Big Thief answers Palestinian call, cancels Tel Aviv gigs

Band performs on stage with colorful lights

Indie rock band Big Thief performs a live concert in Copenhagen, Denmark on 16 March 2020.

Christian Larsen Gonzales Photo

In the latest victory for the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, indie rock band Big Thief has canceled two gigs in Tel Aviv.

The critically acclaimed band heeded the call by activists and fans not to cross the Palestinian picket line and play in apartheid Israel.

“We are sorry to those we hurt with the recklessness and naivete of our original statement on playing in Israel,” Big Thief stated on Thursday.

Palestinians have warmly welcomed the move.

“We salute Big Thief’s courage and their willingness to listen to the oppressed,” PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said.

“We recognize, too, the clear position of a majority of the group’s fans of principled support for BDS,” PACBI added.

In its original announcement, Big Thief said the two July shows were a gesture of “love beyond disagreement” and “learning,” common clichés used by artists turning their backs on the Palestinian call to boycott Israel.

The band originally said that “in terms of where we fit into the boycott, we don’t claim to know where the moral high ground lies.”

But in its statement Thursday, the band clarified that this had been “in specific reference to playing shows in Israel during a time when BDS is calling for a cultural boycott” and “not in reference to the Israeli occupation and the displacement of Palestinians.”

The band said that it now realizes the “magnitude” of the matter.

“We oppose the illegal occupation and the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people,” Big Thief added.

“We believe in total freedom and self-determination for all Palestinians.”

“Although we have much to learn, these basic realities were never in question for us,” they said. “We also recognize there are limitations in our perspectives based on our various layers of privilege.”

In its initial announcement of the two concerts, Big Thief said its “motivations and intentions” for going to Israel are to play where one of its band members, bassist Max Oleartchik, has family.

“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,” the band said in its statement announcing the cancelation.

“We now recognize that the shows we had booked do not honor that sentiment.”

The band also walked back its previous assertion that “we are well aware of the cultural aspect of the BDS movement.”

In its Thursday statement, the group acknowledged that “we have since realized that that is not the case.”

Many Palestinian rights supporters warmly thanked the band on social media.

But Barby, the Tel Aviv venue where the band was slated to play, showed its true colors after the band’s announcement.

“The intimidation boycott campaigns on Instagram made you fold,” the venue said on Thursday.

The venue attacked the band members as “a bunch of miserable musicians without a backbone who are afraid of their own shadow.”

The venue wished the band “all the evil in the world!”

The vile response from Barby comes as no surprise given its record of openly celebrating Israeli soldiers who participate in the killing of Palestinians.

Barby “proudly handed out free T-shirts with the venue’s logo and the words ‘f**k you, we’re from Israel’” to soldiers who took part in Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, PACBI noted.

During that 51-day assault, Israel killed an average of 11 Palestinian children per day.

Pro-Israel lobbyists also had a meltdown., an outfit that claims to fight anti-Semitism but mainly smears critics of Israel and its racist state ideology Zionism, attacked the band.

“You gave in to the anti-Semites – plain and simple,” the group said, smearing the boycott movement.

“This isn’t helping Palestinians, it’s only furthering Jew-hatred.”

Big Thief played at the same Tel Aviv venue in 2017. It planned to do so again in March 2020, but that show was canceled due to the pandemic.

Following Israel’s 11-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip in May 2021, major artists signed a pledge not to play in Israel and urged others to do the same.

Those who signed the Musicians for Palestine pledge include Patti Smith, Noname, Run the Jewels, Sun City Girls, Broken Social Scene, Rage Against the Machine, Julian Casablancas and Vic Mensa.

The artists call on their peers to “publicly assert their solidarity with the Palestinian people,” as “complicity with Israeli war crimes is found in silence.”

Note from the editor: Translation from Hebrew has been corrected.




I applaud the band 'Big Thief.' Israel has to learn that they cannot simply buy-off everyone, like they have the Congress of the United States. The Palestinian people cannot even mourn and bury Palestinian-journalist Shireen Abu Akleh without being attacked and brutalized. WHAT was the excuse for attacking mourners? That they were all terrorists? The band 'Big Thief' did the right thing, and the right time. NOBODY should support the brutal and apartheid regime of Israel. BDS NOW.


It seems that by now the condemnation of zionist strategy and tactics should be seen by all.


it shows that folks don't always know what they do is wrong, and need a light to be switched on
to see.

Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.