Stevie Wonder has decided to withdraw from a commitment to headline a Dec. 6 benefit for the Israeli Defense Forces, according to JTA, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The American entertainer’s representatives are set to issue a statement, the news wire said late Wednesday, in which they will claim Wonder believes taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict clashes with his role as a “Messenger of Peace” for the United Nations. He has held that honorific title since 2009.
JTA based its reporting on “a source who has read email exchanges between Wonder’s representatives and organizers of the event.”
The Los Angeles event raises millions of dollars every year to support Israel’s military. Wonder performed at a gala marking Israel’s 50th anniversary in 1998.
Three years earlier, however, he was photographed in Jerusalem receiving a traditional Palestinian kafia headdress from an aide to Yasser Arafat, then the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Wonder was in Israel to perform a concert. AFP, the French Press Agency, reported that he said he was happy “to see the Holy Land in spirit.”
An online petition at change.org had reached 4,000 signatures by Wednesday evening after going online Tuesday. It called on Wonder to “remember that apartheid is apartheid, whether it comes from White Afrikaaner settlers of South Africa or from Jewish Israelis in Israel.”
The petition complained of “over 60 years of Israeli colonization of Palestinian land and the disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people.” it also referred to the recent rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel, and the Israeli Defense Forces’ response, as “Israel’s latest violent aggression against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”
In a separate campaign, the JTA reported, the Pro-Palestinian U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation asked Wonder to “be a ‘full-time lover’ of justice by standing on the right side of history and canceling your performance for the Israeli army.”
Online commenters weighed in on websites hosting the JTA story and the change.org petition, in some cases venting anger against Israel.
One, weighing in on the JTA story,” called Israelis “Zionist scumbags.” Another wrote that “The more artists who refuse to support terrorists, the better.”
Edwin Wilson, a Virginia resident who added his name to the change.org petition, asked the IDF, ”[H]ow in the Hell can you live with killing little children and women?”
Israel’s retaliation against Hamas in Gaza, Wilson wrote, “is exactly what the KKK and lynch mobs did to my people here in Virginia.”