Macy Gray stands up to pressure to scrap Tel Aviv shows

January 20, 2011 - 12:17 PM by · 8 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Blogging, coexistence, Entertainment, General, Israeliness, Music, News, Pop Culture 

It’s happened too often in the recent past – high-profile international performers like Elvis Costello and the Pixies who book and sell out shows in Israel, and then turn around and cancel them.

The pro-Palestinian presence on the Web and in campaigns calling for these artists to boycott Israel by using catch phrases like “Apartheid state” and focusing on its treatment of Palestinians is usually the main reason for the turn around in the artists’ decision to scrap their plans.

And at least on the surface, it’s what prompted American soul singer Macy Gray to post a status on her Facebook fan page questioning whether she should honor her contract to appear in Tel Aviv at the Reading 3 club on February 11 and 12.

“I’m booked for two shows in Tel Aviv,” Gray wrote. “I’m getting a lot of
letters from activists urging and begging me to boycott by not performing in protest of apartheid against the Palestinians. What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is disgusting, but I want to go. I have a lot of fans there that I don’t want to cancel on, and I don’t know how my not going changes anything. What do you think? Stay or go?”

Around 2,000 people reacted to Gray’s status update, with the majority
writing messages like “cultural boycott is an integral part of the fight
against apartheid” and “cancel your tour and stand up for human rights.”

Others responded differently. “Please don’t give in to the haters – they claim that Israel practices Apartheid, but the last time you played in Israel, the Arab students of Israel’s Hebrew University were equally able to watch you play. That’s not apartheid; that’s freedom!” wrote one referring to her last performance here in 2008.

Having evidently weighed the various responses, Gray, who has performed three previous times in Israel, announced via Twitter on Wednesday that she had decided to honor her commitment to perform in Tel Aviv. “Dear Israel fans. Me and the band will be there in 20 days. Can’t wait. See you then. Peace,” she wrote.

While the case seems closed, it apparently isn’t. According to a couple insiders in the concert promotion business, it’s not so much the performer’s conscience that suddenly lights up when met by the pro-Palestinian onslaught – it’s something much more concrete.

“Some of these artists are getting death threats,” said one member of a production team in Tel Aviv. “They’re generally apolitical and don’t know or understand the issues of the region. But when they are threatened, it suddenly jolts them. Hearing or reading ‘if you play in Israel, we’ll kill you’ can cause some people to cancel.”

That allegedly happened to Paul McCartney a few hours before his giant show in Tel Aviv in 2008, when a caller reportedly threatened to shoot him if he went onstage. Sir Paul didn’t give in and the show went on as planned.

Whether Macy Gray – despite her apparent decision to buck the boycott calls – will have the gumption to do the same, if the haters of Israel resort to such uncivilized tactics, remains to be seen.

Fast lane to Tel Aviv coming next week

December 30, 2010 - 8:40 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life 

Fast lane to Tel Aviv

For several years I worked in Tel Aviv, making the daily commute from Jerusalem, an atrocious grind that can easily take two or more hours – each way. While thankfully I now have a 30 second “commute” up the stairs to my office, I have a world of empathy for workers still stuck in that lack of vehicular velocity that constitutes Highway 1.

Hope may be on its way. In just a week, reports The Marker the “fast lane to Tel Aviv” will open to the public. A new, dedicated lane starting just past Ben Gurion Airport will whisk buses and carpools past what can often be an hour-long jam in a promised 11 minutes. It’s not a complete solution – once the fast lane ends, you’ll be hurtled back into traffic at the entrance to Tel Aviv proper, but it’s an important component to promoting public transit and filling up all those empty spots in the backseat.

The fast lane is mainly for buses, but private cars can travel for free with four or more passengers. Less than four and you’ll pay between NIS 6 and NIS 20. Why the difference? The lane deploys some sophisticated technology to dynamically change the price based on how many cars are using it. You can decide if you’re willing to pay extra for a faster ride.

I imagine there will be a large sign flashing the latest toll, although I shudder to think what will happen if a car is heading for the fast lane, the price jumps, and the driver impulsively jerks back into speeding traffic.

There are some other oddities. Despite the system’s advanced sensing, counting who’s in the car will be done manually. Cars will have to stop and pass an inspection before being allowed in the lane for free. If there’s a line, that could be pretty off-putting.

Other Israeli norms may derail the lane’s value. Drivers using company cars already get discount to use Highway 6, currently Israel’s only toll road. Will corporations pick up the bill for single passenger vehicles using the fast lane?

And then there’s the “park and ride” which will allow you to drive to the start of the fast lane and jump on a shuttle bus – except that the bus’s  last ride is 11:00 PM. Leave your car there past midnight and you incur a NIS 50 fine. At least there will be a Cup o’ Joe branch to down your sorrows.

