman said: “It seems so easy to believe that war is the only possibility and that Israelis and Palestinians will continue to kill each other … But those gathered here tonight know what we have inflicted upon each other and the price we have paid. Leonard Cohen, through his art, indicates that he understands this suffering.”

The JPost noted that proceeds from the concert are estimated at $2 million, and will be managed by a new Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace which will direct money “to organizations working with Israeli and Palestinian organizations committed to reconciliation”. The JPost reported that those include The Parents Circle, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian Center of Research and Information (IPCRI), Radio All for Peace (“Kol Hashalom” in Hebrew, Sawt as-Salaam or Sawt Bila Huduud in Arabic), as well as the Peres Center for Peace.

This is different from the earlier announced recipients, which included a Palestinian organization working with children which backed out of particpation after the Palestinian Boycott Committee issued public criticism.

The JPost noted, in its report on Leonard Cohen’s concert, that “his songs transcended their recorded versions. A magnificent ‘Who By Fire’, for instance, began with an oriental flourish and featured an exquisite harp passage. The biblical basis of songs like that one have always resonated uniquely in the Israel psyche, and hearing them delivered with such poignancy and conviction, in these days ahead of Yom Kippur, made for a particularly unforgettable experience … the crowd applauded ecstatically when Cohen played favorites like ‘Bird on the Wire’ and ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’, but were utterly, respectfully silent in the quieter passages of songs, responding to Cohen’s obvious passion and sincerity”. The JPost report can be read in full here.

Haaretz reported that “the very instant the music began and Cohen opened his mouth to sing ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’, his celebrated deep voice overcame each and every centimeter of distance and signaled the triumphant tone of the entire evening … As expected Cohen saved his most anticipated songs for the second and most memorable half of the show, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘First We Take Manhattan’ which raised the entire stadium to its feet. Everyone in the audience felt like Cohen was personally singing to them and the enthusiastic and even ecstatic crowd wouldn’t let the singer leave until his third encore … Around 200 bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families attended the concert”.

It was the bereaved families who explored the possibility for the Ramallah concert that the Palestinian boycott committee then opposed.

The Haaretz account of the controversy went like this: “A pro-Palestinian group called ‘Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’ urged the singer to cancel the show and launched a protest campaign. And some Palestinian activists called for a boycott because of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which was aimed at stopping daily rocket attacks. Cohen, who is Jewish but was ordained as a Buddhist monk [sic], responded by offering to perform in the West Bank city of Ramallah. However, that offer was rejected by the Palestinian protesters. He then said all proceeds would go to Israeli-Palestinian peace organizations. Initially, Cohen asked Amnesty International to help him distribute the funds, which he hoped would help smaller groups that work for coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. But Amnesty backed out of that arrangement, so Cohen started his own charity to distribute money to community groups. The charity is run by a board of Israelis and Palestinians”. The Haaretz report can be read in full here.

According to Haaretz and Israel’s YNet, Cohen’s last performance in Israel was in 1975.

What a pity he did not — or will not be able to — play in Ramallah …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *