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Some Sympathy for Lorde’s Israeli Fans

Some Sympathy for Lorde’s Israeli Fans

You may have read it in the news by now. The last two dates on Lorde’s 2018 world tour will now be in Russia, on 29th of May in St Petersburg and the 31st of May in Moscow. Lorde has announced the cancellation of the last which was to be in Tel Aviv, Israel. Similarly, the very last two European dates on Roger Water’s 2018 European tour calendar are also in St Petersburg and in Moscow, and like Lorde, the former Pink Floyd frontman will skip Israel in 2018. No doubt, he will never play there again as he is vociferously and publicly against the very notion of a Jewish state. He is infamously known for reaching out to other touring musicians to daunt them into boycotting Israel and supporting the pro-Palestinian BDS movement. Regrettably, this tactic is successful, not because those musicians make a conscious decision to support one side in the complex Middle Eastern conflict over another, but because they are loathe to be drawn into a game of political tug-of war and so they just avoid the controversy altogether by cancelling the performance. On the face of it, this makes sense, but ask most Jews worldwide what they think about the boycott and the reaction is that of hurt and frustration.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement is a global campaign attempting to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to end what it describes as violations of international law. Not this movement, or any other like it, has anything to say about violations of international law by China, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and certainly not by Russia, where both Roger Waters and Lorde will make two very guilt-free appearances. No, Waters and the BDS promotes a cultural, academic and economic boycott solely against the only Jewish country – Israel. For Jews worldwide, this boycott stirs up dark memories of the holocaust. The last time they were collectively boycotted was in Germany in 1933 right after the Nazi party came to power.

Now, this author makes no suggestion that the state of Israel is free of sin and just like the Palestinians leadership, the Israeli government should also be assigned culpability for the sorry state of the peace process. But how is it fair that ordinary Israelis should be continuously punished for their political leader’s intransigence and the unending, unsolvable conflict that they didn’t start? Do the Palestinians share any of the blame for ongoing conflict, and if so, where’s the grass roots campaign critical of them? If the settlements really are the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East, then why does the cultural boycott apply to all Israelis and not just right-wing settlers in the West Bank? If Israelis really do deserve to be punished for their ‘violations of international law’ why aren’t the ordinary Russians being punished for the severe crimes committed by the Russian military in Syria and Ukraine? And how about Russia’s persecution of political dissidents and the LGBT+ community and its support of heinous war lords in Chechnya, Dagestan and Libya? Indeed, I’m not the first to say that music and politics don’t mix. Russian fans of Lorde should not be deprived of her music based on the actions of their government but neither should the Israelis.

The BDS argument is that boycotts worked to end the era of apartheid in South Africa and therefore it will work for Israel is dishonest. Their hope is that one day, the boycott will help bring down the Israeli government, thereby ending Palestinian victimisation and racist discrimination. The central problem with this narrative is that the two circumstances are completely different. The South African regime institutionalised racial segregation to maintain white dominance, while the Israelis are confronting a Palestinian resistance with a stated objective to completely wipe it off the map. Israelis have therefore enacted policies to protect its citizens and for security purposes which may seem partisan in practice but are not in any way motivated by some racist agenda. The end of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict cannot be brought about by boycotts; peace will come when both people collectively recognise each other’s right to national determination and all security concerns have been addressed. Any final status agreement requires the two sides to talk to each other and the softening of entrenched positions. Goodness, how does an antagonistic cultural boycott work to further that?

Lorde has decided not to play in Israel to avoid estranging the politically correct segment of her fanbase. By doing so, she has alienated other fans and I am one of them. She has succumbed to anti-Israel pressure to boycott and by doing so she has lost a chance to offer a message of peace and hope. The Israelis who will miss her concert didn’t choose to be born into Israel. Most likely her young fanbase did not vote the right-wing government into power and certainly, they didn’t choose their ‘peace partner,’ the corrupt Palestinian leadership who profit from, and enshrine, the endless state of conflict. By boycotting Israel, Lorde has punished her fans who are already hurting from the decades-old conflict. Does this cultural boycott really bring peace closer? No. it pushes it away as cynical positions harden, feelings of victimisation take hold and lines of communication dry up. Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders and Nick Cave seem are just a few of the many identities who publicly agree.

Lorde, if it’s not too late, don’t be intimidated by the haters. Don’t boycott your innocent fans caught in the middle of an endless conflict. You know what it feels like to be pushed away and treated like a liability; you succinctly express that feeling of rejection in the lyric: “They say, ‘You're a little much for me, You're a liability, You're a little much for me.’ So, they pull back, make other plans. I understand, I'm a liability.

Josh Brown is a representative of the New Zealand Zionist Federation and a member of Wellington’s Jewish community.

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