Israel Bans the Beatles
In January 1964, Israeli promoters asked the cultural committee – “established in the mid-fifties and tasked with coordinating bringing performers to Israel and evaluating their artistic level, as well as preventing problems during their performances” – opposed The Beatles visit following vociferous public debates that reached as far as the High Court of Justice and the Knesset. The band’s music, they said, was of “no artistic value,” and there was fear their phalanxes of fans might cause a security problem.
The security concern was largely a result of the fanatic response to the 1963 appearance of Cliff Richard in Israel. Hundreds of crazed fans had gone to Ben-Gurion Airport to greet him and some even gathered on the tarmac. They welcomed him with screams and yells and the police were unable to keep order. That wild reception contributed to the fear of public disorder if The Beatles were allowed entry.
Baruch Gilon, head of the Israeli promoters association, accused the committee of overstepping its authority, arguing it had not been authorized to judge the artistic level of any bands. He asked the committee to retract the ban and allow The Beatles to appear. The Education Ministry’s legal adviser subsequently wrote that the committee had explicitly been formed -- based on the original letter outlining its responsibilities – to “ensure the professional level” of performers appearing in Israel.
In April 1965, the High Court of Justice ruled that the committee had the authority to ban foreign performers and bands from abroad from performing in Israel.
In February 1966, the issue was raised in the Knesset. MK Uri Avneri asked Deputy Education Minister Aharon Yadlin why the Beatles were not allowed to perform in Israel. Yadlin said, “From an artistic standpoint, this group of singers has no real value.” Furthermore, he said, the mass hysteria that broke out when they appeared would require the call-up of many police. He concluded by noting that Beatles performances in other parts of the world ended in brawls, sending some people to the hospital.
Decades later, the government apologized. At a ceremony at The Beatles Museum in Liverpool in January 2008, Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom Ron Prosor met with John Lennon’s sister, Julia Baird, and presented her with a letter that said, “There is no doubt that it was a great missed opportunity to prevent people like you, who shaped the minds of the generation, to come to Israel and perform before the young generation in Israel who admired you and continues to admire you.”
Source: Israel State Archives