The question of whether or not to perform in Israel can be controversial for Jewish and non-Jewish artists alike. Will it be perceived as a political statement? Will it cost them fans? Not to mention the pressure from supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and, perhaps most influential, fellow artists.
The latest artist in this ongoing saga is Alicia Keys, who decided to boycott the boycotters and perform in Tel Aviv on the Fourth of July.
The first call for Keys to boycott Israel came from t author Alice Walker, who famously refused to allow “The Color Purple” to be translated into Hebrew.
Walker wrote to Keys that “a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major ‘crime’ is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own.This is actually a wonderful opportunity for you to learn about something sorrowful, and amazing: that our government (Obama in particular) supports a system that is cruel, unjust, and unbelievably evil.”
Despite pressure from Walker and from BDS groups and Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, Keys refused to give in. “I look forward to my first visit to Israel,” she told The New York Times in May. “Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.”
“Ma koreh, Tel Aviv,” Keys said as she opened her concert.
To play or not to play? Here are the artists who have said yes, no or a very solid maybe to performing in the Holy Land.
PET SHOP BOYS (2013)
“I don’t agree with this comparison of Israel to apartheid-era South Africa,” Neil Tennant, wrote on the band’s website. The band performed a show in Israel on June 23. Tennant stated, “In apartheid-era South Africa, artists could only play to segregated audiences; in Israel anyone who buys a ticket can attend a concert.”
ELTON JOHN (2010)
“Nobody gonna stop me from playing here, baby,” John told an audience.“Music is, and always will be, a universal language, free from boundaries. It can and does inspire unity and builds bridges between people.”
JETHRO TULL (2010)
“To those who tell me I should ‘boycott’ Israel (or, for that matter, Turkey or Lebanon),” Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull’s lead vocalist, wrote in 2010. “On my travels around the world I am continually reminded of atrocities carried out historically by many nations who are now our friends, and it serves to strengthen my resolve that some degree of peace and better understanding may result from my and other artists’ professional and humble efforts in such places.”
JOHN LYDON (2010)
“I really resent the presumption that I’m going there to play to right-wing Nazi Jews,” Lydon told The Independent. “If Elvis-f——-g-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good [for] him. But… until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated.”