By Binyamin Kagedan/JNS.org
Since the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
movement got its start in 2005, the decision to schedule an appearance in
Israel has been become a difficult one for popular recording artists. American
and British performers who announce plans to stop in Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan as
part of their world tour quickly come under fire from blogs, Facebook groups,
and other BDS outlets that call upon them to immediately cancel these shows.
Click photo to download. Caption: Madonna performs in Tel Aviv on May 31, 2012. Credit: MDNA.
Some artists in recent
years have complied with the BDS movement’s demands or even adopted its
Israel-as-apartheid discourse. The most recent incident involved Pink Floyd
bassist Roger Waters, whose April 30 event
at New York City’s 92nd Street Y, “A Conversation With Rogers Waters,” was
canceled following opposition efforts from the pro-Israel community. Waters last
fall accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid” and “international
crimes” in an address at the United Nations (UN), and he also spearheaded efforts
to boycott an Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performance at New York’s Carnegie
November, Stevie Wonder backed out of a performance at the Friends of the
Israel Defense Forces gala in Los Angeles, following a BDS petition that
garnered more than 4,600 signatures and a recommendation from the UN to
Yet, despite the potential of BDS backlash, many
of the biggest acts in English-language music have played for Israeli audiences
over the last decade. Paul McCartney performed in Tel Aviv in 2008, despite not
only condemnation from boycott advocates but also a publicized death threat
from an Islamic militant in Lebanon. The Black Eyed Peas came to Israel in
2006. Aerosmith and Leonard Cohen performed in Israel in 2009, Elton John and
Metallica both played Tel Aviv in 2010, and Paul Simon and Justin Bieber came
to the Jewish state in 2011.
Click photo to download. Caption: Paul McCartney performs in Tel Aviv in September 2008. Credit: DMY/Wikimedia Commons.
Most recently, 2012 saw Israel host to
Madonna, Lady Gaga, Metallica, Rihanna, Chris Cornell, Linkin Park, and the Red
Hot Chili Peppers. Israeli fans, meanwhile, have shown themselves to be a force
to reckoned with. In an ironic twist, Israeli Metallica devotees boycotted an upcoming
appearance in Tel Aviv, protesting high ticket prices, and succeeded in
persuading the band to intervene with concert promoters.
For some artists, resisting the pressure to
divest from Israel means simply not responding to the blogs and online
petitions. Others have gone a step further by vocally defending their choice.
Elton John, whose 2010 concert came in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, affirmed
on stage to his adoring audience that music is the wrong place for playing
“Musicians spread love and peace, bringing
people together,” he said. “That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our
John’s statement was both one of support for
Israelis and a jibe aimed at several popular musicians who had recently canceled
tour dates in Israel, such as Santana, the Pixies, and Elvis Costello. Costello,
announcing his decision to cancel on his official website, said his decision to
pull out was “a matter of instinct and conscience.”