World-famous Brazilian singers and political activists Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso took a stand against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Tel Aviv on Monday.
“We faced pressure not to come to Israel and to cancel the concert we’re going to do tomorrow, but we decided not to cancel because we prefer to talk, to open dialogue,” Veloso said. “I’ve been to Israel a few times before this and I have always loved this place, but I know the situation is heavy, it’s hard.”
Veloso and Gil performed Tuesday night in Tel Aviv. The Monday event, sponsored by the New Israel Fund, also featured Israeli and Palestinian artists and activists. Their message was clear: More dialogue, not less, should be the way forward.
“It’s legitimate to boycott or call for a boycott. That’s democracy. But we believe the answer is to talk with the Israeli public, the Israeli leaders, and try to persuade them that this is good for Israel,” said Rachel Liel, the executive director of the New Israel Fund. “Let civil society flourish, let the debate take place.”
Gil and Caetano are known for their activism against the Brazilian military dictatorship in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The longtime friends and collaborators were both jailed and later exiled from Brazil due to their political activities and music.
BDS proponent Roger Waters asked the two performers to cancel their show in Israel. They refused, saying they disagree with the Israeli government, but welcomed the chance to perform in Israel, to learn about the situation, and to share their viewpoint.
They visited the Palestinian village of Susya during their visit and met with Palestinians in the area. The Israeli government is currently threatening to demolish the village, saying it was built without authorization.
“We’ve been saying since we got here, we are here to sing, we came here to sing and also share our views and thoughts,” Gil said. “Our pleasure being here is made first by having everything interesting and beautiful and amusing that Israel can offer, but also the pain, the doubts, the struggles.”
The Israeli singer and peace activist David Broza cited Gil and Caetano as inspiration. Artists do not need to protest or get involved in politics, Broza said, but should speak out if they feel the urge to do so, like Caetano and Gil did by coming to Israel and visiting Susya, Broza said.
Broza also addressed the BDS movement at the conference, saying it is an attempt to change the situation, but a mistaken one.
“We would have never filled a room like this if we would have boycotted each other. It’s one thing to criticize, it’s one thing to protest for change, but we must talk,” Broza said.
Palestinian activists at the event also saw dialogue as the best way to effect change.
Mira Awad, a Palestinian-Israeli singer and actress spoke in favor of cooperation and using music to connect people on both sides of the conflict. Awad and Broza, who are longtime friends and collaborators, sang together briefly.
The Palestinian peace activist Wajee Tumaizee of the Parents Circle Families Forum spoke about his personal experience in the conflict. The organization represents Israeli and Palestinian families who lost a close relative to violence between the two groups. Tumaizee lost a brother in 1991, and two of his nephews were killed by settlers in 2001. He may have lost his brother, he said, but he didn’t lose his head.
“Maybe we can build a bridge over the blood valley that is standing between both peoples, the Israeli and Palestinian,” Tumaizee said. “Maybe our sons or our grandsons can cross this bridge.”
Gil and Caetano performed in Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim arena on Tuesday night.