Why was Sam Smith's Israel concert canceled? Backlash explored in wake of protests

Sam Smith is photographed for Variety at Sir Lucian Grainge
Sam Smith is photographed for Variety at Sir Lucian Grainge's 2023 Artist Showcase on February 4, 2023 at Milk Studios in Los Angeles, California.(Image via Getty images)

Sam Smith was set to perform on Day 1 of the Summer in the City festival at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 31, 2023. However, following the social media backlash faced by the singer in reaction to the concert's announcement, the singer's concert was canceled. The concert would have been the singer's debut live performance in the country.

The festival organizers announced the cancellation of the concert, along with the rest of the Day 1 participants' cancellations, via an exclusive statement to the Times of Israel:

"Due to unforeseeable technical and logistical problems on May 31, the concerts of that evening (including Sam Smith) will not happen. The festival concerts of June 1 will continue as planned."

The organizers elaborated on the refund policy.

"Those who bought tickets are welcome to contact the company they bought the tickets from for a full refund. People who bought tickets for both days of the festival who want to keep the ticket for the second day will be refunded 25% of the ticket price or cancel it and get a full refund."

The cancellation was met with the feeling of vindication by the campaigners against the concert, as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign thanked the singer for the same.


Sam Smith cancels event in the face of anti-apartheid protests

The intense campaign by the singer's fans and other anti-apartheid protests following the concert's announcement came in the wake of a recent spate of Israeli bombings in the occupied West Bank and is part of a recent systemic shift in the treatment of the Israeli-Palestine conflict by the international community.

Whereas in the decades before, the mainstream international community treated the conflict as a military conflict, there has been a growing recognition and acknowledgement of the neo-colonial and apartheid nature of Israel's occupation of Palestine.

Netizens tweeted with the hashtag #samdontgo, illustrating their outrage against Israel's role in the conflict.

The social media campaign was launched by supporters of Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) urging Sam Smith to cancel his performance. The campaign included people asking Smith to cancel the concert. A petition was also launched to convince the singer as well. In a letter to the Unholy singer, Ghadir Shafie, the co-founder of Aswat, a Palestinian feminist centre for gender and sexual freedoms, also urged the singer not to perform.

Papa Roach, the band originally slated to open for Smith, canceled their appearance in March.


Tracing Sam Smith and his career

Samuel Frederick Smith, better known by their stage name Sam Smith, was born on May 19, 1992, and grew up in Great Chishill. They attended Thomas More Primary School before they graduated and attended St. Mary's Catholic School, where they were part of the Bishop's Stortford Junior Operatics as well as the Cantate Youth Choir.

The singer released their debut single, Bad Day All Week, on August 18, 2008, followed by a second single, When It's Alright, on April 2, 2009. Both singles failed to chart.

Sam Smith released their debut studio album, In the Lonely Hour, on May 26, 2014. The album was a major success, peaking as a chart topper on the UK, Australian, Ireland, New Zealand, and Sweden album charts. The album also won the Best Pop Vocal Album award at the 2015 Grammy Awards.

Following the success of their debut studio album, the singer wrote the original theme song for the Bond film Spectre, titled Writing's on the Wall, which won the singer the Best Original Song award at the 2016 Academy Awards. The single also won the Best Original Song award at the 2016 Golden Globe Awards.

Sam Smith released their second studio album, The Thrill of It All, on November 3, 2017. The album received positive reviews upon release and debuted atop the UK and US album charts. The album also peaked at number 2 on the Australian album chart.

In 2022, Smith's single Unholy with Kim Petras, from their fourth album Gloria, became their first number one single in the US and won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

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Edited by Somava