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June 10, 2022 10:30 am
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Rock Band Received ‘Thousands of Threats’ Before Cancelling Israel Concerts, Says Father of Bass Player

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Big Thief performing in 2016. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

The Grammy-nominated indie rock band Big Thief was bombarded with thousands of threats from campaigners for the anti-Zionist BDS movement to cancel their two scheduled concerts in Israel before they ultimately made the decision to call off the shows in Tel Aviv, the father of the group’s Israeli bassist told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan on Thursday.

Big Thief bass player Max Oleartchik is the son of famed Israeli musician Alon Oleartchik, who is a founding member of the Israeli rock group Kaveret. Max, 34, now lives in New York but was born in Israel, and his band performed in Tel Aviv in 2017. They were expected to return to Israel for a concert in 2020, but the show was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic.

On June 4, Big Thief revealed on Instagram that they would have two concerts in Tel Aviv on July 6 and 7, but following the announcement the band “received thousands of threats,” Alon told Kan.

“The reaction they received for [announcing] a performance in Israel was horrible and terrible,” Alon said. “They were crushed by it.” He added that his son Max “was also crushed by this, he really wanted [the concert] to happen. They are the most non-political band I know, they have no statement about Israel, they write songs about relationships and humanity.”

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While announcing the cancellation of their Tel Aviv concerts on Thursday, Big Thief also said, “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.”

“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 Barby Club, the music venue in Tel Aviv where Big Thief was set to perform in July, criticized the band for succumbing to pressure placed on them by supporters of the BDS movement and called the musicians “a bunch of miserable spineless musicians who are afraid of their own shadow.”

 Creative Community for Peace, a non-profit entertainment industry organization, said it is “disappointed” in the band’s decision to give in “to the demands of a boycott movement that openly rejects coexistence and seeks the destruction of Israel, undermining principles of engagement, tolerance, and dialogue.”

“Instead of using their voices as artists to bring people together and amplify the many coexistence organizations working to bring Palestinians and Israelis together through music, arts, and culture on the ground, all Big Thief has done is created greater animosity and caused more divisiveness,” CCFP said in a statement. “Ultimately, the boycott is an affront to Palestinian and Israeli moderates alike who are seeking to reach peace through compromise, exchange, and mutual recognition. Music in Israel brings people together of all backgrounds – Jews, Arabs, Bedouins, Black, White, Muslims, and Christian – and concerts in Israel play a small yet crucial role in hopefully achieving that peace.”

The organization also quoted Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave who previously said: “The cultural boycott of Israel is cowardly and shameful. Israel is a real, vibrant, functioning democracy – yes, with Arab members of parliament – and so engaging with Israelis, who vote, may be more helpful than scaring off artists or shutting down means of engagement.”

Max has yet to comment on his band’s decision to not perform in his hometown.

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