Lorde Knows She's Not the First: Eight Other Musicians Who Cancelled Their Israel Gigs

From Elvis Costello to Sonic Youth, here are eight performers they tried to make go to Ramat Gan, and they said 'no, no, no'

Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
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Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan

When John Lydon arrived in Israel to play a gig with Public Image Ltd in the summer of 2010, he was asked his thoughts on bands that agreed to play in Israel but then pulled out. "I think it's disgusting," the ex-Sex Pistols front man said in typically forthright fashion. "I think they shouldn't have agreed in the first place if they were gonna back out in the second. I'm here to say, 'People of Israel, I support you 100 percent. As for your government, they can fuck off!'"

There are various reasons why bands cancel concerts in Israel. Sometimes it's pressure from the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement. Sometimes it's the outbreak of a war or an Israeli military action. And sometimes it's something as mundane as low ticket sales.

Following Lorde's decision not to perform in Israel next June, here are 8 more instances of performers who faced the music and dropped their Israel gigs:

The Pixies

"Here Comes Your Man" sang American alt-rock legends in 1989, but the band wasn't so keen to come to Israel in July 2010 – weeks after the Israeli army's botched raid on a Turkish flotilla ended in nine deaths and widespread international condemnation.

"We'd like to extend our deepest apologies to the fans, but events beyond all our control have conspired against us," the band said, without explicitly mentioning what those events were. "We can only hope for better days, in which we will finally present the long awaited visit of the Pixies in Israel."

This band was actually true to its word, finally playing Israel in June 2014. Its timing was only slightly better this time, though, with the Gaza war breaking out a few weeks later. The band also returned last July.

Elvis Costello

The British songwriter may have risen to fame in the 1970s with "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," but it was his not wanting to go to Israel that generated headlines in 2010.

He canceled two gigs in Caesarea, saying it was ultimately "impossible to look the other way" about Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. "Sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static," he added, something he himself might have considered before releasing his country & western album in 1981.

Costello's stance annoyed Israeli music promoter Marcel Avraham, who told Ynet later that year, "He knew all about Israel before he decided to have a show here, signed the contract and suddenly decided not to come. The man just hasn't liked Israel for years and that's something people need to understand." Still, at least Costello didn't send in "Oliver's Army."


Guitarist Carlos Santana played Israel in the late 1980s, but his cancellation of a Tel Aviv concert in June 2010 was shrouded in more mystery than the deaths of Spinal Tap drummers.

The official reason was the band's "tight schedule," which forced it to drop some destinations from the itinerary. But the Israeli promoters smelled a rat. "Our clarifications revealed that [Santana] received messages from anti-Israel figures who pressured him to cancel the performance," a source told Ynet. "Of course, no one there claimed any connection between these pressures and the show's cancellation, but we are certain there is a very close connection."

Santana did eventually smooth over his differences with Israel, returning six years later to play Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park.

Lana Del Rey

In Israel, the definition of an optimist may well be the person who's held onto their original ticket for Lana Del Rey's planned August 2014 concert in Tel Aviv, with the expectation that she will one day make good on her promise to perform here. Even by the laidback standards of her Californian sound, three-plus years is a pretty long time to reschedule.

In fairness to Del Rey, the show was one of a spate of cancellations due to that summer war in Gaza. But while the Backstreet Boys and Megadeth made good on their promise to play in Tel Aviv once the coast was clear, Del Rey and another no-show, Neil Young, have been absentees – proving once and for all that life really does suck if you're a live music fan in Israel.

Natalie Imbruglia

Here's where cancellations get complicated. Did the Australian one-hit wonder cancel her March 2017 concert in Tel Aviv due to political pressures or more prosaic ones?

The promoters said Imbruglia canceled due to "logistical difficulties." But while disgruntled fans (let's be kind and use the plural) doubtless jumped on her records, BDS activists jumped on her decision, hailing it as a victory in their boycott battle – citing the Facebook book they'd set up to convince the former Aussie soap star to cancel. Where does the truth lie? Frankly, we're torn.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band

A band's decision to cancel a gig is sometimes seized upon by BDS activists as proof that the movement's pressure has paid off. But sometimes there are times when a band's comments allow for zero ambiguity. One such incident featured Manfred Mann's Earth Band, which delivered a string of pop hits in the 1960s and one painfully honest statement about why it was canceling its January 2016 gig in Tel Aviv.

"Due to the present ongoing problems in Israel with all the recent shootings and people getting kicked to death in public, etc, the band do not feel safe or secure with the idea of playing Tel Aviv," its statement said, adding, "And as the ticket sales are also not very good, it is in everybody’s best interests that we cancel the show now."

Gil Scott-Heron

A year before his death in 2011, soul-jazz performer Gil Scott-Heron canceled his performance in Tel Aviv (we're certain those two facts are unconnected). Unusually, he announced his decision live on stage, on the opening night of his 2010 world tour.

Tensions had reportedly been running high in that concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, with activists from the Gil Scott-Heron Boycott Israel Campaign picketing the venue beforehand. A handful of activists then continued their protest during the gig itself, before Scott-Heron finally addressed the elephant in the hall before the final song.

His world tour would end in Athens, not Tel Aviv, he announced, adding that he would not be playing Israel "until everyone is welcome there." His premature death 13 months later put an end to those peace pipe dreams.

Thurston Moore

Has anyone had a more tortured relationship with Israel than the ex-Sonic Youth guitarist? His New York rock band played Tel Aviv in 1996, but he was well and truly woke when he announced the cancellation of his band's scheduled Israeli performance in 2015.

With a verbosity suggesting he might not be the go-to guy for protest banners, part of Moore's statement declared: "The choice to play in Tel Aviv, while a boycott based on principles of non-violence exists, initiated for me an active study and contemplation in which emerged an enlightenment of personal judgment."

Along with Roger Waters, Moore has since become the voice of the artistic boycott of Israel. So much so that we hear he can often be found discouraging customers from buying hummus at his local deli.

And 8 musicians who refused to pull out of Israel gigs...

Some musicians bow to BDS, some turn a blind eye to BDS and some go out of their way to give BDS the finger. These artists came to Israel despite getting a ton of shit from Thurston Moore, Roger Waters et al:

Radiohead; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; Madonna; the Rolling Stones; Sia; Elton John; Rihanna; Britney Spears; Justin Bieber; and Depeche Mode.

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