Bucking the recent trend of international artists canceling their scheduled shows in Israel, Elton John will be making a lightning visit here Thursday for a sold-out show at Ramat Gan Stadium.John will be arriving on his private plane during the day, and leaving immediately after the performance, according to a spokesperson for the show’s promoter, Gad Oron.That setup will enable John to avoid making any public statements about his appearance here. The performance evolved from relatively routine to controversial in the last few weeks, after artists ranging from Elvis Costello and the Pixies to Klaxon and Dvendra Barnhart cancelled shows, following pressure from boycott organizations or to protest Israel’s May 31 raid on the Gaza flotilla.Likely in response to such pressures, the singer posted a message on his Web site at the end of last month, after a show in Morocco, defending his decision to honor his contract.“I have always believed that music inhabits a world set apart from politics, religious differences or prejudice of any kind,” he said.“Throughout my career I have made a point of playing concerts in challenging places, such as the USSR and Northern Ireland in the 1970s, Israel in the 1990s and very recently Morocco.Music is, and always will be, a universal language, free from boundaries. It can and does inspire unity and builds bridges between people, and I will continue to play concerts anywhere in the world where I can encourage that unity.” One group calling for John to cancel the show was not convinced. Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel recently told the American music trade magazine Billboard that John’s decision to perform was in line with his past controversial career moves.“Elton John was on the wrong side of history during the South Africa cultural boycott, when he put interest over principles and played Sun City when hardly any self-respecting artist would do the same,” he said.“He is choosing to do the same with Israel.”Trying to avoid the political spotlight while he’s here may be just one reason for John’s truncated visit.Another may be memories of his last visit here in 1993, when a long delay at the Ben-Gurion Airport border control and an onslaught of photographers and fans ambushing him upon his arrival at the Tel Aviv Hilton prompted John to immediately leave the country without performing at his scheduled show in Yarkon Park.“The singer had to hop over sofas to get through the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton on Tuesday while his bodyguards shoved and swore at the crowd. Two photographers and a fan were injured,” The New York Times reported at the time.“He hit the button on the elevator, and said forget it, I’m going,” recalled the show’s promoter Zev Isaac in an interview last year. “He was in a state.”John’s departure caused an uproar in the media, and even among the country’s leaders. President Ezer Weizman, who was visiting a Galilee border town and being entertained by a youth singing and dancing troupe, made an offhanded comment and the headline in the Hebrew dailies the next morning read: “Weizman: Who needs Elton John?” Following an appeal from Andrew Burns, the British ambassador to Israel, John reconsidered and returned from England the next day to perform 24 hours later than planned. Things will hopefully run more smoothly this time, with soccer fan John being pampered with specific dressing room requests in his technical rider, including velvet-lined couches and cable TV with access to channels covering the World Cup.When he emerges from his temporary, air-conditioned home for his performance, it will feature over 20 songs spanning John’s over four-decade career, including sure crowd-pleasers like “Your Song,” “Crocodile Rock” and “Candle in the Wind” along with later hits, “Sacrifice,” “I’m Still Standing,” and “Circle of Life.”His band consists of long-time members Davey Johnstone (guitar) and Nigel Olson (drums), along with Bob Birch (bass), John Mahon (additional percussion), and Kim Bullard (keyboards).The pop legend’s most recent show took place on Sunday in Sofia, Bulgaria before 20,000 fans.Regardless of how the actual show is, however, the simple fact that John is showing up in Israel at this time will be like a big hug enveloping the music fans gathered Thursday night at Ramat Gan Stadium.