UPDATED: Norwegian pop singer Aurora Aksnes has promoted harmony in the world, but she’s struck decidedly sour notes over her plans for two upcoming contests in Israel. What’s really irritated fellow artists is her organization’s attempt to conceal them, while both criticism and support poured in overnight.
Oslo newspaper Klassekampen reported this week that Aurora’s manager Geir Luedy confirmed that the two concerts in Tel Aviv in November were intentionally omitted from the list of other concerts on Aurora’s autumn tour. She’s due to perform around 30 concerts both in Norway and abroad over the next three months.
Her concert itinerary starts in Haugesund, Norway on Friday and continues around the country through October, before moving on to Paris, Dublin and several cities in the UK. From an appearance in London on November 11, however, there’s a gap on the concert list until she’s due to perform at the Neon Lights Festival in Singapore on November 24 and then move on to Japan.
Two concerts scheduled for November 14 and 15 in Tel Aviv are not listed among all the others on her “official website,” raising questions over the omission. Øystein Grønning, deputy leader of the Palestine Committee in Norway, believed Aurora was trying to hide the fact that she would be performing in Israel.
“She’s listed all her concerts except the two in Tel Aviv,” Grønning told Klassekampen, adding that he suspected it was because the appearances “aren’t compatible with the image she tries to present.” He’s disappointed: “It looks like money is more important than solidarity.”
Caught in the crossfire
Aurora’s manager confirmed to Klassekampen that the concert plans in Israel were indeed intentionally left off the list on Aurora’s website. Asked why, Luedy responded in a text message: “It’s because we wanted as few as possible inquiries of this type.” They simply didn’t want to call attention to the concert plans in Tel Aviv.
Itay Stern, who covers cultural issues for Israeli newspaper Haaretz, told Klassekampen on Friday that there have been fewer concerts in Tel Aviv this year. This was the first time he’d heard of an artist opting to perform but not wanting to publicize it on his or her own website. “It’s difficult to hide concerts from the BDS (a campaign calling for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel, to pressure the government to end its occupation of Palestinian land),” Stern told Klassekampen. “It’s not very effective to hide concerts on your website.”
He said several artists including Lorde, Lana del Rey and Lauryn Hill had cancelled concerts in Israel.”That happens quite often,” Stern told Klassekampen. “They don’t want to get caught in the political crossfire.”
Both Israeli and Palestinian groups of artists wrote separate appeals to Aurora after Klassekampen’s news broke, asking her to cancel the concerts. The Israeli artists wrote that performing in Israel makes it necessary to take a political standpoint. Klassekampen reported on Friday that both groups claim that the Israeli government uses Tel Aviv in a PR strategy to move attention away from “its military occupation, apartheid politics and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
Drummer and vocalist Embla Karidotter, most recently of the band Razika that took part in an artists’ boycott of Israel, was among Norwegian performers angry over Aurora’s decision to perform and try to hide it. “I’m very disappointed by everyone who had anything to do with this decision (to play in Israel),” Karidotter told Klassekampen. “They knew it was worthy of criticism and then they’re not even brave enough to face up to it. It’s so cowardly, and this has to be announced, discussed and criticized.”
Karidotter objects to performing in Israel because of its occupation of Palestinian territory. “Palestine is occupied, it’s been wiped out as a country and off the maps,” Karidotter told Klassekampen. “If artists continue to play there and pretend as if nothing is wrong, Israel can just continue to do what it wants.”
Aurora: ‘I like to blend politics and music’
Aurora herself responded to the criticism with another written statement, sent by Luedy: “I like to blend politics and music. And talk about fellow human beings and empathy. About love and strength. Everything you would think everyone knew all about but that we nonetheless need music to remind us about. Music is very beautiful in that way, and it can touch people without being a teacher, and lead people without being a leader. Music just wakes things in us that we’re already created to be or to feel.”
She concluded, according to Klassekampen, by writing that she can’t let anyone’s politics stop her from traveling to people “and touching them.” She wrote that she thinks “that’s the best a musician can do, and perhaps the most important.”
Karidotter was not impressed. She stressed that she had respect for Aurora as a person and an artist, but that “you can’t hide behind (statements) that you just want to spread joy and music.” That, she thinks, is “too far from reality.”
Asked whether she had any advice for Aurora, Karidotter quoted a well-known Norwegian motto for hikers in the mountains: Det er ingen skam i å snu (there’s no shame in turning around). She and Grønning hope Aurora will cancel the concerts in Tel Aviv, one of which is already sold out. Otherwise, Aurora should admit that “if you choose to play in Israel, you must dare to admit that you are on Israel’s side,” not the Palestinians.
Norwegian Broadcastng (NRK) also reported that several Palestinian artists including dancers, film directors, singers and actors had sent a letter to Aurora, claiming that regardless of what her intentions may be, “performing in Tel Aviv will be viewed as you joining the whitewashing of Israel’s occupation and violations of the human rights of the Palestinians.” They asked her to “stand together with the thousands of artists all over the world” who refuse to let art and culture gloss over the occupation and “apartheid” and instead contribute to the Palestinians’ campaign for freedom and justice.
Norway’s entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest rejected the artists’ boycott as did others taking part in the show that was held in Tel Aviv in May since an Israeli artist won it the year before. Norwegian band a-ha and artist Kygo have performed in Israel as well. Fans’ reaction to Aurora’s decision on her website was mixed on Friday, with some cheering her on, while others wondered why she was “supporting an occupant.”
Luedy told NRK, meanwhile, that he took on the “full and complete responsibility” for the uproar, repeating that “we wanted to hinder attention around the (Tel Aviv) concerts elsewhere in the world. We now see that it was the wrong way to handle this. We won’t do it again.” Aurora sent the same response to NRK that she sent to Klassekampen. There was no indication she would drop her plans to perform in Tel Aviv, or further comment on Friday from either Luedy or Aurora.