Bryce Edwards’ Political roundup: Dear Lorde, here’s what they’re saying about your boycott of Israel
It seems that everyone is writing open letters to you about whether or not you should be performing in Israel. So, I thought I’d join in, rounding up the political coverage, to help you work out whether you’ve made the right decision.
The case in favour of your boycott
It all kicked off when local political activists put the case for you to cancel your Tel Aviv concert. Nadia Abu-Shanab and Justine Sachs argued that “Playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government” – see: Dear Lorde, here’s why we’re urging you not to play Israel. They noted your political opposition to “institutional racism, sexism and white privilege” and suggested you extend this to the Israeli state.
Other local activists said likewise, including New Zealand Iranian Donna Miles-Mojab – see: An open letter to Lorde: Don’t bring your tour to Israel.
Your decision not to play Tel Aviv was celebrated by many in New Zealand. The capital’s daily newspaper, the Dominion Post, published an editorial yesterday pronouncing your decision as “commendable”, saying “We support Lorde’s efforts to do what she thinks is right, and we hope she has the maturity and political dexterity to fight for her corner and handle what is likely to come next” – see: Lorde’s first steps on new, dangerous stage.
The newspaper also notes that your career is likely to suffer as a result: “she is also set to tour the United States – 30 concerts that could go some way to solidifying her status in global pop royalty. That new-found political awareness and maturity is likely to be tested in what is still regarded as the most important entertainment market in the world. Given the strong Jewish influence in American politics and the clear and painful rebuke for the United States in the still-fresh UN vote, Lorde is likely to meet a very different type of melodrama and the kind of questions that go beyond her music.”
Others in the local media have congratulated you for your decision, especially in light of the criticism you have received. Entertainment reporter Dani McDonald says: “The blood of Palestinian children continues to flood the streets of Gaza, but Israelis seems more concerned about Lorde’s choice to cancel her Tel Aviv show. There, Lorde, is evidence that you made the right decision. It’s been amusing and sickening reading the backlash to the 21-year-old Kiwi singer’s decision to backtrack on her show that was scheduled for June, 2018” – see: Israelis’ reactions to Lorde is exactly why she shouldn’t play there.
Leftwing bloggers have been particularly buoyed. A writer at The Standard blog, draws parallels with the boycott movement against South Africa, and your stand is seen as having a global significance in the context of recent conservative trends: “Of the tiny moments of resistance in 2017’s cascading cataclysm against civility, tolerance, and decency in Europe, US, and most of the Middle East, this is the largest tiny moment from a New Zealander in a very, very long time” – see: Ain’t Gonna Play.
Writing on the Daily Blog, Frank Macskasy is even more enthused, suggesting your “courageous stand” will go down in history as a continuation of other progressive political beacons this country is supposedly known for, and “Once again, New Zealand has shown the way in the world” – see: Lorde takes a stand. You are given a place in the pantheon of activist heroes: “2017 has become the year that women have spoken out against injustice and abuse by those in power. Lorde has become to her generation what Rosa Parkes, Jane Fonda, Kate Shepherd, and many others were to theirs.”
See also, Robin Martin’s Palestinian rights group welcomes Lorde’s caution.
The case against your boycott of Israel
Not everyone in New Zealand is full of praise. Local comedy writer, Dane Giraud speaks up for the Jewish community in a folksy letter to you, providing a counterview to those who have asked you not to go to Israel, saying “Here’s what it comes down to: you’re being asked not to sing in front of a stadium full of Jews. Sounds pretty crappy when put that way” – see: Dear Lorde, here’s why an Israel boycott is the wrong answer.
He makes the case that by boycotting Tel Aviv, you are boycotting ordinary Israeli fans rather than the Israeli state. What’s more, although boycotts have their allure (“I think people dig them because they feel both extremely dramatic and benign all at the same time”) they can be counterproductive, potentially encouraging “intransigence from either side”, thereby adding “to the misery of both Jews and Arabs”.
