NGO Cultural Diplomacy

The Israeli, Palestinian group, Heartbeat, was started in 2011 with the help of  43 donors and $3k from a Kickstarter campaign by Washington native, Aaron Schneyer. The objective?  To unify “Israeli and Palestinian youth musicians to build critical understanding, develop creative nonviolent tools for social change, and amplify their voices to influence the world around them.” Today the group consists of about 100 musicians aged 14-24  performing internationally at universities, for U.S. Congress, community centers, and more. They’ve performed in front of many diverse audiences and have approached each audience with a consistent message and strategy. Their performances are traveling examples of  cultural exchange being used to a very specific end of conflict conflict resolution.

How should their impact be measured? The demand for them is a good sign. It’s worth noting that it is the idea of the group that people want to see not necessary particular artists as the musicians change with every show. The penetration of their message is still hard to determine outside the group itself.  I  attended one of their shows held in SIS last semester. One thing stuck with me more than anything else during the post show Q&A. A woman in the crowd ask the Israelis if it was hard to do their service after being part of Hearbeat. The girl who responded did so in the affirmative, saying that she considered the group her “Heartbeat family”.

Herein lies an interesting dynamic. How is the state supposed to respond to cultural exchange programs steered by non state actors? This is a question of particular importance to highly centralized countries such as China, but still matters for Israel, especially if it contributes further to the growing desire among youth to not do their mandatory service. Perhaps Heartbeat shares a similar end goal(peace) with the state, but its strategy is antithetical to that of the state’s. This dynamic is probably further fueled by the age difference factor between Heartbeat members, and politicians of the region.


If you’re curious, here’s their website:


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