Tel Aviv Club Calls Big Thief Band 'Spineless' After BDS Cancellations

The American band booked the shows believing 'music can heal'; after announcing them, says the Israeli bassist's father, they received 'hateful mail and threatening posts'

Shira Naot
"ביג ת'יף". באים לבקר חברים ומשפחה
Big Thief.Credit: 4AD / AP
Shira Naot

After U.S. band Big Thief canceled two planned shows at a Tel Aviv club, the club lashed back with a lengthy screed on its Facebook page, calling the band "a bunch of worthless musicians without a backbone."

The band canceled less than a month after announcing the shows, a move that the club, Barby, attributed to “Nazi intimidation boycotts on Instagram."

“BDS has been with us for 20 years," the Barby post said, referring to the ongoing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. "It hasn't changed since last time [Big Thief] was in Israel. ...You probably won’t enter the pages of history as influential artists with an agenda. ...Wishing you all the evil in the world."

In a text message to ticket holders, Barby called the band "cowards."

Big Thief, whose bassist is Israeli-born Max Oleartchik, confirmed the cancellation in its own post a few hours later.

“To be clear, we oppose the illegal occupation and the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people," the band wrote, saying it had 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."

“Our intent in wanting to play the shows in Tel Aviv … stemmed from a simple belief that music can heal,” it said.

Big Thief cancels its Tel Aviv shows

Alon Oleartchik, Max’s father, told Haaretz on Thursday that “they were under very heavy pressure – hateful mail and threatening posts” since announcing their Israel show.

“They really wanted to do these shows in Israel," he said, because of the Israeli fan base and particularly because of Max, a founding member. "It’s not a band with any political stance – the words to the beautiful music are personal. They’re not ‘social’ and definitely not political. In short, it’s a big heartache.”

Fewer than five days ago, the group said on Facebook that the decision to play Israeli shows stemmed from a desire to perform for Max’s friends and family.

“We understand the inherently political nature of playing there as well as the implications. Our intention is not to diminish the values of those who support the boycott or to turn a blind eye to those suffering. We are striving to be in the spirit of learning,” they said.

The show’s profits would have been donated to nonprofits that provide medical and humanitarian aid to Palestinian children, they added.

The popular Grammy-nominated indie folk band was supposed to perform in Israel in March 2020, but the appearance was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Big Thief also said back then that it would donate proceeds from its concerts to Palestinian organizations and that they had wanted to perform for Max's loved ones.

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