A Paul McCartney Concert Puts Israel in a Tizzy

Forty-three years ago, the Beatles were barred from playing a gig in Israel on the grounds that their music would have a corrupting influence on Israeli youth. Now, after an official apology earlier this year to Beatles members and their families offered by Ron Proser, Israel's ambassador to Britain, Paul McCartney will perform at an open-air concert Thursday night before an unprecedented crowd of more than 50,000 in Tel Aviv. Almost all the tickets have been sold, despite prices ranging from around $150 to $1,500 for mostly standing room at the concert.

For the past week, McCartney has topped news bulletins across Israel, almost crowding out reports on the Kadima Party primaries or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's predictably anti-Semitic speech at the U.N. General Assembly. Radio stations have been blasting Beatles marathons and talk shows have debated who was the best, or worst, member of the group. The Israeli daily newspaper Ma'ariv invited the public to vote on the songs they wanted to hear and there has been a blanket cancellation of concerts scheduled for the same time. Tel Aviv's popular Tmuna Theater Club canceled a performance of leading Israeli singers. "We were told by the participating artists that they all intended to dump the show and go see McCartney. What could we do?" said Tali Hassin, public-relations manager, who is also going to the concert. The concert will be broadcast live on Israeli radio.

Even threats on McCartney's life from radical Islamist Omar Bakri, who dubbed McCartney "the enemy of every Muslim," haven't dampened Israel's high spirits. Extremist Jewish groups calling for a boycott have been shrugged off, as well. McCartney, whose concert is entitled "Friendship First," has so far kept a low profile, commenting that his performance in Israel is "quite apolitical"—a sentiment that many Israelis, who crave normalcy, long for. Since arriving in Israel early Wednesday morning, Macca has hunkered down in his heavily guarded hotel suite, while local paparazzi hover around, hoping to glimpse the star. Finally, Israelis can see the act they've known for all these years.