Not surprisingly, a number of others from New Zealand’s Jewish community are expressing disappointment with your decision. A spokesperson for the New Zealand Jewish Council, Juliet Moses, attempts to correct what she sees as misinformation about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians – see: Lorde has taken a bow to the bullies.
And back in Israel, there is disappointment with your boycott. The Jerusalem Post newspaper published an editorial that alleges you don’t understand the issues properly: “Lorde would do herself a favor to study the issues before making such a decision. Lorde is in a blissful state of unawareness, at least with regard to the history and reasons behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” – see: Lorde and the BDS bullies.
The paper also says: “By caving in to BDS pressure, Lorde let herself be used as a political tool and joined a short list of performers who backed out of shows in Israel out of some distorted sense of solidarity with the Palestinian cause.”
Many Israelis are clearly more saddened than angry that you won’t be playing Tel Aviv. Einav Schiff, writing for YNet News, emphasises what Israeli fans are missing: “It’s not every day and not every decade that the Israeli audience gets an opportunity to see a musician as she sails to the top, at the end of a phenomenal year in nearly every aspect” – see: BDS, unfortunately, is still alive and kicking.
Reflecting on the boycott movement against Israel – referred to as “BDS” (Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions) – Schiff says Israelis need to realise the significance of your decision: “The past summer’s concerts, and primarily the high profile of Radiohead’s arrival, gave us the feeling that BDS had been defeated. Lorde’s cancellation indicates that it was an illusion.”
David Brinn of the Jerusalem Post, also says “Lorde’s cancellation is more ominous than it looks. The sudden cancellation of New Zealand pop sensation Lorde’s concert next June in Tel Aviv, only days after it was announced, was undoubtedly a blow to the ‘BDS is ineffective, everything is fine’ mantra we, Israelis, like to believe. She was, by far, the biggest contemporary name to announce a 2018 show in Israel” – see: Lorde’s cancellation: Losing a generation.
Questions about boycott tactics
The biggest challenge to your decision to boycott Israel relates to the very concept of boycotts – the idea that they can be inconsistent or even hypocritical. After all, when an artist like yourself makes a decision to exclude a particular audience on moral or ethical principles, then there is a natural tendency of critics to check if you are being arbitrary or consistent in the application of your principle.
When you’ve come out to say that a particular country doesn’t meet your political standards to play in, you are implicitly suggesting that the countries you do perform in are political acceptable.
Hence, a number of people you have disappointed by boycotting Israel are asking why you are boycotting their country but willing to play other politically-questionable countries. For instance Juliet Moses from the New Zealand Jewish Council challenges you on your recently announced concerts in Russia: “Strangely, despite that country’s human rights abuses, support of the genocidal Assad regime in Syria, and occupation of Crimea, no one called for her to cancel that show or suggested she is a Putin supporter. Likewise, she is not accused of complicity with Trump and his policies when she performs in the United States”.
Similarly, a “heartbroken” 15-year Jewish fan living in London has written you a letter to say: “you are playing St. Petersburg and Moscow when Russia has broken the Geneva convention for its actions in Ukraine – how can you pull out of one concert and not the other? In addition, in Russia, it’s just been announced that the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, will not be allowed to run against Vladimir Putin for President. You are punishing the people of one country because you don’t agree with their government, but not another. Why?” – see: A letter to Lorde from a devastated fan.
Even yesterday’s Dominion Post editorial, which was highly supportive of your decision, felt inclined to raise this point: “People might quite rightly ask why Lorde would boycott Israel but continue in the US, which has so clearly turned its back on peace, and the Palestinians, and sided with its Israeli allies. They might also want to know if she still intends going ahead with two concerts in Russia, where homosexuals are hounded, the LGBT community are virtually outlawed and democracy is near-dead. What is her stance on that? Politics is a Pandora’s Box. Opening it might seem the right thing to do, but you risk being squeezed into a corner” – see: Lorde’s first steps on new, dangerous stage.
Clearly your decision is raising lots of interesting philosophical and practical questions about how to deal with injustices in the world. And plenty of other musicians before you have had to deal with the question of Israel – see Lisa Bonos’ Lorde cancelled her show in Israel over politics – here’s how other musicians handled it.
