What's so funny about peace, love and understanding? Nothing for Israeli fans of Elvis Costello who will not see the legend perform in Tel Aviv this summer after he canceled all scheduled shows there, citing concerns over the treatment of Palestinians.
"There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act ... and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent," Costello wrote on his website.
"I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security," the statement continued. "I hope it is possible to understand that I am not taking this decision lightly. ... It is a matter of instinct and conscience."
Reactions in Israel have ranged from disappointment to outrage.
Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat lashed out at Costello, saying: "An artist boycotting his fans in Israel is unworthy of performing here," according to Ynetnews, the website of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
Ariana Melamed, also writing for Ynet, said that although she understood and even respected artists who chose to boycott Israel over the occupation, to pull out after the contracts had been signed and tickets had gone on sale was hypocritical.
"After all, the occupation and oppression did not start all of a sudden, exactly in the period between the start of ticket sales and the show, right?" she wrote.
"The belated discovery of the local reality shows that the boycotters-cancellers actually have no ongoing interest in the state of human rights around here, but rather, a momentary interest in a politically correct label," she continued, adding that Costello did not call off shows in the United States and England after the start of the Iraq war.
Costello is one of several high-profile artists to cancel appearances in Israel this summer, including Gil Scott-Heron and Santana.
Scott-Heron and Costello, in particular, are known for their socially conscious lyrics and activism, making them vulnerable to accusations of hypocrisy for playing in Tel Aviv while Israel continues to occupy Palestinian lands.
Scott-Heron, who wrote the well-known "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," was one of the leading proponents of the boycott against apartheid-era South Africa, which many pro-Palestinian activists had likened to Israel.
The artists may have been influenced by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, a broad movement calling for a boycott of Israel that has gained momentum since 2005 and persuaded a number of artists, universities and institutions to sever ties with Israel.
Sarah Colborne of the U.K.-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told the Guardian that Costello's decision was a sign the movement was working.
"We are increasingly seeing artists taking a stand against allowing themselves to be used by the Israeli state to normalize their occupation and apartheid policies against Palestinians," she said, according to the Guardian. "Principled artists understood it was unacceptable to play under the apartheid South African regime in Sun City."
– Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: Elvis Costello performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 29, 2010. Credit: Rick Diamond / Getty Images