The Rolling Stones performed their first concert in Israel on Wednesday night, refusing to cancel one of their most controversial gigs.
Ahead of the Tel Aviv show, pro-Palestinian activists attempted to pressure the British rock legends to cancel the performance in support of a boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement asked the Stones to abandon the show, reports the Washington Post. In a statement to the band, a BDS group noted the Stones' choice to speak out on racial segregation in South Africa, comparing apartheid with the situation that Palestinians now face in Israel and the occupied territories.
Two surviving members of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters and Nick Mason, also joined the discussion, writing an open letter to the Stones. In the letter, published in Salon, they requested that Mick Jagger and his band cancel the concert to show as a sign of their commitment to the Palestinian peoples' cause and their fight against occupation.
Waters has played a large role in leading efforts to culturally boycott Israel, with him and Mason previously pressuring both Stevie Wonder and Lenny Kravitz to cancel gigs in the country. However, numerous artists have chosen to defy the boycott call, including recent performances by Justin Timberlake, Tom Jones, Cyndi Lauper and Deep Purple. Rihanna held a concert there last fall, and Lana Del Rey, the Backstreet Boys and Neil Young are just some of the artists with upcoming show dates in Israel.
Musical artists' continued shows in Israel stand as a major obstacle to the BDS movement, which works to place international pressure on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank. The committee also wants to guarantee Palestinians the right to return to homes they fled or abandoned after 1948 and provide full rights and equality to Israel’s Arab Palestinian citizens.
The movement has attempted, with extremely limited success, to persuade musicians to cancel or avoid scheduling concerts in the country. “It’s been awhile since the BDS movement had any real success in the cultural arena, and it’s not for lack of trying,” said Adam Shay, a consultant for the group Creative Community for Peace. The organization is funded by music industry executives to help battle boycotts against Israel.
Shay added that the “higher the financial stakes, the lower ideological considerations” when it comes to artists.
Wednesday’s show was part of the Rolling Stones’ "14 On Fire" tour, which will continue in Europe over the weekend, with the Times of Israel saying Israeli promoter Shuki Weiss reportedly guaranteed the band $6.7 million (4.9 million euros) for their performance.