On a dusty part of highway a few miles into the West Bank, I climbed onto bus 486. It was April 2011, and the impending Justin Bieber concert in Tel Aviv was finally happening that Thursday. Our tired bus driver, Moti, had his cell to his ear (this was the West Bank; people don’t really get pulled over for small traffic violations), and I could hear someone rather distraught on the other end. Sharon, his 14-year-old daughter, had a ticket to the Bieber concert, and her heart had been utterly broken with a few tweets from the Biebs. Evidently, the young man had been hounded by the paparazzi and tweeted a threat to stay in his hotel. Sharon was terrified that this meant he would cancel his show.
Before you dismiss these fears, consider where I was. Sharon’s fears weren’t entirely unfounded. Due to the Gaza conflict, Cee Lo Green, Neil Young, Lana Del Rey, and the Backstreet Boys, among others, canceled their concerts in the country. Lady Gaga was the biggest artist to still perform, and Israelis will love her forever for it. But it doesn’t take rockets for an artist to cancel an Israeli gig. In 2010, Pixies, Gorillaz, and Elvis Costello canceled performances in protest of Israel’s response to the Gaza flotilla. For teenagers growing up here, beloved American artists who promise to perform and then cancel disappoint them, to say the least.
A recent Pew Report from July of this year shows that Israel is the U.S.’s second biggest fan in the world. Eighty-four percent of Israelis reported a positive impression of America. Only the Philippines has a higher percent, 92. Israelis love American music, American television and American culture. You get further speaking English in Israel than you do in Turkey or Italy or . . . really, any other country I’ve visited. When American artists choose not to perform, Israelis take it as though a cool older cousin didn’t come to the family Passover seder. Because that’s how Israelis view Americans—as extended family with the same values and interests.
Well, Sharon got to go to her concert. And the Biebs tweeted after, “AMAZING NIGHT … AMAZING PLACE … AMAZING SHOW!! NEVER GOING TO FORGET THIS ONE. #BLESSED.”
Merav Ceren was born in Israel, grew up in Southern California, and has now returned home. She holds a B.A. in International Relations from UCI, where she led the re-establishment of Anteaters for Israel, and is pursuing her Master’s degree in International Relations from Syracuse University.