The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

To perform or not to perform in Israel? Here’s how it went for 10 Western artists.

Placeholder while article actions load

JERUSALEM – A movement that encourages boycotts of Israel, its products and institutions has had some success, particularly in raising awareness about the situation of Palestinians who live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the besieged Gaza Strip. Formally known as the boycott, divestment and sanctions – or BDS – movement, it demands that Israel end the occupation, grant full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel and allow Palestinians the right to return to places they left or fled from after the founding of Israel in 1948.

By publishing open letters, pushing online petitions and launching Facebook pages, BDS leaders and their supporters have succeeded in inducing some people to stop buying items produced in the West Bank or in encouraging companies to break ties with their Israeli counterparts. The campaign has also garnered a few voices of support among well-known actors, authors, scholars and, recently, the American Studies Association.

When it comes to persuading musical acts not to perform in Israel, however, the movement appears to have been less successful – especially if measured by how many artists have ended up performing here in recent years.

Here are some bands and singers who have played here, despite criticism and pressure not to.


The Barbados-born superstar played in Tel Aviv last October. She touched a nerve in this volatile region when an Israeli reporter misquoted her as singing, “All I see is Palestine” in one of her songs. She actually sang, “All I see is dollar signs.”


The R&B singer performed here last Fourth of July, even after BDS activist and “The Color Purple” author Alice Walker warned her that she was putting herself in “soul” danger “by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists.”


She has made no secret of her interest in the Jewish mystical world of Kabbalah, has performed in and visited Israel a handful of times, and in June 2012 kicked off her MDNA tour in Tel Aviv wrapped in an Israeli flag. She used the performance, however, to urge her Israeli fans to strive for peace in the Middle East, saying: “You can’t be a fan of mine and not want peace in the world.”


Despite a Facebook petition and a string of critical articles urging him not to, conscientious rocker and poet Bob Dylan played a 2011 gig in Israel for the first time in 20 years.


When the Canadian singer-songwriter performed here in September 2009, he originally thought he could appease his BDS critics by appearing in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, too. However, not long after he announced his intentions, his Palestinian hosts decided to cancel his tour date there in protest over his performance in Tel Aviv. 


The British rock band also defied the BDS campaign when it played three concerts here in September 2012. The band has done concerts in Israel more than once.


rhcpThe band faced similar criticism and campaigns as other bands over their September 2012 gig here. 

 Here are a few acts that have stayed away:


The Pink Floyd founder and former front man used his 2006 performance in Israel to air his disapproval of Israel’s actions in the West Bank and in Lebanon. Not only did he move his concert to the fields surrounding the Neve Shalom, a cooperative village jointly founded by Israelis and Palestinians, but he also paid a visit to the controversial separation barrier built by Israel in the early 2000s, after the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Since that performance, however, Waters has become perhaps the biggest celebrity to speak out against what he calls as “Israeli apartheid,” urging other artists such as the Rolling Stones, who will play in Israel on Wednesday night, not to come here.


In 2010, after Israeli commandos killed nine people on a Turkey-based ship that was part of a flotilla trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello called off his concert in protest over Israel’s actions. 


The alt rockers also canceled a planned performance here in 2010 over the flotilla incident. But the band seems to have moved on — it is slated to entertain Israeli fans this summer at a festival featuring other '90s bands, including Soundgarden.