“Shalom Tel Aviv, Shana Tova,” [Hello Tel Aviv, Happy New Year], said Sir Paul McCartney, welcoming the estimated 40,000 crowd in Hebrew to his historic performance at Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv after the opening “Hello Goodbye.”
But it had been a long wait for his first performance in Israel. In 1965 the Israeli government banned the Beatles, fearing their presence at a planned concert would corrupt the nation’s youth.
Before he had even set foot in the country for this Friendship First concert, McCartney’s concert was the first topic of conversation, his music filled the airwaves and the show was hailed in The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s leading English language daily, as “probably the greatest cultural event in Israel’s history.”
But the Sept. 25 concert was also targeted by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel which called on Sir Paul to cancel, and the artist himself was the target of death threats from Lebanon-based Omar Bakri Mohammed, triggering a reported 5,000-strong security and intelligence operation which was barely felt by concert goers.
Israeli audiences are long used to international artists’ last minute cancellations of their shows. But McCartney did perform and he did his best to steer clear of any controversy, telling the audience “I’m sharing the message of peace and love” and avoiding any mention of the ban.
As for the music, McCartney and his supremely professional band played a considerable number of post-Beatles songs, which the audience received with a certain amount of polite confusion. The show came alive when McCartney, whether at the piano, or on electric or acoustic guitar or mandolin, launched into Beatles numbers and the Hebrew-speaking audience cheered and sang along in word-perfect English.
McCartney paid tribute to George Harrison with a ukulele-led version of “Something” and to John Lennon with the politically appropriate “Give Peace a Chance,” telling the audience “this is for you” and inviting them to sing along. For those concerned by the potential threat, there was a heart-stopping moment when the band started “Live and Let Die” and the stage filled with smoke and explosions for the pyrotechnics display.
McCartney closed the show by wishing his audience Shana Tova again for Jewish New Year and pronouncing the blessing for Ramadan, “Ramadan Karim.”
Earlier this year, which marks Israel’s 60th anniversary, Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the U.K., wrote a letter of apology for the “misunderstanding,” paving the way for last night’s historic gig.
Drive My Car
Only Mama Knows
All My Loving
Let Me Roll It
Let ‘Em In
The Long and Winding Road
I’ll Follow the Sun
Here, There and Everywhere
A Day In The Life
Give Peace A Chance
Band On The Run
Back In The USSR
I’ve Got A Feeling
Live and Let Die
Let it Be
I Saw Her Standing There
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band