MONTREAL - Songwriter Leonard Cohen, one of Montreal's most beloved talents, faced controversy in his hometown Saturday over his upcoming performance in Tel Aviv to benefit Palestinian and Israeli peace groups.
Just a handful of people - less than a dozen - showed up Saturday at a protest organized by a local pro-Palestinian group. They handed out pamphlets to passers-by in front of Cohen's favourite Montreal haunt, a breakfast and bagel cafe.
"This action is a demand from Montreal society that Leonard Cohen does not play a show in Israel to lend credence and normalize the apartheid state," said spokesman Doug Smith.
"It's not about him personally. This is a message to all artists."
Demonstrations have dogged the 74-year-old poet and singer during his world tour since he announced the Tel Aviv date and Amnesty International recently yanked support from the charity concert.
A concert scheduled in the West Bank city of Ramallah was also cancelled after becoming embroiled in the boycott campaign.
Smith contends Cohen's efforts to pacify critics by donating proceeds to peace groups and by performing in the West Bank "whitewash crimes of the Israeli state."
"No one's asking for those steps," Smith said.
"Palestinians don't need friends, they need solid support and solidarity - actions that speak louder than words."
The campaign against Cohen's concert was spearheaded by a group of Palestinian academics calling for an international economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel since 2004.
The Toronto International Film Festival is also currently embroiled in the uproar for featuring Tel Aviv in its inaugural City to City program.
Artists like Icelandic musician Bjork and hip-hop superstar Snoop Dogg have been targeted by the organization, which has found support in artists like Brian Eno, Danny Glover and Jane Fonda.
But the boycott campaign doesn't seem to be finding traction.
Israel has been besieged by a growing number of high-profile acts in the last couple of years who - unlike Cohen - have performed entirely for profit.
The Pet Shop Boys and chart-topper Lady Gaga performed in there this summer and alternative bands Faith No More and Dinosaur Jr. have upcoming concerts.
Pop star Madonna held a concert in Tel Aviv earlier this month, wrapping herself in the Israeli and declaring the country "the centre of the world's energy."
She also hobnobbed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
But protester Stefan Christoff says the two artists can't be compared.
"Leonard Cohen is somebody who can appreciate human rights," he said.
"Madonna wrote Material Girl."
Cohen's spokeswoman Tiffany Shipp said Friday there would be no comment on the Montreal protest but Robert Kory, Cohen's manager, told the Jerusalem Post in July that free speech was also a human right.
"My response to those who call for a boycott is very simple," he said.
"When I talk to people calling for Leonard to boycott Israel, I ask them: 'Why can't people have different approaches? Can't we respect each other and have a different way of addressing a common problem?' "
The songwriter's Tel Aviv concert sold out in one day.
Cohen is famous for songs like Everybody Knows, Hallelulah, and Democracy, which touch on issues of social inequality and religion. An observant Jew as well as a Zen Buddhist, he performed for the troops in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and last played in Israel in 1975.