This Week in Haaretz 1997 / Sinead O'Connor Cancels Show After Death Threats

Radical rightist activist Itamar Ben-Gvir boasted that he and his supporters brought about O'Connor's cancellation, though he refused to take credit for the threats.

Radical rightist activist Itamar Ben-Gvir had a history of boasting about various destructive acts. Shortly before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, he was photographed holding an ornament broken off of Rabin's car, telling reporters, "If we got to Rabin's car, we can get to him."

Now he had another chance to show off his thuggery. On June 21, a procession took place in Jerusalem in support of the city's division, under the slogan "Two Capitals, Two States."

At its finale, a performance was scheduled by Irish singer Sinead O'Connor.

As expected, the entire event provoked intense protests; the Women in Green movement petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop the march and other events associated with it, including O'Connor's performance.

"She is a PLO supporter," read the petition. "There is reason to fear she will repeat her positions to the crowd."

The High Court rejected the petition, but about a week before the scheduled performance O'Connor announced its cancellation.

"The official reason for canceling the show, as explained by the agent representing her, is a number of phone calls received at the Irish and British Embassies in Israel in which her life was threatened 'if she dares to perform in Israel under that slogan,'" reported Michal Palti in Haaretz. "The threats were received over a week ago, and since then she has consulted with the Israeli representatives of her record company, NMC, and diplomats at the Irish Embassy."

O'Connor said she made her decision quickly once she received the death threats.

"An organization by the name of 'Jerusalem Line' approached me and asked me to perform to promote peace and equality between Jews and Palestinians in the city," she said. "I agreed, but from the moment I realized my life was being threatened, I decided almost immediately that I would not perform. I have two children, and I would not do anything that could endanger their future. I respect and love the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. I hope the two nations will solve their problems in a non-violent manner."

In a radio interview Ben-Gvir boasted that he and his supporters brought about O'Connor's cancellation, though he refused to take credit for the threats.

The affair was publicized internationally, but received scant coverage in the Israeli press.

"What seemed in Israel as a marginal issue was published on the front pages of newspapers around the world," wrote Hannah Kim in an article that appeared in Haaretz on June 20. "The front page of this Wednesday's Le Monde, beneath the headline announcing 'The End of Pol Pot, Mastermind of the Cambodian Genocide,' read, 'Sinead O'Connor's Entry into the Holy Land Barred by Jewish Radicals.'"

Ben-Gvir was quoted saying that "there is no place in Israel for a singer who speaks of dividing Jerusalem and who spreads the culture of the Gentiles."

The approval of Ehud Olmert, then mayor of Jerusalem, regarding the show's cancellation was also quoted at length.

"The New York Times placed an item on the cancellation of O'Connor's visit on its front page," reported Kim, while only in Israel, "Ben-Gvir's threats against the Irish singer failed to arouse any response from the opposition and leftist activists."

But they did cause O'Connor herself to respond, after reading a transcript of Ben-Gvir's interview, and on the day of the scheduled performance she sent him a letter, with a copy to the Associated Press news agency.

"As I child I remember watching television in Ireland on Christmas Eve," she wrote. "I saw Israeli and Palestinian men beating each other in the streets of the very birthplace of their faiths. I felt saddened and frightened. I asked God then, 'How can there be peace anywhere on earth if there is not peace in Jerusalem?' I ask you that question now Mr. Ben Gvir."

"God does not reward those who bring terror to the children of the world," she wrote. "So you have succeeded in nothing but your soul's failure." (Lital Levin )