will.i.am Says Personal Connections to Israel Keep Him From Boycotting Country

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will.i.am Says Personal Connections to Israel Keep Him From Boycotting Country
© AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo American musician will.i.am, front man for Black Eyed Peas listens during an interview in Jerusalem, where he spoke at an innovation conference held by Improvate, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. will.i.am said Monday that politics don’t dictate his actions, with pressure from pro-Palestinian activists unable to deter him from performing in Israel.

The Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am is not backing down from criticism as they go ahead with their planned Israel concert.

The group has been criticized by pro-Palestine activists and citizens for holding a concert in the capital of Jerusalem. However, will.i.am, born William James Adams Jr., told the Associated Press that he has strong connections to the country that did not deter him from abiding by the BDS movement.

“I’m a musician and a tech enthusiast and people like our music,” he explained. “Do I turn my back on people that live here because of politics? No, that’s not the way we were built.”

He elaborated on his connections to Israel, saying that his first girlfriend was an Israeli citizen and that The Black Eyed Peas formed with the help of an Israeli friend. He also has business ties to the country as well, with his tech firm i.am+ acquiring a start-up in the country in 2016.

Meanwhile, the BDS movement has referred to the concert as “scandalous” due to it being held on the United Nations‘ international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. This date spurred the protest hashtag #WhereIsTheLoveforPalestinians, which references the group’s 2003 hit Where is The Love.

While not canceling the concert, will.i.am told reporters that he was supportive of citizens from both countries.

“You know, there’s beautiful people here as well as beautiful people in Palestine,” he said, “and one day we want to go there too.”

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

A Palestinian-led movement has for years urged artists to boycott Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians. Major performers including Lorde and Lana Del Ray have canceled appearances under pressure while other stars including Madonna and Bob Dylan have defied it. The movement is known as BDS for its calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

The BDS movement said it is a nonviolent campaign against Israeli abuses against Palestinians—both Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians who have lived under Israeli military occupation for more than half a century. Israel said the campaign is an effort to delegitimize and even destroy the country.

Will.i.am was in Israel to take part in an innovation conference held by Improvate, an Israeli organization that works to advance Israeli technology.

In recent years, the musician-turned-innovator created a series of wearable devices, including a smartwatch and earphones, which haven’t entirely taken off. But he said he measures his success not by the amount of sales but rather by how much he learns from the experience.

“I’m blessed to be able to, you know, go up to bat, you know, and get up from a stumble and pick myself up with the same enthusiasm and try to solve another problem,” he said.

With the pandemic in mind and with no end to it in sight, will.i.am has developed a smart face mask that combines a level of protection from coronavirus droplets with Bluetooth, noise-canceling audio and LED lights. The chargeable mask is selling for $299.

Some 8,000 people were expected to attend the Jerusalem concert, which was being held under the country’s Green Pass, which requires attendees to be fully vaccinated with a booster shoot or else present a negative COVID-19 test.

It comes as Israel is once again imposing restrictions in light of the Omicron variant, closing air travel to international visitors and imposing quarantine on Israelis returning from abroad, even those who are vaccinated. The country was among the first to seal its border in the face of the new variant.

With Israelis expected to attend plays and shows during the current weeklong Hanukkah holiday, Israel is allowing live performances to go ahead.

Will.i.am, Taboo and Apl.de.ap said their experience traveling to Israel during the pandemic, where vaccinated travelers must be tested before departure and upon arrival, put them more at ease than visits to other countries. The country was among the first to begin administering booster shots and more than 43 percent of Israelis have received three vaccine doses.

But the group said performing amid the new variant posed certain risks.

“Is it wise? No,” he said. “Hopefully, everyone is vaxxed and wearing a mask in the audience, and thank God we’re in Israel, where a lot of people are triple vaxxed.”

Like other artists, the group had to adapt when the pandemic hit. They held virtual shows amid the first lockdowns and collaborated online when in-person meetings were unsafe.

Live shows under the shadow of a new variant are raising new questions. Will.i.am said the group is thinking twice about how to rile up crowds and whether it is safe to have them sing along with the possibility of spreading infection.

“Usually when we sing songs, we tell the crowd to sing the words. Is that safe?” he said. “You got to think about that.”

Despite the challenges of the pandemic—people close to him have died after being infected with the virus—will.i.am has a feeling things will get better.

“Humanity, we’ve overcome a lot of things. We’ve overcome the plague. We’ve overcome so much stuff. You’ve got to believe in humanity. You’ve got to believe in, you know, our resilience,” he said.

will.i.am Says Personal Connections to Israel Keep Him From Boycotting Country
© Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for DKMS (L-R) Taboo, will.i.am, J Rey Soul, and apl.de.ap of Black Eyed Peas attend the DKMS Gala 2021 on October 28, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for DKMS

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