Jack Guez/AFP
The Rolling Stones perform on stage at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, on June 4, 2014. Jack Guez/AFP
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Anti-Israel Boycotts Haven’t Changed Israel’s Politics, But They’ve Supercharged its Music Scene

Israelis come out in force to support those performers who support them

Ariane Mandell
September 01, 2015
Jack Guez/AFP
The Rolling Stones perform on stage at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, on June 4, 2014. Jack Guez/AFP

As an Israeli music lover, I get the sense that Israelis generally don’t get the message that their boycotters are trying to send. When artists cancel Israeli tour dates due to BDS pressure, is there an Israeli voter out there who lies awake at night pondering his personal political views? Did people stare longingly at their defunct Lauryn Hill tickets and weep, “Since you feel so strongly, Lauryn, I guess you’re right?”

Usually, I hear the opposite. When Pink Floyd comes on during our pan-Israel road trips, I say, “Wait… doesn’t Pink Floyd hate Israel?” “Just Roger Waters,” my boyfriend, a bassist and maniacal music fan, grumbles. “And Roger Waters is an old fart! Who cares what he thinks?”

So besides alienating Israeli fans, what impact does cultural BDS really have? There is one.

Israelis will come out, in droves, for anyone who does perform in the country.

“My roommate can’t come out with us tonight because he’s going to see Robbie Williams,” I complained to my doctor in a confused state of disbelief and pity. “I didn’t even know he was still singing.” My doctor one-upped me by recalling the previous year when he’d been abandoned by his own friends for the sold-out Deep Purple reunion tour. “Deep Purple!” he said, throwing up his hands.

My buddy Sam calls this the “Memphis effect.” He claims that when bands come to Memphis, people rally for shows that most New Yorkers wouldn’t even bother listening to for free from neighboring rooftops. “No one goes to Memphis!” he said, by way of explanation. There’s just something exciting about the chance to see someone live that you maybe heard of once.

As amusing as it is to watch the stadiums fill up for artists I hadn’t heard on the radio since childhood beach trips, it’s even more amusing to witness the crowd and musician reactions when I go to one of these shows.

Last week, English indie rockers Alt-J played two sold-out shows in a row in Rishon LeZion, having upgraded the venue and added an additional night due to immense popular demand. The band members were visibly stunned by the massive outpouring of fans they didn’t know they had. “We’ve never been to Israel before,” the keyboardist mumbled. “It’s amazing to arrive to so much support.” And when he uttered a tentative “todah,” the crowd went wild.

Just the other day, I was at Tel Aviv’s Barby venue to see Beardyman, a UK beatboxer. The crowd was full of famous Israeli musicians who came out to see him–the singer from this band, the guitarist from that, this producer and that drummer. When Beardyman himself finally took the stage, he gawked at the uproarious applause and the sea of pulsing bodies in front of him. “Whoa Israel,” he said, endearingly sheepish. “What an amazing reception.”

I get the feeling that the reception wasn’t entirely for Beardyman. Or Alt-J. Or any of the famous and less-than-famous bands Israel smothers with love. I think the reception is for Israel. “You understand us!” We cheer as they take the stage. “You’re treating us like any other fans!” We dance and scream. “You’re not punishing us for your perception of the decisions of our politicians! You’re sensible! And we’re people!” We’re just people who want to go to a concert.

The one part of every show that gets more applause than even the performers’ most recognizable songs is the part when they say, “Thank you, Israel!”

No, thank you, whoever you are, for coming.

Ariane Mandell is a writer and novelist living in Tel Aviv. Follow her on Twitter at @ArianeMandell.

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