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Indie Rock Band Cancels Tel Aviv Concert Following BDS Pressure

The United States indie rock band Big Thief announced they have canceled their upcoming concerts in Tel Aviv in the midst of pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
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June 9, 2022
Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief performs onstage during day 2 of FYF Fest 2017 at Exposition Park on July 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Emma McIntyre / Staff / Getty Images

The United States indie rock band Big Thief announced they have canceled their upcoming concerts in Tel Aviv in the midst of pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Prior to the cancellation, Big Thief announced on June 3 that they were going to be playing at the Tel Aviv club Barby on July 6 and 7; in their statement they addressed the BDS movement. “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,” they said. “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.” The Instagram post concluded with a pledge to donate the proceeds from the concerts to NGOs providing aid to Palestinian children.

 

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But on June 9, the band disavowed their prior comments on BDS. “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,” Big Thief said. The band’s bassist, Max Oleartchik is the son of Alon Oleartchik, bassist of the Israeli rock band Kaveret. “We now recognize that the shows we had booked do not honor that statement,” Big Thief’s statement continued. “We are sorry to those we hurt with the recklessness and naivete of our original statement on playing in Israel and we hope those who were planning to attend the shows understand our choice to cancel them.”

Barby responded to Big Thief’s decision to cancel the shows with their own statement excoriating the band, stating that Big Thief first approached the club about performing there. The Tel Aviv club went on to call the band members “pitiful” and “afraid of their own shadow.” “You will become just another band that comes and goes from the world like everyone else,” Barby’s statement read, per The Times of Israel (TOI). “I wish you all the misfortune in the world, just as you did to your fan base in Israel.”

Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) said in a statement that Big Thief caved “to the demands of a boycott movement that openly rejects coexistence and seeks the destruction of Israel, undermining principles of engagement, tolerance, and dialogue.” “As [Australian musician] Nick Cave stated: “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.” “Ultimately, the boycott is an affront to Palestinian and Israeli moderates alike who are seeking to reach peace through compromise, exchange, and mutual recognition,” CCFP said. “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.”

Big Thief’s cancellations were also criticized on social media.

“Shame on you for giving into the antisemitic boycott,” StandWithUs Israel Executive Director Michael Dickson tweeted to the band. “You had the opportunity to play for the free-est, most diverse audience in the [Middle East] and bring people together. Instead you chose to divide. Your naive decision does not advance peace one iota & gives succor to extremists.”

Stop Antisemitism similarly tweeted that Big Thief “gave in to the antisemites – plain and simple. This isn’t helping Palestinians, it’s only furthering Jew hatred.”

Daniel Sugarman, Director of Public Affairs for the Boards of Deputies of British Jews, tweeted: “Never heard of this band before, but *we’re cancelling our shows in Tel Aviv despite the fact that one of our band members was born, raised and currently lives in Tel Aviv* is platinum level doublethink.”

Journalist Eve Barlow tweeted, “For the umpteenth time we see a band pressurised out of playing to civilians in the Jewish nation for fear of how their position on the conflict is portrayed. Let’s see if they have the same energy for other areas caught in constant conflict.”

David Draiman, frontman of the heavy metal band Disturbed, tweeted that he was “disappointed” at Big Thief’s decision and offered “to have a dialogue” with the band “about reconsidering your decision, and using your music to connect people as opposed to disconnecting them.”

Alon Oleartchik told the Kan public broadcasting station that Big Thief “received thousands of threats” after they initially announced the concerts and that Max is “crushed.” “He really wanted it to happen,” he said, per TOI.

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