Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, in an unprecedented appearance before a group of recording industry executives, personal managers, agents and lawyers, told them that rock music was "like praying" to some Israeli youth and exhorted them to "come 'pray' with our young people, so they will celebrate our 40th anniversary" in 1988.
The reception/brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunday was organized by rock entrepreneur Danny Goldberg, the president of Gold Mountain Records, who is generally considered to be a lightning rod to liberal political activists in the music industry. The reception was the first step in organizing a proposed anniversary/peace concert in Israel next summer.
The 100-plus guests represented a cross-section of the music industry, with strong ties to major music talents. Among them: Irving Azoff, president of MCA's Entertainment Group; A&M Records vice-president Jeff Gold, and personal managers Fred DeMann (Madonna, Lionel Richie), Mike Gormley (the Bangles, Oingo Boingo,) and Michael Lippman (George Michael).
(A last-minute addition to the guest list was former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, who was Peres' guest when he visited Israel several years ago. Hart said he was in town on business for his Denver-based law firm and "to look into a few other business ventures.")
Peres--former prime minister and current leader of the Labor Alignment in the fragile Israeli coalition government--was joined by Israeli cultural leader Yakov Agmon, described by Goldberg as a combination of "Joe Papp, David Wolper, Alistair Cooke and Bill Graham all in one," who is organizing the anniversary celebration.
"Our aim is peace through rock (music)," Agmon told the gathering. "That's the way to get to young people."
And Peres, in suggesting that a concert might be the perfect way for the government to forge a cultural bond with youth there and in the United States, acknowledged wryly that his generation's prayerful anthem "Let My People Go" had been replaced by John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" among younger generations.
Although money would have to be raised--probably in the United States--for such a concert, the first step for the Israelis was to meet those who could provide the kind of talent for such an endeavor. Referring to the abundance of desert in Israel, Peres quipped, "We'll supply the rocks, if you can supply the music."
The idea for the reception stemmed from Goldberg's friendship with Agmon, Goldberg explained in an interview. "We talked about the fact that Israel needs to establish an identity with younger people; they're currently only aware of the country as an item on the nightly news," he said. "In the 1950s, an alliance was formed between Israel and what used to be the heart of show business. I mean, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor were associated with Israel, but that leaves out the people who grew up after them."
Goldberg wasn't trying to speak for the entire entertainment community: "I didn't invite movie or television people here today because I'm not in that business. My idea here was to rally my business--the music business."
The theme of reaching Israel's young--as well as Jewish youth in the United States--came up several times, underscoring at least some Israeli government officials' desires to close the existing generational chasm.
"We're a singing country," Peres said during his speech. "Although we're often not terribly approving of young people's music, I know that it's a way of praying."
The foreign minister's remarks were warmly received by the audience, who gave him a standing ovation when he arrived (under the watchful eye of more than a dozen Israeli security personnel) and another when he finished his short speech.
Goldberg, in introducing Peres, had explained that "this is a new kind of brunch--one without food." Peres and his entourage were fasting in strict orthodox observance of the Fast of Gedaliah (the holy day following Rosh Hashanah), an occasion with which few of the Jewish members of the audience appeared to be familiar.
Coffee and orange juice had been served in a reception area prior to Peres' arrival, and during his speech, guests listened from fully set--but foodless--tables. (A buffet was served after Peres left.)
The foreign minister joked about it after agreeing to a short question-and-answer session, telling the audience: "Just don't ask me, 'Where's the beef?' "
Nobody asked anything for a few moments, prompting Goldberg to tell the crowd, "Look, I know everyone's trying to make record deals out there, but surely there must be questions."
Peres fielded questions about negative American press on Israel this year ("We're enjoying better coverage here than in the Israeli press"); about Nicaragua ("I find very little sympathy with the (Sandinista) regime") and South Africa ("A Jew practicing discrimination compromises oneself as a Jew").