But with Israeli gas prices reaching record highs – the price for a liter of 95 octane fuel is going up to approximately NIS 7.10 (about $1.98) this week – the bus will be looking mighty attractive. I’m still not heading back to work in Tel Aviv anytime soon – my commute is just fine, thank you – but for the occasional business meeting, I may just give the fast lane a quick spin.

The Israeli at H&M

December 28, 2010 - 9:23 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, design, General, Israeliness, Pop Culture 

This is slightly old news, but not completely. Back in November, the much-anticipated, limited edition collection of Israeli desigher Alber Elbaz went on sale in 200 H&M stores worldwide, including H&M Israel.

Customers went crazy, and were given limited shopping times so that there’d be plenty of shopping time and product for all customers. They slept on the streets the night before the collection opened, and ran around like mad to snatch up the yellow ruffled dress and brightly colored bags created by Elbaz, who was born in Morocco but moved to Israel as a small child.

That is, all customers except for the Jerusalem H&M customers, who were excluded from this special event. Seems that the Tel Aviv H&M got the Lanvin collection, but not the Jerusalem store. When I asked the H&M people why the Jerusalem H&M wasn’t getting the collection, they said that they had “understood” that Jerusalemites wouldn’t be interested in Elbaz’s creations. Clearly, intense discrimination against the Jerusalem fashionistas, and what’s that all about?

Israel becomes Perez Hilton’s oyster

December 27, 2010 - 9:21 AM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, Blogging, Entertainment, General, Pop Culture 

Local celebrities shouldn’t have anything to worry about – they’re not big enough for notorious US gossip columnist Perez Hilton to care about.

Hilton is spending the week vacationing in Israel and tweeting about it, as well as writing about it on his website.

According to a Twitter posting, Hilton arrived to spend Christmas here after vacationing in Egypt.

The post read: “Dancing in my hotel room in Tel Aviv to this! Hot!!!! On Christmas day I just landed in the birth land of Christ. #Israel, I have arrived! Shalom!”

Hilton, born Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr. has emerged as the preeminent gossip blogger, known for posts covering juicy items about musicians, actors and celebrities. Controversy surrounds him over the posting of tabloid photos over which he has added his own captions and his ‘outing’ of alleged closeted celebrities.

So far in Israel, though, Hilton seems to content to bask in the rich culture of Tel Aviv. He’s posted a bunch of photos like the one above and some entertaining accompanying text like this:

Okay, so maybe we got a little too excited, but this hideously ugly pants are beyond amazing and we had to buy them.
Our first full day in Tel Aviv was a wonderful mix of going to museums and learning about the complicated history of Israel, as well as just walking around various neighborhoods and parts of town and truly exploring the city.
Tel Aviv is so beautiful! And, in many ways, it reminds us of Buenos Aires.
We are thrilled that we’re in Israel through next weekend and that we’re going to get to see the entire country.
Lots more to do!!!

So, keep your eyes open for Perez, and if you see him, tell him Israelity is looking for him.

Israeli company lands a (technical) Grammy

December 26, 2010 - 12:34 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, Entertainment, General, Music, Technology 

Muting vuvuzelas - they deserve a Grammy!

It may not be the best song of the year or best new artist, but Israel is being represented at the Grammy Awards in February.

Ynet disclosed that Tel Aviv hi-tech firm Waves Audio has won a Technical Grammy for its technological achievements and contribution to the field of music via its audio signal processing technologies and audio effects, used in recording, mixing, mastering, post production, surround, live, and broadcast sound

Previous winners include such notable companies as Apple, Sony and Yamaha. Waves Audio’s technology has been used to enhance the recorded sound of everyone from Lady Gaga and Beyonce to U2 and Bruce Springsteen. In addition, Waves Audio technologies have been used in movies such as Shrek, American Beauty and Star Wars.

Waves Audio was established in 1992 by Gilad Keren and Meir Sha’ashua, and the company has since sold its various technologies to Sony, JVC, Toshiba and computer manufacturer Dell. The company’s headquarters are in Tel Aviv, but its global operations spread to offices in Knoxville, Tennessee and Shenzen, China as well.

TV viewers will undoubtedly thank the company for its latest development – reducing the noise of vuvuzelas during this year’s World Cup broadcasts from South Africa.

Keren was delighted to learn his company had won a Grammy, saying “It is a great honor to know that we had a part in the creation of so much wonderful music, and this pushes us to keep developing new tools for musicians. It is our small contribution.”

“You can always trust Waves to create well-engineered, good sounding products,” said Bob Ludwig, one of the most respected mastering engineers in recording history, who has mastered records for everyone from Neil Diamond and The Rolling Stones to Paul McCartney, and Mariah Carey.

So while we wait for Hadag Nahash or Asaf Avidan to show up with a Grammy nomination one of these years, we can still bask in the glory of Waves Audio’s achievements. They may not be able to improve the quality of the music we hear, but they can sure make it sound better.

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