In the 1980s, the central question for socially conscious musicians was whether to play in apartheid South Africa. For some today, it’s whether to rock out in Tel Aviv.
Even before this month’s fighting in Gaza forced the Backstreet Boys to cancel upcoming shows for safety reasons, a number of popular musicians have decided against playing in Israel because of politics.
Hip-hop star Talib Kweli joined that list earlier this month when he said on Twitter that he would not play in Israel in “solidarity with Palestinians who will not have access to my show.” The news was met with appreciation on one side of the issue and scorn on the other.
Artists choosing to boycott Israel is seen as part of the wider Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement, commonly called BDS. BDS supporters hope to use economic pressure to force Israel to change its policies regarding Gaza, the West Bank and rights of Arab citizens of Israel.
Another prominent artist who refuses to play Israel is Roger Waters, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd. The musician co-wrote a statement earlier this year in anticipation of a Rolling Stones gig in Israel, imploring his fellow British rockers not to play in the country. The Stones ended up playing in June.
Annie Lennox won’t play in Israel. Neither will Elvis Costello. The Pixies cancelled a show in 2010 in response to Israel’s raid on a flotilla of ships carrying aid for Palestinians.
Of course, some artists have played including Paul McCartney in 2010; the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2012; and Justin Timberlake in May. Lady Gaga is scheduled to go to Tel Aviv later this year.
Then there are artists like Rihanna, who has performed in Israel despite showing some political support for the other side. Last week, she tweeted #freepalestine before quickly deleting it.