Big Thief cancels Tel Aviv shows due to BDS complaints, angering Israeli fans

Big Thief's bass player, Max Oleartchik, is the son of Israeli musician and former member of Israel’s 1970s pop band Kaveret, Alon Olearchik.

 BDS ACTIVISTS in action (photo credit: GALI TIBBON / AFP)
(photo credit: GALI TIBBON / AFP)

American indie rock band Big Thief canceled its July shows in Tel Aviv on Thursday in response to the backlash by Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement supporters, angering Israeli fans.

Big Thief cancels

"We will be canceling our two shows in Tel Aviv," Big Thief said in a statement that it shared on social media. "We oppose the illegal occupation and the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. We believe in total freedom and self-determination for all Palestinians." 

The BDS movement and affiliated organizations had called on Big Thief to cancel their show, and BDS proponents bombarded the band's social media posts announcing Israel shows with comments. NGO Adalah Justice Project started a petition, which amassed just over 600 signatures by the time the band canceled. 

"Since announcing these shows in Israel we have been in constant dialogue with friends, family, BDS supporters and allies, Palestinians, and Israeli citizens who are committed to the fight for justice for Palestinians. It has been the only thing on our minds and in our hearts."

Big Thief

The band's bass player, Max Oleartchik, is the son of Israeli musician and former member of Israel’s 1970s pop band Kaveret, Alon Olearchik.

"They received thousands of threats,” that were “terrible and horrible,” Alon told Kan. “They broke down from it."

The elder Oleartchik added that his son, Max, "broke down from it too, he really wanted [the shows] to happen. They are the most non-political I know, they write songs about relationships and humanity.”

"Our intent in wanting to play the shows in Tel Aviv, where Max was born, raised, and currently lives, stemmed from a simple belief that music can heal," said Big Thief. "We now recognize that the shows we had booked do not honor that sentiment. we are sorry to those we hurt with the recklessness and naivete of our original statement on playing in Israel and we hope those who were planning to attend the shows understand our choice to cancel them."

Israeli fans angered 

Israeli fans, and the venue that the band was booked to play at, expressed disappointment and anger. 

The venue that Big Thief had booked, Barby, criticized and insulted the band for canceling, calling them hypocrites. Barby said that the band had reached out to the venue to perform there, knowing that BDS existed beforehand, and implied that Big Thief had changed and sold out since the band had initially booked the delayed show before the coronavirus pandemic.

The Nazi intimidation boycotts on Instagram made you just fold...fear a few paid protestors outside the concert halls in Europe caused your managers  to tremble on their knees and the "solution" was to skip Israel and give up your audience here, which you think is less important."

Barby, live music venue

Barby said that only naive people would think that threats, intimidation or boycotts would resolve anything.

BDS congratulates Big Thief

"We warmly welcome this decision," said the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). "We salute Big Thief’s courage and their willingness to listen to the oppressed."

PACBI said the "apartheid Tel Aviv venue Barby" had handed out free t-shirts with the venue logo and the words "f**k you, we're from Israel" to IDF soldiers during 2014's Operation Protective Edge against Hamas and other terrorist organizations. The BDS arm cited this incident as an additional reason why Big Thief should not perform in Tel Aviv, alleging that the venue "celebrates massacres."

Prior to the BDS campaign against them, Big Thief had tried to assuage pro-BDS fans by promising to donate proceeds to NGOs that "provide medical and humanitarian aid to Palestinian children, including joint efforts between Palestinians and Israelis working together for a better future." The band had also taken an apolitical position last Friday, saying that they wanted to "remain open to other people's perspectives and to love beyond disagreement." The band walked back these statements on Thursday.

"I did not like their apologetic post trying to justify their performance here, and am somehow not suprised...and still disappointed. We were waiting for the show, for the music they make, and not for any agenda like this or any other that they claim to represent. Too bad."

Israeli Big Thief fan comment on Barbys Facebook post on the cancelation