By David E. Kaplan
It was music to our Israeli ears. What’s more it was LIVE music, something foreign to Israelis for nearly two years because of the pandemic. And if Covid was the enemy preventing international bands performing in Israel, BDS thought they would provide the perfect ‘backup’ – just in case.
The Black Eyed Peas with will.i.am born William James Adams, Jr., apl.de.ap, Taboo, and new member J. Rey Soul, performed at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena on November 29, 2021, the first major international show in Israel since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Ahead of the concert, the BDS-supporting Artists for Palestine UK released a statement calling on Black Eyed Peas to cancel the show. It was a call emphatically rejected by the Grammy-winning group.
At a press conference will.i.am explicitly responded to the call to boycott Israel saying:
“I’m a musician and a tech enthusiast and people like our music. Do I turn my back on people that live here because of politics? No, that’s not the way we were built. So, you know, there’s beautiful people here as well as beautiful people in Palestine. And one day we want to go there too.”
Not only has the frontman for the Black Eyed Peas over the years
consistently resisted calls to boycott Israel, but will.i.am has strengthened his ties with the country through his “core passion” – technology. Back in 2016, his tech firm i.am + acquired an Israeli startup Sensiya and regularly visits the country “catching up” on Israel’s vibrant tech scene.
In fact, on the morning the Black Eyed Peas performed on the 29 November in Jerusalem, will.i.am participated in a panel discussion at an innovation conference organised by Improvate, an Israeli organisation that works to advance Israeli technology.
Introducing will.i.am as “Musician, producer and frontman for the supergroup, Black Eyed Peas that you can hear tonight,” the panel moderator then continued, “you can hear him now about his second career as a technology entrepreneur and futurist who is sought out by corporations to get insights how technologies, innovations behavior patterns could impact their business.”
Before questioning wil.i.am on technology, the moderator asked how he coped with the harassment from BDS about visiting Israel.
“Every time we are asked to come to Israel, we come.” And the reason he says can be summed up in one word “Mishpocha” (Yiddish for “family”)
He explained how one of his childhood friends inspired him to throw some other Hebrew words into one of the band’s most popular songs, “I Gotta Feeling” – a big hit at most Israeli weddings, where guests invariably go wild on the dance floor, familiar with all the words. In that song, will.i.am famously shouts out “mazel Tov”, explaining how so many Israelis refer to it fondly as the “Mazel Tov Song”.
How did this “mishpocha” develop?
“I have friends and family here; my first girlfriend ever – when I was 16-years-old – was from Israel. When you have friends and family you don’t follow the babble; you follow your heart. I remember her saying, “I am moving back to my homeland” you will one day come to Israel. I said I’m from the Ghetto, be realistic, I’m never going to get to Israel. And I came… And when they [BDS] told us not to come, I said I’m going to see Orly and her family. I wanted Orly’s mom to see what we became. So every time I am asked the question, I think of family, I think of friends.“
When they started the group, “it was in my friend Benjamin’s bedroom; and sometimes it was late Friday’s and I ended up having Shabbat dinner with them…and when I said Mazeltov and LChaim, Benjamin’s dad said, “We are so glad to have you here, you are Mishpocha.
“So when I say mishpocha, I mean that dearly because I am connecting you to my upbringing, my friends, the people that encouraged me, and this place – ISRAEL- is magical to me. And I wont let politics get in the way of where my heart is.”
Will.i.am also worked the word “mishpocha” into a music video for a song the Black Eyed Peas made with the Israeli pop duo Static and Ben-El in 2020. “What’s up, mishpocha?” he asks at the beginning of the music video.
In recent years, the musician cum innovator has created a series of wearable devices, including smartwatches and headphones, that have yet to be widely adopted. But he said he measured his success “not by sales, but rather by how much he learns from his experience.”
So, while BDS has had some success in influencing the likes of Lorde and Elvis Costello to cancel concerts in Israel, it lost big time with the Black Eyed Peas.
You don’t mess with “mishpocha”!
As a show of defiance on stage, will.i.am gave a shout-out to producer Yonatan Goldstein as an example of his “mishpocha”. Goldstein co-wrote or co-produced much of the Black Eyed Peas’ latest album, and produced their collaboration with Israeli musical duo Static & Ben El.
Unlike the rapturous reception to the music of Black Eyed Peas, the call for boycott by BDS fell on deaf ears. Less than two weeks after the Black Eyed Peas concert in Jerusalem, the 2021 Miss Universe pageant took place in Eilat, Israel, which was won by Miss India. To ‘crown’ it all, Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, who bravely resisted pressure from her own government to withdraw from the competition was second runner up.
Responding to this good news, South African Friends of Israel penned the following in its press release:
|“Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, has brought pride and honour to our nation by being crowned the second runner up at the 2021 Miss Universe pageant in Eilat, Israel. South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) congratulates and celebrates Lalela’s stunning achievement. She has raised the status and visibility of South Africa across the globe. We are bubbling with joy to witness how she had the courage and conviction to stand up as a proud South African on the world stage, and against the anti-Israel bullies and hatemongers who tried to intimidate her for going to Israel, including the short-sightedness of the South African government. Lalela truly represents the millions of South Africans who are standing behind her and celebrating her achievements.”|
Not cowering to pressure and standing up for what they believe is right, that is the message from the Black Eyed Peas and Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane as we close out 2021. Taking to heart the emotive lyrics of the Black Eyed Peas, let’s embrace 2022 in the spirit of “mishpocha” and remember:
“I gotta feeling that its gonna be a good good night….”
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).