Are Palestinian Children Unworthy to Alicia Keys?

Thousands of ordinary people, fans, two leading Palestinian rights organizations, and one courageous Israeli group have asked musician Alicia Keys to cancel her upcoming July 4 concert in Israel because of Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinians. Yet Keys has rejected these pleas and insists on defying the Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS).  Unmoved by a letter from Roger Waters to respect the BDS Call, she seems determined to cross the picket line.  Her lack of concern over the rampant discrimination faced by Palestinians puts her in league with those musicians who ignored pleas in the 1980s and played for apartheid South Africa in Sun City.


On June 20, a United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) report exposed Israel’s institutionalized violations of Palestinian children’s rights.  The report, issued by the highest children’s rights authority in the world, has failed to lead Keys – reputedly a supporter of children’s rights through her Keep a Child Alive organization – to rethink her decision to whitewash apartheid and discrimination. Some children, it seems, are more equal than others for Ms. Keys. 

While Israeli settler children can cross the Green Line and attend the concert, Palestinian children cannot. One set of laws applies inside the occupied West Bank to Israeli settlers and another, discriminatory set to Palestinians.  Ms. Keys seemingly doesn’t care.

On May 31, Ms. Keys asserted she is looking “forward to [her] first visit to Israel.”  Rather incomprehensibly, she stated to the The New York Times that “[m]usic is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of [her] show.”  That’s a wonderful sentiment, but when Israeli settlers can attend and Palestinian youth cannot that can hardly be defined as unifying. 

Her canned response is problematic on many levels.  Just weeks ago we were reminded of the lasting effects of Jim Crow in the United States when students in Wilcox County, Georgia held their first desegregated prom.  This struggle is not a distant memory.  Many people who fought for equality and against Jim Crow still live among us. But Keys apparently does not relate to this struggle or similar struggles around the world.

Boycott From Within, a rare voice in Israel calling for equality, has pleaded with Keys not to sing in Israel because of the systemic discrimination and institutionalized brutality against Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories.  According to Adalah, more than 50 laws in Israel discriminate against Palestinians, with more in the pipeline.

Even Israeli media have recently reported incidents of discrimination against Palestinians in the private sector.  This discrimination is ultimately rooted in the same supremacy that motivated the KKK and White Citizens’ Councils. Its exclusionary principles are not limited to Palestinians or even more generally to Arabs.  Jewish Israelis of Ethiopian or Arab origin, as well as African immigrants who fled violence in their home countries, also face discrimination in Israel.  Such red flags have failed to spark Keys’ curiosity into the basis of the calls for boycott.

Only days ago, the departing South African ambassador to Israel rejected a certificate from the Israeli foreign ministry and the Jewish National Fund (which administers “state lands” in Israel) informing him of the planting of trees in his name on land stolen from Palestinians.  In his statement, the ambassador asserted that “Israel is a replication of Apartheid.”

The CRC report cited earlier expressed concern “that the establishment of separate means of transport and road services as well as the implementation of two separate legal systems and institutions amount to de facto segregation and lead to inequality between Israeli and Palestinian children in the enjoyment of their rights.”  The CRC, inter alia, was further concerned about Palestinian children detained by Israel, who are “brought in leg chains and shackles wearing prison uniforms before military courts where confessions obtained from them under duress are used as the main evidence.”

These facts throw Keys’ alleged concern for children into question.  As laudable as is her support for Keep a Child Alive, Keys has made clear that her support for children’s welfare and rights ends where that support becomes inconvenient.

The Palestinian call for BDS, like its South African and African-American predecessors and inspirations, is the way to achieve genuine, lasting and inclusive peace. It’s supported by large segments of Palestinian society as evident from the National BDS conference held earlier this month.

Palestinians have tried armed struggle and failed.  We have tried negotiations and those also failed. Now, we’re uniting behind the BDS call from civil society institutions, the most peaceful approach to end the injustice and restore Palestinian rights.  Keys should heed the call, unless she thinks Palestinians and their children aren’t worthy of equal rights.

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