Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

For Popular Musicians, Performing in Israel Makes a Statement

May 9, 2013 3:52 am 4 comments

Madonna performs in Tel Aviv on May 31, 2012. Photo: MDNA.

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.

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 Hall.

Last 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 withdraw.

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.

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 politics.

“Musicians spread love and peace, bringing people together,” he said. “That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.”

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.”

Like John, others in the music world have answered protests by citing the unique ability of art to unify people across class and culture. Sharon Osborne said in a video released to reporters ahead of a 2010 concert that she and Ozzy were proud to be playing in Israel.

“Music goes beyond politics because it is the international language of the world,” she said.

Paul McCartney performs in Tel Aviv in September 2008. Photo: DMY/Wikimedia Commons.

Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson, in response to calls for the band to cancel its 2010 Israel concert series, wrote on the band’s website that being told to boycott Israel “serves to strengthen my resolve that some degree of peace and understanding will result from my and other artists’ professional and humble efforts in such places.”

In an effort to harness and publicize the opinions of more Israel-friendly celebrities like these, a group of music and film executives and industry workers launched the Creative Community for Peace (CCP) in 2011.

Attempting to balance the discourse of cultural divestment in the public sphere, the CCP’s website features a sizable wall of quotes from popular musicians and film and television actors defending the choice to visit or perform in Israel, and expressing their positive impressions of the country and its people. The group also provides consulting services to talent agents and band managers on the unique logistical and public relations challenges of coordinating celebrity appearances in Israel.

“We may not all share the same politics or the same opinion on the best path to peace in the Middle East,” the CCP states on its website. “But we do agree that singling out Israel, the only democracy in the region, as a target of cultural boycotts while ignoring the now-recognized human rights issues of her neighbors will not further peace.”

Binyamin Kagedan has an MA in Jewish Thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.


  • One small correction:

    the BDS movement was founded at the infamous 2001 Durban UN “Conference against Racism”, at which the parallel NGO session called for a program of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. That’s an important point because the anti-Semitism displayed openly at Durban is built into the DNA of the BDS movement. It’s also indicative of a longer track record of failure– 12 years vs 8 at this point.

  • Ethan Coane

    One must remember that performing artists, of any medium or style, are oftentimes either politically oblivious and/or ignorant. They’re mostly focused on their art and the business of supporting themselves through their art. Those that choose to boycott Israeli audiences may just be responding to the loudest and most vitriolic, though not diverse, voices. It’s up to the Israeli public (the artists’ audience) to counter the “boycott Israel” efforts.

  • Good on artists like Ian Anderson and Elton John for their rebukes to BDS. Bob Dylan played Ramat Gan either in 2011 or 2012, shortly after giving a pair of concerts in China. Interestingly, it was his performance in China that became controversial as it was alleged that he gave into state censors with respect to his play list. Dylan issued a firm statement to the contrary and there wasn’t a whisper about the Ramat Gan show, possibly because the usual BDS suspects feared a highly articulate and damaging rebuke.

  • Wish Stephen Hawkings would have followed such reasoned advice.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Israel Jerry Seinfeld to Make Comedy Debut in Israel

    Jerry Seinfeld to Make Comedy Debut in Israel – Famed Jewish-American comedian and actor Jerry Seinfeld is slated to make his comedic debut in Israel later this year. Seinfeld, who was born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents from the Ukraine and Syria, will perform in Tel Aviv’s Mitvtachim Menorah Arena on Dec. 19 as part of a world tour. The comedian is most known for his enormously popular NBC sitcom Seinfeld, which ran from 1989-1998 and is widely considered one of the greatest TV series of all time. […]

    Read more →
  • Food Israel New Video Shows American Kids Reviewing Israeli Food After Tasting Dishes for First Time (VIDEO)

    New Video Shows American Kids Reviewing Israeli Food After Tasting Dishes for First Time (VIDEO)

    A new video circulating online shows eight American children reacting — mostly positively — to their first taste of the famed Israeli eggplant salad/dip, known in Hebrew as “salat hatzilim” and in other parts of the Levant as baba ganoush. The clip, created by, features the youngsters trying a variety of exotic dishes from other countries as well, such as Hawaiian poi, Colombian pork belly and Russian borscht. The Israeli delicacies served include schnitzel, slices of pita, hummus and the baba ganoush salad. “If someone […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Pioneers/Philanthropists ‘Start-Up Nation’ Israel to Host Forbes Magazine Young Entrepreneurs Summit

    ‘Start-Up Nation’ Israel to Host Forbes Magazine Young Entrepreneurs Summit – Forbes magazine announced Tuesday that it will host its Under 30 EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Summit in Israel for the first time in April 2016. The conference is expected to bring together some 600 young entrepreneurs, with 200 from Europe, 200 from the U.S., and 200 from Israel. The summit has been hosted in Philadelphia for the past two years. It will include presentations, speeches, a pitch competition, and cultural immersion opportunities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Beliefs and concepts What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David?

    What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David? –  “What’s that huge white bridal dress floating over the Tower of David?” That’s what visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City asked last week. The wedding gown, created by leading Israeli artist Motti Mizrachi, is part of the 2nd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an event that blew into town as the Sukkot holiday got underway. Mizrachi, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, created the dress that floats majestically over the Tower of David, the main exhibition site […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    Israel is a holiday destination on many travelers’ bucket lists. No matter the style of holiday you are after, Israel has the answer. Whether you prefer to relax by the beach, hike up mountains in the desert, visit religious and historical sites, eat your way through the country or just enjoy some retail therapy, your journey through Israel will be one to remember. While there are obviously so many things to see and do, here is a list of 10 of […]

    Read more →
  • Pioneers/Philanthropists US & Canada Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO

    Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO – Jewish American fashion mogul Ralph Lauren announced his plan to step down as chief executive officer of the renowned fashion brand. The head of Gap Inc’s Old Navy brand will take over the position. The 75-year-old Lauren, who founded Ralph Lauren Corp. in 1967, will continue to serve as executive chairman and will continue leading the fashion house’s design team, according to a statement by the company. After the announcement, Ralph Lauren shares rose 3.79 percent while Gap shares […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Sports US & Canada Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish boxer Dustin Fleischer, who said his quest is to become the first world champion descended from a Holocaust survivor, stayed unbeaten with a first-round knockout. Fleischer, nicknamed “The White Tiger,” moved to 4-0 with the defeat of Ira Frank on Saturday night in Beach Haven, New Jersey, near his home, he reported after the fight on his Facebook page. The 26-year-old welterweight has won all his bouts by knockout. Read full story at JTA.

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Pioneers/Philanthropists Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Renowned New York attorney Sandor (Sandy) Frankel, one of four trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, was in Israel earlier this month to look at additional philanthropic options and to observe the progress of those endeavors already funded – to the tune of multi-millions. Frankel, who recently joined the prestigious Park Avenue law firm Otterbourg P.C., met with Israeli politicians and other bigwigs to get a sense from them about which projects in the country […]

    Read more →