By Vanessa Thorpe 11 March 2017
One of Israel’s leading cultural figures, the singer-songwriter David Broza, has spoken out against new calls for an artistic boycott of Israel. Ahead of a rare British concert next month, the Grammy award-winning Broza has reaffirmed his commitment to playing with musicians from a wide range of backgrounds, and argued that it is shared musical experience, not boycotts, that offer the best hope of moving entrenched political views.
“I am an anti-boycott person. If we start avoiding each other, how will these walls ever come down?” Broza said this weekend, at home in Tel Aviv, as he began to prepare for the concert in London on 27 April. “I understand that a boycott is a nonviolent response, and I respect that, but I want to say that there are other ways.”
His comments come after Israel imposed a ban last week on foreign travelers who have supported calls for sanctions and boycotts. It also follows the controversial decision by Thom Yorke’s band Radiohead to play in Israel this summer.
The star, called “the Israeli Bruce Springsteen” by his international fans, has worked to improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians since the beginning of his career in the 1970s. He has also regularly recorded with performers from both sides of the divide, staging clandestine concerts where musicians can collaborate in peace.
“Of course, I don’t deny we are in troubling times, but I do still hope,” said Broza, a Unicef goodwill ambassador. “And the movement in Israel is growing. I work with Israeli settlers, although in my opinion they are stopping the peace process coming along. But I cannot turn my back on them. You have to find a way together to open up everyone’s eyes.”
The 61-year-old musician, who was educated in Israel, England and Spain, is the grandson of Wellesley Aron, founder of the Jewish youth movement Habonim, and helped establish the Neve Shalom, Oasis of Peace project to promote conflict resolution in 1978.
Broza’s best-known song, Yihye Tov (Things Will Get Better), was written in 1977, during the Arab-Israeli peace talks between Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. It has become the anthem of the Israeli peace movement.
Four years ago Broza built on his contacts with international musicians in a series of recordings made at the Sabreen Studios in east Jerusalem. Fellow artists included Mira Awad, the West Bank rap duo G-Town and Wyclef Jean. The country singer Steve Earle co-produced the resulting hit album, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, and the process was documented in a film of the same name.
“We need to communicate if we are not to leave it to the voices of doubters, of prejudice and hatred,” said Broza. “You cannot allow people to think that it is just black and white. We need education if we are to learn how to create respect. It is not that I don’t see evil, bad, negativity and violence. I see it and I refuse to submit to it.”
Calling on those who condemn Israel’s political stance to travel to his country, Broza said: “Come and use your voice here to back up all the people who are hoping and working for that change.”
While there are many divisive and complex issues in the world, his own approach, the musician said, is to first think about “making life bearable” for himself and the people around him. “So I look around and ask myself: ‘Is this my society and am I happy with it?’”
Broza wrote Yihye Tov when he was 22 and relatively inexperienced. “I am lucky I got it right with this early song. I have had 25 No 1 hits in Israel, but this one is not really a hit. It is anthemic or even epic. I have sung it in so many different places, from bomb sites to barmitzvahs, and in America, Spain and London.”
We need to communicate if we are not to leave it to the voices of doubters, of prejudice and hatred.
The song was co-written with Yonatan Geffen, who even now intermittently reacts to world events by writing new verses, said Broza.
“We have maybe nearly 30 new verses now. Some are used, some are forgotten and some will be used one day,” he said, hinting that he may sing a new verse in London: “It will be a very special show and I will bring on lots of people I haven’t performed with before.”
In December Broza released The Long Road, a song he actually recorded 18 years ago with the Irish singer Maura O’Connell. Its initial release was shelved because Broza was involved in a near-fatal car accident.
“First of all, I am an entertainer. That is what connects me to an audience. I hope I am going to sing in a way that massages people’s hearts and stops them falling into the evil of helplessness.”
When Broza plays in Israel with fellow musicians in the Sabreen group, he said they do not talk about politics, but about life. “With the music we make we are able to let hatred and suspicion evaporate,” he said.
David Broza will play the Union Chapel in Islington, London, on Thursday 27 April. davidbroza.net