Lorde is swimming in anti-Semitic waters


January 12, 2018

On Dec. 14, the star singer-songwriter Lorde tweeted, not uncharacteristically, “my cutie tour mate covered the heart song.”

A week later, she was taking a crash course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

By Christmas Eve, she had acquired enough knowledge of Middle East politics to cancel her June concert in Tel Aviv in accordance with the cultural wing of the BDS movement, which seeks to make Israel a pariah state by encouraging musical and other artists to boycott it. Elvis Costello is among the best-known entertainers to refuse to perform in Israel, and Roger Waters, who co-founded Pink Floyd, is a prominent figure in the BDS movement. The Rolling Stones and Radiohead, on the other hand, have pointedly refused to give in to pressure to cancel concerts there. Lorde offered no reason for her cancellation apart from having “received an overwhelming number of messages & letters” and having “had a lot of discussions with people holding many views.”

Lorde’s decision was inspired by an open letter from New Zealand-based activists Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab. Observing that 11 Palestinians have been killed since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without observing that the killing took place amidst violent protests featuring the use of Molotov cocktails, the writers claimed that “playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government.” 

That argument is disingenuous for two reasons. First, BDS is opposed to much more than the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration. The 2005 “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS,” which is said to have launched the present boycott movement, demands an end to Israeli “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands,” and its proponents have studiously avoided clarity on the question of whether all or just part of Israel is occupied Arab land. Second, if performing in Israel were to be seen as giving support to the Israeli government, that would be only because BDS has politicized an otherwise apolitical act. Nobody sees playing in Russia, for example, as a political act. That is because there is not at present an international campaign to turn Russia into a pariah state.

Come to think of it, did I mention that Lorde has not cancelled her plans to perform in St. Petersburg and Moscow? That’s odd because the Russian government has been credibly accused not only of abetting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government as it slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians, but also of itselftargeting hospitals in Aleppo. The Aleppo campaign was merelyan update of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal, civilian-targeting campaign in Chechnya. If Lorde accepts the logic of Sachs and Abu-Shanab, then her concerts in Russia will support all these actions, not to speak of Russian aggression in Ukraine. They will also support Russian authoritarianism, which the Freedom House amply documents in its assessment of Russia as “not free.” The Putin administration has almost no regard for political freedom, civil liberties or freedom of the press. But we won’t think Lorde’s concerts are pro-Putin because the logic Lorde has accepted is a sort of magic logic that—what luck!—applies only to Jewish states.

The singling out of Israel by the BDS movement, the United Nations and others as the country most deserving of reproach is anti-Semitic on its face. Nonetheless, that Lorde was hoodwinked by BDS reflects not personal anti-Jewish bias, but something worse—the infiltration of such bias into the terms of our ordinary political discourse. Lorde, like many others more or less honestly trying to do the right thing, is swimming in polluted waters.

Jonathan Marks is a professor of politics at Ursinus College.


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