Big Thief Cancel Concerts in Israel, Venue Calls Band “Cowards”

"To be clear, we oppose the illegal occupation and the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people"

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Big Thief, photo by Alexa Viscius

    Amid public outcry from many of their fans, Big Thief have canceled a pair of upcoming shows scheduled in Tel Aviv, Israel. In a statement issued on Thursday, the band said, “To be clear, we oppose the illegal occupation and the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. We believe in total freedom and self-determination for all Palestinians.”

    Big Thief announced the July concerts at Tel Aviv venue Barby last last week, explaining in a statement that they wanted to explore bassist Max Oleartchik’s Israeli hometown and meet his family and friends in the same way that he had done for them as they toured the United States. “It is important for us to go where we have family to share space and play for them,” the band said. “It is foundational. It is in that spirit that we made our decision to play in Israel.”

    In their original statement, Big Thief also defended their decision to perform in a country currently occupying another by writing: “We are well aware of the cultural aspect of the BDS movement and the desperate reality of the Palestinian people. In terms of where we fit into the boycott, we don’t claim to know where the moral high ground lies and we want to remain open to other people’s perspectives and to love beyond disagreement. 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.”


    In Thursday’s follow-up statement, Big Thief sought to clarify their initial remarks. “When we spoke of loving ‘beyond disagreement’ and not knowing ‘where the moral high ground lies,’ that was in specific reference to playing shows in Israel during a time when BDS is calling for a cultural boycott. This was not in reference to the Israeli occupation and the displacement of Palestinians,” the band wrote.

    “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 added. “We now recognize that the shows we had booked do not honor that sentiment. We are sorry to those we hurt with the recklessness and naïveté of our original statement on playing Israel and we hope those who were planning to attend the shows understand our choice to cancel them.”

    Barby, the venue in Tel Aviv where Big Thief had been scheduled to perform, responded to the cancelation by declaring the band “cowards” and “spineless musicians who are afraid of their own shadow” (via The Line of Best Fit).