NYC Band Big Thief Receives Backlash as they Hype Shows in Israel

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Videos by American Songwriter

Brooklyn-born indie rock band Big Thief is hearing the criticism.

The four-piece group, which formally formed in 2015, recently posted on its Instagram page highlighting an upcoming show in Israel. Adding in a defense of the gig, and the group’s description of its motivation has earned it some loud clap-backs from its followers.

The band is slated to play two shows in Tel Aviv, Israel, which is the hometown of bassist Max Oleartchik, on July 6 and 7. In the social media post, the group said, “It is important for us to share our homes, families, and friends with each other in order to gain a deeper understanding of one another and the people and places that have made us who we are. It is important for us to go where we have family to share space and play for them. It is foundational. It is in that spirit that we made our decision to play in Israel.” (See the full statement below.)

Among the many criticisms from followers, one comment wrote, “Free Palestine 🇵🇸 Fuck ‘Israel'” Others have commented that it’s odd for the band to announce a defense of the show ahead of it. Many bands play Israel, so, some say, just play it and don’t make a big deal of it.

Added another comment, “If you want to meet their family and friends just go there. Why tour?”

Of course, Israel and Palestine have long been at odds on land and philosophy, which has led to a myriad of deaths and political problems.

The upcoming shows in Tel Aviv are not the first for the band in that country. Big Thief played the city in 2017 and had planned to return in 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic halted that trip.

Others on Instagram have defended the band, saying, “Is no one supposed to play in countries that are morally compromised? No one would play anywhere, US included. Certainly no concerts in China, India, or many other places. The list of countries where bands are allowed to play would probably be shorter. Then again, I probably wouldn’t bat an eye if this backlash was over playing in Russia so where does the line get drawn, and by who?

“People can feel this is cut and dry but I don’t think it’s so, and the fact that a member comes from there makes it even less so. Let’s not forget all the horrors of the US right now—I live in a country where the innocent are killed by guns because of bad politics and where window blinds that hang children aren’t banned because it’s cheaper for companies to settle out of court with devastated parents than to stop making a fortune from a cheap and deadly design— maybe I should stop supporting musicians who decide to play here and see who it helps and who it hurts.”

The band’s full Instagram post read: “We are excited to announce two shows in Max’s hometown, Tel Aviv, Israel @barby.tlv on July 6th and 7th.

“Accompanying this announcement, we would again like to clarify our motivations and intentions for playing in Tel Aviv, Israel, with as much transparency as possible.

“Over the last seven years, we’ve traveled constantly around 3 of our members’ home country, the United States, meeting each other’s families and childhood friends and sharing in the joys and sorrows of a complicated, beautiful and tumultuous home. We have grown so close. It is important for us to share our homes, families, and friends with each other in order to gain a deeper understanding of one another and the people and places that have made us who we are. It is important for us to go where we have family to share space and play for them. It is foundational. It is in that spirit that we made our decision to play in Israel.

“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.

“With this in heart, the show’s profits will be donated to NGOs that provide medical and humanitarian aid to Palestinian children, including joint efforts between Palestinians and Israelis working together for a better future.

“With love,
“Big Thief.”

The band released their latest album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, in February. Last month, the group finished the U.S. leg of its tour and they began a swath of European dates, beginning in Paris, this past weekend.

Photo by Alexa Viscius

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