Originally published on HAARETZ by Itay Stern
It’s been years since music lovers in Israel have had the opportunity to enjoy so many performers from overseas. A partial list of artists scheduled to perform here this summer includes Radiohead, the Pixies, Justin Bieber, Aerosmith, Guns and Roses, Rod Stewart, Nick Cave, Tears for Fears, Grandaddy, Jose Gonzalez, Fatboy Slim, Jean-Michel Jarre, Paul Young, Vanessa Mae, Emir Kusturica and Ace of Base. The list could include other top performers who have had good runs in Israel in recent years, including the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Alice Cooper, Rihanna, Sia and Elton John.
It’s true that along with this glittering array there were also some resounding cancellations, one of the more memorable ones being that of the Pixies’ concert in 2010 only a few days before their performance, shortly after Israel’s fatal takeover of the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara. Since that cancellation they have performed in Israel again.
Among the artists whose names are linked to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement are Elvis Costello, the Gorillas, Devendra Banhart and Annie Lennox. Some of them have openly stated that their reason for objecting to performing here was Israel’s domination of the Palestinians. The list includes thousands of artists, people in the academic and film worlds and intellectuals who have called for a cultural boycott of Israel and its institutions.
Alice Cooper perform in Israel, June 2016. Avishag Shaar Yeshuv
Guy Besser. David Bachar
Guy Chadwick, soloist in The House of Love band that performed here last week, agrees with Besser, saying his band had no concerns over coming to Israel. He says he’s wanted to come to Israel for years and didn’t give much thought to the political situation, since he was interested in the local history and culture. He relates how his agent had told band members that there may be problems such as online petitions if they perform in Israel, saying that he’d had such experiences with other groups he had brought to Israel. However, Chadwick says that they encountered no opposition.
Dan Sobovitz is an Israeli who has been working for a few years in a senior position at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. Speaking at his personal capacity, he says the BDS movement is not felt at the popular level in Europe. The Israeli question interests mainly Jewish and Muslim communities, the extreme right and left and the intellectual elites. Mainstream parties support the Two State Solution but definitely o not support any kind of boycott. The average European, he believes, would voice his opposition to the occupation if asked, and this also varies significantly from one country to another, but he wouldn’t take to the streets for this cause.
Cumulative damage to people’s perception
Pixies perform in Tel Aviv, 2014. Dudu Bachar
Do major artists have to worry about a consumer boycott after performing in Israel?
In Jewish communities as well
Shuki Weiss Dudu Bachar
How is the success of BDS in Israel expressed?
Holding their cards close to their chests
Another Israeli group that supports BDS on its cultural and academic fronts is called “Boycott from Within.” Just like Barkan, its members are certain that the boycott is currently more effective than ever. When they are asked through their Facebook page if the Israeli occupation does not take on a different perspective in light of the civil war in Syria or Trump’s wall, they reply: “Artists tend to oppose racism and systematic oppression. Israel’s human rights abuses are recognized by the international community, and the support of Trump and Netanyahu for each other demonstrates the linkage between the struggles against the different types of violations. In particular, it strengthens the ties between human rights groups here and in the US.”
Radiohead’s last show in Israel, 2000
Nevertheless, the boycott movement – whether one believes in its advantages or whether one views it as an impediment to a dialogue between artists and their audiences, whether one believes it’s working or not – seems to be failing when it comes to the appearance of major artists in Israel. If a band such as Radiohead, one of the most successful in the world, can be brought to Hayarkon Park when it can get any stadium in Europe within minutes, this means that it is consciously choosing to do so. This is also true for the Pixies, Justin Bieber and others.