You might also want to check out an interesting feature in the Sydney Morning Herald by Karl Quinn about musical boycotts, discussing what other countries should be on the list for you to avoid: “If you’re going to boycott every country with a dubious record, how about adding the United States to the list? It may be the world’s biggest market for live music but it is guilty of targeted political assassinations, installing puppet regimes in foreign countries, and exporting Mariah Carey’s music to the world. Or how about Australia, where much of the remote indigenous population languishes in abject poverty and the treatment of refugees is in serious breach of human rights conventions” – see: Lorde’s Israel backdown shows doing the right thing in music is far from black and white.
It’s obviously very difficult to come up with a list of “clean countries”. Quinn has this conclusion: “Maybe touring Denmark might be safe (oh, wait, there’s that history with Greenland). What about Sweden? (Oh no, there’s the Sami issue.) Oh well. There’s always New Zealand I guess.”
But is New Zealand even a politically acceptable country to tour? An argument could be made that it’s not. And Israeli-American journalist Liel Leibovitz does just that in his article: If Lorde is serious about her politics, she shouldn’t boycott Israel but her native New Zealand.
This provocative piece asks you: “Offended by colonialism, wanton land theft, and an ongoing discrimination of an indigenous population? Say goodbye to Wellington, not Tel Aviv.” Here’s his challenge to you: “If Lorde is truly committed to the principles she now espouses, she should announce her refusal to perform in or return home to her native New Zealand, a country that is guilty, in spades, of the crimes BDS supporters falsely attribute to Israelis.” The argument is then backed up with a trawl through New Zealand history of land theft and ethnic disparities, concluding that an “occupying force” is “illegally and cruelly” depriving “an indigenous population of its right for self-determination in its historical homeland”.
It’s worth pointing out that not all musicians agree with the tactic of boycotting Israel. In fact, there are a number of highly-political and even leftwing artists who have felt very strongly about the correctness of going to Israel – most notably in the last year, Radiohead, Morrissey, and Nick Cave. And for some interesting leftwing celebrations of those artists breaking the boycott, see Brendan O’Neill’s Nick Cave vs the BDS bigots, and Tom Slater’s Three cheers for Thom Yorke.
A different approach to showing solidarity with Palestinians
Rather than boycotting your Israeli fans, there is another option – visiting the West Bank and Gaza while in Israel. This was actually suggested by the New Zealand Jewish Council’s spokesperson Juliet Moses, who says that if you wanted to help with furthering the peace process you “could have performed in Tel Aviv, a liberal secular city, and visited grassroots movements in the West Bank, co-founded by Palestinians and Israelis, as I did last year – movements promoting non-violence, transformation and dialogue between the two sides”.
Of course, you could go much further than that, and actually perform a concert in Palestine. This is what one Israeli writer, activist, and musician has suggested – you should definitely read Yuval Ben-Ami’s important article, This Israeli urges Lorde: Play Palestine instead. He says to you: “Instead of simply cancelling your show in Tel Aviv, cross the checkpoints and the separation wall and do what most pop icons have yet to do: perform in the West Bank.”
Ben-Ami suggests that you play in the small city close to Ramallah, and not far from Tel Aviv: “Israelis are legally allowed to visit the new open-air theater in the Palestinian town of Rawabi, which seats 12,000”. He argues that this act would make an important political statement while encouraging Israeli fans to travel into the occupied territories to learn more about the Palestinian situation.
Finally, Yuval Ben-Ami is actually a huge fan of yours, and is responsible for a fascinating project called the Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries – an attempt to collectively record a tribute cover album of Pure Heroine in Hebrew and Arabic which he undertook two years ago upon becoming obsessed with your first album. You can read more about this in Renee Ghert-Zand’s Lorde help us, Daniel Estrin’s In Holy Land, a tribute to Lorde gets complicated, or you can listen to his interview with Wallace Chapman on RNZ: Yuval Ben-Ami – Lorde in the Holy Land. But best of all, check out some of the middle eastern covers he produced, such as Team, Biting Down, and Royals.