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June 9, 2022 10:40 am

‘Spineless Cowards’: Indie Rock Band Big Thief Denounced for Canceling Israel Gigs Under BDS Pressure


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Big Thief performing at The National’s Homecoming festival in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 29, 2018. Photo: Rebecca Sowell via Flickr.

In a dramatic about-turn, indie rock band Big Thief announced on Thursday that it was canceling two upcoming concerts in Tel Aviv mere days after confirming that the shows would go ahead.

The change of heart came amid a fierce backlash from supporters of the anti-Zionist BDS movement that urges a comprehensive boycott of the State of Israel for as long as it remains a Jewish state.

“To be clear, we oppose the illegal occupation and the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. We believe in total freedom and self-determination for all Palestinians,” the band said in a statement released on Instagram.

Last week, the Brooklyn-based band announced two concerts on July 6 and 7 at Tel Aviv’s Barby Club. The group said it was “important” and “foundational” for the band to explore Israeli bassist Max Oleartchik’s hometown and meet his family and friends. Big Thief also defended the decision to perform in Israel despite the “cultural aspect of the BDS movement and the desperate reality of the Palestinian people.”

“In terms of where we fit into the boycott, we don’t claim to know where the moral high ground lies and we want to remain open to other people’s perspectives and to love beyond disagreement,” the “Change” singers said in the original statement. “We understand the inherently political nature of playing there as well as the implications. Our intention is not to diminish the values of those who support the boycott or to turn a blind eye to those suffering. We are striving to be in the spirit of learning.”

On Thursday, Big Thief addressed the criticism it faced from anti-Zionist fans after announcing the shows in Israel. The group said it has since spoken with “BDS supporters and allies, Palestinians and Israeli citizens who are committed to the fight for justice for Palestinians.”

“Our intent in wanting to play the shows in Tel Aviv, where Max was born, raised, and currently lives, stemmed from a simple belief that music can heal,” the band added. “We now recognize that the shows we had booked do not honor that sentiment. We are sorry to those we hurt with the recklessness and naïveté of our original statement on playing Israel and we hope those who were planning to attend the shows understand our choice to cancel them.”

The band also hinted that it hopes to do more than engage in a cultural boycott of Israel.

“We recognize that withholding our cultural labor alone cannot be the only action we take. We have more learning to do so we can take more informed action. As a band, we consider each other family, forever reaching to understand each other. In your responses to our actions, you have helped us to realize that we were in avoidance of entering this discussion about Max’s home in a more thoughtful way,” the statement said.

Responding to the cancellation, the Barby nightclub blasted the group in a lengthy Facebook post translated into English. “The intimidation and insults on Instagram made you fold/scare … [it’s] the naive or innocent man who would think that everything will be solved due to threats, fears or boycotts,” the club declared. “Actually [with] your cancellation you just made me sad for you, bunch of miserable spineless musicians who are afraid of their own shadow.”

The club disclosed that it was Big Thief that had originally reached out regarding the scheduling shows in Israel, adding: “I’m not asking you to lie on the fence for us or fight our wars. It’s just a small and legitimate thing … Apparently you won’t enter the pages of history as influencing artists with agendas as artists of the past were. Be another band that comes and passes from the world like everyone else.”


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