American music legend Stevie Wonder has cancelled a scheduled performance at a fundraiser for Israel's military, reportedly because of his role as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports that Wonder, a 22-time Grammy award winner whose career spans six decades, was slated to perform at the annual Los Angeles fundraiser gala hosted by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), a New York-based group that "provides for the well-being" of the men and women who serve in Israel's military. The event raises millions of dollars each year to support the IDF.
FIDF released a statement confirming Wonder's decision to skip the December 6 event, citing a recommendation from the United Nations to cancel his appearance due to his position as a UN Messenger of Peace.
According to the UN, Messengers of Peace "are distinguished individuals, carefully selected from the fields of art, literature, music and sports, who have agreed to help focus worldwide attention on the work of the United Nations... These prominent personalities volunteer their time, talent and passion to raise awareness of the United Nations' efforts to improve the lives of billions of people everywhere."
"We regret the fact that Stevie Wonder has decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF, an American organization supporting the educational, cultural and wellbeing need of Israel's soldiers, their families and the families of fallen soldiers," FIDF said in a statement.
Wonder had been under pressure to cancel his performance by groups including the online petition site Change.org.
"We call on Stevie Wonder, as a conscientious American advocate for human rights and dignity not to support the Israel Defense Forces by performing at their gala fundraiser. In the face of over 60 years of Israeli colonization of Palestinian land and the disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people and in the wake of Israel's latest violent aggression against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip-- we ask you NOT to support the IDF," the online petition reads.
"The IDF is an institution which promotes, enables and protects Israel's apartheid regime," it continues. "You were arrested in 1985 protesting South African apartheid, now we ask you: please remember that apartheid is apartheid, whether it comes from white Afrikaaner settlers of South Africa or from Jewish Israelis in Israel. Desmond Tutu has recognized that Israel's apartheid is worse than South Africa's-- will you stand with us against apartheid and cancel your performance at the IDF fundraiser?"
While many Israelis and their supporters in the United States bristle at the apartheid analogy, Desmond Tutu is not the only Nobel Peace Laureate to call Israel's treatment of the illegally occupied Palestinian people by that name. Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned and brutalized for 27 years under South Africa's apartheid regime, as well as former US President Jimmy Carter and Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Maguire are among the Nobel Prize winners who have accused Israel of apartheid.