Menu JTA Search

Alicia Keys will play Israel, even though Alice Walker doesn’t want her to

Alicia Keys at the 55th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, February 2013. (PRPhotos)

Alicia Keys at the 55th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, February 2013. (PRPhotos)

She’s a girl on fire—and a girl with her own mind.

While fellow artists have called for her to cancel her July 4th performance in Tel Aviv,  Alicia Keys announced Friday she will not be changing her plans.

“I look forward to my first visit to Israel. Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show,” the R&B singer told The New York Times.

The appeal to Keys to boycott Israel came first from Alice Walker, in an open letter posted on the writer’s website. “It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists,” the “The Color Purple” author wrote.

One of those “global conscious artists” is Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, who posted a letter on the web site of a group called the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. “Please, Alicia, do not lend your name to give legitimacy to the Israeli government policies of illegal, apartheid, occupation of the homelands of the indigenous people of Palestine.”

Who knows why Keys did not join the ranks of artists like Elvis Costello and the Pixies who have pulled out of gigs in Israel after urging from pro-Palestinian groups. (Others, like Elton John and Rihanna, have not canceled their concerts). Maybe she supports Israel, or maybe she’s ambivalent about what’s happening in the Middle East. The theory we find most interesting, though, is one inspired by Liel Liebowitz at Tablet.

In a piece detailing why he thinks “Walker’s attack on Alicia Keys for playing in Israel is ignorant,” Liebowitz brings attention to the portion of Walker’s letter in which she tells Keys that a performance in Israel would be an affront to the American Civil Rights movement. Then Walker suggests that, because of her age, Keys may not even be familiar with the American Civil Rights movement. “Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already.”

As Liebowitz points out, Keys graduated from high school at 16 and was accepted at Columbia University. Chances are she’s heard of that whole civil rights thing. And chances are she doesn’t like being condescended to. So that’s what we’re going with.

NEXT STORY