Page last updated at 08:34 GMT, Thursday, 25 September 2008 09:34 UK

Beatlemania finally returns to Israel

By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Jerusalem

Paul McCartney in Tel Aviv, 24.09.08
Sir Paul McCartney says he is "apolitical"
A bout of belated Beatlemania has broken out in Israel, with one of the two surviving members of the fab four finally in the country to perform in Tel Aviv.

Sir Paul McCartney arrived ahead of his concert on Thursday, uncowed by boycott calls and reported death threats, declaring he brought only a "message of peace".

But 43 years after the country turned away what many believe was the greatest band of all time, he has flown into the centre of both old and current controversies.

Radio stations have been blaring out Beatles, Wings and Macca solo tracks for the past week, while one Jerusalem Post writer dubbed the concert "possibly the biggest cultural event in Israel's history".

The excitement is partly a sense of redress.

"It means a lot. Now everybody says we're fixing history," says Oron Korichoner, the lead singer of the Magical Mystery Tour Band, an Israeli Beatles tribute band.

'Missed opportunity'

The exact apportionment of blame for the 1965 Beatles-gig-that-never-was has been hotly debated on chat shows and serious newspapers alike in recent days.

There is no musical or artistic experience here, but a sensual display that arouses feelings of aggression replete with sexual stimuli
Dr Hanoch Rinot
Director General, Israeli Education Ministry, 1965

An official government apology, delivered in Liverpool by the Israeli ambassador to the UK earlier this year, attributed the "historical missed opportunity" to "lack of budget" and some parliamentarians' belief that the performance "might corrupt the minds of the Israeli youth".

One version of the story points to a battle between promoters, one of whom had already wreaked havoc by bringing Cliff Richard to Israel.

The promoter is said to have sought to sabotage a rival's plan for a Beatles concert by terrifying decision-makers with tales of the hysteria and moral depravity likely to flow in the Liverpudlians' wake.

Tel Aviv University historian, Alon Gan, has pinned the final decision down to a particular government committee, but media coverage he also unearthed suggests a wider disdain for the Beatles' work.

"There is no musical or artistic experience here, but a sensual display that arouses feelings of aggression replete with sexual stimuli," the then director general of the Education Ministry, Dr Hanoch Rinot, is quoted as saying in a newspaper interview.

And writer Zvi Lavi is on record condemning the "yeah-yeah-yeah howls which are capable of striking dead a real beetle" in the Maariv newspaper.

'The devil's music'

The country has changed massively since then, says Mr Korichoner.

"Rock and roll was the devil's music. It wasn't just the Beatles that parents didn't want their children to hear - it was also Elvis, Chuck Berry - but now you can hear everything and it's no problem."

Magical Mystert Tour Band - Israeli Beatles tribute group
The Magical Mystery Tour band are excited about seeing a real Beatle perform

He, like many Beatles fans here, says "politics is not in the game" for Thursday's concert.

But in this part of the world it is hard to escape, even for a vegetarian long associated with pacifism.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has been pressuring international artists and scholars to boycott Israel, in protest over its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank - and Sir Paul has not escaped:

"We reminded him of the Beatles position vis a vis South African apartheid when they refused to play some gigs there. We felt it was a double standard from him," said Omar Barghouti of the campaign.

The group claims its "hearts and minds" pressure is behind the cancellations - usually ostensibly for logistical or other practical reasons - of various planned or rumoured visits by artists ranging from rapper Snoop Dog to Icelandic singer Bjork.

"We know it's too costly for any artist to come out publicly and say they are against the occupation - a silent boycott is the least we can expect," he says.

Even the Israeli press acknowledges that the country's music fans are used to rumours of concerts that never materialise, or apparently confirmed gigs that are later scrapped.

"Morrissey hasn't cancelled yet..." ran one headline in the daily newspaper, Haaretz, earlier in the summer, ahead of a gig by The Smiths' former front man.

And then there was former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters who decided to move his 2006 performance to the joint Israeli-Arab co-existence village Neve Shalom, after criticism of his plans to play Tel Aviv.

'Quite apolitical'

Sir Paul has also been the subject of at least one reported death threat.

"If he values his life Mr McCartney must not come to Israel," Muslim cleric Omar Bakri, who has been banned from the UK, was quoted by the British Sunday Express newspaper as saying.

"He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him."

But the veteran musician has dismissed both the threat and the boycott calls.

"Most people understand that I'm quite apolitical and that my message is a global one and that it is a peaceful one," Sir Paul said ahead of his concert.

But he may not find everyone here easily convinced that "all you need is love".

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