Paul McCartney gig revives Israeli Beatles tale - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Paul McCartney gig revives Israeli Beatles tale

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Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 12:16 pm | Updated: 11:18 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

JERUSALEM - An upcoming concert by Paul McCartney has revived memories of the 1960s, when an Israeli official supposedly called off a Beatles concert for fear it would corrupt the nation's youth.

The episode is often fondly quoted as a relic of a long-lost Israel where the public's innocence needed protecting.

Trouble is, the story might not be true: With Israelis in a tizzy about McCartney's arrival, the official's son is taking the opportunity to try to clear his father's name, calling the tale a "Zionist urban legend."

So pervasive is the story of the concert's cancellation 43 years ago that this year Israel's ambassador in London wrote a letter expressing regret over the matter to surviving members of the band. He told them the country would like to make it up to them: come play during this year's celebrations marking Israel's 60th anniversary.

"Israel missed a chance to learn from the most influential musicians of the decade, and the Beatles missed an opportunity to reach out to one of the most passionate audiences in the world," Ambassador Ron Prosor wrote.

On Wednesday, McCartney confirmed the Sept. 25 concert in Tel Aviv, which had been rumored for days.

In a news release, McCartney acknowledged the brouhaha, saying he is finally coming "43 years after being banned by the Israeli government." He promised to give Israelis "the night they have been waiting decades for."

Even before McCartney announced the show, tickets went on sale at prices ranging from $140 to $430.

The Israeli official blamed for canceling the 1965 concert was Yaakov Sarid, a stern-faced man in horn-rimmed glasses who was the Education Ministry's director.

He is remembered today - to the extent that he is remembered at all - mainly for his alleged role in denying Israeli youth their chance to faint and scream at the Fab Four. Also implicated is David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding father and prime minister at the time.

Sarid, who died in 1976, was the father of Yossi Sarid, for years an outspoken member of Israel's parliament and currently a newspaper columnist.

The younger Sarid, now 67, claims his father had nothing to do with the decision. He wrote a column - only partially tongue in cheek - for the daily Haaretz this week to call the story "a Zionist urban legend." He has tried to make the point in the past, he said, but the story has become too firmly ensconced to budge.

The real story, Sarid said, involved a more mundane feud between two Israeli concert promoters.

The competition was so bitter that when one of them, Yaakov Uri, was about to bring the Beatles to the Jewish state, the other, Giora Godik, used his official connections to torpedo the government approval his rival needed to get the foreign currency to pay for the gig. Sarid said his father was not involved.

This version of events is supported by Israel's pre-eminent pop music critic and historian, Yoav Kutner, who recounted the details in Haaretz on Monday. "It never happened that way," Kutner said of the oft-told story.

Sarid said his father had never heard of the Beatles - his artistic tastes leaned more toward European Jewish liturgical music - and that Ben-Gurion probably hadn't either.

The false version of events only emerged after his father's death, or "after my father was unable to listen to the Beatles," in Sarid's words.

Sarid said the story was first written in a journalist's anthology about Israeli history and gained traction because of Sarid's own political career. Sarid the son was one of the most liberal members of parliament and an outspoken critic of government censorship, which gave the story the necessary ironic punch.

The story has lived on because - accurate or not - it accurately reflected the times. The 1960s was the heyday of Israel's socialist ideology, which sanctified sacrifice and scorned materialism and Western frivolities. Officially, earnest Hebrew paeans to the beauty of the Land of Israel and to the military were in. "Love Me Do" was out.

Though Sarid wants the record set straight and his father's name cleared, he also finds the story amusing and realizes it has taken on a life of its own.

"It's a nice story, in this case much nicer than the truth," he said.

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