Amnesty stops its support for Cohen concert

By Robyn Rosen, August 20, 2009

Amnesty International says it has withdrawn its support from a concert in Israel because it did not receive sufficiently widespread support from Israelis and Palestinians.

Organisers of the Leonard Cohen concert, which sold out in a day and is due to take place in Tel Aviv next month, approached the US branch of the human rights charity to set up a fund which could distribute the profits of the concert to Israeli and Palestinian charities.

But Curt Goering, deputy director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), said this week that it was forced to “cease involvement” after not enough support was shown.

He said: “Representatives of Leonard Cohen approached AIUSA for advice on setting up a fund, using the proceeds of the Tel Aviv concert to benefit Israeli and Palestinian human rights and civil society organisations working for reconciliation, tolerance and peace.

“AIUSA was pleased to offer what help it could, and from the beginning, made clear that its involvement in providing advice was premised on the requirement that there be widespread participation of Israeli and Palestinian groups. That widespread support appears not to have materialised at this point, and is why AIUSA has ceased its involvement.

The Palestinians have need of principled international friends and Amnesty has often filled that role.

Betty Hunter

“We regret this outcome, but still think Leonard Cohen’s efforts are well-intentioned and that the fund is a good initiative.”

Andrew Balcombe, chairman of the Zionist Federation, was shocked at AIUSA’s decision.

“Leonard Cohen has a sell-out concert in Israel,” he said. “Bookings have been so high that Cohen has been approached to have a second concert in Nazareth particularly to assist the Israeli Arab community.

“The charities chosen to benefit are all working towards coexistence and harmony between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Amnesty International USA were only administering the funds. It is very difficult to understand how AIUSA could have any objection to the aims and objectives of these organisations.”

But Palestinian campaigners hailed the move as a “principled decision”.

Betty Hunter, general secretary of Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), said: “The Palestinians have need of principled international friends and Amnesty has often filled that role.

“The Palestinians have asked us to put pressure on Israel to abide by international law. We are very pleased that Amnesty has taken this decision.”

Mr Balcombe said the PSC’s comments were “absurd”.

Last updated: 11:26am, August 20 2009