Activists, Artists Criticize Cancellation of ‘Broadway Supports Black Lives Matter’ Benefit

By Sameer Rao Sep 19, 2016

Following the cancellation of a September 11 "Broadway Supports Black Lives Matter" benefit because of the Movement for Black Lives policy platform‘s* language concerning Israel and Palestine, a group of Broadway figures and activists released a critical statement.

"We reject attempts to discredit and divert resources from this historic movement under the false pretense of challenging anti-Semitism," read the statement issued today (September 19) by anti-occupation advocacy organization Jewish Voice for Peace’s (JVP) Artists and Cultural Workers’ Council. "We call on theater venues, artists and supporters in New York City and beyond to proudly support the Movement for Black Lives and its inspiring solidarity with the Palestinian people."

The benefit, to be hosted by acclaimed New York City cabaret venue Feinstein’s/54 Below, was canceled over objections to the policy platform’s condemnation of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories. The platform’s section on divestment from oppressive policies and regimes described Israel as an "apartheid state" and described its treatment of occupied Palestinians as "genocide." It’s language that echoes the solidarity between movements and provoked accusations of anti-Semitism and mislabeling from various organizations and individuals.

The following statement comes from an email the venue sent to ticket holders, as cited by Playbill:

The owners and managers of [Feinstein’s/54 Below] strongly believe in and support the general thrust of the goals and objectives of BLM. However, since announcing the benefit they’ve become aware of a recent addition to the BLM platform that accuses Israel of genocide and endorses a range of boycott and sanction actions. Feinstein’s/54 Below would have preferred to hold the concert in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, without endorsing or appearing to endorse the entirety of the Black Lives Matter organization and its platform, but we’ve found that a distinction impossible for us to effect. As we can’t support these positions, we’ve accordingly decided to cancel the concert.

JVP’s letter was signed by many prominent Broadway personalities, including "The Color Purple" author Alice Walker and Tony Award nominee Tonya Pinkins ("Jelly’s Last Jam"), who was set to direct the benefit. 

In reaction to the cancellation, Justin Sayre, who hosts the recurring cabaret show "The Meeting" at Joe’s Pub, turned his show’s September 18 installment into a replacement benefit. Several of the original show’s performers appeared at the concert. "I am grateful to the brilliant Justin Sayre for his generous offer to donate the proceeds of his sold-out evening of ["The Meeting"] to Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name," Pinkins said in a statement cited by Playbill. The Movement For Black Lives recognizes that when we silently allow oppression of anyone we tacitly invite oppression of everyone."

(H/t The New York Times, The Atlantic)

*Race Forward, the organization that publishes Colorlines, is among the platform’s endorsing organizations.